US indicts Russian intel officers ahead of Trump-Putin meet

In this file photo taken on June 19, 2013 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on oversight during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 14 July 2018
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US indicts Russian intel officers ahead of Trump-Putin meet

  • The US president recalled that 60 intelligence officers were expelled from the Russian embassy in Washington in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain
  • Mueller previously indicted 13 Russians and three companies for allegedly interfering in the presidential vote

WASHINGTON: Twelve Russian intelligence officers were charged on Friday with hacking Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic Party in a stunning indictment just three days before President Donald Trump meets with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The charges were drawn up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is looking into Russian interference in the November 2016 vote and whether any members of Trump’s campaign team colluded with Moscow.
Democratic leaders immediately called for Trump to cancel Monday’s scheduled meeting with Putin in Helsinki, but the White House said the summit would go ahead.
“It’s on,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
The 29-page indictment accuses members of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU of carrying out “large-scale cyber operations” to steal Clinton campaign and Democratic Party documents and emails.
“There’s no allegation that the conspiracy changed the vote count or affected any election result,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in announcing the charges at a press conference in Washington.
“There’s no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime,” Rosenstein added, although the “conspirators corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the Internet.”
However, he said, “there’s no allegation in this indictment that the Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.”
Rosenstein said he briefed Trump about the indictment before Friday’s announcement and that the timing was determined by “the facts, the evidence, and the law.”
News of the indictment came as Trump was meeting Queen Elizabeth II and just 72 hours before his meeting with Putin.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, urged Trump to cancel the Putin talks.
“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Schumer said in a statement.
“President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections.”
Republican Senator John McCain said the summit should be called off if Trump is not ready to warn Putin there is a “serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression toward the United States and democracies around the world.”
“If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward,” McCain said.
Speaking in Britain before the indictments were unveiled, Trump said he would ask Putin about the allegations of election meddling.
“I will absolutely, firmly ask the question, and hopefully we’ll have a good relationship with Russia,” he told a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
But he simultaneously denounced the Mueller investigation as a “rigged witch hunt,” and said he has been “tougher on Russia than anybody.”
The US president recalled that 60 intelligence officers were expelled from the Russian embassy in Washington in response to a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain.
Russia has denied any involvement in the attack and rejected accusations that it interfered in the US presidential election in a bid to help Trump win.

In a statement, the White House highlighted Rosenstein’s remarks that no Americans had been charged.
“Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result,” it said. “This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said on Twitter that the indictments were “good news for all Americans.”
“The Russians are nailed. No Americans are involved. Time for Mueller to end this pursuit of the President and say President Trump is completely innocent,” Giuliani said.
Rosenstein called for unity in the face of Russian meddling.
“When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it is important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats and instead to think patriotically as Americans,” he said.
The indictment alleges that beginning in March 2016, the GRU agents began targeting over 300 employees and volunteers of the Clinton campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
“The conspirators covertly monitored the computers of dozens of DCCC and DNC employees, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code, and stole emails and other documents,” it said.
Around June 2016, they began releasing tens of thousands of the stolen emails and documents using “fictitious online personas, including ‘DCLeaks’ and ‘Guccifer 2.0,’” the indictment said.
Some of the documents and emails were released through a website identified in the indictment only as “Organization 1” — believed to be Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks.
Other documents and emails were made public through a website and Twitter account known as DCLeaks, which the GRU falsely attributed to a group of “American hacktivists.”
Mueller previously indicted 13 Russians and three companies for allegedly interfering in the presidential vote.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been charged with money laundering and other crimes, while former national security adviser Michael Flynn has admitted lying to the FBI.


Heavy rains kill at least 12 before storm Michaung makes landfall on India's southeast coast

Updated 11 sec ago
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Heavy rains kill at least 12 before storm Michaung makes landfall on India's southeast coast

  • India’s coasts are no stranger to cyclones, but changing climate patterns have caused them to become more intense
  • In June, Cyclone Biparjoy forced both India and Pakistan to move thousands living in coastal areas to temporary shelters

HYDERABAD: Twelve people died in the downpour before Tropical Storm Michaung made landfall along India's southeast coast Tuesday, bringing further torrential rains and strong winds, officials said. 

The storm entered Andhra Pradesh state with maximum sustained winds of 90-100 kph (56-62 mph) and gusts up to 110 kph (68 mph), the Indian Meteorological Department said, adding that the storm would weaken over the next few hours. 

Authorities were on high alert for heavy showers over the next 24 hours. 

Another state in the south, Tamil Nadu, experienced days of heavy rains ahead of the storm. Downpours triggered accidents that led to at least 12 deaths across vulnerable districts, officials told the Press Trust of India news agency. 

In Tamil Nadu's capital city of Chennai, rain from the storm's outer reaches caused walls to collapse, uprooted trees and submerged roads and cars in knee-deep waters. 

Videos on Monday showed water streaming onto the city’s airport tarmac, forcing authorities to temporarily shut it down and cancel flights. The downpours have since begun to recede, and the airport has reopened, but many parts of the city remained flooded Tuesday. 

Rains also pounded parts of Odisha state in the east, but there were no immediate reports of deaths or severe damage. 

In Andhra Pradesh, where the storm made landfall near Ongole district, officials shut down schools and evacuated more than 9,000 people from coastal and low-lying areas. 

Parts of the state saw as much as 390 millimeters (15.4 inches) of rain Tuesday morning before the storm closed in, putting officials on high alert as winds uprooted trees and damaged crops. 

India's Meteorological Department said rains could continue over the next few days. Michaung is listed as a Severe Cyclonic Storm in the department's cyclone classification system due to its wind speed. 

In Tamil Nadu, authorities set up thousands of relief camps in coastal areas. Teams of the National Disaster Response Force and other agencies sent rescuers with boats to evacuate hundreds of people stranded on roads and inside flooded homes. Officials, who declared a public holiday in districts affected by the storm, urged residents to stay indoors. 

In June, rain pelted the shores of western India and southern Pakistan as Cyclone Biparjoy pushed into the coast, prompting both countries to move more than 100,000 people to shelters. 

India’s coasts are no stranger to cyclones, but changing climate patterns have caused them to become more intense, making preparations for natural disasters more urgent. 


Bangladesh eyes halal exports boost to Gulf countries with new policy 

Updated 05 December 2023
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Bangladesh eyes halal exports boost to Gulf countries with new policy 

  • Government launched inaugural policy on halal certification in November  
  • New policy serves as formal guideline for companies to align with international halal standards  

DHAKA: Bangladesh is working on tapping into the global halal market and increasing exports to Gulf countries, the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation said on Tuesday following the government’s inaugural policy on halal certification.  

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Religious Affairs approved last month a halal certification policy, which serves as a formal guideline and incentive for companies to align with international halal standards, paving the way for the South Asian nation to harness the potential of the global halal market, which is worth over $2 trillion.  

“This halal certification is very important for us since we are a Muslim country and 92 percent of our consumers are Muslim … Now, we will be able to explore the export potential of our halal goods,” Abu Saleh Patwary, deputy director of the halal certification department at the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, told Arab News on Tuesday.  

The BIF is a body under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which has worked on halal certification matters since 2007 and is now in charge of issuing halal certificates in Bangladesh.  

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE can be the major destination for our halal goods … We will be aiming to increase exports to Muslim countries, especially in the Gulf region,” he said.  

“If we can grab 2 to 3 percent of global halal markets, it will boost our economy a lot … Now, a new horizon of halal goods has opened up for our local entrepreneurs.” 

The policy comes at a time when Bangladeshi businesses are also exploring new opportunities with Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia, which a delegation comprising the country’s top business leaders visited earlier in October.  

Jahangir Alam, director at the Dhaka School of Economics, said halal certification was imperative to enter the Middle Eastern market.  

“Most Muslim countries want halal certification to import consumer goods. It’s particularly hard to sell goods in Middle Eastern countries without halal certification. For this reason, we need the halal certification very much,” Alam told Arab News, adding that it will help boost the presence of Bangladeshi products internationally.  

The process to obtain those certifications should be “easy and hassle-free,” Alam added, to ensure that Bangladeshis can reap the benefits of such a policy.  

“The introduction of halal certification will boost sales of goods both locally and globally. Eventually, it will increase the earnings of our foreign currency. It’s a great initiative.”  


Saudi Arabia to open new visa centers, introduce flights for Indian pilgrims

Updated 05 December 2023
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Saudi Arabia to open new visa centers, introduce flights for Indian pilgrims

  • More than 1.2m Indian pilgrims visited Saudi Arabia for Umrah in 2023
  • Hajj ‘important aspect’ of Saudi-India bilateral relations: Indian minister

NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia will open new visa centers in India and introduce budget flights to facilitate the increasing number of Indian pilgrims in their Umrah journeys, Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Tuesday.

Al-Rabiah is in New Delhi as part of an official trip aimed at strengthening collaboration with Indian officials and partners and streamlining Umrah pilgrimage for international pilgrims.

As part of its Vision 2030 reform plan, the Kingdom has utilized technological advancements, enhanced measures, and upgraded infrastructure to “transform Umrah into a rewarding religious expedition” for Muslims worldwide, Al-Rabiah pointed out during a joint press conference in the Indian capital.

With more than 200 million people professing Islam in India, the Hindu-majority country has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population.

In 2023, the number of Umrah pilgrims from India increased by around 74 percent compared to last year, surpassing 1.2 million people.

That increase was the result of Saudi-India collaborative efforts, Al-Rabiah noted, adding that the two countries had initiated discussions to increase direct flights between them “to accommodate an increasing number of Indians looking to perform Umrah.”

“We’re also focused on enhancing capacity to meet the anticipated increase by introducing new scheduled flights through Saudi low-cost airlines, flynas and flyadeal,” he said.

“These efforts are complemented by initiatives to streamline visa issuance procedures and establish three new visa centers in India.”

Indian minority affairs minister, Smriti Irani, who held talks with Al-Rabiah on Tuesday, said they had “productive discussions on how to further deepen engagements,” particularly on their cooperation for Hajj pilgrimage.

“Both nations have agreed to continue to work together to make the Hajj process as convenient and as seamless as possible with best provision of services for all Hajj pilgrims,” Irani told reporters at the press conference.

Under the 2023 Hajj quota, around 175,000 Indians – nearly 47 percent of whom were women – traveled to Saudi Arabia for the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Vellamvelly Muraleedharan, said Al-Rabiah’s visit would “bolster the overall bilateral partnership” between the two countries, adding that Hajj was an “important aspect” of that relationship.

“There is a mutual recognition that our partnership will not only be beneficial to our countries and communities … but will be valuable to the region and the world,” Muraleedharan added.


US returns $1 million in stolen antiquities to Nepal

Updated 05 December 2023
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US returns $1 million in stolen antiquities to Nepal

  • One of the items was seized as part of a probe into Subhash Kapoor who helped traffic items from Asian countries
  • In recent years, New York museums have returned over 1,000 pieces worth $190mln to 19 states, including Pakistan

NEW YORK: The United States has returned four antiquities worth $1 million to Nepal, including a pair of gilt copper masks representing a Hindu deity, following anti-trafficking operations, New York authorities said on Monday. 

One of the items was seized as part of a probe into Subhash Kapoor, whom Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg described as an “allegedly prolific looter who helped traffic items” from several Asian countries. 

Between 2011 and 2023, officials claim to have recovered more than 2,500 items trafficked by Kapoor and his network, Bragg’s office said in a statement. 

“The total value of the pieces recovered exceeds $143 million,” it added. 

“We will continue to target antiquities trafficking networks no matter how complex. I thank our outstanding team of analysts and attorneys... for recovering and returning these beautiful pieces,” Bragg said. 

The four items given back to Nepalese authorities were handed over at a ceremony in New York. 

“The return of these illegally exported four masterpieces is a significant step in reclaiming Nepal’s cultural heritage and preserving its historical treasures,” said Nepal’s acting consul general in New York Bishnu Prasad Gautam. 

The masks, from the 16th century and collectively valued at $900,000, depict Shiva, part of the Hindu trinity. 

“Both masks were stolen in the mid-1990s as part of a series of break-in robberies from the home of the family” whose relatives made them, Bragg’s office said. 

In recent years, the New York’s Met and other prestigious museums have agreed to return trafficked works, in particular pieces from countries riddled by conflict from 1970 to 1990. 

Under Bragg, who has been in office since 2022, more than 1,000 pieces worth $190 million have been returned to 19 countries, including Cambodia, China, India and Pakistan.


China says Afghan Taliban must reform before full diplomatic ties

Updated 05 December 2023
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China says Afghan Taliban must reform before full diplomatic ties

  • Beijing does not formally recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, although both countries host ambassadors
  • Taliban government has not been officially recognized by any country since seizing power in August 2021

Beijing: China said on Tuesday Afghanistan’s Taliban government will need to introduce political reforms, improve security and mend relations with its neighbors before receiving full diplomatic recognition.

Beijing does not formally recognize Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, although both countries host each others’ ambassadors and have maintained diplomatic engagement.

“China has always believed that Afghanistan should not be excluded from the international community,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday when asked if China would now recognize the Taliban government.

“We hope that Afghanistan will further respond to the expectations of the international community, build an open and inclusive political structure (and) implement moderate and stable domestic and foreign policies,” he said.

Wang also said China urged Kabul to “resolutely combat all types of terrorist forces, live in harmony with all countries around the world, especially neighboring countries, and integrate with the international community at an early date.”

“As the concerns of all parties receive stronger responses, diplomatic recognition of the Afghan government will naturally follow,” he said.

The Taliban government has not been officially recognized by any country since seizing power after the chaotic withdrawal of US troops in August 2021.

However, Kabul and Beijing have maintained some ties.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have promised the country would not be used as a base for militants and, in exchange, China has offered economic support and investment for reconstruction.

China’s foreign ministry said in a position paper on Afghanistan released this year that it “respects the independent choices made by the Afghan people, and respects the religious beliefs and national customs.”