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Black boxes of downed MH17 found; Ukraine calls for international probe

KIEV (Ukraine): Emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners dressed in overalls and covered in soot searched on Friday through wreckage and bodies scattered over a vast stretch of Ukrainian farmland after a Malaysian jetliner flying high above Ukraine's battlefield was shot from the sky, killing 298 people.

Separatist rebels who control the area where the plane went down said they had recovered "most" of the plane's black boxes and were considering what to do with them.

Ukraine, whose investigators have no access to the area, has called for an international probe to determine who attacked the plane and insisted it was not its military. US intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile downed the plane, but could not say who fired it.

For the first day in months, there was no sign of fighting in the area, though there was no official word of a cease-fire. But access to the area remained difficult and dangerous. The road from Donetsk, the largest city in the region, to the crash site was marked by five rebel checkpoints running document checks.

The crash site was sprawling. Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore the airline's red, white and blue markings lay strewn over a field. The cockpit and one turbine lay a kilometer (a half-mile) apart, and residents said the tail landed another 10 kilometers (six miles) away, indicating the aircraft most likely broke up before hitting the ground.

Bodies and body parts were everywhere: in a sunflower field, even in the streets of the rebel-held village of Rozsypne, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border.

The area has seen heavy fighting between government troops and pro-Russia separatists, and rebels had bragged about shooting down two Ukrainian military jets in the region just a day earlier.

Ukraine accused the rebels of shooting down the Malaysia Airways plane. The rebels denied it and accused government forces of the same; President Petro Poroshenko denied it as well.

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the downing, saying it was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions - but did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and not address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile. Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the rebels, a charge that Moscow denies.

Poroshenko called the attack an "act of terrorism" and demanded an international investigation.

An assistant to the insurgency's military commander, Igor Girkin, said Friday on condition of anonymity that eight out of the plane's 12 recording devices had been located at the crash site He did not elaborate.

He said Girkin, was still considering whether to give international crash investigators access to the sprawling crash site. Any investigators would need specific permission from the rebel leadership before they could safely film or take photos at the crash site. APBack




















No Indian on board ill-fated Malaysian plane: Aviation Minister
Indian airlines asked to avoid Ukranian airspace 

NEW DELHI: Terming as "unfortunate" the loss of lives in the Malaysian airline tragedy, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju today said there was no Indian on board the plane.

He also said the government has already asked all Indian airlines not to overfly Ukraine.

"It is unfortunate that this incident has happened. As far as our information ... no Indians were on the flight. It is an unfortunate incident. No Indian citizen was on board," Raju told reporters here.

All 298 people on board the Malaysian plane were killed yesterday after the jet was shot down by "terrorists" over war-torn eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

The minister said, "We have to be safe with our citizens ... our citizens are our concern. India has alerted its own airlines Jet or Air India and they are avoiding Ukraine as of now. We are happy with the information that we have got that no Indian citizen's life has been lost." 

Aviation regulator, Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had yesterday issued instructions to Air India and Jet Airways, the only two Indian carriers that fly to Europe and North America, to avoid Ukrainian airspace while flying to and from destinations in both the continents.

An Air India official had said they would abide by any international advisory "to avoid airspace over conflict zone like Ukraine".

Ukraine airspace is among the busiest as flights connecting Europe and Asia transit through this region.

On Indian aircraft flying over conflict zones like Gaza, Raju said, "There are conflict zones the world over. So what is the nature of conflict, who all are involved and what is the real threat, everyone has to do their own homework on all this." Meanwhile in Mumbai, Jet Airways said it is not operating its flight services to and from Europe through the Ukrainian airspace ever since the conflict began in the region.

"Jet Airways would like to assure its guests that none of our flights to and from Europe flew through the Ukrainian airspace ever since the conflict began," the airline said in a statement here.

"We continue to avoid the Ukrainian airspace in the prime interest of the safety of our guests," Jet Airways said. 

Meanwhile, the government today said there was no threat to Air Force One, the aircraft that flew Prime Minister Narendra Modi back from Germany over the airspace where Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down yesterday.

"I think that is speculation .... There was no danger to our PM's aircraft. No problem. On Air Force One, the flight data is on foreign radar," Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju told reporters when asked whether there was any threat to the PM's plane which flew over the same airspace.

The Prime Minister returned last night after his trip to Brazil for the BRICS Summit.

"What happens is that whenever any air route (for a VIP aircraft) is finalised, the countries involved get to know about it. If you don't keep them informed, there is another type of problem," he said.

"So generally whenever any civilian aircraft flies over a country, suppose India, obviously the Government of India will know what aircraft it is, to whom it belongs, what its intentions are," Raju said.

All 298 people on board Malaysian Airlines plane were killed yesterday after the jet was shot down by "terrorists" over war-torn eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. PTIBack










Modi condoles loss of lives in Malaysian plane tragedy

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today condoled the loss of lives in the Malaysian airline tragedy and said India stands with the families of victims in this hour of grief.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives on board Flight MH17. We stand with them in this hour of grief," he said in a tweet.

All 298 people on board the plane were killed yesterday after the jet was shot down by "terrorists" over war-torn eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. PTIBack














Swapping shift cost ethnic Indian flight steward his life

Kuala Lumpur: Swapping shift with a colleague cost ethnic Indian flight steward Sanjid Singh Sandu his life.

Sanjid, 41, had switched his shift with a colleague on the ill-fated Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine yesterday.

All 298 people on board were killed in the crash.

According to his distraught father Jijar Singh, Sanjid's mother had planned to cook her son's favourite dishes upon his arrival in Penang, Malaysia.

"My son spoke to me over the phone just before his flight. I didn't know that would be my last conversation with him. What has happened has happened," Jijar, with tears flowing, told reporters at his house in Penang.

Jijar and his wife received the news from their daughter-in-law, who is also a flight stewardess at Malaysia Airlines, the Star newspaper reported.

He said Sanjid, fondly known as Bobby, was his youngest child and only son.

Flight MH17 took off from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport shortly afternoon yesterday and was supposed to land in Kuala Lumpur at about 6.10 am local time here today.

Flight tracking data indicated that the plane was at its cruising altitude of 33,000 feet when it disappeared.

The Boeing 777 is believed to have been shot down 50 km from the Ukraine-Russia border. PTIBack














No new taxes in Delhi Budget; Rs 260 cr for power subsidy 

NEW DELHI: Proposing no new taxes in the Budget for Delhi, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today announced subsidy of Rs 0.80 to Rs 1.20 per unit to small power consumers as also a slew of measures like low- floor buses, sanitation and multi-speciality hospital in Rohini.

The Rs 36,776 crore Budget for Delhi was presented in Parliament as the state is currently under the President's rule.

Proposing the Budget for 2014-15, Jaitley said no new tax has been proposed in Delhi and added that more night shelters would be set up in the National Capital Territory area.

A multi-speciality hospital will come up in Rohini and 50 dialysis centres in the different parts of NCT. Also four new sewage treatment plants have been planned for Delhi.

The government has earmarked Rs 260 crore for power subsidy.

Following protest by the Congress and Opposition members over the Budget proposals, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said issues could be raised during the debate on it.

Jaitley later said he was only proposing the Budget, which would be passed after discussion. PTIBack


















No evidence against Saeed: Pak envoy 

NEW DELHI: Amid row over Ved Pratap Vaidik's meeting with Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, Pakistan today said it was not aware about the meeting and asserted that no action can be taken against the JuD chief as there was no evidence against him.

Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit, replying to a volley of questions on the issue during a Meet the Press programme at the Press Club of India here, said it was a meeting between two private persons.

"Our government was not aware of this meeting and nor was the Government of India. It was a meeting between two private individuals and nothing more," Basit said.

Asked whether Pakistani intelligence agency ISI was also not aware about the meeting, he only said the Pakistani government has nothing to do with it.

On why no action was taken against the JuD chief for his alleged involvement in terror activities, the Pakistani High Commissioner said there was "no evidence" to prosecute Saeed.

He said the Pakistan Government needs "hard evidence" to put Saeed in jail. "We do not have any evidence against him ... we cannot put him in jail just to please anyone." 

On whether Pakistan will again give visa to Vaidik if he applies for it, Basit evaded a direct reply and said he often visits the country and was given the travel document along with other members of a delegation which participated in a conference there.

The meeting of Vaidik, known to be close to BJP supporter and yoga guru Ramdev, had triggered a row with the Opposition taking on the government following which a report was sought from the Indian High Commission in Pakistan.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday said the High Commission was not aware of the meeting. 

Asked whether Vaidik had met Saeed in the past also, Basit said he was not aware of it.

On Saeed's provocative statements against India and how he roams free in Pakistan, the envoy said Saeed is not a politician and he does not represent any political party.

India had accused Saeed of masterminding the terror attacks in India, including the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

The US had announced a bounty of 10 million dollars on Saeed, who routinely makes provocative statements against India.

On granting of visa to Vaidik, the Pakistani High Commissioner said, "He was given visa for the conference. He stayed back. We are liberal in giving visas." Asked why two Indian journalists were asked to leave that country while Vaidik was allowed to move free, Basit said the scribes were not expelled and Pakistan was ready to consider their replacements.

"They (two journalists) were not expelled. They worked there ... we are ready to consider application for their replacements. We have not received any application so far," he said.

The two journalists Snehesh Alex Philip of PTI and Meena Menon of The Hindu were asked to leave the country in May within seven days after being asked to do so without being assigned any reason.

Asked about reports of attacks on Hindus in Karachi, he said these incidents are not only restricted to Hindus and said the Pakistani Government was confident that situation will improve there. PTIBack




















Israel launches ground offensive in Gaza; 1 soldier killed

Gaza/Jerusalem: Israel has launched its first massive ground offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in five years, after 10 days of bombardment from the air and sea killed nearly 260 Palestinians but failed to stop the militants' rocket attacks on the Jewish state.

In a dramatic escalation of the conflict, Israeli forces backed by artillery and air strikes launched the ground offensive last night with the army saying the objective is to strike a "significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure." Hamas, which has controlled the densely populated coastal Strip area since June 2007 after ousting rival Fatah in a bloody battle, warned that Israel would pay a "high price" for the ground incursion.

"Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to de-escalate the situation, the IDF has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip," a statement from the Israeli army said.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said the goal was to "establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror." Israeli Army spokesman Gen Moti Almoz issued an appeal asking "the residents of Gaza to evacuate the areas in which the army is operating. This operation will be extended as much as necessary." An Israeli soldier was killed in the northern Gaza Strip following a night of heavy fighting.

At least five Palestinians were killed after the ground offensive began, Palestinian sources said. They included a five-month-old in the town of Rafah, medics said.

Four Palestinians were killed in Khan Yunis, with another two slain in the northern town Beit Hanoun. The deaths raised the toll to 260. At least 1,920 Palestinians have also been wounded. Israeli jets have struck over 2,000 targets in Gaza.

In response, Palestinian militants fired more than 1,500 rockets since the fighting began, targeting all of Israel and killing one Israeli civilian and injuring four soldiers.

There had been a five-hour humanitarian truce yesterday, but exchanges of fire resumed when it ended.

Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza in September 2005, and last mounted a major ground operation in 2009.

Egypt, after failing to convince Hamas to agree to a ceasefire that Israel had accepted, sharply criticized the Islamist faction saying the group could have saved dozens of lives had it accepted a Cairo-mediated truce.

Hamas had rejected the ceasefire intended to start on Tuesday and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities. 

"Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians," Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said.

Meanwhile, Israel mobilised 18,000 more reservists last evening, bringing the total of extra troops called up since July 8 to 65,000.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed regret over Israel's ground offensive against Gaza despite calls from the global community for restraint.

"I regret that despite my repeated urgings, and those of many regional and world leaders together, an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further," Ban said.

"I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties. There can be no military solution to this conflict. This applies as much to Israel-Palestine as it does to Syria," he said.

Hamas' exiled chief Khaled Meshal said that the Israeli ground operation was "destined to failure".

"What the occupier Israel failed to achieve through its air and sea raids, it will not be able to achieve with a ground offensive", he said.

Journalists in Gaza were warned to take shelter, shortly before the ground offensive announcement was made.

Some witnesses were quoted as seeing some 10 tanks crossing the border into north-west Gaza. Israeli commandos have also been spotted on the beach in Gaza.

More rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel after the operation began, Israeli authorities said.

Israel's most popular news portal Ynet reported that one of the main goals of the ground offensive was to destroy tunnels that could be used to infiltrate militants into Israel.

An attempt by 13 militants to tunnel into Israel to attack a kibbutz on Wednesday had been thwarted by the army.

UN agencies working in Gaza have said that at least 1,370 homes have been destroyed in Gaza and more than 18,000 people displaced in recent hostilities. They say that most of those killed in Gaza have been civilians.

The ground offensive followed attempts in Cairo to negotiate a new ceasefire.

There had been some reports that a new truce would start at 06:00 a.m. local time (03:00 GMT) today. However, both Israel and Hamas later dismissed the reports.

Yesterday's five-hour temporary ceasefire had been requested by the UN and other international organisations to provide emergency relief and distribute water, food and hygiene kits to the people of Gaza. PTIBack

















First monsoon showers in Haryana, Punjab

CHANDIGARH: First monsoon rains of the season lashed vast swathes of Haryana and Punjab bringing the much-needed relief to people especially peasants of the two agrarian states.

After its arrival over a fortnight back in the two states, the annual weather system had turned weak with hardly any rains lashing the region.

According to the MeT Dept here, the monsoon has now turned active in the region bringing moderate to heavy rains in most places with forecast of more rainfall over the next couple of days.

The heavy rain will not only bring smiles on the farmers' faces in the sowing season but will ease the power situation which deteriorated in the wake of a sudden increase in its demand, agri experts and power officials said.

According to the traders, price of vegetables which had escalated owing to poor rains and short supply are also likely to stabilise in the days to come.

Meanwhile, it has been raining in Chandigarh since yesterday and the city received nearly 50 mm of rainfall so far.

Several places in Haryana, the National Capital Region (NCR) in particular, received abundant rainfall, according to the MeT Dept here.

Faridabad was pounded by 100 mm of rains, Gurgaon received 70 mm of rain, Ballabgarh got 105 mm, Pataudi 75 mm, Dadri 55 mm, Sohna 47 mm, Bahadurgarh 47 mm, Jhajjar 125 mm, Mahendergarh 45 mm, Nuh in Mewat 95 mm, Hodal in Pawlal 41 mm and Bawal in Rewari got 71 mm of showers.

Among other places in Haryana which were lashed by rains included Yamunanagar 75 mm, Chhachrauli 88 mm, Jagadhri 78 mm, Panipat 60 mm, Panchkula 76 mm, Kalka 30 mm, Ambala 15.7 mm, Hisar 3.7 mm, Karnal 2.6 mm, Bhiwani 10.2 mm while Narnaul got 22 mm of rains since yesterday.

In Punjab, Amritsar received a heavy downpour at 58.8 mm, Ludhiana got 1 mm, Patiala 2.7 mm, Mohali 15 mm, Nangal Dam 38.8 mm, Sirhind 51 mm, Garhshankar 15 mm, Kapurthala 32.5 mm, Phagwara 32 mm, Moga 40 mm, Nawanshahr 105 mm, Rajpura 92 mm and Derabassi got 20 mm of rain. PTIBack














Char Dham Yatra suspended; warning of heavy rains in U'Khand 

DEHRADUN: With the MeT department warning of heavy showers at various places in Uttarakhand today and major rivers in spate, the Char Dham Yatra has been suspended even as the Centre decided to provide two Mi-17 helicopters to the state to deal with any emergency.

While yatra to Kedarnath and Badrinath was earlier suspended till today, the pilgrimage to Gangotri and Yamunotri which was going on in a low key manner despite the warning was finally halted last evening for the safety of pilgrims.

With yatra to Gangotri and Yamunotri also halted, the entire Char Dham pilgrimage stands suspended for the time being, Additional Chief Secretary Rakesh Sharma said, adding it will resume only when the weather clears up.

The Centre has, meanwhile, agreed to the state's demand for two Mi-17 choppers which will remain stationed here till July 25 to operate in case of an emergency.

The demand was put forward to the Centre last evening when Union Cabinet Secretary Ajeet Sethi took stock of the situation prevailing in the state through video conferencing in view of MeT department's prediction of heavy rain in some parts of the state today and tomorrow.

Though most rivers in the state are in spate they are still flowing below the danger mark and the situation as of now is far from alarming, Sharma said.

Due to heavy rains over the past few days, routes are obstructed at 20 places between Rudraprayag and Sonprayag but no pilgrim is stuck at any destination, he said.

173 pilgrims stranded in Kedar Valley yesterday have been moved to safe destinations. 13 'Kanwariyas' have also been shifted to safer destinations from Lincholi by a team of State Disaster Response Force. PTIBack















Centre asks Haryana Governor to withdraw assent to separate SGPC Bill

NEW DELHI: After protests from Punjab, the Centre today asked the Haryana Governor to withdraw the assent granted to a Bill aiming to create a separate Sikh Gurdwara management Committee, saying the state assembly did not have legal authority to enact such a law and it was thus 'void'.

In a letter to Haryana Chief Secretary S C Choudhary, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami said the 'Haryana Sikh Gurdwaras (Management) Bill, 2014' passed by the state assembly on July 11, to which the Governor accorded his assent on July 14, has "no legal effect" and be withdrawn before any further complications arise.

"Accordingly, the state government of Haryana may kindly bring the above facts to the notice of the Governor and request the Governor to withdraw the assent given by him to the bill in view of the fact that the state legislature had no legislative competence and the bill passed is void and of no legal effect before any or further complications arise," Goswami said in his letter to Choudhary.

The letter comes after Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, along with party MPs, had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu seeking the Centre's intervention to annul the Haryana government's move to form a separate SGPC for the state.

After the long deliberations between the Union Ministers and Badal, the Centre had sought legal opinion from the Attorney General of India who opined that Haryana state legislature had no jurisdiction to pass such a law.

"The state legislature is, therefore, denuded of any jurisdiction to pass any bill in respect of which only parliament has exclusive power to enact a law," the Attorney General said in his opinion to the Centre.

Punjab government has been maintaining that Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) - which manages key Sikh shrines, was formed under the Central Gurdwara Act, 1925, during the British times and Haryana had no legal authority to enact a law for separate SGPC to manage gurdwaras in the state. 
The Attorney General's opinion, which has been sent to Haryana government for necessary action, stated "the law is already in place since 1925 and there is no justificiation for Haryana legislature to have passed a law on the same subject matter, taking away the jurisdiction of the Board/Corporation on the basis of 1925 Act." "In fact, by virtue of Section 54, the Haryana Legislature has declared that the provisions of the Sikh Gurdwara Act, 1925 shall not apply within the territory of Haryana," the Attorney General further said.

Punjab has been agitating against Haryana's move to pass a law and the state Chief Minister has been camping in Delhi, seeking the Centre's intervention.

Badal has termed the Haryana law as one which has been "politically motivated" and said it is aimed at getting ruling Congress in the state led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda political benefits in coming assembly elections in the state.

Haryana is slated to have assembly elections in October this year as the term of the current assembly ends on October 27, 2014.

Badal has accused Congress leadership of hatching a conspiracy to create a separate SGPC for Haryana, saying it is "unconstitutional" and in "violation" of the existing Sikh Gurdwara Act. PTI






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