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May 2017 International Affairs

  • In tribute to Kalam, NASA names new species after him
    Scientists at NASA have named a new organism discovered by them after the late president Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, the foremost lab of NASA for work on inter-planetary travel, discovered the new bacteria on the filters of the International Space Station, ISS, and named it Solibacillus kalamii to honour the late president. 

    The species name, kalamii, is after the renowned aerospace scientist and genus name is Solibacillus, which is a spore forming bacteria. The filter on which the new bug was found remained on board the International Space Station for 40 months. 

    Till date, the new organism, a form of a bacteria, has been found only on the ISS, and has not been found on earth. Kalam had his early training at NASA in 1963 before he set up India's first rocket-launching facility in the fishing village of Thumba in Kerala. 

  • Asia-Pacific trade ministers agree to revive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal
    Asia-Pacific trade ministers have agreed to revive the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, despite US President Donald Trump abandoning it. Trade Ministers from the 11 remaining countries have met in Vietnam to get the deal back on track. 

    The bid to restore the TPP, which would have covered 40 percent of the global economy, was led by trade Ministers from Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The representatives also agreed to help the US rejoin the deal at any time. 

    Mr Trump signalled in January that he would block the passage of the 12-nation pact in order to protect American jobs. 

  • Interpol issues arrest notice for former Panamanian President Martinelli
    Interpol has issued an arrest notice for fugitive former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli to face charges he engaged in political espionage during his 2009-2014 term. 

    The Central American country sent the US State Department an extradition request for Martinelli last year, when he was believed to be living in Miami. He was accused of having used government funds to spy illegally on more than 150 political rivals. 

    Marcos Cordoba, the Police Commissioner assigned to Panama's judicial investigations Directorate, told that Interpol had issued a so-called red notice for Martinelli's arrest. 

  • UN releases draft of nuclear ban treaty
    UN has released the first draft of nuclear ban treaty to legally prohibit nuclear weapons. The draft released by the Chair of the UN conference negotiating the ban, Costa Rican UN ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, in Geneva on 22nd May denounces the use of nuclear weapons as a violation of international humanitarian law. 

    It says nations should make every effort to prevent their future use. The text would require states to pledge never to use nuclear weapons, but also never to develop, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, transfer or test them. It rejects the concept of nuclear deterrence promoted by nuclear-armed countries. 

    The next round of negotiations on the treaty will begin on June 15th. Meanwhile, the major nuclear-armed states have not participated in the talks nor have countries that rely on US nuclear deterrence for protection, including Japan. 

  • US, six Gulf nations to establish terrorist financing targeting centre
    The United States and six Gulf countries have joined hands to curb financing terror organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network and the Taliban. 

    US Department of Treasury said in Washington that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) was signed by the US and six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh on the sidelines of visit of President Donald Trump. 

    After the signing of MoU, Department of Treasury said, US and six GCC countries are confronting new and evolving terrorist networks including Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Hizbollah, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Taliban, and the Haqqani Network. 

    The six countries along with the US are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

    According to the MoU, the signatory countries intend to identify, track, and share information regarding terrorist financial networks and related activity of mutual concern, including related threats emanating from countries and terrorist organisations. 

    Gulf countries are a major source of funding major terrorist organisations across the globe including LeT which is responsible for major terror attacks in India. 

  • UN rejects Pakistan claim that Indian troops fired at its observers near LoC
    The United Nations has rejected Pakistani army's claim that Indian troops fired at a vehicle carrying UN military observers near the Line of Control. According to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' spokespers Stephane Dujarric there was no evidence that a vehicle of United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, UNMOGIP, was targeted by the Indian Army along the LoC near the Khanjar sector. In a statement, the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces, the Inter-Services Public Relations, ISPR, had said that a vehicle carrying two officers of the UN military observer group came under attack by Indian troops during a visit to the LoC. 

    The Pakistan Army had claimed the vehicle was carrying UNMOGIP officers Major Emmanual of the Philippines and Major Mirko of Croatia. 

    According to the UN Security Council mandate of 1971, UNMOGIP observes and reports on ceasefire violations along and across the LoC and the Working Boundary between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. India has maintained that UNMOGIP has outlived its utility and is irrelevant after the Simla Agreement and the consequent establishment of the Line of Control. 

    The observer group is headed by Major Gen Per Lodin of Sweden. It currently has 38 military observers and 73 civilian personnel. 

  • Mumbai and Kota named among world's most crowded in list topped by Dhaka: WEF
    Two Indian cities - Mumbai and Kota - have been named among the world's most crowded in a list topped by Dhaka. Report by World Economic Forum

    With a population density of 44,500 people per square kilometre, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is the most crowded city on the planet, followed by India's financial capital Mumbai, home to 31,700 people per square kilometre at the second place. 

    Medellin in Columbia ranked third with 19,700 people per square kilometre. Kota in Rajasthan with 12,100 people per square kilometre was ranked seventh. 

  • CPEC may ignite more India-Pakistan tensions: UN report
    The $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) traversing through PoK might create "geo-political tension" in the region by igniting further tensions between India and Pakistan, a UN report has warned. 

    The report released by the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said that the project could also fuel separatist movement in Pakistan's Balochistan province. 

    The report, prepared at the request of China, also cautioned that the instability in Afghanistan could cast a shadow over viability of the CPEC over which India has already raised protests with China and boycotted the last week's BRI summit in Beijing. 

    The report also covered other economic corridors of the BRI including the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM). 

    According to the report, while the CPEC could serve as the "driver for trade and economic integration" between China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Afghanistan and the Central Asian states, it could also cause many problems within Pakistan and reignite separatist movement in the country due to opposition in Balochistan. 

    Further, concerns exist that the CPEC will pass from the already narrow strip of cultivable land in the mountainous western Pakistan, destroying farmland and orchards. The resulting resettlements would reduce local population into an "economically subservient minority", it said. 

    About the BRI, it said, the scale of the BRI both in terms of geographical coverage and its cross-sectorial policy influence will shape the future of global development and governance. 

  • Leaders of G7 pledge to work together to step up fight against terrorism
    Leaders of the Group of 7 nations - G7 - have pledged to work together to step up the fight against terrorism. They signed a declaration on countering terrorism and violent extremism at their summit on the Italian island of Sicily. It says the fight against terrorism is a major priority and the G7 will raise it to a higher level. The leaders also pledged to enhance efforts to counter the misuse of the internet by terrorists, and called on internet service providers and social media firms to substantially increase their efforts to address terrorist content. The leaders are expected to release a separate joint statement summarizing their discussions. 

    Meanwhile, the six other nations of G7 agreed to affirm their commitment to the Paris climate agreement, while awaiting a decision by the Trump administration as to whether the U.S. will stay in the pact. 

  • Bill seeking H-1B limits exemption for foreigners with US PhD re-introduced
    In the United States, a Bill seeking H-1B limits exemption for foreigners with US PhD has been re-introduced in the House of Representatives. 

    Congressmen Erik Paulsen, who along with Mike Quigley, introduced the bill said, the brightest minds from around the world come to the United States to pursue their advanced degrees. 

    The country should be doing all it can to ensure the students educated and trained in Washington use what they have learned to contribute to the American economy. 

    In his remarks, Paulsen said, if the US was serious about fostering innovation, spurring economic activity, and staying competitive in the global marketplace, it must encourage the brightest minds in the world to study, work, and stay in its communities. 

    The Bill is likely to benefit Indians given that they constitute the largest number of students doing PhD in the US. 

  • Portugal wins Eurovision 2017 Song Contest for the first time
    Portugal won the Eurovision-2017 Song Contest for the first time ever with a melancholy ballad performed by a singer who suffers from a serious heart condition. 

    The fado-tinged song "Amar Pelos Dois" was performed by 27-year old Salvador Sobral, who is awaiting a heart transplant. It scored a crushing victory, winning top marks both from the televoters and the countries' professional juries. 

    The ceremony was in the capital of ex-Soviet Ukraine Kiev watched by some 200 million TV viewers. Bulgaria's 17-year old singer Kristian Kostov came second with a confident performance of "Beautiful Mess". Third was Moldova's Sun Stroke Project with a raucous song called "Hey, Mamma".

  • North Korea confirms missile launch
    North Korea it had successfully conducted a newly developed mid-to-long range missile test on 14th May, supervised by leader Kim Jong Un and aimed at verifying the capability to carry a "large scale heavy nuclear warhead." The North fired a ballistic missile that landed in the sea near Russia in a launch that Washington called a message to South Korea days after its new president took office pledging to engage Pyongyang in dialogue. 

    The missile was launched at the highest angle so as not to affect the security of neighbouring countries and flew 787 kilometres (490 miles) reaching an altitude of 2,111.5 kilometers (1,312 miles). 

    North Korea is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching the mainland United States. 

  • ICJ denies Pakistan request to play Kulbhushan Jadhav's 'confessional' video
    The International Court of Justice on 15th May denied permission to Pakistan to play a purported confessional video of Kulbhushan Jadhav at a public hearing in the Hague. India moved the ICJ against the death penalty handed down to Jadhav by a Pakistan military court, alleging violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. 

    Earlier, India's attorney Harish Salve told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the country fears that Kulbhushan Jadhav could be executed by Pakistan before its arguments are heard. 

    Mr Salve said, the Indian national, who was arrested on March 3 last year and sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on allegations of espionage and subversive activities, had been framed on the basis of confessional statements extracted from him when he was in Pakistan's military custody. 

    New Delhi has called for immediate suspension of Jadhav's death sentence and accused Pakistan of violating the Vienna convention by denying its 16 requests for consular access. 

    As the Hague-based ICJ began hearing Jadhav's case, India argued that human rights treated as basics all over had been thrown to the wind by Pakistan. India told the UN's main judicial body that it wants appropriate legal representation for Jadhav. 

    India had initiated the proceedings against Pakistan in the Court saying the death sentenced an egregious violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. 

    After that, on next day, the ICJ, stayed Jadhav's execution. India, in its appeal to the ICJ, had asserted that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran where he was involved in business activities after retiring from the Indian Navy. However, it denies that he has any connection with the government. Pakistan claims to have arrested Jadhav from Balochistan province. 

  • Central African Republic death toll could reach 30: UN
    In Central African Republic, hundreds of civilians are seeking refuge inside a mosque in the border town of Bangassou amid ongoing attacks by Christian militias. UN officials and aid workers said, the attacks throughout the weekend on the town of Bangassou on the Congolese border killed atleast 30 civilians. 

    The UN base has also been targeted, prompting the deployment of extra troops to the remote town in anticipation of further attacks. Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the U.N. mission said the situation is extremely deplorable and efforts are being made to rapidly retake control of Bangassou. 

    U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, he was outraged by the attacks on the 13,000-strong mission that have killed six peacekeepers around Bangassou. Central African Republic has been plagued by inter-religious violence since 2013. More than 400,000 people in the former French colony are displaced internally and nearly half of the population is reliant on aid. 

  • India ranks 26 in World Bank Power List
    India to be ranked 26th in World Bank’s electricity accessibility list in the current year from 99th spot in 2014. Out of the 18,452 villages which lacked electricity, over 13,000 villages has been provided access to electricity. The flagship scheme Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with an aim to provide 24×7 uninterrupted electricity supply to each rural household across the country by 2022. 

  • Yemen cholera death toll mounts to 209: UNICEF
    In Yemen, cholera outbreak has killed 209 people in recent weeks with 17,200 suspected cases across the war-torn country. United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, on 17th May said that there had been an alarming increase in cholera-related deaths. The agency's Yemen spokesman Mohammed Al-Asaadi said 3,000 new suspected cholera cases a day were being reported. 

  • ICJ directs Pak to stay Kulbhushan Jadhav's execution till final order
    The International Court of Justice on 18th March stayed the execution of Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav who was sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on charges of espionage. 

    Ruling in favor of India, which moved the UN's highest judicial body against the death sentence, the ICJ directed Pakistan to take all necessary measures at its disposal to ensure that Jadhav was not executed till it takes a final decision. The Court also asked Pakistan to keep it informed about the measures, including on consular access, taken by it in this connection. 

    Reading out the verdict, ICJ President Ronny Abraham said the decision was unanimous by the 11-judge bench. He said India should have been granted consular access to its national as per the Vienna Convention to which both countries have been signatories. 

  • India ranked 24th in World Tourism Organisation ranking
    India has jumped 16 places in the revised World Tourism Organisation UNWTO rankings to settle at 24th for 2014 and 2015. Ministry of Tourism, Earlier, India was ranked 41st and 40th in 2014 and 2015 as per the global ranking. 

    UNWTO is the United Nation's agency managing promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism and its barometer ranks countries in terms of their ITAs- comprising both foreign tourist arrivals as well as non- resident arrivals. So far only the figures of foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) were compiled in India. 

    However, now India has started compiling the data arrivals of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) also. The Ministry said, due to the inclusion, India's improved rank reflecting the true and comparable scenario has now been acknowledged by the UNWTO. 

    India has taken huge strides in the tourism sector in the last year with its rank in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI), 2017 had also shown a 12 places jump from 2015.Rank of India in TTCI Report of 2017 was 40 as compared to 52 in 2015, 65 in 2013 and 68 in 2011. 

  • China, ASEAN agree on framework for South China Sea code of conduct
    China and Southeast Asian countries have agreed to a draft framework for a long-mooted code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea. 

    China's foreign ministry on 19th May said after a meeting between Chinese and ASEAN officials in the southern city of Guiyan, the draft framework had been agreed upon, although it gave no details of its contents. 

    The Ministry said senior officials have completed the negotiations of the draft code of conduct (COC) framework, ahead of the mid-2017 timeline which leaders of ASEAN and China had set. 

    According to a joint press statement issued at the end of the one-day senior officials' meeting, this draft COC framework will be submitted to the foreign ministers for consideration. China and the ASEAN had been hoping to agree on the framework this year, 15 years after committing to draft it. 

  • India stands at 154th position among 195 Countries in Healthcare Index
    India has a lot of catching up to do with its neighbours, including China, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka in terms of healthcare. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) published in the medical journal The Lancet, it has finished a dismal 154th among 195 countries on the healthcare index. 

    However, India’s healthcare access and quality (HAQ) index has increased by 14.1, up from 30.7 in 1990 to 44.8 in 2015. India lags behind Sri Lanka (72.8), Bangladesh (51.7), Bhutan (52.7) and Nepal (50.8) and ranks above Pakistan (43.1) and Afghanistan (32.5). 

    The HAQ index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the baseline year 1990. 

    As per the study, India has performed poorly in tackling cases of tuberculosis, diabetes, chronic kidney diseases and rheumatic heart diseases. The journal lists India among the biggest underachievers in Asia in healthcare access. Switzerland topped the health index, followed by Sweden and Norway. China stood 82nd and Sri Lanka 73rd. Among the developed nations, those who did not perform well include the US and the UK

  • Emmanuel Macron now youngest French president
    Emmanuel Macron has been elected as President of France, he was, a champion of France's tech startup movement, an investment banker and economy minister. He quit his job as a banker at Rothschild to become Socialist President Francois Hollande's economic adviser, working for two years by Hollande's side at the presidential palace. 

    Then as economy minister in Hollande's government from 2014 to 2016, he promoted a package of measures, notably allowing more stores to open on Sundays and evenings and opening up regulated sectors of the economy. 

    Opponents on the left accused him of destroying workers' protections. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets for months of protests, and the government had to force the law through parliament under special powers. 

    Last year, Macron launched his own political movement, En Marche, or In Motion, and quit the Socialist government. He promised to shake up the political landscape by appointing a government that includes new figures from business and civil society. 

  • India unanimously elected as President of UN-Habitat
    India has been unanimously elected as the President of UN-Habitat, an organ of the United Nations Organisation. The UN Habitat promotes socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements across the world. 

    Since the UN-Habitat came into being in 1978, it is only the third time that India has been elected to lead this important organization after 2007 and 1988. 

    Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation of India M Venkaiah Naidu will chair the four-day meeting of the 58-member Governing Council of UN-Habitat at Nairobi in Kenya from 8th May. He will preside over the deliberations of the Council of UN-Habitat for the next two years. 

    The theme of the 26th meeting of the council is opportunities for effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda with focus on inclusive, sustainable and adequate housing for a better future and planning and financing sustainable urbanization and integrated human settlements. 

  • 4,600 people flee their homes in Democratic Republic of Congo daily: UN
    An average of 4,600 people flee their homes every day in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN said on 8th May, warning of a dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. 

    A full 3.7 million people were displaced within DR Congo by the end of March -- more than double the 1.6 million at the start of 2016, the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA said. 

    The situation is particularly dire in the central Kasai region, where spiralling violence between government troops and tribal militias has forced 1.27 million people from their homes since last September. 

    The fighting in Kasai erupted after government troops last August killed tribal chief Jean Pierre Mpandi, also known as Kamwina Nsapu, who had launched an uprising against President Joseph Kabila. Violence in the region has left at least 400 people dead since September. 

    The UN has meanwhile reported finding 40 mass graves, while two UN researchers -- Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, a dual Swedish-Chilean national -- investigating the violence were abducted and shot dead. One of the victims was also beheaded. Under a power-sharing deal reached on New Year's Eve, DR Congo is set to hold an election by the end of 2017. 

    The violence and surging displacement has left some 3.8 million people in the country in need of food aid, with the situation particularly critical for children. 

    There are currently an estimated 1.9 million children under the age of five in the country suffering from severe, acute malnutrition, meaning they could easily die without immediate aid. 

    In light of the dire situation, the UN has appealed for $812.5 million (742.4 million euros) for aid to DR Congo in 2017, but so far less than 20 percent of that amount has been funded. 

  • Moon Jae-in wins elections, pledges to unify South Korea
    Moon Jae-in declared victory in South Korea’s leadership race with 40 per cent of ballots counted in presidential election, Moon received 39.5 per cent of votes, leading conservative Hong Joon-pyo, who had 26.5 per cent. Centrist Ahn Cheol-soo was third with 21.2 per cent. The winner needs a plurality of votes. A total of 77.2 per cent of voters cast their ballots, more than the 75.8 per cent in the 2012 presidential election, which Moon lost to Park, according to the National Election Commission. 

  • International Court of Justice stays death sentence in Kulbhushan Jadhav case
    In a major breakthrough for the government’s efforts in the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former naval officer sentenced to death in Pakistan, the government received a stay order from the International Court of Justice at The Hague, in a petition that accused Pakistan of gross violations of international laws. 

    Ordering the stay, President of the International Court of Justice Ronny Abraham directed Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to “act in such a way so as to enable the court to enforce any decision it takes on the Indian plea,” effectively staying Mr. Jadhav’s execution until the court hears the matter and passes orders. 

  • US CIA forms special unit to deal with North Korea's nuclear weapons threat
    US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has formed a special unit dedicated to assessing North Korea's nuclear weapons threat. 

    The CIA created its first single country-focused mission center, pulling together resources from a range of units to collect and analyze information on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile technology that could extend its military threat across the Pacific. 

    The move comes as North Korea appears poised to undertake its sixth nuclear test, a move that would exacerbate jitters across East Asia. 

    The US has not ruled out a military strike to prevent Pyongyang from advancing its nuclear capabilities. 

    In 2015, the CIA created 10 mission centers in a modernization effort to break down the "stove-piping" of its different operations. 

  • South Korea, US conduct military drills despite Pyongyang threats
    South Korea and the US wrapped up their annual large-scale military drills on 30th April, but continued a separate joint naval exercise that has triggered dire threats from North Korea. Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been running sky high for weeks, with signs that the North might be preparing a long-range missile launch or a sixth nuclear test and with Washington refusing to rule out a military strike in response. The massive "Foal Eagle" drill, ended as scheduled and it involved around 20,000 South Korean and 10,000 US troops. 

    Another annual joint exercise known as Key Resolve ended. Both play out scenarios for a conflict with North Korea, but Seoul and Washington insist they are purely defensive in nature, despite Pyongyang's claims that they are provocative rehearsals for invasion. 

  • Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro Raises Minimum Wage by 60%
    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced an increase to the minimum wage in order to protect workers from the effects of the economic war. President Maduro said during a televised address to the nation that the wages hike in the country by 60 percent and a rise in food stamps by 15 percent. 

    He said the efforts of the Bolivarian government will bear gains and that a special bonus will be granted to the more than 3 million pensioners of the country that will carry on with his plan of bringing "social justice" to Venezuela. 

  • US latest defence system operational in South Korea
    US military has said its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System is operational in South Korea. Thaad has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles and defend South Korea. Tensions have been rising around the Korean peninsula, with repeated threats from North Korea and the presence of a group of US warships and a submarine. 

  • Russia, Iran, Turkey agree on Syria safe zones
    Russia, Turkey and Iran on 4th May signed a memorandum on creating safe zones in Syria, while the delegation of the armed Syrian opposition walked out and shouted angrily after a new round of peace talks held in the Kazakh capital Astana. Russia, Turkey and Iran act as guarantors of the Astana peace process. Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said that next Syria peace talks would be held in Astana in mid-July. 

  • US House of Representatives clears repealing Obamacare
    In a first legislative victory for US President Donald Trump, US House of Representatives passes a legislation aimed at repealing and replacing Obamacare; The new Act now heads to the Senate; Trump convinces people that their premiums and deductibles will be coming down. 

    The American Health Care Act was approved mostly along partisan lines, 217-213, with just one vote to spare. The American Health Care Act now heads to the Senate.
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