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April 2017 International Affairs


  • Nations team up to protect ancient heritage from terrorism
    Ten countries formed a new group on 24th April aimed at protecting ancient heritage from extremism of the kind that saw the Islamic State group lay waste to Syria's historic Palmyra. 

    Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Greece, Italy, China, India, Bolivia, Mexico and Peru- all home to some of the world's most cherished archaeological sites- have signed up to the "forum" launched in Athens by ministers and ambassadors from the nations. 

    Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, whose government is spearheading the project along with China, said the group would run joint projects to promote "dialogue in the face of fanaticism, and culture in the face of terrorism". 

    Jihadists from the IS group seized the ancient ruins of Palmyra in May 2015, systematically destroying and looting the temples of the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

    Bamiyan, in Afghanistan, and Mali's Timbuktu are other UNESCO sites to suffer destruction at the hands of Islamist extremists. The new 10-country group is due to meet again in Bolivia next year, the Greek foreign ministry said. 


  • World Malaria Day: WHO strategies for prevention
    World Health Organization (WHO) called for accelerated scale-up of efforts to prevent malaria and save lives at an event in Nairobi on the occasion of World Malaria Day. 

    In sub-Saharan Africa, which shoulders 90% of the global malaria burden, more than 663 million cases have been averted since 2001. Insecticide-treated nets have had the greatest impact, accounting for an estimated 69% of cases prevented through control tools. 

    Together with diagnosis and treatment, WHO recommends a package of proven prevention approaches, including insecticide treated nets, spraying indoor walls with insecticides, and preventive medicines for the most vulnerable groups: pregnant women, under-fives and infants. 

    WHO's latest report spotlights critical gaps in prevention coverage, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 43% of people at risk of malaria in the region were not protected by either a net or indoor insecticide spraying in 2015. Approximately 69% of pregnant women in 20 African countries did not have access to the recommended 3 or more doses of preventive treatment. 

    According to the World Malaria Report 2016, the rate of new malaria cases fell by 21% globally between 2010 and 2015. Malaria death rates fell by 29% in the same 5-year period. In sub-Saharan Africa, case incidence and death rates fell by 21% and 31%, respectively. 

    In May 2015, the World Health Assembly approved WHO’s Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030, a 15-year blueprint for all countries working to control and eliminate malaria. The strategy set ambitious targets for 2030, including reducing malaria case incidence and death rates by at least 90%, eliminating malaria in at least 35 countries, and preventing the reintroduction of malaria in all countries that are malaria free. 


  • Massive funds needed to avert Yemen famine: UN
    UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the United Nations needs massive funds to avert famine in Yemen and warring parties there must ensure humanitarian aid can be delivered. 

    Opening a donor conference in Geneva, he appealed for 1.2 billion dollars this year for Yemen, where Guterres said a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes every 10 minutes, is only 15 percent covered. 

    Two years of conflict between Houthi rebels aligned with Iran and a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that carries out air strikes almost daily have killed at least 10,000 people in Yemen, and hunger and disease are rife there. 

    Nearly 19 million people or two-thirds of the population need emergency aid, Guterres said, renewing a call for peace talks and urging all parties to facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid by air, sea and land. 


  • India notifies compliance of UN sanctions against North Korea
    India has notified the compliance of the UN resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea which include prevention of direct or indirect supply, sale, transfer or export of all weaponry and related material through its territories or by its nationals to that country. 

    The notification, put out by the External Affairs Ministry, also banned supply, sale or export of other items, materials, equipment, goods and technology, which could contribute to North Korea's nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes. 

    The sale of luxury goods including jewelry, gems, yachts and luxury automobiles like racing cars and except food or medicine, that could directly contribute to the development of North Korea's operational capabilities of its armed forces is also prohibited. 

    It also mentions immediate freezing of the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on its territories that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the persons or entities engaged in or providing support for the North Korea's nuclear-related, other weapons of mass destruction-related and ballistic missile-related programmes, including through other illicit means. 


  • China launches new aircraft carrier 
    China on 26th April launched its first indigenously-built aircraft carrier which will join an existing one bought from Ukraine, boosting its military capabilities amid worries about Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea. 

    The 50,000 tonne new carrier was transferred from a dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony in northeast Dalian shipyard of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corp (CSIC). 

    The carrier is touted to be a significant upgrade from the Liaoning, which was built more than 25 years ago and is a refurbished Soviet ship bought from Ukraine. 

    China began building its second carrier in November 2013. Dock construction started in March 2015. Putting the carrier into water marked progress in China's efforts to design and build a domestic aircraft carrier. After the launch, the new carrier will undergo equipment debugging, outfitting and comprehensive mooring trials. 

    The launch ceremony was attended by Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. The launch comes amid China's assertiveness in the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite objections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. China has also created artificial islands in the area, outfitting some of them with military features. 

    The launch also comes amid heated rhetoric between the US and North Korea in recent days. The US has deployed warships and a submarine to the Korean peninsula, prompting an angry reaction from North Korea. China has urged for calm. 

    China's military is also eyeing more aircraft carriers to enhance its capabilities. China has enhanced the battle capabilities of its aircraft carrier Liaoning, with more than 10 pilots from carrier-based jet fighters and commanders getting their certificates, making China one of the few countries capable of training its own pilots for aircraft carriers. 


  • India can create about 72 million additional jobs by 2030 through SDGs 
    The United Nations (UN) is presenting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as an attractive business opportunity for Indian companies and an employment generator for the government. 

    Lise Kingo, chief executive officer and executive director of the UN Global Compact, said India can create about 72 million additional jobs by 2030 if it vigorously pursues the SDGs. These are big numbers for a country that is struggling to create even a million jobs per year. The UN estimates imply an additional six million jobs per year. 

    The SDGs are a set of 17 goals meant to push all facets of human development to an acceptable standard across the world by 2030. 

    The job estimates put out by the UN Global Compact underwrites government’s recent policies, in most cases. While on ground there has only been a limited rise in actual jobs from the pursuit of these policies the UN report ‘Better Business Better World’ is optimistic those numbers can rise soon. 

    Among the policies advocated by the UN Global Compact, which aims to encourage businesses globally to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, have laid out for India are: Encouragement of modern retailing in the food business, deeper penetration of health insurance based on risk pooling, affordable housing and telemedicine. 

    The report notes: “One market hot spot alone — low-income food markets — could create around 11 million of these jobs”. 

    The report supports both the ‘Make in India’ initiative, describing it as “a timely response to address the emerging market bubble burst and India’s plummeting growth rate”, and labour market reforms. 


  • El Salvador becomes 1st country in world to ban metals mining
    El Salvador has become the first country in the world to ban the mining of metals in what campaigners called a landmark move for environmental protection. According to the text published in the official journal the law bans prospection, exploration, exploitation, extraction or processing of metallic minerals in El Salvador. Some Latin American countries thrive on mineral exports but local communities complain of environmental risks from toxic metals used in the process. 

    The new law entered into force after being signed by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren. El Salvador says it will protect poor rural communities threatened by proposed mining projects. The country has had disputes with powerful foreign mining firms in the past. 


  • Donald Trump introduces biggest reform plan in US
    US president Donald Trump has introduced biggest tax reform plan in the history of United States. The income tax rates have been slashed from 39.6% to 35%.He proposed tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses. The new plan proposes for a 15% corporate tax rate which is a sharp drop from the existing 35%. However, under the US law only the congress is empowered to make major changes to tax laws. 


  • Nepal, China hold first-ever joint military exercises
    Nepal and China on 16th April began their first-ever joint military exercise with a special focus on combating terror. Nepal Army said, the 10-day-long military drill "Sagarmatha Friendship 2017" that will last till April 25 is being organised by the two countries as part of their preparedness against terrorism that has posed as a serious security threat globally. 

    Sagarmatha is the Nepali name of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. The joint training with China marks Nepal Army's extension of military diplomacy. The Nepal Army has long been conducting joint military drills with Indian and American Army. 

    Nepal had proposed joint military exercises during Chinese Defence Minister General Chang Wanquan's official visit to Nepal on March 24. 


  • Turkey referendum: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's push for an executive presidency succeeded with 51.4% voting 
    The Yes vote in the referendum that grants sweeping new powers to the president of Turkey is valid, the head of the electoral body says. Sadi Guven was speaking after the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) cited irregularities, including the use of unstamped ballot papers. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's push for an executive presidency succeeded with 51.4% voting for it. Observers said the process had flaws such as campaigning restrictions. 

    The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the referendum took place on an "unlevel playing field" as the two sides did not have equal opportunities. 

    However, the OSCE said there were no major problems on referendum day, "except in some regions". The win was met with both celebrations and protests across Turkey. 


  • World Heritage Day: Celebrating the concept of Sustainable Tourism
    April 18 was identified as the World Heritage Day in the year 1982 by International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). It was suggested that a special day should be marked and celebrated all through the world in the name of “International Day for Monuments and Sites”. In 1983, UNESCO’s General Conference also approved the idea and since then, April 18 is marked as the World Heritage Day. 

    A World Heritage Site is classified as a natural or man-made area or a structure that is of international importance, and space which requires special protection. These sites are of utmost importance because of the historical, cultural and geographical threads that are associated with them. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) believes that the sites are extremely valuable for humanity and should be taken care of, in the best ways possible. 

    There are 1,052 Heritage Sites in the world, of which 814 are cultural, 203 are natural and 35 are mixed. 

    Each year, there’s a different theme that’s selected to mark this day - this year it’s sustainable tourism. It’s been chosen to align with the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. 

    What is Sustainable Tourism? 
    As defined by World Tourism Organization, the term specifically denotes “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”. 

    To put it simply, sustainable tourism is a concept of visiting a place as a tourist/ traveler and trying to make positive impacts on the environment, society and economy of that particular place. 


  • US President Donald Trump signs executive order to tighten H-1B visa programme
    US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to tighten the rules for technology companies seeking to bring highly skilled foreign workers to the United States. The order signed by Mr Trump targets the H-1B visa programme. 

    The White House said the programme undercuts American workers by bringing in large numbers of cheaper foreign workers, which drives down US wages. 

    The order directs US agencies to propose rules to prevent immigration fraud and abuse in the programme. Agencies have also been asked to suggest changes so that the H-1B visas are granted to the most-skilled or highest-paid applicants. Mr Trump said the order sends a powerful signal to the world that the United States will defend its workers, protect their jobs and put America first. 


  • Pakistan Supreme Court orders PM Nawaz Sharif to appear before JIT 
    Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 20th April narrowly survived being disqualified after a 3-2 split decision by a Supreme Court bench which ordered to set up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) within a week to probe the allegations of money laundering against his family. 

    The court also ordered Sharif and his two sons - Hasan and Hussain - to appear before the JIT, which would consist officials from the Federal Investigation Agency, the National Accountability Bureau, the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and the Military Intelligence. 

    The JIT will present its report before the bench after every two weeks. The case, about alleged money laundering by Sharif in 1990s, was launched on November 3. 


  • India won elections to 2 UN subsidiary bodies
    India have won elections to two subsidiary bodies of a UN organ focussed on social and economic issues. India along with 12 other members was elected to the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC), a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). 

    The country garnered the most number of votes in the Asian group, with 49 out of 50 members of ECOSOC voting in its favour. 

    The 13 members elected for three-year terms, beginning January 2018, include Burkina Faso, Iran, Japan, Pakistan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Moldova, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, the United Kingdom and United States. 

    The CPC is the main subsidiary organ of the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for planning, programming and coordination. 

    India, along with 19 other nations, was also elected by acclamation to the International Narcotics Control Board for a four-year term beginning January next year. 


  • First 'Silk Road' train from Britain leaves for China
    The first-ever freight train from Britain to China started its mammoth journey on April 10th along a modern-day "Silk Road" trade route. The 32-container train, around 600 metres long, left the vast London Gateway container port laden with whisky, soft drinks and baby products, bound for Yiwu on the east coast of China. 

    It was seen off on its 18-day, 12,000-kilometre (7,500-mile) journey with a string quartet, British and Chinese flags, and speeches voicing hope that it will cement a new golden age of trade between the two countries as Brexit negotiations loom. 

    The first train from China to Britain arrived on January 18, filled with clothes and other retail goods, and 10th April departure was the first journey in the other direction. The rail route is cheaper than air freight and faster than sea freight, offering logistics companies a new middle option. 

    The train will go through the Channel Tunnel before travelling across France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan before heading into China. China was Britain's seventh-biggest export market last year, behind the United States, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Ireland and Switzerland. 


  • G7 rejects sanctions on Russia after 'chemical attack'
    G7 nations have rejected a call by Britain for sanctions against Russia in the wake of a deadly chemical attack. They say the attack was carried out by Moscow's ally, Syria. Italy's Foreign Minister said the group did not want to back Russia into a corner and preferred dialogue. 


  • China remains world's biggest executioner: Amnesty International 
    China is the world's biggest executioner with the communist giant executing more people last year than the rest of the world combined, Amnesty International said in its report pm 11th April, describing the country a "complete outlier" when it comes to death penalty. 

    Even as executions have dropped by more than a third globally, China's death penalty rate is shockingly high although the full extent of the secretive practice is unknown, it said. 

    Excluding China, all other countries together executed at least 1,032 people last year, a decline of 37 percent compared to 2015. Of those, 87 percent took place in just four countries - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. US recorded 20 executions in 2016, a historic low in its use of the death penalty. 


  • African migrants traded in Libya's 'slave markets'
    Hundreds of African refugees and migrants passing through Libya are being bought and sold in modern-day slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation, says International Organisation for Migration (IOM). 

    The refugees and migrants are purchased for between $200 and $500 and are held on average for two or three months. Most of them are used as day labour in construction or agriculture. Some are paid and but others are forced to work without getting any money. 


  • Russia vetoes UN draft resolution on Syria gas attack probe
    Russia has vetoed a UN draft resolution demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation of a suspected chemical attack. US, Britain, France and many other western countries believe that President Bashar al-Assad's forces were responsible for the chemical attack. 

    The resolution garnered 10 votes in favour, Russia and Bolivia against, and China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstained. It was the eighth time that Russia has used its veto power at the UN Security Council to block action directed at its ally Syria. 


  • US, Russia agree for investigation on chemical weapons attack
    The United States and Russia have agreed for an international investigation into the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. The joint bid for the United Nations and weapons experts to investigate the sarin gas attack came after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. 


  • Diarrhoea kills more than 500 in Somalia since January: UN
    In Somalia, Cholera and acute diarrhoea have killed more than 500 people and left tens of thousands of others sick in drought-hit parts of the country since January. The United Nations health agency said the epidemic had left more than 25,000 people sick, warning that number is likely to double by the end of June. 

    WHO put the number of deaths since the beginning of the year from the epidemic at 524, while the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said 533 people had died. 


  • U.S. uses MOAB for first time in Afghanistan
    The United States dropped GBU-43 bomb, the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, in eastern Afghanistan on 13th April against a series of caves used by Islamic State militants, the military said. It was the first time the US has used this size of bomb in a conflict. 

    Also known as the "mother of all bombs," the GBU-43 is a 21,600 pound (9,797 kg) GPS-guided munitions and was first tested in March 2003, just days before the start of the Iraq war. The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious, with a number of militant groups trying to claim territory more than 15 years after the U.S. invasion which toppled the Taliban government. 


  • US sent troops to Somalia, 1st time in decades
    The US military is sending dozens of regular troops to Somalia in the largest such deployment to the Horn of Africa country in roughly two decades. The United States pulled out of Somalia after 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in the capital, Mogadishu, and bodies of Americans were dragged through the streets. 

    The US Africa Command said this deployment is for logistics training of Somalia's army, which is battling the extremist group al-Shabab. About 40 troops are taking part. Al-Shabab also caused alarm in February 2016 when it claimed responsibility for the bombing of an airliner that made an emergency landing with a gaping hole in the fuselage shortly after taking off from Mogadishu. 


  • India, Pakistan, China, Russia discuss Afghan situation
    India, Pakistan, China and Russia and several central Asian countries on 14th April deliberated on the situation in Afghanistan at a conference in Moscow, a day after the US dropped the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. 

    Representatives from the leading regional powers reviewed the peace process in Afghanistan as well as the security situation, besides exploring ways to ramp up reconstruction activities in that country. The conference is also understood to have delved on boosting regional coordination for bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. 

    The Indian team was led by Joint Secretary (PAI) in the External Affairs Ministry Deepak Mittal. The conference is an initiative of Russia-China-Pakistan trilateral and, it is for the second time India is participating in it. The US military on 13th April had dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in combat on an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistani border. 


  • China bans wearing veils or growing abnormal beards in Xinjiang
    China on 2nd April banned wearing veils or growing abnormal beards in Xinjiang as part of a major crackdown aimed at curbing religious extremism in the restive Uygur Muslim majority province. According to law, special task forces to curb extremism would be set up at regional, prefectural and county governments. 

    The regulations are passed by the Xinjiang legislature's standing committee. Security and surveillance measures have been beefed up in recent months following reports of heightened violence in the region's rural south. 


  • UN blasts racism against Aborigines in Australia
    Racism against Aborigines in Australia is widespread and “deeply disturbing”, according to UN envoy. Special reporter Victoria Tauli-Corpuz has been on a 15-day visit at Canberra’s invitation to check on progress made since the last such trip in 2009. She said she found racism against the indigenous people widespread. Aborigines, who make up about 3% of the population of 24 million, are among the most disadvantaged Australians. 


  • 1st-ever civilian nuclear-powered submarine designed in Russia
    Russian scientists are developing first ever civilian nuclear-powered submarine to conduct seismological surveys and search for natural resources under ice in the Arctic, the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects (RFARP) said. It will be equipped with robotic complexes, autonomous unmanned submersibles which will secure seismic reconnaissance as well. 

    The submarine will be able to operate autonomously for as long as 90 days. The size of crew is 40 people. The Arctic region is considered to be a major source of hydrocarbons, minerals, fresh water and fish. The region's resources are a matter of interest for states bordering the area. The icebreaker fleet is needed to escort vessels in the area breaking ice, covering the ocean. 


  • US withdraws funding for United Nations Population Fund
    The United States said, it is withdrawing funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that promotes family planning in more than 150 countries. The state department says, the agency supports or participates in a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation in China. But the UNFPA says, this is an erroneous claim and that its work does not break any US laws. 

    In total 32.5 million dollars funds will be withdrawn for the 2017 financial year. This is the first of the promised cuts to US financial contributions to the UN by the Trump administration. The UNFPA, like other UN agencies, is funded by governments voluntarily. 


  • 100 killed and many injured in suspected chemical attack in Syria
    In Syria, 100 people were killed and more than sixty injured in a suspected chemical attack by government warplanes on Khan Sheikhoun town of Idlib province on 4th April. Syrian military denied the allegations of using chemical weapons, terming it rebel propaganda. 


  • United Kingdom visas set to get more tough and expensive from 6th April
    Tougher and more expensive visa rules announced by the UK last year are set to take effect from 6th April, affecting Indians and other nationals from outside the European Union. The latest charge is among wider changes made to the Tier 2 visa regime in an effort to cut immigration numbers from countries outside the EU and tighten visa regulations. 

    The Tier 2 category of visas, a route used by many Indians and other nationals from outside the EU, will undergo major set of changes under the new rules. Companies in the UK hiring workers from outside the EU, such as Indians, will have to shell out an additional 1,000-pound annual "Immigration Skills Charge", announced in March last year. 


  • Computer programmer not to qualify as specialist for US H-1B visa
    Through a new policy memorandum issued on March 31, superseding and rescinding its previous guidelines of December, 2000, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has ruled that an entry level computer programmer position would not generally qualify as a position in a specialty occupation. 

    The ruling reverses Washington's more than decades and a half old guidelines, that were issued in the context of addressing the new millennium needs. The move could have far reaching implications on thousands of Indians applying for H-1B work visas for the next fiscal beginning October 1, 2017, the process for which started on 3rd April. 


  • North Korea test-fires missile into Sea of Japan
    North Korea has test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile from its eastern port of Sinpo into the Sea of Japan. It is the latest in a series of tests which the North has been conducting in pursuit of its goal of developing a nuclear missile. The launch comes on the eve of a visit by China's President Xi Jinping to the US to meet President Donald Trump. 

    The two will discuss how to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes as the US steps up the pressure on China, a historical ally of Pyongyang, to help more on the issue. Mr. Trump said in a recent interview that Washington is ready to act without Beijing's co-operation, if China is not going to solve North Korea. 


  • Thailand king endorses new military-backed constitution
    Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun signed the country’s new military-backed Constitution on 6th April. The charter could allow fresh elections but limit the authority of politicians taking office. 


  • US strikes in Syria
    The US has carried out a missile attack against targets in Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province. US warships launched between 50 to 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat Airfiled where the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks were based. 

    The suspected chemical attack left at least 86 people dead including women and children in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in northwestern Syria. The Syrian army denied that it had used chemical weapons against Khan Sheikhun. 


  • Uruguay become world's first country to legally sell marijuana in pharmacies
    Uruguay will become the first country in the world to legally sell marijuana over the counter in pharmacies. The South American country had already legalized cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana in 2013 but authorization for pharmacies has not been secured until now.

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