Storms, high winds batter flooded parts of Britain
Battle on Lebanese border as Syria peace talks falter
Pak govt, Taliban negotiators meet today for talks
Powerful quake rocks China’s Xinjiang
Ready for ‘decisive’ battle with US, Israel: Iran
UK, France are like daughters: Obama
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle with French President Francois Hollande in Washington on Tuesday. AP/PTI
Storms, high winds batter flooded parts of Britain
London, February 12
Gusts approaching 160 km per hour tore at parts of England and Wales, and the Thames was predicted to rise to its highest level in more than 60 years in places, threatening towns and villages to the west of London.
More than 1,100 properties along the Thames have been flooded since January 29, authorities said.
More soldiers were drafted in to rescue residents and lay sandbags in deluged villages where primary schools have been transformed into makeshift emergency centres.
The Met Office national weather service issued a red warning, the highest threat level, for "exceptionally strong winds" in western parts of Wales and northwest England. Coastal areas in western England could also be flooded after being pounded by high waves.
Fourteen severe flood warnings, indicating a danger to life, were in place in Berkshire and Surrey to the west of London, while two remain in Somerset in southwest England, the first area to be badly hit.
Forecasters said 70 mm of rain would fall by Friday in southwest England.
Emergency efforts were picking up following criticism of a sluggish response, and the military said 2,000 soldiers were available to help, with hundreds pressed into action already.
In Wraysbury, the Thameside village that has been submerged since the weekend, 83-year-old Jennie Francis's house has flooded and her hallway was filled with water.
She has been forced to take refuge at her son's home, but she said the arrival of the army had made a huge difference to the village's morale.
"The soldiers have been absolutely marvellous, it's wonderful to have them here. People were cross before, but now they are relieved to have some help," she told AFP.
"The soldiers have been going around knocking on people's doors asking for help. They're lovely." The embattled Environment Agency, the government body responsible for flood defences which has faced the brunt of criticism, fought to defend its reputation. — AFP
Battle on Lebanese border as Syria peace talks falter
Beirut, February 12
The assault is the latest step in Assad and Hezbollah’s campaign to assert control over the Lebanese-Syrian border region and fortify the president’s hold on central Syria, from the capital Damascus to his stronghold on the coast. Syrian state media said the army had seized the nearby village al-Jarajeer, while rebels said Assad’s forces had advanced on the area but had not completely taken it.
The military push came as international peace talks in Geneva seized up in mutual recrimination, with the government resisting discussion of a post-Assad transition while the Opposition called for a UN-monitored ceasefire. There has been little let-up in fighting despite the start of the first peace negotiations three weeks ago after nearly three years of war. Assad’s forces seem to have had the better of recent fighting, but outright victory seems out of reach.
As US National Intelligence Director James Clapper put it to senators on Tuesday, a “prolonged stalemate” seems likely, extending what he described as “an apocalyptic disaster” in Syria.
On Wednesday, more than 13 air strikes hit the government’s target area around Yabroud in the frontier mountains, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Overnight clashes between Assad’s forces and the opposition on the outskirts of Yabroud continued into the morning. A spokesman for the rebel unit Liwa al-Ghuraba, said Hezbollah fighters and Assad forces were trying to position themselves on nearby hilltops to attack Yabroud.
“They are gathering their forces with the hope of taking the border road,” said spokesman Abu Anas, speaking by Skype. “Right now no one is moving in Yabroud. The rebels are blocking the offensive ... The hospital is filling up with wounded.” Lebanese media said dozens wounded in Syria had been sent to Lebanese hospitals as well. The attack on Yabroud is part of what locals have called the “Battle for Qalamoun”, the name of a mountainous region along the frontier with Lebanon used by both the rebels and Assad’s allies to bring in people and supplies. — Reuters
Islamabad, February 12
The talks will go ahead despite militant attacks in the country in the last two days and the Taliban and the government committee will meet tomorrow to take forward the peace process, state-run Radio Pakistan reported.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s chief negotiator Maulana Samiul Haq claimed that all its groups had agreed for talks. He, however, said “some elements” wanted to derail the peace process through terror acts.
Any effort to derail the peace process would not succeed, he said, without explaining who the “elements” were. Haq expressed hope that a ceasefire agreement would soon take place between the two sides. Another Taliban committee member Mohammad Ibrahim expressed satisfaction over the progress made so far. He said their top most priority is to bring about a ceasefire as early as possible.
Ibrahim, talking to the media, said Taliban committee has proposed a meeting with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI Director-General Lt Gen Zahirul Islam.
He said their committee has offered the government to hold a meeting with the Taliban leadership any time to discuss the relevant issues. Rustam Shah Mohmand, a member of government dialogue committee’ said talks with the banned Taliban will be held only under the ambit of the Constitution.
He told reporters that the journey of the dialogue was difficult and there are a number of hurdles in its way. Shah warned that some anti-Taliban elements would try to sabotage the dialogue process. — PTI
Terror attacks ‘must stop’ during talks
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said the terror attacks must stop during the course of talks between the government and the Taliban. Nawaz made these comments shortly when the four-member official team of negotiators met him on Tuesday evening. Hours before the meeting, Peshawar saw serial deadly blasts in three local cinemas killing 13 persons.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said the terror attacks must stop during the course of talks between the government and the Taliban. Nawaz made these comments shortly when the four-member official team of negotiators met him on Tuesday evening. Hours before the meeting, Peshawar saw serial deadly blasts in three local cinemas killing 13 persons. — TNS
Beijing, February 12
The earthquake struck the province at 5:19 pm (local time), according to official readings by the China Earthquake Networks Centre.
The epicentre’s depth was measured at 12 km at Yutian county in southwest Xinjiang. The quake struck Yutian County in the prefecture of Hotan and was felt strongly by residents in Hotan, Yutian and Moyu.
Later, a 5.7-magnitude tremor hit the same area at 5:24 pm with a depth of 5 km followed by several other tremors, the centre added. Seven quakes were reported in a short time with highest measuring 7.3, the centre said.
No immediate casualties or damage have been reported. The region is home to mostly ethnic Muslim Uygurs.
Earthquakes frequently hit China particularly its mountainous western and southwestern regions.
A magnitude-6.6 quake in southwestern Sichuan province killed about 200 people last April, five years after another huge tremor that killed nearly 90,000 people in the same province. — PTI
Tehran, February 12
“We are ready for the decisive battle with America and the Zionist regime (Israel),” Fars news agency quoted Firouzabadi as saying.
He also warned neighbouring nations not to allow any attack to be launched on Iran from their soil.
“We do not have any hostility towards regional states, but if we are ever attacked from the American bases in the region we will strike that area back,” he said.
Washington has many military bases in the region, including in Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said late last month that if diplomacy with Iran fails, “the military option of the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do”.
But Firouzabadi accused the US of bluffing. “Over the past decade, they brought their forces but came to the conclusion that they can’t attack us and left,” he said, dismissing the US military threat as nothing but a “political bluff”.
President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday the West should not have and delusions about using a military option.
“I say explicitly, if some have delusions of having any threats against Iran on their tables, they need to wear new glasses. There is no military option against Iran on any table in the world,” he said.
Iran is due to resume talks on Monday in Vienna with the P5+1 -- Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China plus Germany-aimed at reaching a comprehensive nuclear accord following a landmark interim agreement struck in November. — AFP
Washington, February 12
"I have two daughters. And they are both gorgeous and wonderful, and I would never choose between them. That's how I feel about my outstanding European partners. All of them are wonderful in their own ways," Obama said as he cleverly dodged the tough question of describing his best European partner -- Britain or France.
Obama has two daughters Malia and Sasha.
He was speaking at a press conference at the White House with French president Francois Hollande during his three-day state visit to the US.
Obama said the US-French alliance has never been stronger.
For his part, Hollande said: "We're not trying to be anyone's favorite." "There are historic links, we share common values, and I can see that views converge on many issues," Hollande said.
"But it's not about hierarchy. It's just about being useful to the world, because the friendship between the United States and France is not just about strengthening our ties -- economic ties, cultural or personal ties -- and that already would be a great deal. It's not just about bringing our two societies closer to one another," he said.
"What makes this friendship between the United States and France is the fact that we can hold values at a specific point in time with this American presidency and with this French presidency, if I may say so," Hollande said at the joint White House news conference with Obama. — PTI
US President Barack Obama has spent $1.55 million on five of his state dinner since 2009, with the most expensive of them being the first one hosted in honour of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Records from the State Department Office of Protocol, whose budget covers state dinners, show they can cost taxpayers in excess of half a million dollars per event.
India ranks 140th in world's Press Freedom Index
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