Deadpool In Game Of Thrones? Ryan Reynolds Can Play These Roles

Ryan Reynolds could play a long lost Lannister. (Image courtesy: Ryan Reynolds)

New Delhi: Deadpool star Rayn Reynolds is a ‘Game Of Thrones nut’ and wants to be part of the popular television series, The Sun quoted him as saying. “It’s no secret, I’m a Game of Thrones nut. I’m an addict. There’s nothing I won’t do to get my next fix. No boundary of self-respect, I’ll do whatever it is I have to do to have more,” he said. Game Of Thrones season 7 will air on television in less than a month and fans of the series are super excited. Game Of Thrones 7 trailer released in May which only added to the anticipation for the series, which is now moving towards the Great War.

Watch the trailer of Game Of Thrones 7



Of starring in Game Of Thrones, Ryan Reynolds is of two minds but yes, he’d like a role. “Would I want a part? On one hand, I’m a fan so I like my outside perspective into that world but on the other, yeah, how ridiculously insane would that be,” he told The Sun. Of the character he’d like to portray in the series, Ryan Reynolds said: “I’m not sure how or where I’d fit in, are there any new parts? Maybe I could just take over (one of the roles). There are some amazing Irish actors, and I’m Irish, I’ve got that rugged pallor for maybe Littlefinger or Davos. I could see that. Or maybe I could be a long lost Lannister?”

Dear Game Of Thrones, are you listening?


Game Of Thrones will premiere on July 7. Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds is awaiting the release of The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

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Qatar Crisis Mediators Said To Expect Saudi Arabia, UAE Proposal

The U.S. has sent mixed message about resolving the Qatar crisis. (File photo)

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are expected to relay to mediators what they want Qatar do to in return for ending their isolation of the tiny Gulf nation, according to a Gulf official with direct knowledge of the matter.

The proposals, which may come in the next two days, would make it easier to end the dispute, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. While the two sides are far apart at the moment, there are positive signs they’re willing to reach a conclusion and want Kuwait to continue to mediate, the official said, adding that Turkey was also helping.

Qatar said the absence of a clear list of demands has complicated efforts to resolve the crisis, which escalated this month when Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain severed ties and transportation links with their neighbor, accusing its government of supporting extremist groups and cozying up to Iran. Qatar, which described the action as an illegal siege, has denied the charges.

“A clear list of demands will be critical toward reaching a resolution — without it, it’s difficult to find a starting point,” said Allison Wood, an analyst with Control Risks in Dubai.

Saudi and U.A.E. officials didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Kuwait has played a role in trying to end the Gulf conflict since it started, with the country’s emir visiting Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Qatar last week. Turkey has joined the efforts, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu holding talks with Qatari and Kuwaiti officials this week.

Stocks Gain

Qatar’s benchmark stock index rose after the report, closing 0.7 percent higher.

Members of the Saudi-led alliance have said nothing short of a complete overhaul of Qatari foreign policy to stop supporting extremist groups could restore ties. They’ve put more than 50 people and entities in Qatar on a terrorism list, and have ordered Qatari citizens to leave their countries.

Qatar has responded by expanding trade ties with Turkey and Iran, as well as ramping up domestic food production. Its finance minister, Ali Shareef Al Emadi, has said the country’s pockets are deep enough to withstand the pressure.

Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have failed to build ” a real groundswell of support by nations following suit in breaking off relations with Qatar,” said James Dorsey, a Gulf specialist and senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Their action has been “hampered by the bad optics of blocking the flow of food and medicine, the hardship opposed on individuals,” and “Qatar emerging as an underdog putting up a fight against what many may have seen as bullying,” he said.

Mixed Messages

The U.S. has sent mixed message about resolving the crisis. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson initially declined to take sides, but his cautious approach was overshadowed almost immediately by President Donald Trump — who sent tweets appearing to take credit for and praising the Saudi-led bloc’s decision.

The four Gulf Arab monarchies at the heart of the dispute are U.S. allies. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters for U.S. Central Command, which includes a state-of-the-art air base the U.S. depends on to target Islamic State.

In a surprising twist, Qatar on Wednesday completed a $12 billion deal to buy as many as 36 F-15 jets from the U.S.

“The mixed signals from the U.S. aren’t productive when it comes to negotiating a settlement,” said Wood at Control Risks. “The different signals will allow the various parties to ally themselves with the individuals and departments that support their side within the Trump administration.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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London Fire: Muslims Up For Ramzan Fasting First To Alert, Save Lives

London Fire: Local residents walk by emergency response vehicles as Grenfell Tower engulfed by fire (AFP)

London:  On Wednesday morning, London woke up to the horrific news of Grenfell Tower fire killing 17 and injuring over 50 people, with 17 still reportedly in critical condition. Several Muslim residents of the Grenfell Tower were first to notice the fire and alert other residents of the building. Observing fast in the month of Ramazan, many Muslims were up for sehri – a pre-dawn meal – at around 1 in the morning when the fire started engulfing the Grenfell Tower. Authorities are still struggling to deal with the scale of the massive London fire incident. Sensing the whiff of smoke an hour after midnight, the fasting Muslim residents frantically started knocking their neighbours’ door, hoping to wake them up, as the massive fire started spreading quickly. 

“Muslims played a big part in getting a lot of people out. Most of the people I could see were Muslim. They have also been providing food and clothes,” Andre Barroso, 33, told The Independent, as reported by the Indo Asian News Service.

london fire afp

London Fire: A woman reacts outside a temporary casualty bureau for people affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower. (AFP)

Running around, banging on people’s doors, trying to save as many as possible, these Muslims residents have been termed as the ‘lifeline’ of the London fire incident.

“If it wasn’t for all these young Muslim boys around here helping us coming from the mosque, a lot more people would have been dead. They were the first people with bags of water giving to people and helping, running and telling people,” said another woman near the London Grenfell Tower fire scene, reported the agency.

Khalid Suleman Ahmed, who lived on the eighth floor of Grenfell Tower said, “No fire alarms went off and there were no warning. I was playing PlayStation waiting to eat suhuur when I smelt smoke. I got up and looked out of my window and saw the seventh floor smoking. I woke my auntie up, then got clothes on and started knocking on neighbours’ doors.” 

london fire afp

A Police officer stands on duty as people arrive outside a temporary relief centre, set up at Rugby Portobello Trust, for people affected by the fire at Grenfell Tower (AFP)

“Most Muslims now observing Ramadan will normally not go to bed until about 2 a.m., maybe 2.30 a.m., when they have their late night last meal. They do their last prayer. So most of the families around here would have been awake,” said another resident Rashida told Sky News, reported the agency.

As the scale of the massive London fire unfurled, several Islamic cultural centres and mosques such as Al-Manaar Mosque, opened up doors to help the affected residents of Grenfell Tower. Neighbourhood St. Clement’s and St. James’ churches and local Sikh temples also took in many affected people. 

With IANS Inputs

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Donald Trump Set For US Supreme Court Visit As Justices Weigh Travel Ban

Justices will weigh whether Donald Trump’s travel-ban order was intended to discriminate against Muslims.

Washington:  For the first time since he was elected, President Donald Trump is set to attend the US Supreme Court on Thursday, presenting a potentially awkward moment as the court weighs what to do about his contentious executive order that attempts to restrict US entry by people from six Muslim-majority countries.

Trump is scheduled to visit the ornate, marble-clad courthouse in Washington for the investiture of new Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose Senate confirmation in April was his first major accomplishment.

Attention will be focused on whether Trump, known for his off-the-cuff remarks and incendiary tweets, will follow the rules of an institution known for its courtesy and tradition.

The stakes are heightened by the fact that Trump’s so-called travel ban, one of his signature policies, is now before the justices after being blocked by lower courts.

The president is expected to sit in the courtroom during the brief ceremony in which Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the judicial oath to Gorsuch.

Trump is not expected to make a speech at the event, but he is likely to talk briefly to the justices beforehand in the court’s conference room, as other presidents have done in the past, according to a court spokeswoman.

In deciding whether to allow the travel ban to go into effect, the justices are set to weigh whether Trump’s harsh election campaign rhetoric can be used as evidence that the March 6 order was intended to discriminate against Muslims.

Trump has spoken out against courts blocking the ban and has also criticized his own lawyers. The court is currently considering an emergency request from the administration seeking to put its travel ban into effect while litigation continues.

Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii blocked Trump’s 90-day ban on travelers from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The Hawaii judge also blocked a 120-day ban on refugees entering the United States. The injunctions blocking the ban were upheld on appeal.

Trump’s appointment of conservative Gorsuch has been his most significant win since taking office in January.

Gorsuch, who has been sitting on the bench since April 10, restored the high court’s 5-4 conservative majority. There was a vacancy on the court for more than a year following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.


© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Australian Journalist Adam Harvey Shot In War-Torn Philippine City

Adam Harvey was reporting on the ISIS occupation of Marawi in Philippines.

Marawi:  An Australian television journalist was shot in the neck on Thursday as he reported from a southern Philippine city where terrorists are battling government troops, but he did not suffer major injuries.

Adam Harvey, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, wrote on Twitter: “Lucky”, alongside an image of an X-ray showing the bullet lodged in his neck, close to his spine.

“Thanks everyone – I’m okay. Bullet is still in my neck, but it missed everything important,” he said in another Twitter post.


Harvey was shot in Marawi, the most important Muslim city in the mainly Catholic Philippines where government forces are struggling to defeat hundreds of militants fighting under the black flags of ISIS.

He was inside the provincial capitol compound where local and foreign journalists have congregated during the more than three weeks of fighting, the government’s crisis management committee spokesman, Zia Alonto Adiong, told AFP.

Although the compound is secured by the military, it is only about two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the pockets of the city that the gunmen control.

“I want to appeal to everyone you should be very careful because in our assessment the vicinity of the 103rd (military camp), the vicinity of the capitol is within the line of sight of the enemy,” local military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jo-ar Herrera told reporters in the compound after the shooting incident.

Harvey was taken to the nearby city of Iligan for medical treatment, Adiong said.

At least 26 civilians and 58 security forces have died in the conflict, according to authorities. They say more than 200 terrorists have been killed.

The city of 200,000 people has been largely abandoned due to the fighting, which has seen the military relentlessly bomb the areas held by the terrorists, with residents fleeing to nearby towns.

However hundreds of civilians are trapped in the terrorist-controlled areas with some being used as human shields, according to the military.

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Blast At Kindergarten In East China, Casualties Reported

The number of casualties is yet to be reported (Representational)

Beijing:  An explosion was reported at a kindergarten in eastern China on Thursday, injuring an unknown number of people including children, local police said.

A photo posted by Chinese media online shows several women and children sitting or lying on the ground, some bleeding. One woman is clutching her child, who is in tears.

An official at the police station in Fengxian county in Jiangsu province told AFP that the explosion was under investigation.

“There were some children injured,” the official said.

The blast occurred at the gate of the kindergarten as children were leaving the school in the afternoon, according to Xinhua, citing the emergency office of Xuzhou city.


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"The Donald And I, We Are Winning": Australian PM Turnbull Mocks Trump

Things between Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump had gotten off on the wrong foot. (File Photo)

Sydney:  Australia’s prime minister has taken a comical swipe at Donald Trump, mimicking his mannerisms and making reference to the Russia scandal. In comments he said the jokes were intended as “affectionately light-hearted”.

In a leaked audio recording that comes just months after a tetchy phone call between the two leaders, Malcolm Turnbull is heard making fun of the US president’s idiosyncratic speaking style.

“The Donald and I, we are winning and winning in the polls,” Turnbull said in a closed event for journalists in Canberra on Wednesday.

“We are winning so much. We are winning like we have never won before.

“We are. We are. Not the fake polls. Not the fake polls. They’re the ones we are not winning in,” he said to laughs from the audience at the Mid-Winter Ball, where politicians and Canberra journalists let their hair down.

“We are winning in the real polls. You know, the online polls. They are so easy to win.”

Typically, the event is off-the-record, meaning journalists would not report on what was said, but a recording was leaked to the political editor at commercial broadcaster Channel Nine, who did not attend the soiree and decided to report it.

Turnbull played down the speech late Thursday, saying that he was the butt of the jokes rather than Trump.

“My speech was light-hearted, affectionately light-hearted,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW radio.

“It’s a breach of protocol, it’s a breach of faith,” he added of the leaked recording. “But it’s light-hearted, it’s affectionate and the butt of my jokes, was myself.”

In a statement cited by Channel 9, the US Embassy in Canberra said they saw the lighter-side of the address.

“We understand that last night’s event is equivalent to our own White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” it read.

“We take this with the good humour that was intended.”

Last month, Turnbull met the US president in New York to mend fences, after the bad-tempered call early in Trump’s White House tenure.

Trump reportedly exploded and cut short the conversation when he was told about a Barack Obama-era deal to move refugees from Australia to America.

The Australian leader appeared to make light of that icy conversation in the leaked recording.

“It was beautiful. It was the most beautiful putting-me-at-ease ever,” he said.

In another leaked clip, Turnbull poked fun at the ongoing controversy surrounding the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.

“I have this Russian guy. Believe me, it is true. It is true,” Turnbull said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Number Of Deaths From London Tower Block Fire Now 17: British Police

The number of casualties in the London fire is expected to increase, according to police (Reuters)

London:  The number of deaths from the London tower block fire has risen to 17 and the figure is expected to rise further, police said on Thursday.

“Sadly, I can confirm that the number of people that have died is now 17,” London police commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

“There is still a number of people who are receiving treatment in hospital. There are 37 people receiving treatment, of which 17 are still in critical care.”

The fire engulfed a 24-storey building in west London in the early hours of Wednesday.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Writing by Kate Holton; Editing by William Schomberg)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Qatar Says Fighter Jets Deal Shows Deep US Support

Qatar is facing a severe economic and diplomatic boycott by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies

Doha:  A $12 billion deal to buy Boeing F-15 US fighter jets shows Qatar has deep-rooted support from Washington, a Qatari official said on Thursday, adding that its rift with some other Arab states had not hurt the US relationship with Doha.

Qatar is facing a severe economic and diplomatic boycott by Saudi Arabia and its regional allies who cut ties last week, accusing it of funding terrorist groups, a charge Doha denies.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly echoed the accusations against Qatar, even as his Defense and State Departments have tried to remain neutral in the dispute among key allies. Qatar is home to the headquarters for U.S. air forces in the Middle East.

On Wednesday US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis signed the previously-approved warplane deal with Qatari Minister of State for Defence Affairs Khalid al-Attiyah. Qatar’s ambassador to the United States, Meshal Hamad al-Thani, posted a picture of the signing ceremony on Twitter.

“This is of course proof that U.S. institutions are with us but we have never doubted that,” a Qatari official in Doha said. “Our militaries are like brothers. America’s support for Qatar is deep-rooted and not easily influenced by political changes.”

A Qatari defence ministry source said the deal was for 36 jets. In November, under the administration of Barack Obama, the United States approved a possible sale of up to 72 F-15QA aircraft to Qatar for $21.1 billion. Boeing, the prime contractor on the sale, declined to comment.

A European diplomat in the Gulf said the timing of the deal appeared coincidental.

“Presumably the US could have delayed the deal if they’d wanted to, although I don’t think there’s a great connect between sales and foreign policy.”

Qatar is an important base for the U.S. military carrying out operations against Islamic State militants and other groups in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is home to more than 11,000 U.S. and coalition troops.

Qatar’s state news agency said on Wednesday that two U.S. warships arrived at Hamad port in Qatar as part of a planned joint military exercise involving marine forces.

The Pentagon said the jets sale will increase security cooperation between the U.S. and Qatar and help them operate together. It added Mattis and Attiyah had also discussed the current state of operations against Islamic State and the importance of de-escalating tensions in the Gulf.

The fighter jet deal had been stalled amid concerns raised by Israel that equipment sent to Gulf states could fall into the wrong hands and be used against it, and by the Obama administration’s broader decision-making on military aid to the Gulf.

Trump, who took office in January, has accused Qatar of being a “high-level” sponsor of terrorism, potentially hindering the State Department’s efforts to help ease the worst diplomatic crisis between Gulf Arab states for years.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is expected in Kuwait on Thursday after completing a visit to Qatar, foreign ministry sources said, in his quest to help broker an end to the dispute. Kuwait has emerged as the main mediator in the crisis.

Turkey has backed Qatar in the crisis and President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Wednesday the rift was damaging the Islamic world and Ankara would do all it could by diplomatic channels to prevent any escalation.

(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal; writing by Sylvia Westall; editing by Peter Graff)


© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Iranian Navy Points Laser At US Marine Helicopter In Spat Involving Ships

Iranian forces pointed a laser at US helicopter in an encounter that involved 3 ships (Representational)

Iranian forces pointed a laser at an airborne Marine Corps helicopter on Tuesday in an encounter that involved three U.S. ships and was deemed “unsafe and unprofessional” by the Navy, U.S. military officials said.

The incident occurred in the Strait of Hormuz, a heavily trafficked waterway off Iran’s southern coast that connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and the dry cargo ship USNS Washington Chambers were maneuvering through the strait when an Iranian vessel pulled alongside the U.S. ships, shining a spotlight on the Cole and then training a laser on a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter flown by Marines from the Bataan, said Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a U.S. military spokesman.

“The Iranian vessel then proceeded to turn its spotlight on Bataan, scanning the ship from bow to stern and stern to bow before heading outbound from the formation,” Urban said in a statement. “During the interaction, the Iranian vessel came within 800 yards of Bataan.”

Navy Forces Central Command, which oversees U.S. naval operations in the region, said the shining of the laser at the helicopter is what made them consider the incident unsafe and unprofessional.

“Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles,” Urban said.

The incident was first reported by CBS News, which said two other incidents considered unsafe by U.S. military officials have occurred since March. In one, the USNS Invincible, a ship equipped with sonar and radar, was forced to change course to avoid Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast boats that cut in front of the ship.

Two days earlier in March, an Iranian frigate came within 150 yards of the Invincible in the Gulf of Oman.

In the most serious incident this year, Navy officials reported in January that the destroyer USS Mahan opened fire with warning shots from a .50-caliber machine gun in the Strait of Hormuz after four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps patrol boats performed “harassing” maneuvers.

One of the patrol boats traveled within 900 yards of the Mahan with a sailor manning its main gun, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said at the time. The Mahan was traveling in formation at the time with two other U.S. vessels, the amphibious craft USS Makin Island and the oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl, Davis said.

The January incident marked a return to volatile interactions after relative calm in the second half of 2016. Davis said the Navy counted 23 interactions in 2015 and 35 in 2016 that were considered “unsafe and unprofessional.” The 2016 events all occurred in the first half of the year.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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At Least 18 Killed In Mogadishu Restaurant Attack

The terrorists were killed by security personnel and the situation is now under control (Reuters)

Mogadishu:  A suicide car bombing and assault by Shabaab terrorists on two neighbouring restaurants in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu ended Thursday morning with 18 dead, a government spokesman said.

“The operation is over now and the gunmen were killed by the security forces,” said Mohamed Ahmed Arab, spokesman for Somalia’s security ministry.

“They have attacked business places and killed innocent civilians: 18 civilians were killed, including a Syrian national, and more than 10 others were wounded,” he said.

The attack began at around 8pm (1700GMT) on Wednesday evening with a suicide car bombing at the Posh Treats restaurant and club, after which gunmen stormed inside the nearby Pizza House restaurant.

Both venues are popular with affluent, young and diaspora Somalis and were busy as customers broke the Ramadan fast.

The gunmen spent the night roaming the restaurant killing those they found trapped before they were eventually killed by the security forces.

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Trump Administration Starting Review Of Aid To Pak: Secretary Of State

Rex Tillerson told about Pak aid during a Congressional hearing on State Department’s budget proposals.

Washington:  The Donald Trump administration is beginning an inter-agency policy review of the relations with Pakistan, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said in Washington, underlining that the US president has specifically asked questions about the level of support and funding to Islamabad. “We are beginning an inter-agency policy review towards Pakistan. This (continuation of US aid to Pakistan) is going to be one of the considerations,” Tillerson told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on the State Department’s annual budget proposals.

He made the remarks while responding to a question from Congressman Dana Rohrabacher as to why the US continues to give financial assistance to Pakistan.

“Are we still giving money to Pakistan? Dr Afridi (who helped locate Osama bin Laden)…is being held in a dungeon there, and the Pakistanis continue — we know the ISI continues — with the notorious support of terrorist elements in Afghanistan. Why are we still giving Pakistan any aid at all?” Rohrabacher asked.

Tillerson said this is one of the things being considered by the inter-agency review.

“The president has asked the question specifically about our level of support and funding to Pakistan. No decision is to be taken until we complete that policy review,” Tillerson said.

“As you well can understand and appreciate, Pakistan and our relationship with them touches on some much broader issues relative to stability in Afghanistan and how we achieve that, but also stability in the Indo-Pacific region. It is a very complex relationship we have with the government of Pakistan, but your concerns are all well founded,” said the Secretary of State.

Hoping that the Trump administration will take a realistic view of the region, Rohrabacher said Pakistan is acknowledged by most people he has dealt with as the source of terrorism in that part of the world.

“And if we don’t succeed in Afghanistan, it will be because of the ISI in Pakistan,” Rohrabacher said.

“With that said, Afghanistan looks like it’s not going in the right direction. And there are some creative ways to handle this. We continue to have troops involved there, but some people are calling for more troops. I hope that we look for other methods rather than sending American troops into Afghanistan,” the Congressman said.

The Afghan policy is under review as well, he said. “I mention that in the context of Pakistan because you cannot work one without the other. In the interim, though, we have had inter-agency discussions with the president about how to preserve the opportunity for a long-term solution in Afghanistan where we do not leave Afghanistan, where we never allow Afghanistan to become the platform for terrorism to be launched against the United States or certainly others,” Tillerson said.

“That work we expect to complete over the coming weeks, review it with the president, make a final policy decision. But it has not been going well in Afghanistan. There are steps we need to take to at least prevent further deterioration while we get our new policies in place,” he said.

What the US is following now are the policies of the prior administration, and some steps need to be taken to stem the effects of those while the Trump government gets its policies in place, Tillerson said.

Joining Rohrabacher, Congressman Ted Poe said Pakistan is playing the US.

“We give them money. That money ends up in the hands of bad guys in Afghanistan who hurt Americans. And I personally think that Pakistan should not get any American money,” he said.

“They get 500 million dollars a year not counting the military. They should be designated as a state sponsor of terror. And they also should be removed from the major non- NATO ally status that they have,” Poe said.

“But I know this has been a discussion for years to try to get Pakistan on board to do the right thing. They don’t. What are we going to do?” he asked.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Firefighters Yet To Fully Search Burnt London Tower: Fire Brigade Chief

London fire chief said firefighters had not yet fully searched burnt London Tower Block (Reuters)

London:  Firefighters have not been able to conduct a comprehensive search of the 24-storey block of flats in west London that went up in flames because it is not safe for them to walk to the edges of the building, the fire brigade chief said on Thursday.

Authorities have confirmed 12 people died in the fire, which engulfed the Grenfell Tower at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, but the death toll is expected to rise.

“Some of the internal structures are not regarded as safe at the moment, however the central core is, so my firefighters have been up to the top floor last night, they have done the initial brief search from the doorways,” London fire chief Dany Cotton told ITV.

“So although we’ve been up there we haven’t managed to do a comprehensive search and until we can make the building safe then I really don’t want to risk the safety of my firefighters at this moment in time,” she said.

Cotton said structural surveyors and urban search and rescue specialists would inspect the building on Thursday and once it was declared safe a full search would take place.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif Appears Before Panel Investigating Family Wealth

Nawaz Sharif, whose father was an industrialist, has said his family wealth was acquired legally.

ISLAMABAD:  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appeared before a panel investigating his family’s wealth on Thursday, the first time a Pakistani prime minister has been grilled by an investigative agency. The scrutiny of Sharif has gripped Pakistan, but the investigation – ordered by the Supreme Court – has become increasingly politicised.  Sharif arrived at the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in Islamabad clad in traditional shalwar kameez tunic and baggy trousers, but did not speak to media.

It was not clear how long the hearing, which had been scheduled to begin at 11 am (0600 GMT), would last.

The prime minister and his children deny any wrongdoing.

The Supreme Court ruled in April there was insufficient evidence to remove Sharif from office over corruption allegations levelled by the opposition, but it ordered further investigations.

The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore wealth after the opposition threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”.

Documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.

Sharif, whose father was a prominent industrialist, has said his family wealth was acquired legally.

A three-time prime minister, Sharif was ousted twice in the 1990s, including in a 1999 military coup. He later lived in exile, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

He swept back to power in an election in 2013.

His spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Pakistan has been plagued by corruption for decades, with politicians often accusing rivals of graft.

The Supreme Court has given the panel two months to investigate the family and then deliver its findings.

The six-man panel, made up of members of civilian investigative agencies and military intelligence officers, are examining three generations of Sharif family wealth.

The team has accused government departments of tampering with old records, but Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday rejected such allegations, adding that the team’s claims meant the process was becoming “suspicious”, media reported.

Sharif’s camp has sought to remove two members of the investigation team and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party voiced outrage over a leaked photograph taken from security camera footage showing Sharif’s son, Hussain, appearing before the panel.

Opinion polls suggest Sharif’s party is likely to win the next election, due next year.

A senior PML-N official told Reuters the party was unlikely to call an early election if Sharif was ousted by a Supreme Court ruling, and would select a new prime minister to take over until the general election.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif Appears Before Panama Papers Probe Panel

Nawaz Sharif has denied any wrongdoing. (AFP)

Islamabad:  Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appeared today before a Supreme Court-appointed team probing the Panamagate graft case, an unprecedented development that will make him the first sitting premier to depose before such a panel.

Earlier, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) chief Wajid Zia had summoned the prime minister to appear before the six-member probe team today with all documents relevant to the case. 

Ahead of his deposition before the JIT, Sharif held consultations with his close aides and family members this morning.

Sharif has barred his party activists from join him or receiving him at the Judicial Academy in Islamabad where he is being questioned.

The summons were issued to Sharif, 67, after he returned last Saturday from Kazakhstan where he had attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit.

In its judgement of April 20 in the Panama Papers case, the Supreme Court had constituted a JIT and empowered it to summon the prime minister, his sons and any other person necessary, to investigate allegations of money-laundering, through which the four apartments in London’s posh Park Lane area were purchased. 

Sharif has denied any wrongdoing.

The Joint Investigation Team had questioned Sharif’s sons — Hussain and Hasan — last month over the family’s alleged improper business dealings.

His eldest son Hussain was questioned five times while Hasan, the younger son, was summoned twice.

The court last year took up the case and issued a split decision over allegations of money laundering when Sharif was prime minister in 1990s.

On May 5, the Supreme Court set up a high-level six- member JIT to probe Sharif and his sons’ alleged corruption in the Panama Papers case.

The JIT is bound to complete the probe in 60 days unless it is granted additional time.

It is for the first time that a sitting Prime Minister would appear before a high-level probe team traditionally constituted to investigate high-profile criminal cases.

It is not yet clear that Sharif will be questioned for once or would be called again like his two sons.

Media reports had also said that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar may also be questioned today by the JIT before Sharif’s appearance.

The JIT probing the offshore holdings of Prime Minister Sharif and his children has also summoned his younger brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to appear before it on June 17.

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New Lesotho Prime Minister's Wife Shot Dead: Police

The wife of Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane was shot dead late on Wednesday (Representational)

MASERU:  The wife of Lesotho Prime Minister Tom Thabane was shot dead late on Wednesday, just hours after her husband’s inauguration, raising fears of another wave of political violence in the southern African mountain kingdom.

Police spokesperson Clifford Molefe said Lipolelo Thabane, 58, was travelling home with a friend when both women where shot by an unknown assailant in the town of Masana, just outside the capital, Maseru.

Mr Molefe said Ms Lipolelo died on the scene while her friend was taken to a nearby hospital. Mr Molefe said the motive of the shooting was unknown and that investigations were ongoing.

Lesotho, which has been on a political knife-edge since an attempted coup in 2014, held elections last week, the third in five years, after then-prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili lost a no-confidence vote in March.

Mr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention won 48 parliamentary seats, compared with 30 won by Mr Mosisili’s Democratic Congress.

Mr Thabane and Ms Lipolelo had been living separately since 2012 after Mr Thabane filed for a divorce which had yet to be granted by the courts.

Mr Thabane’s office was unreachable for comment.

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Alibaba's Jack Ma Brags It Could Become World's 5th-Largest Economy

Jack Ma outlined a vision where his company Alibaba, could become world’s 5th-biggest economy by 2036

Corporate executives sometime like to talk about how their companies are overtaking nation states. In China, they tend to be careful not to outshine the government and avoid such analogies. Yet that’s just what Jack Ma did last week.

At Alibaba’s annual investor day, China’s richest man outlined a vision where the company he founded could become the world’s fifth-biggest economy by 2036, trailing only the US, China, Europe and Japan. Let’s just say most entrepreneurs in China wouldn’t make that comparison.

“Well, people say, this is too big,” Ma said of the scale of Alibaba’s ambition. “It costs nothing to imagine, right?”

Many shrugged the comments off as bluster from a man prone to making grand pronouncements. Ma based his prediction on the number of goods transacted on his platforms and the potential number of customers. And Alibaba’s $23.5 billion in revenue last year was still dwarfed by Alphabet’s $90 billion and Amazon’s $136 billion. In Ma’s own words, the Chinese e-commerce giant is still just “a baby.”

Yet in Hangzhou, in front of thousands of global investors, Ma planted the flag and claimed that his company would one day become one of the world’s most powerful economies by serving 2 billion people and helping 10 million small businesses trade freely on the web. On the face of it, the declaration encapsulates the libertarian dream of empowering individuals and transcending borders. Ma has spent years cultivating an image of a rebel fighting the system, knocking down walls protecting state-owned enterprises and becoming a billionaire in the process.

Yet on closer examination, it’s clear that none of Ma’s rhetoric ignored the groundwork that has already been laid out by Beijing, whether it’s China expanding its footprint in Africa, exploring the ocean frontier in Southeast Asia, or revitalizing the once-famous Silk Road. When Xi Jinping was in Davos talking up global trade, Ma was quick to call (again) for his web-based version of the World Trade Organization. When China touted its One Belt, One Road project, Ma was quick to tout Alibaba’s expansion in those regions. If anything, he’s China’s shadow diplomat, flying more than 870 hours and visiting 40 countries last year to meet with prime ministers and other leaders.

Ma’s dabbling in international affairs is rooted in the goal of amassing billions of customers by 2036. By his own calculation, China will only be able to provide 40 percent of that market, the rest will have to be found overseas. Following China’s Belt-Road project, setting up global trade platforms, even his promise to President Donald Trump to create a million jobs in the U.S. is all part of that plan. Indeed, Ma heads to Detroit next week to bring that message.

If anything, Jack Ma is a master in the dark arts of influence and international affairs. That probably makes him more of a savvy politician than a libertarian icon.

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And here’s what you need to know in global technology news Uber stumbled again as while seeking to fix its scandals. TPG Capital co-founder David Bonderman resigned from the ride-hailing company’s board after making a sexist comment during a meeting intended to address rampant internal gender bias. The billionaire couldn’t have picked a worse setting to interrupt a woman with a comment about how women talk.Nintendo added more reasons to buy the Switch. The Japanese gaming company unveiled a slate of new titles for the hybrid console, seeking to boost sales during this year’s critical year-end shopping season. Most anticipated is a brand-new Pokemon role-playing game, as well as Switch versions of Metroid 4 and Rocket League.

The laptop ban on flights may be expanded, but the U.S. is looking for ways to avoid this (unpopular) step.  Enhancements in the way airports outside the U.S. conduct screening may be enough to head off a ban on large electronic devices slated to cover broad areas of Europe and other regions, a Department of Homeland Security official said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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North Korea Says US Student Released 'On Humanitarian Grounds'

22-year-old Otto Frederick Warmbier from Cincinnati spent more than a year in North Korean detention

Seoul:  North Korea released US student Otto Warmbier “on humanitarian grounds”, state media said Thursday, two days after he was evacuated from Pyongyang after falling into a coma while imprisoned in a labour camp.

The 22-year-old University of Virginia student from Cincinnati spent more than a year in North Korean detention after being arrested for stealing a political poster from a hotel. His family have said he was “terrorised and brutalised” by Kim Jong-Un’s regime.

“Otto Frederick Warmbier, who had been in hard labour, was sent back home on June 13, 2017 on humanitarian grounds according to the adjudication made on the same day by the Central Court of the DPRK,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a one-line statement.

Warmbier’s release came after a flurry of secret diplomatic contacts between Washington and Pyongyang, which culminated in Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special envoy on North Korea, travelling to Pyongyang to secure Warmbier’s release.

“Joseph Yun went to Pyongyang to accompany Mr Warmbier home,” Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told reporters in Seoul Wednesday.

Warmbier’s parents Fred and Cindy have said that they were told their son had been in a coma since March 2016, allegedly after falling ill from botulism and being given a sleeping pill.

“Otto is not in great shape right now,” Fred Warmbier told Fox News Wednesday.

Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour, a sentence the US decried as far out of proportion to his alleged crime, accusing the North of using him as a political pawn.

The New York Times reported a senior US official as saying the authorities recently received intelligence indicating Warmbier was repeatedly beaten while in custody.

The release came amid tension between Washington and Pyongyang following a series of missile tests by the North, focusing attention on an arms buildup that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Monday dubbed “a clear and present danger to all.”

The North has occasionally jailed US citizens and released them only after visits by high-profile political figures, including former president Bill Clinton.

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'Someone Is Jumping': London Fire Survivors Share The Nightmare

London:  Sajad Jamalvatan was at the movies Tuesday night when he got a call from his panicked mother. Come home quickly, she begged.

“The building is on fire!” she said.

A few minutes later, the 22-year-old biomedical engineering student rounded the corner to see Grenfell Tower transforming into an inferno.

“As soon as I arrived, someone pointed and said, ‘Someone is jumping! Someone is jumping!'” he recounted on Wednesday with the smell of smoke lingering in the air. He estimated the person jumped from the 16th or 17th floor of the 24-floor tower.

That kind of fall is not the kind you can survive. The number of dead touched at least 12 – with dozens more injured and authorities warning the death toll could rise.

Witnesses recalled a mother dropping her baby off a balcony and young children banging frantically on windows before disappearing behind a thick blanket of smoke.

“Seeing people die in front of you . . .” he said as his voice trailed off and he stared hard at the sidewalk.

He said the blaze had advanced quickly, and that the alarms did not appear to have been triggered.

“When I arrived, there were 10 flats on fire. After that, the whole building was on fire,” he said.

He snapped his fingers. “It went like that,” he said.

Accounts such as his quickly added to suspicions that the material used in the 24-story building could have contributed to the fast-moving blaze at an enclave of modest-priced units in one of Britain’s richest neighborhoods.

The residents’ association from the tower block had previously warned the tower was a potential fire risk – they highlighted their concerns in a blog post last year – and there was palpable anger on the streets that more could have been done to prevent the fire.

Some complained the fire alarms didn’t work properly. Others said the staircase in the middle of the building was inadequate. Still others claimed that those who managed the building did things on the cheap.

The London Fire Brigade called the fire “unprecedented,” and said an investigation was underway.

At a nearby community center, meanwhile, hundreds gathered in hopes of locating missing friends and relatives – including some Muslim residents who were gathered for the evening meals during the holy month of Ramadan.

Concerned locals also arrived in droves, many carrying plastic shopping bags sagging with food, diapers, toiletries and blankets. One man pushed a baby stroller teetering with water, milk and cans of baked beans.

Ahmed Chellat, 60, a retired community worker, was at a community center looking for his brother-in-law, his wife, and their three children who lived on the 21st floor of the tower. He said he spoke to his brother-in-law’s wife at 1:45 a.m. and that she was told to stay put.

When he asked her why they weren’t instead rushing out of the building, she told him: “They are telling us to stay in – they asking us to cover doors with towels. But fire is coming heavily,” he recalled.

When he called back 30 minutes later, “the last thing she said was. ‘Smoke was coming heavily into flat.'”

“If the emergency services tell them to stay inside, it means you are coming to get them. Did they? These are big questions,” he said.

Many residents said the building had recently been refurbished and fitted with plastic panels that they believed helped the fire to spread quickly. “You could hear it cracking. Hear it flying. If it was brick it would not have caught fire as quickly,” said Chellat.

In similar fires elsewhere around the world, flammable exterior cladding has been blamed for several rapid fires at high-rises – including several blazes among Dubai’s many skyscrapers.

Just before New Year’s celebrations to welcome 2016, a fire raced through the 63-story Address hotel in Dubai as millions of people watched television coverage of the festivities at the nearby Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. A handful of people suffered injuries in the fire.

In January, Dubai civil defense authorities ordered new fire safety regulations that include fire-resistant cladding and other measures.

Mohamed Bouye, a 44-year-old manager, was touring the local community centers in London trying to find his friend from the 18th floor of the tower.

“No word, no answer. So yeah . . .” he said, as police began putting up a security cordon next to him.

He watched the fire burn throughout the night. When he first arrived at the tower, shortly after 1 a.m., it looked as if the fire could be contained to one section of the building. He said he even saw one man casually leaning over the railing of the building, like there was no imminent danger. But things changed quickly.

“The flames went from the 9th floor to the 27th floor in 10 minutes,” he said. “There were then screams. ‘Help us!’ I saw two people jump, two bodies flying down, they were between floors 10 and 15. Other people told me they saw people jumping from the other side of the building.”

Christine Umeh, 35, was woken up at about 3 a.m. by the whirring of helicopters, which continued on throughout the day on Wednesday. When she looked outside of her building, which faces the tower, saw helpless residents on the top floors flicking their lights on and off, on and off.

“It’s like they were saying, ‘Just help me. I’m here. Try to help me,'” she said, as she pushed her 21-month-old daughter back-and-forth in her stroller.

“It was like an SOS signal.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Egypt's Parliament Approves Red Sea Islands Transfer To Saudi Arabia

An aerial view of the coast of the Red Sea. (Reuters Photo)

Cairo:  Egypt’s parliament on Wednesday backed plans to hand over two uninhabited Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia under an agreement that has attracted widespread public criticism.

House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdelaal said the required majority of lawmakers had voted for the agreement, which the government signed last year, despite a court striking it down in March.

“I announce the House’s final approval of the maritime demarcation agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed on April 8, 2016,” Abdelaal said before adjourning the session.

The treaty must now be ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which is a formality.

The vote came very swiftly. The House Committee on Defence and National Security unanimously backed the plan earlier on Wednesday and referred it to the House for a final vote.

A majority approved it less than four hours later. Those opposed to the measure stood up in protest and chanted “Egyptian, Egyptian” in reference to the islands.

“Today is a terrible day for the Egyptian people, one in which the nation has lost part of its land,” said lawmaker Haitham al-Hariri.

Several legislators opposed to the deal threatened to hold an open-ended sit-in. Some said they were considering resigning in protest.

Sisi’s government last year announced the maritime demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia, which has given billions of dollars of aid to Egypt, ceding control of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.

The plan triggered street protests last year from many Egyptians, who say their country’s sovereignty over the islands dates back to a treaty from 1906, before Saudi Arabia was founded.

Dozens of protesters gathered in downtown Cairo outside the press union on Tuesday evening. Eight were arrested, including three journalists, and are being held for 24 hours to be questioned on accusations of illegally protesting and insulting the president, according to state news agency MENA.

The Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands are Saudi but have been subject to Egyptian protection since 1950 at the request of Saudi Arabia.

Jurisdiction Spat

The treaty has been referred to the courts, irritating Riyadh and raising tensions between two Arab allies.

Egypt’s highest administrative court blocked the deal but parliament insisted the matter was constitutionally within its domain.

Parliamentary leaders and government lawyers say the House of Representatives is the only entity allowed to rule on matters of sovereignty while the Supreme Administrative Court insists it is within its jurisdiction to scrap the deal.

The Supreme Constitutional Court will rule on who has jurisdiction but has not set a date or even started discussing the issue. It was not immediately clear what the legal situation of the treaty was following Wednesday’s vote.

A government report advising parliament on the terms of the agreement said Egypt would keep administrative control over the islands and Egyptians would not need visas to visit them if they were transferred to Saudi Arabia.

Opposition groups accuse Sisi of handing over the islands to please his Saudi backers and in return for continued aid.

Saudi Arabia was Sisi’s biggest international supporter when he led the military in ousting an elected but unpopular Islamist president in 2013 following mass protests.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Twin Girls Joined At The Head Go Through One Of World's Rarest Surgeries

For the first time, conjoined twins Abby and Erin Delaney can sleep in separate beds.

The 10-month-old girls from North Carolina were born connected at the head, an extremely rare condition. Following months of planning and preparation, the pair underwent a successful 11-hour separation surgery last week at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in southeastern Pennsylvania, according to the hospital.

“Separating conjoined twins is a very complex surgery followed by a long and complicated recovery, but we are very hopeful for a positive outcome,” Jesse Taylor, a plastic surgeon who co-led the operation with neurosurgeon Gregory Heuer, said Tuesday in a statement from the hospital. “Erin and Abby are now recovering in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit under close monitoring by our expert teams.”

With identical twins, an embryo splits in two early in a pregnancy; but with conjoined twins, the embryo does not separate all the way and the twins remain connected, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Conjoined twins are uncommon, occurring once in about every 200,000 births – and craniopagus twins, those who are connected at the head, are the rarest form, accounting for about 2 percent of conjoined twins, according to the medical center.

The severity of the condition depends on how and where the conjoined twins are connected. One expert said that most craniopagus twins do not survive.

Abby and Erin’s parents, Riley and Heather Delaney, learned that their girls were conjoined early last year when Heather Delaney was about 11 weeks pregnant.

Although it was too soon to know whether the twins would be able to be separated, Heather Delaney started traveling from North Carolina to Pennsylvania for her prenatal care. Eventually, she moved into a hospital facility in Philadelphia for mothers carrying babies with complex congenital conditions, according to the hospital.

On July 24, 2016, Abby and Erin were delivered by C-section 10 weeks prematurely, each weighing about 2 pounds, the hospital said in a statement.

Doctors there worked on a comprehensive plan to try to separate them.

Alan R. Cohen, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said that he could not comment on the Delaneys’ case specifically but that separating craniopagus twins “can be a high-risk surgery.”

Cohen said surgeries are done at major medical centers where teams of neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists and critical-care physicians spend months studying patients’ brain scans and, often, 3-D models “to try to find the safest way to make the disconnection.”

“Depending on where the heads are joined and how much they are fused, that determines the complexity of the operation,” Cohen said. He added that “the most feared complication of the surgery is how to manage the shared blood vessels – particularly the veins that drain the brain – because usually one twin gets the good veins and the other doesn’t.”

There are also ethical considerations with separation surgery, Cohen said. He said that the twins may not survive the intervention, or sometimes one twin survives and the other does not or is in poor neurological condition.

He said “success” means the surgeons are able to separate the twins, but “in terms of the long-term prognosis, it’s usually a long road ahead for the family and the medical team caring for them.”

The night before the Delaneys’ surgery on June 6, someone posted on a Facebook page set up for the twins. “The girls have a big procedure tomorrow,” the post read. “We ask for as many prayers as you can spare. It will be a long day for us.”

For days after, the messages asked others to “bear with us” and “keep praying for us.”

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said about 30 doctors, nurses and other medical personnel worked to separate the twins – a first for the hospital. The hospital said it has separated 22 other pairs of conjoined twins over the past 60 years but never a pair of craniopagus twins.

The surgery was meticulously orchestrated: Surgical equipment was color-coded with green and purple tape – one color assigned to each patient. The medical team worked essentially on one body – and then once the girls were separated – the team split to care for two.

“During the separation surgery, our team first meticulously separated the infants’ shared blood vessels and dura, the tough protective membrane surrounding both brains, then moved on to separate the sagittal sinus, the most difficult portion of the operation,” Heuer, the neurosurgeon, said in the statement. “Finally, we divided our team into two halves, one for each of the girls, and finished the reconstruction portion of the surgery.”

The hospital said the twins will likely have additional surgeries but plans to send them home later this year.

“When we go home, it’s going to be a big party,” Heather Delaney said in a statement from the hospital. “Welcome home, baby shower, first birthday.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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He Caught Two-Headed Sea Creature. It Was Two Feet Long

In the cold waters of the North Sea, trawlers caught 2-feet long animal and with two heads

In the cold waters of the North Sea, trawlers catch all manner of unintended things. Garbage, often. Porpoises, sometimes, for the shores of the Netherlands are teeming with hundreds of thousands of them.

But on May 30, several nautical miles off the Hook of Holland, a boat hauled up something perhaps never before seen by man. Two feet long . . . and with two heads.

A photo of the thing began to circulate through the Netherlands – eventually to the inbox of Erwin Kompanje, the curator of mammals at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, who was astounded.

He recalled his first thought: “Where??”

Where was it, and how soon could he get it into a lab?

Even today, in an age of science, it might appear to many people to be a two-headed sea monster.

Kompanje knew better, though the truth was no less astounding. He was looking at photos of two conjoined harbor porpoises, newborns sharing a single body, a rarity among rarities in all the oceans in the world.

“There are only nine cases known until now” of conjoined twins among cetaceans, said Kompanje, who has studied dolphins, whales and porpoises for 20 years. “Even normal twinning is rare; there’s no room in the womb of the mother for harboring more than one baby.”

And the few specimens that had been found were usually undeveloped fetuses, like the “double monster” – one head and two bodies – found in the womb of a dolphin caught by herders off the coast of Japan in 1970. In 2001, a bottlenose dolphin calf with two beaks was caught in the Mediterranean sea, but it was partially decomposed. And these are among the better-documented cases.

The photos Kompanje found himself staring at in shock showed a specimen that – while obviously dead – looked to be in perfect condition.

The brothers (for he could tell they were male) must have just been born, he reasoned, for the dorsal fin had not yet risen. And tiny hairs lost soon after birth could be seen on the two faces above the fin.

“I think it was born alive,” Kompanje said.

The brothers couldn’t have survived long. They would have either drowned as two brains told one body to swim different ways, or simply succumbed to their single heart’s failure to pump enough blood.

But whatever happened in their short life, they had by pure luck found their way into a fishing net before nature destroyed their body’s value to science.

For a researcher hungry for any morsel of information about man’s aquatic mammalian cousins, it was a one-in-a-billion discovery.

So Kompanje got the boss of the fishing crew on the phone, who was helpful – providing the exact coordinates and details of the catch.

The possibilities expanded in the researcher’s mind. Kompanje had been planning an MRI for the porpoises. A CT scan, 3-D imaging. And then, when the research was completed, the brothers might be preserved forever in a museum.

And just then, on the phone with the trawler boss, he learned the true end of this strange tale.

“They thought it was illegal to collect it,” Kompanje said. “They made four photographs and threw it back into the sea. Back into oblivion.”

In that expanse of square miles of deep water, there was no hope of finding it again.

Kompanje did what he could with what evidence that chance had preserved. The fishermen’s photos from the boat were good enough to co-author a paper with other marine researchers, which was published this month, and said what there was to say about the porpoises.

But Kompanje has no illusions. He does not expect to see anything like it again in his lifetime.

“For a cetologist,” he said, “this a real horror.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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2 US Navy Vessels Arrive In Doha For Joint Exercise: Report

Two US Navy vessels arrived in Doha for joint military exercise with Qatari Emiri Navy (Representational)

Dubai:  Two US Navy vessels arrived in Doha to take part in a joint military exercise with the Qatari Emiri Navy on Wednesday, Qatar news agency QNA reported.

Qatar, a major ally of the US and other Western countries, has been in the spotlight since four major Arab powers, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, severed their ties with the country and accused it of supporting terrorism and working secretly with Iran, the arch-foe of the Saudis.

Qatar hosts the biggest US military base in the Middle East with 11,000 troops deployed to or assigned to al Udeid Air Base. More than 100 aircraft operate from there.

The Pentagon last week renewed praise of Qatar for hosting a vital US air base and for its “enduring commitment to regional security,” after four Arab countries cut ties with the Gulf ally.

The Pentagon reassurance differed from the US President Donald Trump comments that applauded the decision, via Twitter.

It was unclear if the arrival of the two warships was planned before the Gulf rift or if was a sign of support from the Pentagon.

The crews of the two vessels were received by Qatari navy officers, QNA said, citing a statement from the country’s defence ministry.

Turkey sent its foreign minister to Qatar as part of a drive to resolve the crisis. Kuwait, a neighbour and a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), also has been mediating.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Donald Trump Being Investigated For Possible Obstruction Of Justice

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Trump’s own conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from former FBI Director James Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.

Five people briefed on the requests, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’ recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy and it’s unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.

The NSA said in statement that it will “fully cooperate with the special counsel,” and declined to comment further. The office of Director of National Intelligence and Ledgett declined to comment.

The White House now refers all questions about the Russia investigation to Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz. “The FBI leak of information regarding the President is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Kasowitz.

The officials said Coats, Rogers and Ledgett would appear voluntarily, though it remains unclear whether they will describe in full their conversations with Trump and other top officials, or will be directed by the White House to invoke executive privilege. It is doubtful the White House could ultimately use executive privilege to try to block them from speaking to Mueller’s investigators. Experts point out that the Supreme Court ruled during the Watergate scandal that officials cannot use privilege to withhold evidence in criminal prosecutions.

The obstruction of justice investigation into the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s office has now taken up that work, and the preliminary interviews scheduled with intelligence officials indicate his team is actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government.

The interviews suggest Mueller sees the attempted obstruction of justice question as more than just a “he said, he said” dispute between the president and the fired FBI director, an official said.

Probing the president for possible crimes is a complicated affair, even if convincing evidence of a crime is found. The Justice Department has long held that it would not be appropriate to indict a sitting president. Instead, experts say the onus would be on Congress to review any findings of criminal misconduct and then decide whether to initiate impeachment proceedings.

Comey confirmed publicly in congressional testimony on March 20 that the bureau was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Comey’s statement before the House Intelligence Committee upset Trump, who has repeatedly denied that any coordination with the Russians took place. Trump had wanted Comey to disclose publicly that he wasn’t personally under investigation but the FBI director refused to do so.

Soon after, Trump spoke to Coats and Rogers about the Russia investigation.

Officials said one of the exchanges of potential interest to Mueller took place on March 22, less than a week after Coats was confirmed by the Senate to serve as the nation’s top intelligence official.

Coats was attending a briefing at the White House together with officials from several other government agencies. When the briefing ended, as The Post previously reported, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Coats told associates that Trump had asked him if he could intervene with Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials. Coats later told lawmakers that he never felt pressured to intervene.

A day or two after the March 22 meeting, Trump telephoned Coats and Rogers to separately ask them to issue public statements denying the existence of any evidence of coordination between his campaign and the Russian government.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the president’s requests, officials said.

It is unclear whether Ledgett had direct contact with Trump or other top officials about the Russia probe, but he wrote an internal NSA memo documenting the president’s phone call with Rogers, according to officials.

As part of the probe, the special counsel has also gathered Comey’s written accounts of his conversations with Trump. The president has accused Comey of lying about those encounters.

Mueller is overseeing a host of investigations involving people who are or were in Trump’s orbit, people familiar with the probe said. The investigation is examining possible contacts with Russian operatives as well as any suspicious financial activity related to those individuals.

Last week, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had informed Trump that there was no investigation of the president’s personal conduct, at least while he was leading the FBI.

Comey’s carefully worded comments, and those of Andrew McCabe, who took over as acting FBI director, suggested to some officials that a probe of Trump for attempted obstruction may have been launched after Comey’s departure, particularly in light of Trump’s alleged statements regarding Flynn.

“I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards, to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that’s an offense,” Comey testified last week.

Mueller has not publicly discussed his work, and a spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

Accounts by Comey and other officials of their conversations with the president could become central pieces of evidence if Mueller decides to pursue an obstruction case.

Investigators will also look for any statements the president may have made publicly and privately to people outside the government about his reasons for firing Comey and his concerns about the Russia probe and other related investigations, people familiar with the matter said.

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that he was certain his firing was due to the president’s concerns about the Russia probe, rather than over his handling of a now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, as the White House had initially asserted. “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change – or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

The fired FBI director said ultimately it was up to Mueller to make a determination whether the president crossed a legal line.

In addition to describing his interactions with the president, Comey told the intelligence committee that while he was FBI director he told Trump on three separate occasions that he was not under investigation as part of a counter-intelligence probe involving Russian meddling in the election.

Republican lawmakers seized on Comey’s testimony to point out Trump wasn’t in the FBI’s crosshairs when Comey led the FBI.

After Comey’s testimony in which he acknowledged telling Trump that he was not under investigation, Trump tweeted that he felt “total and complete vindication.” It is unclear if McCabe, Comey’s successor, has informed Trump of the change in the scope of the probe.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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'Catastrophe Was Inevitable': London Fire Came After Years Of Warnings

LONDON:  Through the night and deep into the day, the crackling fire raged, sweeping through apartments and destroying lives like an out-of-control inferno from an earlier century, or perhaps from a less affluent part of the world.

But this was London. This was 2017. And Wednesday’s fire was unlike any seen here in recent memory, a blaze that transformed a 24-story high-rise that was once home to about 500 people into a charred ruin on the city’s otherwise gleaming skyline.

The fire marked a fresh trauma in a city already roiled by terrorist attacks, an unhappy and divisive political campaign, and the lingering uncertainty over Brexit, all of which seemed to endow the tragedy with an extra measure of dismay.

But it was also, residents of the Grenfell Tower public housing development bitterly said, the specific and predictable result of years of warnings that had gone unheeded, an emblem of a city that is neglecting its most vulnerable residents even as it increasingly caters to the whims of the ultra-rich.

In one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of London – a short amble from the homes of celebrities and royals – people living in one of the city’s increasingly in-demand havens of affordable housing jumped from 20 floors up after being trapped by the advancing flames.

Children banged on closed windows as they were enveloped by the thick black smoke. A woman dropped her baby, desperately hoping someone would catch the infant in the street below.

By early evening, police said that 12 people had died and more than 70 had been injured. But with many people still unaccounted for, authorities said the toll was almost certain to rise.

The scenes of a skyscraper engulfed in flames on a picture-perfect, blue-sky day evoked memories of New York in September 2001. But there was no reason to think terrorism was a factor, authorities said.

The investigation, they said, would take time to assess what officials hinted could amount to a series of failures that, together, amounted to what London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton described as “an unprecedented incident.”

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” she said as the building continued to belch smoke that could be seen for miles around.

At least 40 fire engines responded to the scene, where 200 firefighters waged a futile battle to contain the blaze. As fiery debris rained from above, they raced into the building wearing breathing tanks and searched floor by floor for survivors even amid concerns that the structure could collapse.

Outside, residents who had survived praised the firefighters but blamed the fire on official neglect. They said they had repeatedly raised fire safety concerns, which they said included the building’s inadequate escape routes, the absence of an integrated alarm system and a renovation last year that they worried had left their building clad in panels that were shiny and new but not up to code.

“Anyone who earns below 10 million pounds a year is not human in this borough,” said James Wood, a resident of an adjacent public-housing development who claimed that he and people from Grenfell Tower had lobbied the local council to take the issue seriously, to no avail. “They don’t care about fire safety.”

The Web page of the Grenfell Action Group, a residents’ organization, testified to the long-standing concerns, with blog entries stretching back years that warned of the dangers.

“All our warnings fell on deaf ears,” the group said in a post added Wednesday morning, hours after the fire broke out. “We predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

The target of the group’s ire – the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization, which runs public housing in the area on behalf of the local council – issued a statement late in the afternoon in which it acknowledged that residents had earlier raised concerns and vowed to “co-operate fully with all the relevant authorities in order to ascertain the cause of this tragedy.”

Nick Paget-Brown, who leads the borough council, also acknowledged that residents had had long-standing concerns. He did not discuss them specifically, saying, “There are always concerns about fire safety in high-rise buildings.”

Paget-Brown told the BBC that there would be “a thorough investigation into why the fire started and why it spread so quickly.”

Although officials would not speculate, experts said Wednesday that their focus was on the building’s exterior cladding, which is supposed to be fireproof but which witnesses said had burned like paper, quickly transmitting the fire from unit to unit and from floor to floor.

“It appears that the external cladding has significantly contributed to the spread of fire at Grenfell Tower,” said Angus Law, an expert with the Building Research Establishment Center for Fire Safety Engineering at the University of Edinburgh.

Law said that British regulations are intended to halt the spread of fire between units and floors in high-rise buildings, but that when that fails, “the consequences are often catastrophic.”

Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, contained 120 units of publicly subsidized housing, with low-income and disabled residents given priority. It was one among a cluster of high-rises that stick out from the northern tip of leafy and stately Kensington, marking an unofficial western entry point to central London.

The first hint that something was wrong came just before 1 a.m. when, according to a fourth-floor resident interviewed by the BBC, a neighbor knocked on the door to say his “fridge had exploded.”

Experts said firefighters should have had time to extinguish the blaze before it spread to other units. Instead, it leapt within minutes to other floors – but somehow never triggered any building-wide alarms.

Hundreds of residents, many of whom were asleep when the blaze broke out, were forced to flee over the coming hours down a cramped, dark and smoky stairwell – the building’s only escape route.

Adeeb, who declined to give his last name, said he learned of the fire only when his daughter woke him in their ninth-floor apartment.

“She said, ‘I can see fire,’ and I opened the door and could see smoke,” said Adeeb, who is from Syria but has lived in Britain for 16 years. “It was like a horror movie. Smoke was coming from everywhere.”

Adeeb, who is on crutches, hobbled to safety with his wife and three daughters. One daughter was later hospitalized.

Others were not nearly as fortunate. Several residents said emergency responders had ordered them to stay inside, in keeping with the building’s protocol for fires. But the protocol assumes that a blaze will be contained, not that it will consume the entire building.

Throughout the morning, witnesses reported harrowing scenes as residents trapped on top floors leaned out windows, flashing their cellphone lights and calling frantically for help.

Wood, a 32-year-old graphic designer who lives in an adjacent building, said he saw a woman on about the 13th floor holding a baby out a window until all hope of a rescue had passed.

“She dropped the baby,” he said. “I’m hoping it was into someone’s arms. But I don’t think the mother made it.”

Wood also said he saw children, about 5 years old, banging on a closed window.

“And then it was black smoke. It was all up in flames,” he said. “I know they didn’t make it.”

Video: A fire tore through a 24-story apartment building on June 14 in west London, shortly before 1 a.m. The London Fire Commissioner said “a number” of people have been confirmed dead. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

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Qatar Signs $12 Billion Deal For US F-15 Jets Amid Gulf Crisis

Qatar will sign a deal to buy as many as 36 F-15 jets from the US as the two countries navigate tensions over President Donald Trump’s backing for a Saudi-led coalition’s move to isolate the country for supporting terrorism.

Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah and his US counterpart, Jim Mattis, completed the $12 billion agreement on Wednesday in Washington, according to the Pentagon.

The sale “will give Qatar a state of the art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar,” the Defense Department said in a statement.

Congress last year approved a sale of as many as 72 F-15s in an agreement valued at as much as $21 billion, providing authorization for the deal completed Wednesday. But that was before Qatar’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, severed diplomatic, trade and transport links last week in a move they said was aimed at isolating the country for its support of terrorist groups and Iran.

The F-15 sale highlights the complex position the Trump administration finds itself in, forced to balance its focus on fighting terrorism against regional rivalries between key allies. Qatar hosts the regional headquarters for U.S. Central Command, which includes a state-of-the-art air base the U.S. depends on to target Islamic State.

Decision ‘Confusing’

“It is confusing, and the worst thing you want to do in a heated, delicate situation like this is to give mixed messages,” Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington, said of the Pentagon announcement.

Qatar’s Defense Ministry said the deal would create 60,000 jobs in 42 US states while reducing the burden on US forces. The F-15 accord will lead to “closer strategic collaboration in our fight to counter violent extremism and promote peace and stability in our region and beyond,” the ministry said Wednesday in a statement.

After the Gulf countries moved against Qatar, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson initially declined to take sides in the crisis, but his cautious stance was overshadowed almost immediately by Trump, who sent a series of tweets that appeared to take credit for and praise the decision.

The US position was further muddied last Friday, when Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia to ease the blockade, only to have Trump, at a White House news conference hours later, say the move had been the right one.

“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Trump said in a speech at the White House last week. “We ask Qatar, and other nations in the region to do more and do it faster.

Read Why Tiny Qatar Angers Saudi Arabia and Its Allies

Tillerson has since sought to mediate the dispute from Washington, meeting with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Monday. He was scheduled to meet the foreign minister of the UAE — another member of the Saudi coalition — for dinner Wednesday night.

“I would characterize the mood and the approach to that as being one that is hopeful, that believes that the worst is behind us,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday.

US Presence

While Trump appeared to back Saudi Arabia and Tillerson took a more neutral tone, the Defense Department underscored its relations with Qatar, saying the US was grateful to the country for its support of the US presence there.

“We encourage all our partners in the region to work towards common solutions that enable regional security,” Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a spokesman for US Air Forces Central Command, said in a statement when the crisis began.

Last year, after the State Department approved the jet sale, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency issued a report saying that the proposed sale “enhances the foreign policy and national security of the United State by helping to improve the security of a friendly country and strengthening our strategically important relationship.”

“Qatar is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region,” the agency said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Donald Trump Visits Wounded Republican Congressman In Hospital

Washington:  US President Donald Trump and wife Melania made a surprise visit Wednesday to the bedside of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise, critically wounded in a shooting at a charity baseball event.

Trump and the First Lady brought flowers to the hospital in northeast Washington where the lawmaker was recovering after surgery following the shooting in nearby Virginia, the White House said.

A rifle-wielding critic of President Donald Trump opened fire Wednesday on US lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game, seriously wounding a top Republican congressman and three others before he was killed by police.

The 66-year-old gunman was identified as James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, an ardent supporter of liberal Senator Bernie Sanders — who said he was “sickened” by the “despicable act.”

In a national address, Trump also appealed for unity following the morning assault in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, which came amid bitterly partisan political tension in the US capital in the aftermath of a vitriol-filled 2016 election.

“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” said the US president.

Congressman Steve Scalise — the number three Republican in the House of Representatives and a strong supporter of US gun rights — underwent surgery after being shot in the left hip.

He remains in critical condition following initial surgery and blood transfusions, MedStar Washington Hospital Center said in an update late Wednesday.

“The bullet traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding,” a statement said.

“He will require additional operations.”

Three others were shot and injured: a congressional aide, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, and a US Capitol Police officer.

A second Capitol police officer suffered non-gunshot injuries, the FBI said. Two congressman said they had sustained minor injuries while trying to take cover.

Trump described Scalise as a “very good friend” and “patriot,” telling him: “America is praying for you and America is praying for all of the victims of this terrible shooting.”

He and First Lady Melania Trump later visited Scalise in hospital, bringing flowers.  

The FBI said it had recovered and was attempting to trace two weapons, a rifle and a handgun, and was actively investigating Hodgkinson’s “associates, whereabouts, social media impressions, and potential motivations.”

According to his Facebook page, Hodgkinson was a fervent supporter of Sanders, the feisty independent who battled Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination last year.

Hodgkinson’s social media posts displayed strong anti-Trump sentiment.

“I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” his brother, Michael Hodgkinson, told The New York Times. But he said news of the shooting came “totally out of the blue.”

Sanders swiftly responded to reports the suspect had volunteered on his presidential campaign.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” he said.

“Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

– ‘Run, he’s got a gun’ –

All Wednesday House votes were canceled, but the annual congressional baseball game will go on as planned at Nationals Park.

“It will be play ball tomorrow night at 7:05,” Congressman Joe Barton, manager of the Republican team, said at a news conference with Mike Doyle, the Democratic team manager.

Doyle put his hand on Barton’s shoulder several times as the Republican, who was at the practice with his son, recalled the horror of realizing that friends and co-workers were under attack.

“You know, it shouldn’t take an incident like this to bring us together,” Doyle said, as Barton acknowledged that the present day highly-charged political atmosphere has widened the gap between parties on Capitol Hill.

After an all-members briefing where Democrats and Republicans held hands and prayed, House Speaker Paul Ryan and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi addressed the somber chamber and proclaimed lawmakers were “united.”

The shooting took place just after 7:00 am (1100 GMT) as the Republican team practiced for the well-loved charity showdown.

Congressman Rodney Davis told CNN he was at the plate at the time, and Scalise was in the field at second base.

“I was batting, we heard a loud noise…. The next thing I remember was somebody on the field yelling, ‘Run, he’s got a gun.'”

Alexandria police chief Michael Brown said his officers arrived within minutes and engaged Hodgkinson, together with Capitol Police officers. The gunman was taken into custody and later died of his injuries.

Lawmaker Jeff Duncan said he was leaving the practice when he was approached by a man he later learned was the shooter, who asked if the team was Republican or Democrat before heading toward the field.

“I’m shaken up,” Duncan said. “My colleagues were targeted today by someone that wanted to kill them.”

– Gun rights advocate –

Barton had arrived at the US Capitol still wearing his red baseball uniform.

“The heroes are the police officers who attacked the shooter, and in doing so quite probably saved many, many lives.”

Scalise’s office said the 51-year-old was “in good spirits” before entering surgery, although the hospital later updated his status to critical.

The conservative from the southern state of Louisiana is a firm supporter of US gun rights. Last month he introduced legislation that relaxes restrictions on interstate gun sales.

Several Democrats were practicing at a different field when they heard the news, and immediately gathered to pray for their wounded colleague.

Democrat Nanette Barragan said it will be “bittersweet” when she takes the field for her first congressional baseball game — under tightened security.

“We’re going to look over our shoulder a little bit,” she said.


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Top Republican Injured In Virginia Shooting; Suspect Dies In Custody

A man angry with President Donald Trump unleashed a barrage of gunfire Wednesday morning at Republican members of Congress as they held a baseball practice at a park in Alexandria, Virginia, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others in a frenzied scene that included a long gun battle with police.

The gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old unemployed home inspector from southern Illinois, was killed in the shootout. Two Capitol Police officers assigned to Scalise’s security detail were wounded.

Hodgkinson, who had been living in his van in Alexandria for the past few months, had posted anti-Trump rhetoric on his Facebook page, and had written letters to his hometown newspaper blaming Republicans for what he considered an agenda favoring the wealthy.

The mass shooting, coming amid harsh political rancor and a divided country, reverberated through Washington and beyond, as Trump and members of Congress began talking about unity for the first time since the presidential election.

The targeted lawmakers were practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game, a charity competition against a team of Democrats. The game will be played on Thursday night at Nationals Park as planned.

Several congressmen at the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria praised the Capitol Police officers who engaged Hodgkinson, including two who were injured. One lawmaker said the baseball team members would have been sitting ducks had the gunman been able to make it onto the field.

Shooting in Virginia: Police put up crime scene tape.

“It would have been a bloodbath,” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., a retired Army general, said, “If he had been able to gain entrance to the field, it would have been a whole different story,” he said.

As of Wednesday evening, Scalise, La., remained in critical condition after undergoing surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, a hospital spokeswoman said. A lobbyist, a congressional aide and a Capitol Police officer also were shot, while a second officer was struck by shrapnel. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, injured his ankle while helping others take cover.

In a televised statement from the White House, Trump called for people to come together and commended the injured officers.

steve scalise

Shooting in Virginia: House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip.

“Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault,” he said.

Trump said he spoke with Scalise’s wife and offered his full support to the congressman’s family, calling Scalise a friend, patriot and fighter. He also thanked the first responders.

“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said.

Lawmakers and bystanders described a horrific attack that began shortly after 7 a.m., when the shooter began firing more than 50 rounds from a military-style rifle and a handgun, taking aim through the chain-link fence.

Scalise was felled by a bullet to the hip as he fielded grounders at second base, witnesses said. Then the aide and the lobbyist were struck as the gunman moved methodically around the fence and toward the home-plate backstop. As Scalise crawled across the field, leaving a trail of blood, the gunman advanced toward a dugout, where several people were hiding.

Congressmen said the Capitol Police officers emerged from the dugout, moving toward the gunfire. A woman walking her dog heard a female officer scream, “Drop your weapon,” before the gunman “shot her and she fell to the ground.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the officers “went out into the fire to draw the fire. The shooter was moving toward the dugout where the members were, and they were able to take him down.”

Authorities said five people were taken to hospitals, including Hodgkinson. Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, was in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital, a spokeswoman said. Zach Barth, a legislative correspondent for Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, was shot in the leg and released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.

The House Speaker’s office identified the injured Capitol Police officers as Special Agents David Bailey, who was treated and released from a hospital, and Crystal Griner, who was struck in the ankle and hospitalized in good condition. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said both are expected to recover fully. Police identified a third officer who participated as Special Agent Henry Cabrera. They did not say which officers fired their weapons.

Scalise’s office said in a statement that the congressman was in good spirits and speaking to his wife, Jennifer, by phone before he went in for surgery. He has been in Congress since 2008 and represents a district that includes some New Orleans suburbs and bayou parishes. He and his wife have two children.

Verderosa said it “will take a while to sort through all the details” during the investigation, which is now being led by the FBI. Tim Slater of the FBI said it is “too early to tell whether anyone was targeted. … It’s really raw now.”

But focus immediately turned to political statements Hodgkinson made on social media, interactions he had with lawmakers, and run-ins he had with law enforcement officials near his home in Belleville, Ill., a suburb of St. Louis.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., told reporters that, just before the shooting, he spoke briefly with a man he believes was Hodgkinson, and that the man “asked me if the team practicing was a Democrat or Republican team.” Duncan added, “I told him they were Republicans. He said, ‘OK, thanks,’ and turned around.

“I’m shaken up,” Duncan said. “My colleagues were targeted today.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Hodgkinson volunteered on his 2016 Democratic presidential campaign, although an aide said that he had no formal role and that no one could remember him. Sanders denounced the shooting, saying on the Senate floor that he was “sickened by this despicable act.”

Hodgkinson had sent letters to his local newspaper in Illinois decrying income inequality, encouraging the government to tax the rich and supporting President Barack Obama, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. “A strong middle class is what a country needs to prosper,” he wrote in one of his letters to the editor. “The only thing that has trickled down in the last 30 years came from Mitt Romney’s dog.”

Police in Belleville reported responding in March to a complaint that Hodgkinson was shooting at the end of his street, firing 50 rounds “in the pine trees.” Police said that he had a valid license for the weapon, and that he agreed to stop when they told him to.

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., who represented the district where Hodgkinson lived, said that Hodgkinson had contacted his office 14 times via email or by telephone, and that although he never made threats, “he was always angry.”

Stephen Brennwald, a lawyer who lives in Alexandria, said he realized after seeing Hodgkinson’s photo on the news that he was the same man who had been hanging out for at least the past several weeks in the lobby of a YMCA adjacent to Simpson field. Brennwald said Hodgkinson would regularly show up first thing in the morning – about the same time the shooting took place – and look at his laptop or stare out the window.

“He never worked out. He never talked to anybody. He never did anything,” Brennwald said.

Authorities said Hodgkinson used a rifle and a handgun in the attack. They are investigating whether they were obtained legally.

The shooting started at 7:09 a.m. at the popular park on East Monroe Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, near Old Town Alexandria and the Potomac Yard shopping complex on Route 1. The Republican lawmakers were holding their final practice before Thursday night’s game, a traditional event designed to bolster goodwill between two sides of the partisan aisle.

Scalise, who plays second base, was accompanied by members of the Capitol Police Department’s executive protection unit because as majority whip, he is the third highest-ranking member of the House. His security detail was positioned behind the first base dugout; witnesses said the shooter started on the other side of the diamond.

About 20 people were on the field at the time, many catching fly balls from batting practice, and when the gunfire started, players and onlookers took cover in dugouts, under a sport-utility vehicle or in the open on the ground. Barton, the team manger, said the gunman, dressed in blue jeans and a blue shirt, shot at Scalise at second base and fired toward third baseman Trent Kelly, R-Miss.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., saw the shooter and described the scene as “bedlam.” Brooks had just stepped up to home plate with a bat in his hand when heard the first two or three shots.

He heard Scalise scream, then go down.

Brooks said he ran behind the batting cage and watched Scalise drag himself toward the outfield. Brooks lay down in the dirt with two or three others, but then realized that if the shooter moved, “he’d have a clear shot.” So he ran to the first-base dugout. There, he found a staff member who had been shot in the leg, and he said he used his belt as a tourniquet.

He said two officers emerged from the dugout and advanced toward the oncoming bullets.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., still wearing red and white baseball shirt with “Republicans” plastered on it, said he recalled seeing the rifle and then hearing shots. He said the gunman was firing “at anybody he could hit. I don’t know if anybody was targeted, but I just remember seeing some of the gravel bounce up as gunfire hit.”

Katie Fillus of Alexandria had just gotten out of her car to walk her dogs in the park when she said she heard “very, very loud popping sounds.” She said, “Everybody started screaming, ‘Hit the ground! Hit the ground!’ “

Fillus said she lay flat in the field as the gunshots grew louder – “like he was walking across the field toward all of us.”

She said she watched a female officer yell at the gunman and then get shot. “She fell on the ground in front of us,” Fillus said. “And I belly crawled, dragging through the mud. I got to the car and I ducked under the car.”

Bullet holes were left in windows of the YMCA, and bullets were in the swimming pool. Several churches in Alexandria planned community prayer services for Wednesday evening.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., and Barton – managers of the respective teams, said they will still take to the field Thursday night.

“We’re united not as Republicans and Democrats but as United States representatives,” Barton said. “It will be ‘play ball’ tomorrow night, 7:05.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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False Alert After US Air Force Base Placed On Lockdown

Los Angeles, United States:  A US Air Force base in the San Francisco area was temporarily placed on lockdown on Wednesday following what turned out to be a false alert of an active shooter, officials said.

“We received word that our base emergency personnel responded to reports of gun shots,” staff sergeant Nicole Leidholm, a spokeswoman at Travis Air Force Base, told AFP. “However, no shooter was found. The base is no longer on lockdown.”

Leidholm said the alarm was sounded at approximately 3:15 pm local time, prompting officials to urge all personnel, dependents and retirees at the sprawling facility to seek shelter or avoid the base.

The base is located some 55 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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US, Qatar Agree F-15 Fighter Sale

The State Department last year said it had authorized the sale of 72 F-15 Strike Eagle jets to Qatar.

Washington, United States:  US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his Qatari counterpart Khalid al-Attiyah signed a letter of agreement Wednesday for a $12-billion sale of US-manufactured F-15 fighters, the Pentagon said.

The sale comes amid a simmering crisis in the Gulf after Qatar’s neighbors accused it of supporting terrorism and cut diplomatic ties.

US President Donald Trump has signalled his support for the Saudi-led move but other US officials have been more cautious and called for dialogue to end the crisis.

“The $12-billion sale will give Qatar a state-of-the-art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Mattis and al-Attiyah also discussed mutual security concerns, including the Islamic State group and “the importance of de-escalating tensions so all partners in the Gulf region can focus on next steps in meeting common goals.”

The Pentagon did not provide additional details on the sale but Bloomberg reported it could include as many as 36 warplanes.

The State Department last year said it had authorized the sale of 72 F-15 Strike Eagle jets to Qatar.

That deal was worth an estimated value of $21 billion.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Bob Dylan Accused Of Lifting Passages Of Nobel Lecture

Bob Dylan delivered a long-awaited lecture last week for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature

New York:  A writer has charged that rock legend Bob Dylan lifted sections of his Nobel Prize lecture from SparkNotes, the free online study guide aimed at students.

Dylan, the surprise winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, last week delivered a long-awaited lecture that was a requirement to receive the eight million kroner ($923,000) prize from the Swedish Academy.

Author Andrea Pitzer, examining his lecture for the news site Slate, said she found striking similarities between Dylan’s quotations from Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby-Dick” and the SparkNotes version.

Dylan, for example, quotes Melville as calling the elusive whale Moby “the embodiment of evil.” But Pitzer pointed that the phrase does not appear in the novel itself, although it appears in the SparkNotes synopsis.

At least 20 references in Dylan’s lecture about “Moby-Dick” bear some similarity to the SparkNotes version, she wrote.

Pitzer noted that Dylan has long been unabashed about adapting musical and lyrical passages into his songs.

“Dylan remains so reliant on appropriation that tracing his sourcing has become a cottage industry,” she wrote.

Lifting from earlier works is much more commonplace in music than in literature, where accusations of plagiarism are a major dent on reputation.

The Swedish Academy stunned observers by choosing “rock poet” Dylan for literature’s top prize.

Dylan — whose representatives did not reply to the Slate article — took more than two weeks before acknowledging the prize and skipped the ceremony in December, citing pre-existing commitments.

But Dylan, famously taciturn when he is not singing, finally explored his connections with literature in his Nobel lecture in which he also cited as influences Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” and World War I novel “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, had described the lecture as “extraordinary and, as some might expect, eloquent.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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US Congressman Steve Scalise, Shot In Virginia, Is 'Stable'

Steve Scalise was shot in the hip during the attack in Virginia. (Reuters photo)

Washington:  The US congressman shot on Wednesday at a baseball practice in suburban Washington is hospitalised in stable condition, his office said hours after the attack that wounded five people.

“He is in stable condition” at a Washington hospital after being shot in the hip, the office of Steve Scalise, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, said in a statement.

“Prior to entering surgery, (Scalise) was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone,” it added.

Scalise, 51, was shot by an unknown man armed with a rifle during the practice of the a Republican baseball team at a field in Alexandria, Virginia early Wednesday.

Witnesses described dozens of shots fired by the attacker and Capitol Police, who are normally assigned to guard Scalise due to his high position in the Congress.

Scalise was flown from the scene by helicopter to Medstar Washington Hospital Center.

MSNBC, citing officials at George Washington University Hospital, where some of the other victims were taken, said two were in critical condition.

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Top Republican Injured In Virginia Shooting; Suspect Dies

A man unleashed a barrage of gunfire Wednesday at a park in Alexandria, Virginia, as Republican members of Congress held a morning baseball practice, wounding five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, La.

President Donald Trump said the gunman – identified by multiple law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson III, 66, from Illinois – died after a shootout with police, two of whom were wounded in the gun battle.

Scalise was critically injured and remained in critical condition as of Wednesday afternoon, according to MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The wounded also include a congressional aide, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police officers.

As people offered prayers for the victims, a profile began to emerge of Hodgkinson, a onetime home inspector. A Facebook page believed to be his includes pictures of 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and rhetoric against Trump, including a post that reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

In remarks made from the White House shortly before noon, Trump called for unity and commended the injured officers.

“Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault,” Trump said.

Trump said he spoke with Scalise’s wife and offered his full support to the congressman’s family. He called Scalise a friend, patriot and fighter, and thanked the first responders who aided those on the field that morning.

“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said.

Shooting in Virginia: Police put up crime scene tape.

The incident unfolded shortly after 7 a.m. during the final practice before Thursday night’s scheduled charity game between Republicans and Democrats at Nationals Park. Players and bystanders described a horrific and prolonged attack in which wounded police officers returned fire, and Scalise, felled by a bullet to his hip, crawled across the field to get out of harm’s way.

Scalise’s office said the congressman underwent surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in the District.

Zach Barth, a legislative correspondent for Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, was shot but is expected to make a full recovery.

Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, was taken to a hospital in unknown condition, a company spokesman said.

steve scalise

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip.

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said his two wounded officers are in good condition and do not have life-threatening injuries. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., identified the officers as special agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner.

The FBI is now leading the investigation. Verderosa said that “it’s going to take a while to sort through all the details,” and Tim Slater of the FBI said that it is “too early to tell whether anyone was targeted. . . . It’s really raw now. We’re exploring all angles.”

But Hodgkinson’s political statements were immediately examined as a possible motive.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., told reporters that he spoke briefly with a man he thinks was the shooter, and that he “asked me if the team practicing was a Democrat or Republican team.” Duncan added, “I told him they were Republicans. He said, ‘Okay, thanks,’ turned around.”

Sanders, Vt., said Hodgkinson volunteered on his presidential campaign and denounced the shooter’s actions.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” he said in a statement delivered on the Senate floor.

Robert Becker, who served as the Iowa director of Sanders’ presidential campaign, said that Hodgkinson had no formal role on the campaign and that he couldn’t find anyone who remembered him. “We had approximately 100 paid organizers on staff,” Becker said. “He was not one of them.”

Becker said that before the caucuses, about 10,000 people volunteered for Sanders at various times.

Those who frequent the area around the baseball field in Alexandria said Hodgkinson had recently become fixture in neighborhood, reporting he was living out a gym bag and often at the local YMCA a laptop staring out a window in the lobby.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it is conducting emergency traces on one rifle and one handgun.

Scalise’s office, in a statement, said the congressman was out of surgery by 10:30 a.m. The statement said the whip, before surgery, was in good spirits and speaking to his wife, Jennifer, by phone. “He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues,” the statement said.

Scalise, 51, who has been in Congress since 2008, represents a district that includes some New Orleans suburbs and bayou parishes. Before entering Congress, he was a lawmaker in Louisiana for eight years. Scalise and his wife have two children and live in Jefferson, La.

Scalise is the third-highest-ranking House Republican and has a round-the-clock Capitol Police detail.

The shooting occurred at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, on East Monroe Avenue. The popular park – which includes the baseball diamond, soccer fields and a dog park, is in the Del Ray neighborhood, near the Potomac Yard shopping center on Route 1 and Old Town Alexandria, adjacent to a YMCA and across the street from a CVS and an Aldi grocery store.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the manager of the GOP baseball team, said there were “dozens, if not hundreds, of shots fired.” Members of the team and onlookers took cover in dugouts, got down on the ground or beneath a sport-utility vehicle.

In addition to shooting at Scalise, the team’s second baseman, the shooter fired Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., the third baseman. Barton described the suspect as a middle-aged man wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt.

“I think he was anglo and he had a rifle, and I think he had a semiautomatic pistol,” Barton said. “Luckily, no one appeared to be killed,” he added.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., saw the shooter and described the scene as “bedlam.” In an interview, Brooks said he heard two or three shots before he realized the danger. He was stepping up to home plate with a bat in his hand. Then he heard a scream from Scalise, whom he saw fall to the ground.

Brooks said he ran behind the batting cage and watched Scalise drag himself toward the outfield. Brooks lay down in the dirt behind the batting cage with two or three others, but then realized that if the shooter moved, “he’d have a clear shot.” So he ran to the first-basedugout and dove into it.

About a dozen people were there, including one of his staff members who had been shot in the leg. Brooks said he took off his belt and applied a tourniquet. Then he saw a man with a gun appear above him and feared it was a second shooter. Instead, it was a Capitol Police officer shooting back. He and another officer moved toward the shooter, who ran toward home plate and was shot down. “They were both wounded,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told reporters that Scalise was awake after the shooting.

“He was coherent the whole time,” Flake said. He added that a female member of the Capitol Police security detail was airlifted out and that a staff member was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Flake said that it took almost 10 minutes to stop the shooter. Eventually, when the Capitol Police secured the area, Flake grabbed Scalise’s phone and called his wife to tell her what happened.

Still wearing his baseball uniform – a red and white baseball shirt with “Republicans” on it – Flake gave this account:

“We were doing batting practice near the end of the practice, and all of us were on the field, either in line to bat or fielding balls and all of sudden, we heard just a very loud pop, and it sounded like gunfire. It was just one, then a few seconds later it was a rally [of gunfire]. And it was clear, I just remember seeing, he had a rifle.”

Flake said the gunman was firing “at anybody he could hit. I don’t know if anybody was targeted, but I just remember seeing some of the gravel bounce up as gunfire hit. And so a lot of us went into the dugout, because we thought the gunfire was coming near the third-base dugout, just to get some cover.”

He said Williams’ aide was in right field when he was hit in the leg, and he ran to the dugout. “We had to apply pressure to that wound to try to keep the bleeding down.”

Flake said that at one point, “I looked up . . . and saw the gunman. He had come around the back, near home plate, and had a clear line of sight into the dugout, and so we had to get down again.” He said Scalise dragged himself off the field, leaving a trail of blood.

Flake said he didn’t hear the gunman say anything. He said one of the security officers used the dugout for cover as he fired at the gunman. Flake said that at first, he didn’t know whether the security officer was friend or foe. “And I kept yelling: ‘Are you friendly? Are you friendly?’ And he yelled back: ‘Yes.’ And then I could see him come around the dugout, but he was wounded. I’m not sure when he got shot. But he had a wound by his ankle.”

The congressman also said a second officer was shot, a member of the Capitol Police force. “I saw her afterward, and saw her being taken to the helicopter,” Flake said.

Alexandria resident Owen Britton described the shooter as a middle-aged man, perhaps between 55 and 65 years old, with white facial hair and wearing a blue polo shirt. Britton witnessed the man exchanging fire with police over a black sport-utility vehicle, before the man was apparently shot and then handcuffed while lying on the ground.

Katie Fillus of Alexandria had just gotten out of her car to take her dogs to the park when she said she heard “very, very loud popping sounds.”

“And I knew a baseball team was practicing, and everybody started screaming, ‘Hit the ground! Hit the ground!’ “

She said she lay flat in the field as the gunshots grew louder – “like he was walking across the field toward all of us, the gunman, and I was screaming: ‘Can someone help me? I have my dogs and I can’t get behind anything.’ “

Fillus said a police officer pulled out a gun and tried to shoot back. She was screaming, ” ‘Drop your weapon!’ And he shot her, and she fell on the ground.

“She fell on the ground in front of us, and we were all just trying to lay as flat we could. And I belly-crawled, dragging through the mud. I got to the car and I ducked under the car and I laid as close as I could under the car to hide from the person. Then the police seemed to come.”

Susanne Stratton, 28, of Alexandria, was playing with her dog in the dog park next to the baseball field when the shooting began.

“We heard people yelling to get down. We saw people running, some into the dog park, some jumping over the fence,” she said. She said the people in the dog park immediately got down on the ground and pushed their dogs down, as well.

She said there was a burst of shots, then a brief pause, then more shots – she estimated about 20. “It must have been a semiautomatic,” she said.

Reba Winstead, 43, who lives on street adjacent to ballpark, said she heard about 30 shots fired in bursts and saw two people running down her street in exercise clothes.

“One of the bullets whizzed down our street. That’s when I jumped inside, when I heard the whiz,” she said. “It’s just scary, because you don’t hear shots fired in Alexandria very often.”

Charles Halloran, who lives about a block from the park, arrived at a YMCA next to the baseball field at 7:30 a.m.

“Bullet holes in the glass and people were shaking,” Halloran, a former congressional staff member, said in a telephone interview from inside the facility. Bullets went through the YMCA’s building and into the pool.

Reports of violence are extremely rare in Del Ray, a quiet, upscale neighborhood known for its shops, art and craftsman-style houses.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in a suit and tie, stopped by the crime scene to pray, and was viscerally angry about his colleagues being attacked.

“America has been divided,” he said, “and the center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left.” King indicated that it was impossible to separate the hyperpartisan climate in Washington – especially people protesting Trump – and Republican members of Congress being gunned down at a baseball practice.

“The divisions within the country, people that can’t accept the results of the election that are determined to try to take this country down, take this organization down,” King said. “This city was filled up with demonstrations the day after the inauguration, where you couldn’t drive down the streets.”

Brooks said he thinks the shooting was targeted.

“I can’t imagine him going here for any other reason than to kill as many congressmen as they can,” he said. “We understand we’re high-profile targets.”

Speaker Ryan was at the gym on Capitol Hill when he was informed of the shooting, said two GOP lawmakers who saw him there. They said he immediately stopped his workout and headed out, guided by his Capitol Police detail, which is always with him. The lawmakers spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the speaker’s movements.

As Ryan left – and Capitol Police briefly told members about the shooting – the gym quickly quieted and members packed up their belongings and headed to their offices, the lawmakers said.

“Nobody knew what the hell was going on,” one of the Republicans said. “People just left.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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9 People Killed In Suicide Attack On Mogadishu Hotel In Somali

Somali hotel attack: The attack has beem claimed by terrorist Islamist group al Shabaab.

Mogadishu:  At least nine people were killed in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Wednesday when a suicide bomber rammed a car into a hotel, police and witnesses said, in an attack claimed by militant Islamist group al Shabaab.

Gunfire followed the attack on the Posh Hotel, the only venue with a discotheque in the capital, a Reuters witness said.

Witnesses said the whole district was cordoned off by police, and that sporadic gunfire could still be heard.

“So far, we can confirm that nine people – mostly women who were hotel staff – have died,” said Mohamed Hussein, another police officer.

Hussein told Reuters the suicide attacker rammed the explosive-laden car laden into the hotel’s entrance. Another police officer said gunmen had stormed a restaurant adjacent to the hotel in central Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab, which has carried out a campaign of suicide bombings in its bid to topple the Somali government and impose its strict interpretation of Islam, claimed responsibility.

“A mujahid (fighter) with his suicide car bomb martyred himself after he rammed into the Posh Hotel, which is a nightclub. The operation goes on,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group’s military spokesman, told Reuters

Since losing large swathes of territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the government, the group has frequently launched raids and deadly attacks in Mogadishu and other regions controlled by the federal government.

The Horn of Africa country has been racked by armed conflict since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Indian-Origin Leo Varadkar Elected Ireland's Prime Minister

Leo Varadkar joined Irish politics at 22 and became an MP five years later. (Reuters)

Dublin:  Leo Varadkar was elected Irish Prime Minister on Wednesday, making the 38-year-old son of an Indian immigrant the first gay premier of the once-staunchly Catholic country and the youngest person to hold the office.Despite inheriting Europe’s fastest-growing economy, he will face immediate challenges in the shape of neighbouring Britain’s exit from the European Union, a political crisis in Northern Ireland and a housing crisis at home.

Varadkar succeeded Enda Kenny earlier this month as leader of the Fine Gael party. Colleagues pinned their hopes of an unprecedented third term on the straight-talking Varadkar, who they believe can widen their appeal in elections that may be triggered as soon as next year.

“Enda Kenny’s leadership enabled me to become an equal citizen in my own country two short years ago and to aspire to hold this office, an aspiration I once thought was beyond my reach, at least if I chose to be myself,” Varadkar said in reference to Ireland’s 2015 vote to legalise gay marriage.

“The government I lead will not be one of left or right. The government I lead will be one of the new European centre as we seek to build a Republic of opportunity, that is a Republic in which every citizen gets a fair go and in which every part of the country stands to share in our prosperity.”

Varadkar’s elevation marks another chapter in the social change that has swept through the country of 4.6 million people that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and legalised divorce two years later.

“As the country’s youngest holder of this office, he speaks for a new generation of Irish women and Irish men, he represents a modern, diverse and inclusive Ireland and speaks for them like no other,” Kenny told parliament, nominating his successor.

Policy shift

However it is his policies that will attract more scrutiny at home with opponents warning that the former health, tourism and social protection minister, who first joined the centre-right party aged 17, would nudge it further to the right.

While analysts expect few major policy shifts from Varadkar and his new cabinet, the new Fine Gael leader has hinted at some changes.

He has pledged to introduce a less ambitious debt reduction target than the one set by Kenny’s government last year, and to lobby the EU for additional leeway to free up more funding for badly needed infrastructure projects.

On Brexit, he wants Northern Ireland, a British province, to remain in the EU’s single market and retain access to as many EU programmes as possible to ensure it secures a “soft” Brexit that he has said appears more likely following last week’s British election.

Varadkar told parliament on Wednesday that Ireland would hold a referendum next year on liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws, currently among the most restrictive in Europe.

European Council President Donald Tusk, tweeting words of congratulations in the Irish language, assured Varadkar that his fellow EU leaders shared a “great sensitivity” about the challenge the island of Ireland faces in the Brexit talks.

Varadkar, who took his seat in parliament 10 years ago to the day on Wednesday, named Paschal Donohoe finance minister, replacing the retiring Michael Noonan. Donohoe will also retain his existing portfolio as public expenditure minister.

Donohoe, 42, has managed budgetary policy with Noonan for the last year and was previously transport minister where he successfully negotiated the sale of the state’s 30 percent stake in former flag carrier Aer Lingus to IAG.

Varadkar also appointed his chief rival for the leadership, former housing minister Simon Coveney, as foreign minister.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Fire Breaks Out At Mexico's Top Refinery, Nine Injured

Smoke rises from Mexico’s state-owned oil firm Pemex Salina Cruz refinery. (Reuters)

Mexico City:  A major fire broke out at Mexican state oil producer Pemex’s Salina Cruz refinery on Wednesday after a crude spill, injuring nine people and extending the shutdown of the plant into a second day, the company said.

The blaze began in the pump house of Salina Cruz, Mexico’s largest refinery, on Wednesday morning, and the company was working to put it out, a Pemex spokeswoman said.

A Pemex spokesman said the fire had not yet reached the refinery’s nearby massive storage tanks, adding that efforts were under way to prevent that from happening.

Eight of the injured have been released from the hospital, the company said on its Twitter page.

Images sent by local emergency workers showed a tall, thick plume of black smoke spewing from towering flames at the refinery on the Pacific Coast in the southern state of Oaxaca.

An official at the Oaxaca state emergency services said some of the local neighbourhoods near the refinery had been evacuated.

The fire occurred a day after heavy rains prompted the refinery to suspend operations and evacuate personnel.

Tropical Storm Calvin provoked flooding that busted though dams meant to contain a form of heavy oil, causing a spill that later ignited, the company statement said.

It added the blaze had been contained. However, it was unclear when operations might resume.

The refinery has a capacity of 330,000 barrels per day.

For over a year Pemex has been searching for investment partners to boost the aging facility’s productivity, but with no takers to date.

(Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez, Ana Isabel Martinez, Anahi Rama and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and W Simon)

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No Roaming Charges Within European Union But Risks Linger For Travellers

Brussels:  Roaming charges for using mobile phones when travelling within the European Union disappear on Thursday, capping a decade-long battle by Brussels to show increasingly sceptical Europeans it can make their lives better.

Yet for all the excitement it is generating within European Union institutions, opt-outs secured by major telecoms firms and member states’ refusal to give up their lucrative national airwaves may leave many holidaymakers disappointed this summer – and facing higher bills at home.

Ending the practice of adding hefty charges to surf the internet, call or send texts when abroad within the EU has been a cause celebre for the European Commission and Parliament which saw it as an affront to common market ideals.

“The European Union is about bringing people together and making their lives easier. The end of roaming charges is a true European success story,” the institutions said on Wednesday.

The Commission draped a victory banner down its Berlaymont headquarters reading “Goodbye roaming fees”.

The change in legislation finally passed several months ago was certainly welcomed by some visitors to Brussels.

“I think it’s excellent,” said Charlie Wild, a musician from Scotland. “I’ve been in Europe for two weeks spending three pounds ($3.80) a day to be able to use my phone, and tomorrow I don’t have to, and it’s great.”

Julie DuBlanc, visiting from France for work, said, “We’ll be checking our phones more often, as we would in Paris.”

But she may need to be careful. The project has faced numerous setbacks as mobile phone operators have lobbied to maintain what has been a significant source of revenue while the realities of a fragmented telecoms market have confounded politicians’ efforts to do away with the charges.

The snag was that while customers can no longer by law be asked to pay extra when using phones abroad, operators still face wholesale fees from the foreign networks that connect them.

A solution which involves capping wholesale charges has proved fiendishly complex since it means setting a cap that suits companies in all 28 member states, even though domestic mobile rates vary hugely.

North vs south

In northern Europe countries, which are effectively net exporters of tourists, there is concern that high wholesale fees being paid to networks in southern holiday destinations, combined with the loss of roaming revenue, could force firms to stop letting customers use their phones abroad at all.

Alternatively, the companies in the north could raise charges at home to offset the losses, effectively forcing poorer, stay-at-home customers to subsidise travellers.

In the tourist-magnet south, governments argued that low wholesale charges would hurt their local phone operators which play host to visitors, and force them to jack up rates for customers at home as well.

The compromise struck pleased the larger operators but smaller firms said the wholesale roaming caps were still too high, and the effects are beginning to ripple out.

“The regulated wholesale cost still remains relatively high comparative to usage,” said Phillip Malloch, vice-president and head of group public affairs at Swedish operator Telia.

As a result, Telia will stop offering roaming as part of its Swedish data-only mobile broadband price plans, Malloch said.

Operators in Scandinavia and the Baltics, including Telia in Estonia and Lithuania, have also applied for exemptions from the obligation to stop levying roaming charge – something EU rules allow if the companies face at least a 3 percent revenue hit.

Some in the business were not impressed by the loopholes.

“It’s a real shame and disappointment that the incumbent operators, who fought against lower roaming charges so hard, are now abusing the system to over-charge their customers,” said an executive at a virtual network operator, or a company that offers network services using the networks of other providers.

Credit Suisse analysts estimated in April that the introduction of roam-like-at-home was leading to increases in base tariffs to offset the lost revenue, which is expected to be between 2 percent and 5 percent across Europe.

However, Malloch at Telia said it was too early to say who would be the winners and losers, as the end of roaming was likely to lead to higher data consumption as people lounging on the beach stop holding back from sharing their holiday snaps.

“It definitely carries some opportunity also,” Malloch said.

(Additional reporting by Jack Schofield; editing by Alastair Macdonald and David Clarke)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Suspect In Baseball Field Shooting Vented Against Trump on Social Media

Belleville:  The man suspected of opening fire on Republican lawmakers as they played baseball on Wednesday raged against Republican U.S. President Donald Trump on social media and idolized Bernie Sanders, who he saw as the only politician who understood the working class.A senior U.S. official named the gunman as James T. Hodgkinson from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois. State records showed he was a 66-year-old home inspector. He died from injuries sustained in a shoot-out with Capitol Hill police who were at the scene in Alexandria, Virginia.

He is believed by investigators to have been a person “of strong views,” the U.S. official said, without elaborating.

The Belleville News-Democrat, a local newspaper, posted a photograph of Hodgkinson protesting outside a post office there in 2012, wearing sunglasses and a goatee and holding a homemade placard that read “TAX the Rich.”

Hodgkinson was a member of many anti-Republican groups on Facebook including “The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans,” “Terminate The Republican Party,” and “Donald Trump is not my President,” his profile showed before it was taken down.

Trump won the U.S. presidential election in November. Republicans also control both chambers of Congress.

“Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” Hodgkinson wrote in a March 22 post. His profile picture was a U.S. flag with the slogan, “Democratic Socialism explained in 3 words: ‘We the People.'”

Hodgkinson went to Washington several weeks ago to protest against Trump’s election, his brother told the New York Times.

The former mayor of Alexandria, Bill Euille, said he talked with the suspect at the local YMCA most mornings for more than a month, and even tried to help find Hodgkinson a job after seeing he was living out of a gym bag, the Washington Post said.

“He was a very friendly person,” Euille told the Post. “He sat in the Y’s lobby for hours and hours. Outside of myself, I don’t think he knew anyone else in town.”

Euille said the YMCA’s manager told him Hodgkinson was there Wednesday morning and walked to the ballfield at about 7 a.m.

‘Despicable act’

Hodgkinson’s Facebook profile featured a large cover photo of Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who ran unsuccessfully to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate last year.

Sanders, an independent who ran as a progressive populist but was defeated by Hillary Clinton, said the suspect had “apparently volunteered” on his campaign. In a statement, Sanders condemned the shooting as a despicable act.”

One woman who asked not to be named told Reuters that Hodgkinson had contacted her via Facebook as part of a political discussion, but that he subsequently commented on her page that Clinton was a “liar” and a “baby killer.”

“I actually blocked him at one point,” the woman said.

A neighbour in Belleville, William Schaumleffel, recalled how in March he heard gunshots and saw Hodgkinson shooting with a long gun towards woods across a corn field from his yard.

“I yelled at him, ‘Hey stop shooting over there. There are houses over there,'” Schaumleffel said. Hodgkinson did not stop, he added, so he filed a report with the sheriff’s office.

Hodgkinson’s criminal history included a 2006 arrest on battery charges that were later dismissed, as well as multiple traffic violations, according to state records that identified him as a five-foot, six-inch (1.67-meter) man weighing 190 pounds (86 kg), with brown eyes. Most of the infractions were ultimately dropped.

Hodgkinson had been licensed as a home inspector and real estate appraiser, but did not renew his home inspector licence after it expired last year, state records showed. His licence to appraise real estate expired in 1997.

According to Facebook, Hodgkinson went to Belleville Township High School West and studied flight training at Southwestern Illinois College.

Beginning in mid-2015, Hodgkinson began expressing support for Sanders’ 2016 campaign, and federal records showed he donated $18 to the effort.

“Bernie is the Only Candidate in Decades that Really Cares about the Working Class,” Hodgkinson posted on June 13, 2016.

The Belleville News-Democrat published letters he wrote them criticizing Republicans, tax policies and income inequality. One from August 2012 read: “I have never said ‘life sucks,’ only the policies of the Republicans.”

(Additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins, Diane Bartz, Dustin Volz, Letitia Stein, Gina Cherelus, Mark Hosenball, Chris Kenning, Ian Simpson, Angela Moon and Grant Smith; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Frances Kerry and James Dalgleish)

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Shooting At San Francisco Warehouse Kills 4, Including Gunman: Report

The San Francisco Police have asked residents in the area to take shelter

At least four people were killed, including the gunman, when a disgruntled United Parcel Service Inc employee opened fire at a company package sorting hub in San Francisco, two local TV news stations reported.

After firing on co-workers, the suspect turned a gun on himself when confronted by police, according to NBC Bay Area and ABC 7. He later died at an area hospital, they said, citing law enforcement sources.

San Francisco police said the building was secure but offered no immediate information on victims.

Live video showed a massive police presence near the facility that employs 350, with workers being led out and embracing each other on the sidewalk outside.

“The company is saddened and deeply concerned about affected employees, family members and the community we share. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those touched by this incident,” UPS said in a statement.

Victims were taken to the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, spokesman Brent Andrew said. He said he could not say how many patients were taken to the hospital or give their conditions.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Several Killed As Speeding Bus Hits Train In Benin

Several people were killed when a train in Benin collided with a speeding bus (Representational)

COTONOU:  Several people were killed when a train operated by a subsidiary of French industrial group Bollore in Benin collided with a speeding bus, authorities said on Wednesday.

The Benirail train was travelling on the railway that runs from the capital Cotonou to the northern city of Parakou when it collided with the bus, which was exceeding the speed limit, early on Tuesday morning, Ramani Kassoumou, a senior official at the National Centre for Railway Security (CNSR), told Reuters.

Interior Minister Sacca Lafia said the accident caused “several deaths” but did not offer specifics. Hospital sources in the city of Save near where the accident occurred said at least four people had died and another 30 were injured.

Bollore is the operator and largest stakeholder in Benirail, with the remaining stake held by the Benin and Niger governments and other private investors. A Bollore spokesman in Benin could not be immediately reached for comment.

At least 79 people were killed in a crash in Cameroon last October on a train operated by Camrail, also a Bollore unit.

Bollore declined to comment on the report at the time.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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A YouTube Star Got Young Fans To Make Child Porn

A few years into his YouTube singing career, before his popularity peaked, some of Austin Jones’ young fans began to accuse him of strange things.

Teen girls would message him on Facebook or Twitter, hoping for a brush with a minor mop-headed star, and be thrilled when Jones wrote back. But then – some girls alleged – the 20-something singer would ask them to dance for him.

Jones admitted to some of the accusations in 2015. “I shouldn’t have done it,” he said in an apology video. But: “Nothing ever went further than twerking videos. There were never any nudes.”

His career got past that scandal, and his fan base grew exponentially. He amassed half a million YouTube subscribers and had just flown home from an international tour on Monday when federal agents arrested him in Chicago and accused him of manipulating two 14-year-old girls into making videos for him – not twerking this time but pornography.

A federal affidavit describes online conversations remarkably similar to those described by his accusers in 2015: Jones chatted up young fans on social media, a Homeland Security investigator wrote, then took them into private chats where he essentially directed his own porn videos.

The first victim met him on Facebook in August – a few weeks after Jones released a video of himself singing “Welcome to the Black Parade” a cappella, seen by more than 5 million people.

“Wait … you’re 14?” Jones wrote to the girl, according to the affidavit.

“Yea I’m a youngster”

“Do you realize how lucky you are?!?! I seriously shouldn’t even be talking to you …”

Jones was 23 at the time. The girl told him she was his biggest fan, according to the complaint.

The star allegedly asked her to “prove it” with a video. He told her to smile at the camera, the investigator wrote – to bounce around, and say repeatedly: “I’m only 14.”

She would send short videos when she was done, then start on another. As the shoot progressed, the complaint states, Jones enticed the girl to remove more and more clothing.

When it was over, according to the complaint, the girl had made 25 videos, in several of which she was nude from the waist down.

“How special do you feel!?!” Jones allegedly wrote.

When the singer persuaded another 14-year-old to make videos for him last month, authorities claim, he referred to them as a “tryout.” The girl considered herself to be auditioning.

But she was judged not on talent, according to the complaint, but on how much sexual gratification Jones derived from the videos she made, according to the complaint. When they weren’t good enough, the singer allegedly demanded she keep recording more explicit versions through the night – even after the girl complained “I might pass out.”

After she’d sent him enough, the complaint states, Jones told the girl to delete them from her phone so her sister wouldn’t see them.

About two weeks later, in mid-May, Facebook shut down Jones’ account, and Homeland Security began collecting digital evidence linking him to the chat logs.

But if he was aware of the investigation, the Chicago-area singer showed no sign of it on his other accounts. This month he posted photos from his tour of Europe: rooms packed with young fans.

“About to go on stage, but hi I miss you,” he tweeted to no one in particular on Sunday.

Then, Monday, agents stopped him at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and arrested him on two counts of producing child pornography – one for each teen listed in the complaint, with each charge punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Under interrogation, Jones confessed to cajoling explicit videos from “a number” of girls, according to Homeland Security. He appeared before a federal judge in an orange jumpsuit on Tuesday, according to the Chicago Tribune, silent and “staring at the floor as prosecutors read aloud the charges and possible penalties.”

Jones was being held in jail until his next hearing, set for Wednesday, according to the Tribune. It’s unclear if he has an attorney or agent.

If the hundreds of angry comments now flooding his YouTube page are any indication, the singer’s popularity is cratering under the new scandal, whether or not he is convicted.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Nepal To Deport Polish Everest Climber After Illegal Tibet Crossing

Janusz Adam Adamski climbed Mount Everest in May from the northern route in Tibet.

Nepal:  Nepal said Wednesday it would deport a Polish climber who illegally entered the country by crossing from Tibet at the summit of Mount Everest.

Janusz Adam Adamski, 49, climbed the world’s highest peak in May from the northern route in Tibet before descending on the southern side into Nepal.

Adamski had no entry visa for Nepal or permission to be on Everest’s southern side, having only paid Chinese authorities for a permit to ascend from Tibet.

“We have decided to deport him and ban him from entering Nepal for one year, as he was found to have breached the immigration laws of Nepal,” Ganga Ram Gelal, director-general of the Immigration Department, told AFP.

Gelal said police would escort Adamski to the airport on Thursday.

Last week the Pole was also slapped with a 10-year climbing ban, but authorities waived the $22,000 fine imposed on mountaineers who ascend the peak without a permit.

“The government took a light stance because he said in a statement he was alone and unwell when he reached the summit and feared for his life if he descended from the north side,” said Department of Tourism spokesman Durga Dutta Dhakal.

Adamski posted on Facebook shortly after traversing from Tibet to Nepal that he was the first Pole and just the 15th person ever to achieve the feat — suggesting it was the realisation of a lifelong ambition.

Adamski has not responded to requests for comment.

The Pole is the second foreigner to land himself in trouble with Nepali authorities on Everest this month.

South African Ryan Sean Davy was caught attempting to climb the 8,848 metre (29,030 foot) mountain without a permit, and was banned from mountaineering in the Nepali Himalayas for 10 years.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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Multiple People Injured After Shooting At San Francisco Warehouse: Report

The San Francisco Police have asked residents in the area to take shelter

San Francisco:  At least three people were injured, including the suspected gunman, in a shooting at a United Postal Service facility in San Francisco today, local media reported. It was not immediately clear if anyone had died.

The San Francisco police said it is responding to the shooting which took place in the area of 17th Street and Vermont.

The suspect was hospitalized in police custody, local media reported.

Victims were taken to the Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, spokesman Brent Andrew said. He said he could not say how many patients were taken to the hospital or give their conditions.

Many people could be seen being evacuated by the police out of the building in aerial footage running on local channels.

The shooting occurred in the area of a United Parcel Service facility, CBS San Francisco and other local media outlets reported, citing authorities. A San Francisco police representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

The police have asked people in the area to take shelter.

With inputs from Reuters

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Hong Kong Launches Ivory Ban Bill

Global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989. (Representational)

HongKong:  Hong Kong launched a landmark bill to ban its ivory trade Wednesday, describing it as an effort to “eradicate” the illegal poaching of elephants.

The southern Chinese city is a major hub for ivory sales and announced last year that it would ban the import and export of the goods, but later clarified it would only completely abolish the trade by 2021.

Critics say authorities are dragging their feet and lagging behind China, where officials in December pledged to halt the enterprise by the end of 2017.

A new amendment to the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants ordinance was presented to lawmakers Wednesday, designed to toughen regulations and “phase out the local ivory trade”, but said it would be a five-year process.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said the city must respond to the demands of the international community as he formally introduced the bill at the legislative council Wednesday.

The trade would “fully come to a close” by 2021, he added.

A frontline park ranger from the Democratic Republic of Congo last week delivered emotional testimony to legislators, describing the violent nature of the trade.

Garamba National Park manager Erik Mararv said he and his team were ambushed by poachers near an elephant carcass “with its face hacked off” last year, leading to the deaths of three rangers.  

He went on to argue that Hong Kong should not compensate its own ivory traders as it could further encourage the violent industry.

Angry sellers in Hong Kong are demanding payback, claiming they have been unable to offload much of their remaining stock since the market diminished following an international ban nearly three decades ago.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s. There are now believed to be some 415,000.

Lawmaker Regina Ip on Wednesday raised the question of compensation for traders, but Wong said the government would not buy up the ivory as the city was “determined” to close down the market.

African ivory is highly sought after in China, where it is seen as a status symbol, and where elephant tusks are used in traditional medicine or to make ornaments.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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12 Dead, 18 Critical After Fire Engulfs London Tower Block

LONDON:  At least 12 people died in the huge fire that engulfed a London tower block on Wednesday and the toll is likely to rise further, police said.

“Sadly I can confirm that there are now 12 people who have died, that we know of, this is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12,” Police Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

More than 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought for hours to try to bring the Grenfell Tower block blaze – one of the most treacherous seen in London for a generation – under control.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the fire raised questions about the safety of high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower while the scale of the disaster could delay the announcement of a deal by Prime Minister Theresa May to stay in power.

Some residents screamed for help from behind upper-floor windows, some tried to throw children to safety, as flames raced through the high-rise Grenfell Tower block of apartments in the north Kensington district just before 1 a.m. (0000 GMT).

“We could see a lot of children and parents screaming for ‘Help! Help! Help!’ and putting their hands on the window and asking to help them,” Amina Sharif, a witness, told Reuters.

“We could do nothing and we could see the stuff on the side was falling off, collapsing. We were just standing screaming and they were screaming.”

Another witness, Saimar Lleshi, saw people tying together sheets in an attempt to escape.

“I saw three people putting sheets together to climb down, but no one climbed down. I don’t know what happened to them.

Even when the lights went off, people were waving with white shirts to be seen,” Lleshi said.

The ambulances service said 69 people had been taken to hospital and 18 were in critical care.

Police Commander Stuart Cundy cautioned the death toll was likely to rise. Firefighting crews were still trying to douse flames as they sought to reach the top floors of the building over 10 hours after the fire started.

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters.

The cause of the inferno, which left the tower block a charred, smoking shell, was not immediately known. Some residents said no alarm had sounded.


Residents who escaped told how they woke up to the smell of burning and rushed to leave through smoke-filled corridors and stairwells.

Black smoke billowed high into the air for hours after the blaze broke out. There were reports that some residents leapt out of windows to escape the flames.

One woman lost two of her six children as she tried to escape from the block, one witness said.

“I spoke to a lady that lives on the 21st floor. She has got six kids. She left with all six of them. When she got downstairs there was only four of them with her. She is now breaking her heart,” Michael Paramasivan, a block resident, told BBC radio.

Other witnesses spoke of children, including a baby being thrown to safety, from windows high up.

Tamara, one witness, told the BBC: “There’s people, like, throwing their kids out, ‘Just save my children, just save my children!'”.


Prime Minister May said her thoughts were with all those affected by the fire. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said sprinkler systems should be installed in such blocks and called on the government to make a statement in parliament.

Firefighters rescued large numbers of people – some of them in their pyjamas – from the 43-year-old block, a low rent housing estate which overlooks upscale parts of the Kensington area.

The block had recently undergone an 8.7 million pound ($11.08 million) refurbishment of the exterior, which included new external cladding and replacement windows.

Residents said they had warned repeatedly over fire safety in the block.

Khan, the London mayor, said questions needed to be answered about the safety of tower blocks after some residents said they had been advised they should stay in their flats in the event of a fire.

A local residents association had previously warned it was worried about the risk of a serious fire in the block.

“What we can’t have is a situation where people’s safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained,” Khan said.

The local council of Kensington and Chelsea, which owns the block, said it was focusing on supporting the rescue and relief operation. It said the causes of the fire would be fully investigated.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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US Congressman, Several Others Shot At Baseball Practice In Virginia

Republican Congress member from Louisiana Steve Scalise was injured in the shooting.

A senior US congressman has reportedly been shot during a baseball game in Virgina, close to Washington DC. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana, and his aides are among the injured. Reports from local media houses say the unidentified gunman fired around 50 shots before he was caught.

In a tweet, Alexandria police said, “Suspect is in custody and not a threat. PIO will be onscene shortly to share updates”.

News agency Reuters quoted Republican lawmaker Mo Brooks as saying that Mr Scalise was shot in the hip. Besides, two law enforcement officers and one Congressional staffer were also injured.

The shooting took place at the annual game between lawmakers. There were 20 to 25 members of team at the practice session when the gunfire started, he said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeted to say US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have been briefed about the attack.

“Both @POTUS & @VP are aware of the developing situation in Virginia. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected,” his tweet read.

President Trump issued a statement saying he and Vice President Mike Pence were “deeply saddened” by the shooting at.

“The Vice President and I are aware of the shooting incident in Virginia and are monitoring developments closely. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected,” President Trump said.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Denmark's Little Mermaid Vandalised Yet Again

A policeman secures evidence at the vandalised Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. (AFP)

Stockholm:  The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, the city’s most famous monument, was on Wednesday vandalised for the second time in just over two weeks, police said.

The bronze statue had been doused in red on May 30 by activists outraged over whaling.

And on Wednesday, she was smothered in blue and white paint, the Copenhagen police said on its Twitter account, adding they were looking for a “slim girl with fair hair”.

“Befri (sic) Abdulle”, or “Free Abdulle” in English, had been written on the ground in front of the statue, which is perched on a rock by the waterside.

The police did not elaborate further on the writing, which appears to refer to Abdulle Ahmed, a 36-year-old Somali citizen in Denmark who has allegedly been given forced medication for more than a decade at a psychiatric hospital over reported violence against caregivers.

The high-profile case has sparked outrage in the Nordic nation and Somalia’s ambassador to the Benelux and the European Union has hired a lawyer to help return Ahmed to his native country, according to local media.

The Little Mermaid, inspired by a character in Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale of the same name, is a 175-kilogram (385-pound) statue by Edvard Eriksen.

She was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the famous Carlsberg brewery, and has been one of Denmark’s main tourist attractions since 1913.

The statue has been vandalised numerous times over the years, including when the mermaid’s head was stolen in 1964 and 1998, as well as when an arm was cut off in 1984.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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Pak Says Chinese Killed By ISIS Were Preachers Posing As Businessmen

Pakistani officials have outlined extensive security plans for monitoring Chinese nationals

ISLAMABAD:  Pakistan identified on Monday two Chinese nationals recently abducted and killed by the ISIS and, in a new twist, said the two were preachers who had posed as business people to enter the country.

The interior ministry named the two as Lee Zing Yang, 24, and Meng Li Si, 26, and said their violation of visa rules had contributed to their abductions. Previously officials said they were Chinese-language teachers.

The two were abducted by armed men pretending to be policemen on May 24 in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan province. Last week, ISIS’s Amaq news agency said its members had killed them.

“Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning (the) Urdu language from a Korean national … were actually engaged in preaching,” the ministry said in a statement.

It did not say what kind of preachers they were, nor did it say if the Korean was from North Korea or South Korea.

The interior ministry confirmed the two Chinese had been killed but it was not clear if their bodies have been found.

The kidnapping was a rare crime against Chinese nationals in Pakistan, which has long had close ties to Beijing, but it has alarmed the growing Chinese community in the country.

China has pledged to invest $57 billion in Pakistan in projects linked to its “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan aimed at linking China with the Middle East and Europe.

But the infusion of cash has come with frequent requests for Pakistan to improve security, especially in the western Baluchistan province that will house a deepwater port and a road artery vital for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPC).

The incident has prompted Pakistan to boost security around Chinese nationals and other foreigners, and accelerated plans for thousands-strong special police protection units to focus on safeguarding Chinese citizens.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in response to the case that there should be a review of the visa process for Chinese nationals entering Pakistan, and for a databank to track Chinese workers in different parts of the country.

Khan ordered the databank to be “shared with all security agencies”, his ministry said in a statement.

At present, Chinese citizens are able to obtain visas faster than other nationals, and for longer periods when their work relates to CPEC projects.

Khan said the government must work on keeping visitors secure but also appeared to try to shift the blame for the security lapse onto the Chinese nationals, saying they should have informed the authorities of their activities.

“The Minister observed that it is highly unfortunate that a misuse of the terms of (the) business visa contributed to the unfortunate incident of abduction and subsequent murder of two innocent Chinese,” the ministry said.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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Top Republican, Several Others Shot At Baseball Practice In Virginia

The third-highest ranked House Republican and at least four others were injured Wednesday morning in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice field in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, witnesses and police officials said.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, said in a phone interview on CNN after witnessing the shooting. A congressional staffer and two members of the lawmakers’ security detail were also injured, Brooks said.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip.

Brooks said he saw a man with a rifle. Alexandria police said a suspect was in custody.

“There must have been 50, 100 shots fired,” Brooks said.

Brooks said members of the security detail fired back with pistols at the shooter until the shooter was tackled to the ground.

“Our lives were saved by the Capitol Hill police. Had they not been there I think it would have been a massacre,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, told CNN. “You are completely helpless,” he said, having no defenses and being unable to help those who were injured.

“The field was basically a killing field. If you were to run out there while the shooter was still shooting, he would have shot anybody,” Paul added. “He was shooting people as far away as right field. That’s probably, what, 75 feet away.”

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who served as a military surgeon in Iraq, attended to Scalise after the shooter was down, Brooks said on CNN. Brooks said he and other lawmakers tried to apply a tourniquet with his belt for an injured person who was bleeding.

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, who coaches the team, said he wasn’t injured but that a member of his staff was and is receiving medical treatment.

Alexandria police Chief Michael Brown said officers are investigating the incident, which was reported shortly after 7 a.m. local time and occurred at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, about 8 miles south of the Capitol, three miles south of Ronald Reagan National Airport. Local police responded within three minutes, Brown said.

“Two of our officers engaged in gunfire, return fire,” he told reporters but declined to give details on the victims or the shooter. “It’s an active scene. We have a lot of witnesses who we’re having to interview.”

The House Republican baseball team has been practicing in recent weeks in early mornings at the Alexandria site for Thursday’s annual congressional baseball game.

Scalise has been an avid participant in the game since arriving in Congress. As whip, he is the chief vote counter in the Republican conference.

Brooks said the assailant “was trying to take out our security detail” before he turned to lawmakers.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, who left a few minutes before the shooting, told Fox News that a man walked up and asked if Republicans or Democrats were out on the field. The man wasn’t carrying anything, DeSantis said.

“The encounter I had in the parking lot was very, very strange,” DeSantis said, although it is unclear whether the person was the assailant.

Paul told MSNBC that he was in the batting cage when he first heard one isolated shot and then a rapid succession of shots. He saw Scalise dragging himself to the outfield.

The security detail was present because Scalise is in a leadership position in Congress, Paul said. Otherwise no officers would have been present.

House Democrats, meanwhile, were at their own, separate practice and prayed for their colleagues on the field. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nevada, said in a tweet, “@HouseDemocrats praying for our @HouseGOP @SenateGOP baseball colleagues after hearing about the horrific shooting.

Brooks said he was on the field when he saw a rifle from behind the third-base dugout

“I hear another ‘blam’ and I realize that there’s an active shooter,” he said. “At the same time I see Steve Scalise, over near second base, scream. He was shot.”

The shooter continued to fire a semi-automatic weapon as lawmakers and their staff members ran in various directions to escape the barrage of bullets, he said.

Brooks and several others hid at a batting cage behind the first-base side of home plate. At least one person hiding there was injured in the leg.

President Donald Trump said he and Vice President Mike Pence were monitoring developments closely.

– With assistance from Laura Litvan and John Hughes.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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London Inferno Trapped People As They Slept, 6 Dead, 70 Injured

London:  Fire engulfed a 24-storey housing block in central London in the early hours today, killing at least six people and injuring 70 others in an inferno that trapped residents as they slept.

Flames raced through the high-rise Grenfell Tower block of apartments in the north Kensington area after taking hold around 1 a.m. and witnesses reported some residents screaming for help from windows of upper floors and others trying to throw children to safety.

More than 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought for hours to try to bring the blaze, one of the biggest seen in central London in memory, under control.
By mid-day, London police said six people had been killed and they cautioned the death toll was likely to rise.

Police Commander Stuart Cundy said a “recovery operation” could take some time and there could be people in the building who are unaccounted for, though he would not be drawn on a figure.

Fire-fighting crews still had to reach the top four floors of the building where several hundred people live in 130 apartments.

The cause of the fire, which left the tower block a charred, smoking shell, was not immediately known.

The block had recently undergone an 8.7 million pound ($11.08 million) refurbishment of the exterior, which included new external cladding, replacement windows and curtain wall facades.

Plumes of black smoke billowed high into the air over the British capital for hours after the blaze broke out. Residents rushed to escape through smoke-filled corridors after being woken up by the smell of burning.

London Fire Brigade said the fire engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the 24-storey block. There were reports that some residents leapt out of windows to escape the flames.

One woman lost two of her six children as she tried to escape from the block, one witness said.

“I spoke to a lady that lives on the 21st floor. She has got six kids. She left with all six of them. When she got downstairs there was only four of them with her. She is now breaking her heart,” Michael Paramasivan, a block resident, told BBC radio.

Other witnesses spoke of children, including a baby being thrown to safety, from windows high up.

Tamara, one witness, told the BBC: “There’s people, like, throwing their kids out: ‘Just save my children, just save my children!'”.

“In my 29 years of being a fire fighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters.


London mayor Sadiq Khan said the fire raised questions over safety of high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower. The BBC reported that a political deal between the government of Prime Minister Theresa May and a small Northern Irish party could be delayed because of the aftermath of the fire.

More than 12 hours after the fire broke out, the building was still smouldering, though the building was not in danger of collapse.

Firefighters rescued large numbers of people – some of them in their pyjamas – from the 43-year-old block, a low rent housing estate which overlooks up-scale parts of the Kensington area.

Burning debris cascaded from the blazing building.

“There was bits of building falling off all around me, I scalded my shin on a hot piece of metal that had fallen off the building,” said Jodie Martin, who lives close to the building and had gone to the scene to try to help.

“I was just screaming at people: ‘Get out, get out’ and they were screaming back at me: ‘We can’t, the corridors are full of smoke’,” he told BBC Radio.


Residents said they had warned repeatedly over fire safety in the block.

London’s mayor Mr. Khan said questions needed to be answered over the safety of tower blocks after some residents said they had been advised they should stay in their flats in the event of a fire.

A local residents association had previously warned it was worried about the risk of a serious fire in the block.

“These questions are really important questions that need to be answered,” Mr. Khan said.

“What we can’t have is a situation where people’s safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained.”

Ash Sha, 30, who witnessed the fire and has an aunt in the building who managed to escape from the second floor, said the local council had recently renovated the tower.

“They cladded the outside and insulated the inside,” Sha said. “The insulated material is very similar to sponge so it crumbles in your hand. This was just done to tart it up and match the nearby building.”

The local council of Kensington and Chelsea, which owns the block, said it was focusing on supporting the rescue and relief operation. It said the causes of the fire would be fully investigated.

Police closed the A40, a major road leading out of west London, while some parts of London’s underground train network were closed as a precaution.

© Thomson Reuters 2017

© Thomson Reuters 2017

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