Monthly Archives: December 2016

Indian coal mine death toll rises to 16, some still trapped

BHUBANESWAR, India: The death toll in an Indian coal mine collapse rose to 16 on Saturday and could rise further, officials said, as some people are still feared trapped at a coalfield run by state-owned Coal India Limited.

The accident occurred in Jharkhand state on Thursday evening at the Lalmatia mine, one of the country’s largest, which is owned by Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL).

“At night (on Friday), the rescue operation was slow due to fog,” R.R. Amitabh, a senior officer at ECL, told Reuters, adding that about 30 percent of the collapsed mine waste had been removed.

Coal India has a poor safety record, with 135 accidents reported last year, killing 37 people and injuring 141, the company said in a report.

Operations at the mine in Godda district, about 280 km (175 miles) from the state capital, Ranchi, have since been stopped, Amitabh said.

The state police spokesman R.K. Mullick said the number of people still trapped may be less than the nearly two dozen assumed earlier, based on the number of families who were searching for their kin.

The mine has an annual capacity of 17 million tonnes and accounts for about half of ECL’s coal production. Last month, ECL accounted for about 9 percent of Coal India’s total production of 50 million tonnes.

The federal coal ministry has ordered an investigation and announced some cash compensation to the families of miners who died in the accident.

(Reporting by Jatindra Dash; Writing by Malini Menon; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Cricket: Pakistan first Test team member Imtiaz dies

LAHORE, Pakistan: Imtiaz Ahmed, a member of Pakistan’s first-ever Test team, died in a Lahore hospital Saturday (Dec 31) after a brief illness, his family said.

The 88-year-old Ahmed featured in Pakistan’s first Test played in Delhi against India in October 1952 and went on to play 41 matches as a wicketkeeper-batsman.

Ahmed’s family confirmed his death.

“He (Imtiaz) was suffering from chest infection and died early Saturday,” a member of the family told local media.

Ahmed was known as an aggressive batsman who had a variety of strokes, most notably the hook and the pull shot. He scored 2,079 Test runs for Pakistan with a career best of 209 against New Zealand in Lahore in 1955.

He put on 152 for the first wicket with the legendary Hanif Mohammad in the Bridgetown Test against West Indies in 1958, scoring 91.

Mohammad, who died in August this year, went on to score an epic 337 in 970 minutes — still the longest innings in Test cricket history.

Ahmed’s death means that middle-order batsman Waqar Hasan is now the only surviving member of Pakistan’s first Test team.

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Russian hackers penetrated Vermont electric utility – Washington Post

WASHINGTON: A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont electric utility, The Washington Post reported on Friday, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

The Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, the officials told the Post, but penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.

Reuters could not independently confirm the story.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election.

Government and utility industry officials regularly monitor the nation’s electrical grid because it is highly computerized and any disruptions can have disastrous implications for the functioning of medical and emergency services, the Post said.

U.S. officials, including one senior administration official, said they are not yet sure what the intentions of the Russians might have been, the Post reported.

Federal officials have shared the malware code used in Grizzly Steppe with utility executives nationwide, a senior administration official said, and Vermont utility officials identified it within their operations, the Post reported.

While it is unclear which utility reported the incident, there are just two major utilities in Vermont, Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric, the Post said.

The White House and the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The penetration may have been designed to disrupt the utility’s operations or as a test by the Russians to see whether they could penetrate a portion of the grid, the newspaper said.

(Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Conte deflects praise for Chelsea's 'great achievement'

LONDON: Antonio Conte brushed aside the praise being heaped upon him and his high-flying Chelsea team on Friday, adamant that he would not let the plaudits distract them in their surge towards the Premier League title.

Earlier, Arsene Wenger, manager of one of Chelsea’s main pursuers Arsenal, had suggested the Blues’ six-point lead meant that the title was already “theirs to lose”.

Yet Conte, while conceding that Chelsea’s 12 successive league wins represented “a great achievement”, was not buying into the idea that they were “super-favourites” when asked if he felt Wenger was trying to mess with the heads of his players.

“I think the most important things in our head must be to continue to work very hard, be focussed game by game and remember this league is not easy and that we are doing very well,” the Italian told reporters.

“At the start of the season, no one coach, no one person, no one journalist trusted in this team to fight for the title because we came after a bad season.

“But now I’m pleased that the opinion is changing, I’m worried because when the opinion changes quickly, you must pay attention. We only have six points more than the second-placed team (Liverpool).

“Twelve wins in a row is a great achievement but it’s not enough to win the League at this point of the season. We’ve played only 18 games. There are 20 to finish the season.”

Conte reiterated that Chelsea, who face Stoke City on Saturday, had money to spend in the transfer window but said he would not be overlooking the quality of his youthful back-up players.

“We have a lot of young players in the squad and I trust in them. With Reuben (Loftus-Cheek), (Nathaniel) Chalobah and also (Kurt) Zouma. If we can find the solution at home then it’s important to look around.”

Conte was understandably in high sprits even if he himself currently appears to be Chelsea’s main injury worry.

He blamed his assistants Carlo Cudicini and Steve Holland in jovial fashion after he picked up a hamstring injury on a training run with them.

“They ran too strong,” he said, adding that the injury would not force him to sit on the bench and tone down his trademark hyperactive jack-in-the-box impressions on the touchline.

(Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Ed Osmond)

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UN envoy sees 'historic opportunity' for Cyprus reunification in 2017

NICOSIA: A senior United Nations official says ethnically-split Cyprus has a “historic opportunity” to reunite in 2017 and a meeting in Geneva in early January will be crucial for a peace deal that has eluded the island for decades.

Eighteen months of intensive talks between the estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities will culminate at meetings in Geneva starting on Jan. 8.

Espen Barth Eide, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, wrote in the Cyprus Weekly newspaper that Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci had demonstrated political will and leadership to end the conflict.

“They recognise that the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable, and that the current talks offer the best opportunity for a solution,” said Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister.

“The island stands on the cusp of reaping real political and economic benefits not only for Cypriots, but also beyond the island across the wider region,” he added. “The peaceful reunification of the island next year could offer a historic opportunity to finally turn the page of history in Cyprus.”

The eastern Mediterranean island was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 prompted by a brief coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece. The Greek Cypriots now live south of a ceasefire line and Turkish Cypriots to the north of it.

From Jan. 8, the two sides will try to clear up overhangs in issues relating to economy, property, governance and EU issues. Territorial trade-offs are expected to be discussed on Jan. 11.

Representatives of Britain, Turkey and Greece – the guarantor powers of the former British colony – will discuss their roles at a conference starting in Geneva the next day.

This guarantor status, which permits intervention to restore a breakdown of constitutional order, is a source of discord between the two Cypriot communities.

Fearful of a repeat of the 1974 invasion, the Greek Cypriot side says no guarantees are required once Cyprus is reunited while Turkish Cypriots, who withdrew into enclaves in the 1960s and were targeted by Greek Cypriot nationalists, say they are.

A previous peace bid on Cyprus collapsed in 2004, when Greek Cypriots rejected, and Turkish Cypriots accepted a blueprint drafted by the UN in a strategy then of ‘filling in the blanks’ of a deal where the two sides failed to agree.

Negotiations continued on and off since then, picking up in mid-2015 to lead to the meetings due next month.

This time talks are led by the two communities, with the UN acting as facilitators in the process.

(Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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Alpine Skiing: Shiffrin hits the triple at Semmering

SEMMERING, Austria: American slalom queen Mikaela Shiffrin edged one victory closer to matching the record eight-race slalom win streak by winning the specialist event at Semmering on Thursday (Dec 29), her third victory in the Austrian resort in as many days.

Fresh from winning two giant slalom races on the same slope, the imperious 21-year-old was fastest down the first run, holding a slender 0.09-second lead over Czech Veronika Velez Zuzulova.

But the American suffered a horrendous mistake at the top of her second run and seemed to have lost the initiative, at one point falling 0.39 second behind her Czech rival in the intermediate times.

Shiffrin’s power and technique showed through, however, as she blasted down the bottom third of the flood-lit course to finish her two runs in a combined time of 1 minute 40.06, a staggering 0.64 second ahead of Zuzulova.

Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener completed the podium, at 1.54 seconds.

Shiffrin’s victory was her 26th on the World Cup circuit and sets her up for a shot at the slalom win streak record jointly held by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider and Croatia’s Janica Kostelic.

It also extends Shiffrin’s lead atop the overall World Cup standings, propelling her out to 798 points, 215 ahead of closest rival Lara Gut of Switzerland.

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Albania kicks three out of politics over past crimes

TIRANA: Albania’s election commission kicked out two lawmakers from parliament and ejected a mayor from his job for failing to declare criminal records for offences overseas.

Parliament voted a year ago to remove from public office anyone who had been convicted or committed any criminal offences or misdemeanours in Albania or abroad during their lifetime.

The three deny any wrongdoing and have said they will appeal against the decision of the Central Election Commission. The lawmakers say they have been tried in absentia in Italy.

All elected politicians have been required to fill out a criminal record form after the law was passed a year ago. Since then, the authorities have combed through Albanian and foreign records, throwing up the accusations against the trio.

Kavaje mayor Elvis Rroshi, from the ruling Socialist Party, was sacked for what prosecutors say was not revealing a conviction for gang rape while in Italy, using many identities in Switzerland and being detained in Zurich in a drug case.

Shkelqim Selami, a lawmaker from the Socialist’s coalition ally, was accused of failing to declare he had been detained for a week in Brindisi, Italy, over human trafficking in 1994.

Opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Dashamir Tahiri was accused by the prosecutors of failing to declare Italian police had caught him driving with a false driving licence and he had been sentenced to nine months in jail.

He and Selami say they have visited Italy regularly and not been aware of any such sentences.

Denar Biba, the head of the Central Election Commission, said they had unanimously decided to scrap the mandates of the ruling coalition politicians. The opposition members on the commission had voted against scrapping the Democrat’s mandate.

The United States, who along with the European Union have been pushing the authorities to apply the law, welcomed the decision as a victory for Albanians and a warning for criminals eyeing political office in next year’s parliamentary elections.

“Elected or appointed officials filing false declarations should be punished to the full extent of the law. Persons with criminal records should have no place representing the Albanian people,” a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Tirana said.

(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Asked about Russia sanctions, Trump says 'we ought to get on with our lives'

PALM BEACH, Fla.: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested that the United States and Russia lay to rest the controversy over Moscow’s computer hacking of Democratic Party computers, saying, “We ought to get on with our lives.”

Trump has cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian hackers took information from Democratic Party computers and individuals and posted it online to help Trump win the election.

The Obama administration plans to announce on Thursday a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for hacking into U.S. political institutions and individuals and leaking information, two U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Asked by reporters if the United States should sanction Russia, Trump replied: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”

Trump made his remarks at Mar-a-Lago, his seaside Florida resort where he is spending the Christmas and New Year’s holidays while also interviewing candidates for administration jobs.

Trump said he was not familiar with remarks earlier on Wednesday by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said Russia and President Vladimir Putin should expect tough sanctions for the cyber attacks.

“We have speed. We have a lot of other things but I’m not sure you have the kind of security that you need. But I have not spoken with the senators and I certainly will be over a period of time,” he said.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Yachting: Giacomo set for Sydney-to-Hobart race handicap win

SYDNEY: New Zealand’s Giacomo was set on Thursday (Dec 29) to win handicap honours in the record-breaking Sydney-Hobart yacht race as rivals were becalmed on Hobart’s breathless River Derwent.

The Volvo 70 came in second fastest in line honours on Wednesday, just two hours behind triumphant Australian supermaxi Perpetual LOYAL.

Both yachts sped into Hobart and easily broke the old record by hours with a time of one day 15 hours 27 minutes 5 seconds for Giacomo.

But soon after third-placed and Hong Kong-owned Scallywag finished the race rain began to fall and the wind dropped on the fickle Derwent river leading to Hobart.

With other leading handicap contenders tied up in the doldrums for much of Wednesday, Giacomo was sitting pretty on corrected time.

“Giacomo … remains the leader of the race overall,” the organisers said on Thursday, “and her hold on the Tattersall’s Cup is becoming more of a grip.”

The Cup rewards the vessel that performs best according to size, whereas line honours are for the fastest boats.

New Zealand winemaker and Giacomo owner Jim Delegat admitted the downwind conditions suited his 70-footer, allowing it to split the 100-foot Perpetual LOYAL and Scallywag.

“Still, we’re pretty surprised, it’s not often that a 70-footer can do this, get second over the line,” he said.

The lack of wind on the last leg seemed to have taken care of Giacomo’s rival 70-footers and most probably the smaller boats too.

Last year’s overall winner Balance, a 52-footer owned by Australian Paul Clitheroe, had been running close for a second successive handicap crown before falling into the wind trap for much of Wednesday.

When Scallywag docked before dawn at Hobart’s Constitution Dock, the first three home were well inside the 2012 record of one day 18 hours 23 minutes 12 seconds for the 628-nautical-mile (1,163-kilometre) event.

At one stage on Tuesday morning 24 yachts were running ahead of the record. But the change from the fastest times to a virtual standstill came suddenly.

The race organisers, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, described the Derwent shutdown as “a tortuous 11 miles of drifting and clawing to the finish line.

“And it is unlikely there’ll be much breeze in the river until after midday today (Thursday),” the yacht club added.

In such conditions only five more boats limped to the finish overnight to make a total of just 18 out of 88 starters tied up in Hobart on Thursday morning.

Other contenders who have seen their handicap chances disappear up the Derwent are the mixed French-Chinese crew on UBOX, local hope Ichi Ban and German Jens Kellinghusen’s Varuna VI.

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Hong Kong's ousted anti-China lawmakers make final appeal over ban

HONG KONG: Two ousted pro-independence Hong Kong lawmakers on Wednesday (Dec 28) announced they were making a final bid to overturn a controversial Beijing-linked ban preventing them from taking up their seats in parliament.

Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung were elected in citywide polls in September but deliberately misread their oaths of office during their swearing-in ceremony, inserting expletives and draping themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” flags.

This prompted a rare interference by Chinese authorities.

The pair were amongst a handful of rebel candidates who took seats for the first time after the September polls, advocating either independence or self-determination for the southern Chinese city.

The new movement supporting a possible split from Beijing for the semi-autonomous city has gained traction as young pro-democracy campaigners grow increasingly frustrated with a lack of political reform.

Beijing took aim at the pair in a special “interpretation” of the city’s constitution in early November that effectively barred them from taking up their seats because of the way they took the oath.

Following that decision, Yau and Leung were disqualified by the city’s High Court in mid November and lost an appeal to overturn that ban later in the month.

On Wednesday the pair said they had filed appeal documents with the city’s Court of Final Appeal, in hopes of setting a precedent for future elections in Hong Kong.

“It is shaping Hong Kong’s constitutional environment, and even the legitimacy of Legislative Council elections hinge on this case,” Yau told AFP.

The pair are still struggling to raise the funds to bring the case to the city’s highest court.

“We’re determined to appeal because we can?t stop at the Court of Appeal. The impact this case will have on Hong Kong is too big.”

Following Yau and Leung’s failed appeal last month, the government launched another legal bid to unseat an additional four pro-democracy lawmakers for failing to take their oaths properly, in what the opposition camp has called a witch hunt.

Proceedings against the four lawmakers are scheduled to start in February.

Thousands are expected to join a rally on New Year’s Day calling for the government to drop their bid to disqualify the four lawmakers and to press for universal suffrage.

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