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Supreme Court of Pakistan Rejects Review Petition Against Asia Bibi Acquittal


Islamabad, Pakistan (Sohail Khan) | The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan on Tuesday rejected a review petition challenging its decision to acquit Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, of blasphemy charges.
A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, dismissed the petition against the Supreme Court's decision last October to free Aasia Bibi from the death row, where she languished for eight years. The review petition was filed by Qari Muhammad Salam.
Last year in October, a three-member bench of the apex court headed by former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, had acquitted Aasia Bibi, convicted in 2010 for blasphemy, and ordered her immediate release from jail after setting aside her conviction and sentence awarded by courts. Qari Muhammad Salam filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against its judgment and had contended that Aasia Bibi confessed to her crime during an investigation and that a delay in lodging the FIR does not imply that the defendant is not guilty of the crime. The petitioner had also sought to put her name on the ECL.
On Tuesday, the court, after hearing Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, counsel for Qari Muhammad Salam, dismissed the review petition with the observation that the counsel could not point out any mistake in its verdict, acquitting Aasia Bibi of blasphemy charges. "Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed," Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa announced after hearing the complainant’s counsel for one and a half hour. During the hearing, Justice Khosa observed that they were hearing the review petition at length for the satisfaction of those who issue fatwas (decrees) without going through the verdict. 
The chief justice noted with pain that lots of lies were told in this case, adding as a whole there was a pack of contradictions found in the testimonies given by all the witnesses. “We have shown great restraint in this case for being sensitive in nature otherwise a pack of lies was told in the instant case,” the chief justice observed, adding had it been a normal case, they could have lodged a case against the false statements given by the witnesses. He said there were contradictions in the statements of all the witnesses. The chief justice asked the complainant’s counsel to assist in deciding what should be the punishment for those who made the false statement. “Under the law, the false testimonies given by witnesses in such cases should be awarded life imprisonment after a summary trial,” the chief justice remarked.
Justice Khosa noted that there is a complainant who is ignorant of the whole incident, got five days to think and to deliberate upon the issue and even does not know how to prepare and lodge an FIR and also did not know about an unknown advocate who drafted the contents of the FIR. “Is this the picture of Islam that Qari Sahib wants to present and should this kind of witnesses be presented in a case,” the chief justice questioned.
At the start of the hearing, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry requested the court to constitute a larger bench to hear the petition, arguing that the court should also invite religious scholars for its assistance as the matter was extremely sensitive in nature. The Chief Justice observed that there is no issue of religion, adding they have to first look at the merits of the case. The CJP asked the counsel for pinpointing any mistake, the court had made in its judgment. “You have to show an error if made by the court on the face of the record,” Justice Khosa asked the complainant’s counsel. “Readout para seven of the judgment and tell us if we have read out the evidence wrong,” the chief justice further asked the counsel.
The chief justice asked whether Islam stresses awarding punishment even if the crime is not proven against the accused. The CJP recalled that the court had given its verdict on the basis of evidence. The counsel contended that the court in its verdict had referred to the treaty made with the Christians by the Muslims, however, he contended that all the Ulema have questioned the authenticity of that treaty which was fake and was intended for exemption from paying jizya. The chief justice observed that the court had also cited a book wherein the Holy Prophet (PBUH) has stressed for the protection of minorities, saying it is the beauty of Islamic society to ensure the protection of right of minorities. The chief justice observed that Islam stresses for giving true testimony even if it is to be given against the near and dear ones.
The counsel submitted that in the verdict it was held that most of the female witnesses in the instant case were ignorant. The chief justice recalled that in the verdict the court had held that you had said that Aasia uttered the alleged blasphemous words by addressing 25 people. “Was she addressing a public gathering (Jalsa)”, the CJP asked the counsel. “Similarly, the female witnesses told the investigation officer that no dispute occurred between them,” the CJP observed, adding that this case did not have as many honest witnesses as it should have had. The chief justice further noted that according the investigation officer, the female witnesses changed their testimonies, adding there was also contradiction between the testimonies of investigation officer and the witnesses.
Justice Khosa also referred to the statements of the complainant given on oath, adding that his second statement differed from the first one. “There is a complainant who does not know about the incident personally and who thought over for five days, deliberated upon the issue and then he did not know about an unknown advocate who drafted the contents of the FIR,” the CJP noted “Should these kinds of witnesses be presented in a case,” the CJP questioned. “And then you block the whole country as to why you were not favoured and blame the courts for acquitting the accused,” the chief justice said.
Justice Qazi Faez Isa repeatedly asked the counsel of the complainant to tell as to what error the court had made in the impugned judgment. “There is a great difference between the testimonies of all the witnesses,” he remarked.

Noah's Ark Actually Existed

Credit | Wretched

Philippines Church Bombing | Twin Blasts Hit Jolo Cathedral


Jolo, Philippines (Al Jazeera & News Agencies) | At least 20 people have been killed in twin blasts at a Roman Catholic cathedral on the southern Philippine island of Jolo.
Sunday's incident claimed the lives of at least 15 civilians and five soldiers, police said, adding that 111 others were wounded.
The number of fatalities was revised after police earlier said that 27 people were killed.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the bombings, the SITE monitoring group reported, citing the fighters' Amaq website.
According to security officials, the first bomb went off in or near the cathedral of Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, followed by a second blast outside the compound as government forces were responding to the attack.
The initial explosion scattered the wooden pews inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and blasted window glass panels, and the second bomb hurled human remains and debris across a town square fronting the church, witnesses said.
President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo condemned the "act of terrorism" and vowed that government forces will pursue the perpetrators of the attack. 
"The Armed Forces of the Philippines will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals," he said.
Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, said he expressed "the firmest reproach for this episode of violence. As too did Yousef Al-Othaimeen, the head of the OIC, the world's largest body of Muslim-majority countries, who said he expressed "deep indignation" over the bombings.
In a separate statement, the Philippine army said the explosions were likely caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Photos on social media showed debris and bodies lying on a busy street outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been hit by bombs in the past.
Troops in armoured carriers sealed off the main road leading to the church while vehicles were transporting the dead and wounded to the hospital.
Some casualties were evacuated by air to nearby Zamboanga city.
"I have directed our troops to heighten their alert level, secure all places of worships and public places at once, and initiate proactive security measures to thwart hostile plans," said Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a statement.

Offertory Prayers Disrupted By Explosions

Bishop Angelito Rendon Lampon served as a priest at the Cathedral for almost two decades, until his transfer to Cotabato, another city in Mindanao, last week. He said many of his former parishioners were shaken following the attack. 
"I know many of the victims because I worked there for 21 years. I am praying for the victims and their families," Lampon told Al Jazeera. 
"We are condemning this attack. Those who are responsible have no respect even for the sanctity of the place," he said, adding that the priest, who was officiating the mass at the time of the bombing, Fr. Ricky Bacolcol, "was still in shock and could not speak about what happened".
According to Lampon, the first of the two explosions reportedly happened while the parishioners were saying their offertory prayers.
Jolo has long been troubled by the presence of Abu Sayyaf, an armed group blacklisted by the United States and the Philippines as a "terrorist organisation" because of years of bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings.

Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan, reporting from the capital, Manila, said the timing of the attack was "suspicious".
"Last week, there was a referendum and the island of Jolo voted to not be part of this new autonomous government that is being created," she said.
The Bangsamoro, meaning Moro nation, is an expanded autonomous region, that is expected to replace the existing ARMM, which has been criticised as merely nominal, and failed to end the violent conflict that has left at least 120,000 people dead over the past five decades.
On Friday, it was announced that voters in Mindanao overwhelmingly voted for the creation of the Bangsamoro. However, voters in Jolo and the entire Sulu province voted against the new regional unit.
Rebels and the government in Manila hope a new, peaceful Bangsamoro will finally draw the investment needed to pull the region out of the brutal poverty that makes it a hotspot for violence.
Muslim rebels have long been battling for the independence or autonomy on Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland dating back to when Arab traders arrived there in the 13th century.

France is World Champion in Social Spending, Study Finds


Paris, France (AFP) | France´s social spending is the highest in the developed world relative to the size of its economy, an OECD study found Wednesday, as the government weighs how to respond to "yellow vest" protests.
Expenditure on healthcare, pensions and other social services was the equivalent of 31.2 percent of GDP last year, said the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based inter-governmental research institution.
Outlays have risen sharply since 1990, when they represented just under 25 percent of GDP, and are nearly triple the level of roughly 12 percent of GDP in 1960.
That trend is broadly in line with other developed countries, reflecting the development of more comprehensive welfare states and higher pension spending as more people live longer.
But France´s outlays are well above the average of 20.1 percent of GDP for the 36 OECD member countries, with pensions making up a large chunk of the cash benefits paid out every month.
In neighbouring Germany, social spending was just 25 percent of GDP last year, while in the US it made up just 19 percent.
And when taking all public spending into account, such as police and defence, France leads Europe with government outlays the equivalent of 56.5 percent of GDP in 2017, according to the most recent data available.
The government is aiming to cut this by three percentage points by the end of Macron´s term in 2022, which would mean finding 65-70 billion euros of savings.
France has been rocked by often violent protests over the past two months by the "yellow vest" movement of mainly low-income workers and retirees seeking improved living standards.
The protests began against tax rises announced for transport fuel but spiralled into a larger movement that has highlighted cuts to public services in some rural areas.
The revolt led Macron to announce in December a 10-billion-euro ($11.5 billion) package of wage increases and tax relief for low earners and retirees.
Macron has since launched a "Grand National Debate", inviting people to give their opinions on policy issues such as whether public spending or taxes should be cut further -- and how.
The package of measures announced by Macron in December will push France´s public deficit above the EU-mandated three-percent limit of GDP this year.
After France, Belgium and Finland were the next biggest social spenders, each at around 29 percent of GDP, the OECD said.

Buy House in Dubai, Get Free Trade Licence


Dubai, UAE | Emaar Properties, in partnership with the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, has reportedly launched 184 units in an under-construction building in Dubai Hills Estate, offering a free business licence to the buyers. 
Emaar, the Dubai-based real estate company, has announced some good offers for the buyers. According to report, those who pay 20 per cent of the apartment price at executive residences will get a free three-year renewable business licence (estimated to be worth Dh130,000), a free three-year renewable family residency visa and 100 per cent business ownership. The owner can also apply for an employment visa with every trade licence.
A one-bedroom apartment is priced below Dh1 million while two-beds range from Dh1.3 million to Dh1.6 million. The building is slated to be ready by 2021.
Earlier, business owners had to show their office tenancy contract as proof to get a trade licence. while, in this project, they can reportedly do so with their house Ejari certificate.
According to some Real Estate tycoons, this kind of freedom has never existed in the market before. It is being considered as a masterstroke by the developer.
This is a product targeted at entrepreneurs and SMEs and is touted to be a game-changer in the UAE real estate industry. Entrepreneurs can now do away with the need to rent office premises.
The CEO of Allsopp & Allsopp was reported as saying: "It will give buyers the freedom to work flexible hours and perhaps set up a business they can run from home. The offer is exceedingly attractive to families with young children as it will give parents the option to spend more time at home and be flexible with child care."


Asia Bibi Case | Review Petition Fixed For Hearing on Jan 29, 2019


Islamabad, Pakistan | The review petition against Asia Bibi's acquittal has been fixed for hearing in the Supreme Court of Pakistan on January 29, Geo News reported on Thursday.
The TV channel reported that a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and comprising Justice Qazi Faiz Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam would conduct hearing on the petition.
The Supreme Court on October 31 had overturned the death sentence of Christian woman Asia Bibi who was convicted on charges of blasphemy.
The review petition was filed by Qari Muhammad Salam. 

AFP Adds

If the court refuses to allow the appeal, it will remove the last legal hurdle facing Asia Bibi.
Bibi was on death row for eight years for blasphemy, a hugely sensitive charge.
The Supreme Court´s decision in October last year to overturn her conviction ignited days of violent demonstrations.
On January 29, "the court will determine if our appeal against her acquittal is admitted", Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer who filed the petition seeking an appeal, told AFP.
"Usually the court decides on the same day if the appeal is admitted or not," he added.
Under Pakistan's legal system any private citizen can petition the courts on any matter of public interest or human rights, as in the Bibi case.

However legal experts said it would be highly unusual for the Supreme Court to overturn its own decision, especially one that as carefully drafted as the Bibi ruling.
"It is very rare," lawyer Saad Rasool told AFP.
The three-member bench that will hear the petition will be headed by new Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, considered the country´s top expert in criminal law and who helped draft the decision to acquit Bibi.
The allegations against her date back to 2009, when Muslim women accused her of blasphemy. 
Her case drew the attention of international rights groups and swiftly became the most high-profile in the country.

Pakistan Denies Change in Israel Policy


Islamabad, Pakistan | The Foreign Office has stated that there's no change in Islamabad's policy towards Tel Aviv amid reports that a Jewish Pakistani has been permitted officially to travel to Israel on a Pakistani passport.
FO Spokesperson Dr. Mohammad Faisal was responding Thursday to a question during the weekly press briefing on Pakistan's policy towards the Jewish state.
Fishel Khalid, 31, had applied for permission through an app of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Oct 28, three days after an Israeli journalist tweeted about a plane flown from Tel Aviv landed in Islamabad which the government had vehemently denied.
On January 2 this year, Fishel received a call from Foreign Ministry informing him about the grant of permission, that he tweeted only Wednesday. He will be the first Pakistani in public knowledge allowed to travel to the forbidden land on official permission.

Kartarpur Corridor

Giving details on the Kartarpur Corridor, the spokesperson said Islamabad has shared the draft with New Dehli but the Indian government is showing childish attitude. Pakistan has also appointed a focal person for the matter, he added.

Imran-Trump Meet

On Senator Lindsey Graham visit, Faisal said the US lawmaker talked about the meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Donald Trump but such high-profile meeting needed intense deliberations. No schedule can be shared right now, he clarified.

Afghan Peace Process

Pakistan is very sincere in solving the Afghan mess and providing all sort of support in this regard, he said.

"Judaism" | Pakistan Issues Fresh Passport to its Jewish Citizen


Karachi, Pakistan | Fishel Khalid, 31, who has declared himself as a 'Jew' has been issued a fresh passport by the Pakistani authorities, which mentioned his religion as 'Judaism', BBC Urdu reported.
According to the report, Khalid was in contact with NADRA since 2016 to get himself registered as a Jew and after a long battle, his claim was admitted by the government.
“Although I was registered as a Muslim at birth, I told NADRA that I am not a practicing Muslim and provided them all the details and documents they asked for in order to cross-check my information,” he told BBC.
A news story in this newspaper, reported Thursday that Khalid has been permitted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to travel Israel on the Pakistani passport, which is otherwise not possible due to an official ban.
He will be the first person in public knowledge allowed to travel to Israel on official documents.
Khalid told BBC that he requested Prime Minister Imran Khan last October through ‘Pakistan Citizen Portal’ that he wanted to go Israel on his passport.
The PM Office then forwarded the request to the Foreign Office which sough Sindh government’s input and after getting the opinion from all the stakeholders, Khalid was informed that he can request for Israeli visa on the Pakistani passport.

India Launches Satellite Designed By Students


Sriharikota, India (AFP) | A lightweight satellite designed by students that can be held in the palm of the hand has been launched by Indian scientists, burnishing the country´s credentials in miniature design technology.
The 10-centimetre (four-inch) cube satellite, named Kalamsat V2, weighs just 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds), according to students from the private Space Kidz India group who designed the celestial unit.
It was launched from the Sriharikota space centre in southern Andhra Pradesh state on Thursday, drawing praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Heartiest congratulations to our space scientists for yet another successful launch of PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle). This launch has put in orbit Kalamsat, built by India´s talented students," Modi tweeted.
The launch was another feather in the cap for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which won Asia´s race to Mars in 2014 when one of its spacecraft reached the Red Planet on a shoestring budget.
India has been vying for a larger slice of the booming commercial satellite launch business as phone, internet, and other companies seek expanded and more high-end communications.
The Kalamsat V2 was built at a cost of 1.2 million rupees ($16,900), said Srimathy Kesan, the CEO and founder of Space Kidz India.
It will serve as a communications satellite for ham radio transmissions used by amateurs for non-commercial activities.
In 2017 an even smaller satellite, weighing just 64 grams and designed by the same group, was launched in the US aboard a NASA rocket but never reached orbit.
The main payload on Thursday´s launch was the 740-kilogram Microsat-R that will be used to take high-resolution photos of Earth for defence research.
India has made giant strides in its space journey, launching a record 104 satellites in a single mission in 2017. It has also built a reputation as a reliable low-cost option for space exploration.

Citizens of 50 Countries to be given Visa on Arrival Facility | Fawad


Islamabad, Pakistan | Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Friday said citizens of 50 countries have been give facility of visa on arrival.
Speaking to the media, he said the citizens of 50 countries would able to get visas from the airport upon their arrival as there were a lot of opportunities in the tourism sector in Pakistan.
Talking about foreign students coming to Pakistan for studies,  he said visa of two-year stay for degree and four years for masters' program would be issued, students.
He said journalists would be issued both long and short term visas.   
Fawad Chaudhry also took exception to opposition parties for their protest during Prime Minister Imran Khan's presence in the National Assembly.
He said the opposition will have to respect the prime minister.
The minister said Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif was getting unprecedented protocol.
He said he has never used inappropriate language and showed disrespect to anyone in his speeches.

WhatsApp Limits Text Forwards to Five Recipients


Jakarta, Indonesia | WhatsApp is globally limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five, in a bid to fight “misinformation and rumours”, company executives said on Monday.
“We’re imposing a limit of five messages all over the world as of today,” Victoria Grand, vice president for policy and communications at WhatsApp, said on Monday at an event in the Indonesian capital.
Previously, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to 20 individuals or groups. The five-recipient limit expands globally a measure WhatsApp put into place in India in July after the spread of rumours led to several killings there.

"National Job Programme" To Be Launched To Create Employment Opportunities For Youth


Islamabad, Pakistan | Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Youth Affairs, Usman Dar, held a meeting with a team of GIZ to explore various avenues of collaboration for the development of an effective National Job Programme (NJP), a remarkable initiative of the Government for creating gainful employment opportunities for the youth.
National Job Programme (NJP) would include vocational training of youth in best of the best TVET institutes, and their placements in relevant industries to spur national economic growth.
Moreover, youth trained in high-end technologies in the fields of construction, hospitality, artificial intelligence, e-mobility and robotics would also be facilitated to seek jobs in the international markets.
It was agreed in the meeting that GIZ would rank the existing TVET sector institutes in the country based on the quality of their training programmes.
Accordingly, Prime Minister’s Youth Programme would engage top ranking institutes to impart skills training to youth for more productive employment under its National Job Programme (NJP).
Usman Dar appreciated GIZ for their role in the development of the TVET sector in Pakistan and expressed hope to leverage their expertise in the field for creating better employment opportunities for the youth.

International Tourists Up 6% to 1.4 BN in 2018 | UN


Madrid, Spain (AFP) | The number of international tourist arrivals rose by 6 percent last year to 1.4 billion, according to an estimate published Monday by the World Tourism Organization.
The increase was driven by travel to southern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, said the Madrid-based UN body, citing economic growth and technological advances as boosting factors.
Although arrivals to the Americas grew only by a modest three percent -- four for North America -- Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific performed strongly, with respective rises of six, seven and six percent.
WTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, welcomed the strong results as showing that tourism is "one of the most powerful growth motors" for international development.
Total arrivals to Europe were 713 million but the WTO noted that arrivals in northern Europe were flat last year, citing uncertainty over Britain´s impending exit from the European Union.
A closer focus on data for Africa, which welcomed 67 million visitors in total, saw the north of the continent register 10 percent growth in arrivals staying at least overnight. Sub-Saharan arrivals were up six percent.
Middle Eastern arrivals rose 10 percent to 64 million.
The body said overall solid economic growth, more broadly accessible air travel on lower fuel prices and more efficient processing of visas had all contributed to the rise.
The WTO notably cited better air connections in two substantial developing markets, India and Russia.
At the same time, it noted some investors, as well as travellers, were adopting a "wait and see" attitude in considering geopolitical uncertainty stemming from issues such as the US trade war with China as well as the fallout from Brexit.
The WTO predicted a global overall increase of between three and four percent for the current year, broadly in line with historical trends. 

Second Woman Carrying Gene-edited Baby in China | State Media


Beijing, China (AFP) | A researcher who claimed to have created the world´s first genetically-edited babies will face a Chinese police investigation, state media said Monday, as authorities confirmed that a second woman fell pregnant during the experiment.
He Jiankui shocked the scientific community last year after announcing he had successfully altered the genes of twin girls born in November to prevent them from contracting HIV.
He had told a human genome forum in Hong Kong that there had been "another potential pregnancy" involving a second couple.
A provincial government investigation has since confirmed the existence of the second mother and that the woman was still pregnant, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The expectant mother and the twin girls from the first pregnancy will be put under medical observation, an investigator told Xinhua.
The provincial government probe found He had "forged ethical review papers" and "deliberately evaded supervision," according to Xinhua.
He had "privately" organised a project team that included foreign staff and used "technology of uncertain safety and effectiveness" for illegal human embryo gene-editing, it said.
Investigators told Xinhua that the scientist was "pursuing personal fame" and used "self-raised funds" for the controversial experiment.
Eight volunteer couples -- HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers -- signed up to He´s trial, investigators found, with one couple later dropping out.

Immediate Backlash

Details of the experiment -- which has not been independently verified -- triggered an immediate backlash from the global scientific community and the Chinese government ordered a halt to He´s research work days after it was publicly announced.
Such gene-editing work is banned in most countries, including China.
He will be "dealt with seriously according to the law," and his case will be "handed over to public security organs for handling," Xinhua said.
Speaking at the genome summit in Hong Kong in November, He said he was "proud" of altering the genes of the babies, given the stigma affecting AIDS patients in the country.
The public outcry over his experiment also drew attention to the growing HIV epidemic in China, which has seen a drastic surge in new cases in recent years.
The scientist was educated at Stanford University in the US and recruited back to China as part of Beijing´s "Thousand Talents Plan" to reverse brain drain, according to a copy of He´s resume published on the website of the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen.
SUSTech said in a statement Monday it had terminated the researcher´s employment after earlier saying He´s work had "seriously violated academic ethics".

He said the twins´ DNA was modified using CRISPR, a technique which allows scientists to remove and replace a strand with pinpoint precision.
Experts worry meddling with the genome of an embryo could cause harm not only to the individual but also future generations that inherit the same changes, and say there are too many scientific and technical uncertainties to permit clinical trials.
Following the storm sparked by He´s announcement, scientists have called for an international treaty on gene-editing.

Total Lunar Eclipse Woos Sky Watchers


Washington, USA (AFP) | An unusual set of celestial circumstances came together over Sunday night and the wee hours of Monday for sky watchers in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, where the moon was fully obscured before lighting up again with a faint red glow.
In the streets of Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Paris and in the Moroccan desert, moon gazers turned to the sky to observe the phenomenon, around midnight in the Americas, and shortly before dawn in Europe and Africa.
The eclipse lasted about three hours: during the first hour the full moon was gradually swallowed up by the shadow of the Earth, then an hour of total eclipse where it was not invisible but instead appeared tinted in hues of red, orange and pink, followed finally by its full reemergence, bright and shining.
The full Moon appeared bigger than normal because it was closer to the Earth -- about 222,000 miles (358,000 kilometers) away -- earning it the nickname "super Moon."
Other monikers include a "Wolf Moon," a traditional way of coining an eclipse in the month of January, and a "Blood Moon" because of its rusty, red color. Hence the name for this year’s event: a "super blood wolf Moon."
At its peak, where night skies were clear of clouds, Venus and Jupiter shone brightly in the night sky.
Not everyone was fortunate: in London, for example, astronomy enthusiasts hopes were dashed by a cloudy night.

Why Red?

During a lunar eclipse, the Moon appears red because the light of the Sun no longer directly illuminates it, since Earth is passing in between the Moon and Sun.
"The color is due to Rayleigh scattering -- where the Sun’s blue light is scattered off molecules in Earth’s atmosphere -- which also happens at sunsets," explained the Royal Astronomical Society of Britain.
"The Sun’s red light is scattered much less by air, and is bent by Earth’s atmosphere in a process called refraction, traveling all the way through it to light up the Moon’s surface."

Last Eclipse This Decade

Total or partial lunar eclipses happen at least twice a year on average, Florent Deleflie, an astronomer at the Observatory of Paris-PSL told AFP. It’s just that they are not visible everywhere.
It’s a rare event when a total lunar eclipse is visible on so many parts of the Earth’s land mass, as is the case Monday.
Europeans last saw a total lunar eclipse in July 2018. The next chance for a glimpse at a lunar eclipse will be in 2022, but the entire continent won’t be able to see the totality of a lunar eclipse again until 2029.
North Americans may get their next glimpse of a blood moon in 2021 along the West coast and 2022 on the East coast.

World´s 26 Richest Own Same As Poorest Half of Humanity | Oxfam


DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) | The world´s 26 richest people own the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity, Oxfam said Monday, urging governments to hike taxes on the wealthy to fight soaring inequality.
A new report from the charity published ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, also found that billionaires around the world saw their combined fortunes grow by $2.5 billion each day in 2018.
The world´s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saw his fortune increase to $112 billion last year, Oxfam said, pointing out that just one percent of his wealth was the equivalent to the entire health budget of Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
The 3.8 billion people at the bottom of the scale meanwhile saw their wealth decline by 11 percent last year, Oxfam said, stressing that the growing gap between rich and poor was undermining the fight against poverty, damaging economies and fuelling public anger.
"People across the globe are angry and frustrated," warned Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima in a statement.
The numbers are stark: Between 1980 and 2016, the poorest half of humanity pocketed just 12 cents on each dollar of global income growth, compared with the 27 cents captured by the top one percent, the report found.

Under-Taxing The Rich 

Oxfam warned that governments were exacerbating inequality by increasingly underfunding public services like healthcare and education at the same time as they consistently under-tax the wealthy.
Calls for hiking rates on the wealthy have multiplied amid growing popular outrage in a number of countries over swelling inequality.
In the United States, new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines earlier this month by proposing to tax the ultra-rich up to 70 percent.
The self-described Democratic Socialist´s proposal came after President Donald Trump´s sweeping tax reforms cut the top rate last year from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.
And in Europe, the "yellow vest" movement that has been rocking France with anti-government protests since November is demanding that President Emmanuel Macron repeal controversial cuts to wealth taxes on high earners.
"The super-rich and corporations are paying lower rates of tax than they have in decades," the Oxfam report said, pointing out that "the human costs -- children without teachers, clinics without medicines -- are huge".
"Piecemeal private services punish poor people and privilege elites," it said, stressing that every day, some 10,000 people die due to lacking access to affordable healthcare.
The report, released as the world´s rich, famous and influential began arriving for the plush annual gathering at the luxury Swiss ski resort town, urged governments to "stop the race to the bottom" in taxing rich individuals and big corporations.
Oxfam found that asking the richest to pay just 0.5 per cent extra tax on their wealth "could raise more money than it would cost to educate all 262 million children out of school and provide healthcare that would save the lives of 3.3 million people".

Sahiwal Incident | Here is What We Know So Far


Sahiwal, Pakistan (The News International) | Officials of the  Punjab Police's Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) on Saturday sprayed a car with bullets near Sahiwal, killing four people including a couple their teenage daughter and their driver.
The police called it an intelligence-based operation against suspected terrorists but three children travelling in the car said the family was travelling to Burewala from Lahore to attend a wedding ceremony.

Passengers

According to reports,  the couple identified as Khalil and his wife Nabeela along with their children Areeba, Umair Khalil, Muniba, Hadia and their driver Zeeshan were on board the vehicle when the incident took place near Sahiwal Toll Plaza.

Identities 

The deceased were identified as Khalil, Nabeela their teenage daughter Areeba and driver Zeeshan.  Umair Khalil, the couple' son', sustained bullet wounds while his sister  Muniba's hand was injured with the broken glass of the vehicle. The only person who remained unhurt was identified as  Hadia.

Counter-Terrorism Department  Statements

CTD officials kept changing their statements after the killings; first declaring them child kidnappers, and then dubbing them as terrorists.
The CTD claimed that the car riders had opened fire on the raiding party, which had tried to intercept the vehicle as well as a motorcycle on the main road.
CTD spokesman said the operation was conducted as the follow-up of an action carried out in Faisalabad on Jan 16.
"The car was coming from Lahore and the women killed were 40 and 13 years old, respectively.”
The CTD also claimed that there were three other suspected terrorists on-the-spot, who managed to escape. “They were identified as Shahid Jabbar, Abdul Rehman, and their accomplice," the CTD spokesperson added.
Earlier, the CTD officials claimed that the four people were kidnappers, but later on, dubbed them as terrorists.
The CTD identified one of the deceased as Zeeshan. The department said that he was wanted for several crimes, including the abduction of Ali Haider Gilani, son of former premier Yusuf Raza Gilani, and several American nationals. The CTD also claimed that he was the deputy chief of a banned outfit.

Postmortem Examination

According to the postmortem report, driver Zeeshan received 10 bullets; father Khalil 13; mother Nabeela Bibi 4 and 13-year-old Areeba was shot four times.
As per the details, Umair Khalil was hit six times in his legs, while his younger sister Muniba was injured after being hit with car mirror when it hit road fence.
The youngest one, 4-year-old-Hadia is released from the hospital.

Umair Khalil Recounts the Incident

Umair Khalil, son of Khalil, told media that his father had begged CTD personnel to take the money and spare their lives, but they refused and opened fire on the car.
“My papa, mummy, sister and a friend of my father were killed. We survived the firing,” he said. “We were taken to a petrol station and left there,” he said.
The boy said that they were going to a wedding in Burewala from Lahore when they were intercepted by the CTD personnel.
Jalil, brother of the suspect, also rejected the police claim that his brother was a terrorist.
“We all were going to Burewala to attend a marriage. We were in three cars,” Jalil said.

Prime Minister Takes Notice

Following the incident, Prime Minister Imran Khan contacted Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar and asked him to immediately reach Sahiwal and called for bringing facts to the fore.
On Sunday morning the prime minister took to Twitter and wrote: "Still shocked at seeing the traumatized children who saw their parents shot before their eyes. Any parent would be shocked as they would think of their own children in such a traumatic situation. These children will now be fully looked after by the state as its responsibility".





Inspector General of Police Punjab Amjad Javed Salimi has formed a four-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the incident. Additional IG Establishment Punjab will be the head of the team, and one each representative from the ISI and the IB would be part of the JIT. The team will submit its report within three days.

Social Media Reaction

The incident became the top trend on Twitter with people expressing outrage over the gory killings.
The users demanded the government give exemplary punishment to those involved.

Case Registered

A case has been registered against the CTD officials involved in the incident on behalf of Jalil Ahmed, a brother of Khalil Ahmed.
According to Geo News, the FIR was registered at Yousufwala Police Station against 16  members of the CTD.

Sit-in Ends

The relatives of the deceased family announced to end the sit-in on G.T Road after the case was filed against the CTD personnel involved in the cold-blooded murder of the family.

Funeral Prayers

The funeral prayers of all the victims of Sahiwal incident were offered on Ferozepur road, Chungi Amer Sadhu here on Sunday.
A large number of citizens and relatives of the deceased attended the funeral prayer.

JIT Probe

Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat Sunday said justice would be ensured at any cost in the tragic incident of Sahiwal as a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) led by Additional Inspector General of Police (AGP) Ejaz Shah had been constituted to probe the matter.
Talking to media, he announced Rs 20 million compensation for the victim family.
The minister reiterated the initial claim of CTD that the driver Zeeshan was affiliated with a terror outfit and that the operation was conducted on a tip-off.

Family Denies Contact with Government

The brother of slain Khalil on Monday denied the claim of the provincial minister Raja Basharat that the family was approached by the authorities. No one contacted us, he told Geo News. We don't trust the investigation process, how can they be declared as terrorists without probe, he said.

PTA Launches Initiative to Promote Online Interactive Remote Education


Islamabad, Pakistan (APP) | Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has introduced an initiative under a pilot project to provide free extra academic help to students for better understanding of their study material.
This supplement education has been delivered by imparting a unique learning experience that is essentially different from their general textbooks.
The Authority, in this regard, had joined hands with Internet Society (ISOC) Asia-Pacific Bureau and COMSATS Internet Services to provide online interactive remote education to 6th-grade students of a Government Girls High School in rural Multan.
According to PTA report, TeleTaleem, a renowned and experienced tele-education provider was also hired to deliver real-time online lectures of English, Mathematics, and Science through an interactive classroom environment from Islamabad.
The content delivered by teachers had been designed to make more use of activities, conceptual approach, alternative pedagogy, and online resources.
Chairman PTA said the government has always been supportive of ideas that make the best use of innovative technologies.
The Internet is a nucleus of socio-economic development in the future and this project has been introduced so that young girls could efficiently use the internet.

Pakistan Mulls Easing Visa Rules For 66 Countries


Lahore, Pakistan | Information and Broadcasting Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain on Sunday said the PTI government was contemplating a proposal to ease visa restrictions for 66 countries in order to promote tourism in Pakistan.
"Prime Minister Imran Khan has the vision to promote tourism in the country. He wants foreigners in large number to visit Pakistan and see its beautiful colours," Chaudhry said. 
 Pakistan's cultural festivals were a great feast to watch, he said.
To another question, the minister stated the Basant festival would take place after finalization of modalities how to make it accident-free.
The government was committed to holding all the festivals, including Mela Chiraghan and Sachal Sarmast Urs, and many others which had since been abandoned, he added.
Responding to a query, Fawad said Pakistan had unfortunately been ruled by a pack of people in the past who were not interested in improving its image.
Those rulers robbed the national wealth and filled their coffers, he added.
He said the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan to make the country like that of the ''State of Madina'' was not a political but social one.
He wanted to make Pakistan a state which was tolerant, where freedom of speech was encouraged and justice to all and sundry was ensured.
To a question, the minister said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government was not facing any political challenge.

New App Launched | Mosquitoes Alert In Pakistan


NIH, Pakistan | The National Institute of Health (NIH) has launched its first-ever Android-based application named “Mosquitoes Alert in Pakistan”. The app will help to collect information on different mosquito species present in different areas which will ultimately help in mapping out the magnitude of burden related to different mosquito species.
Through this Mosquito Alert app, anyone can send a photo of mosquitoes or breeding places. These photos will be part of a common database and will be used for investigation, monitoring, and control of mosquitoes.
This information is key for generating a participatory alert system to improve the management of mosquito’s species, minimize the risk of disease transmission and raise awareness among the general public.


No Visa Facility For Israeli Citizens | Pakistan


Islamabad, Pakistan | A government spokesperson has denied a misleading news item carried by a section of press regarding the provision of visa facility to Israeli citizens on arrival at Pakistani airports.
The spokesperson has categorically stated that Pakistan does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and consequently, the provision of visa does not arise.
The Spokesperson expressed the hope that the media should take the version of the government before publishing/telecasting such sensitive news.

Mobile Devices Activated By Jan 15 to Remain Operational | PTA


Islamabad, Pakistan | All mobile devices which are already activated on cellular mobile networks within Pakistan by January 15, 2019, shall remain operational without service disruption.
The decision has been made in accordance with the directives issued by the federal government related to the extension in the deadline for registration of mobile devices under Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s Device Identification Registration Blocking System (DIRBS).
It is learnt here today that even non-compliant devices in operation prior to this date will be tied to these numbers and will remain operational till the useful life of the device.
PTA developed/established Device Identification Registration & Blocking System (DIRBS), in line with Telecom policy 2015, issued by Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom, section 9.6 with the aim to curtail the counterfeit mobile phone usage, discourage mobile phones theft and protect consumer interest.
All Pakistani mobile device users wishing to know the status of a device can send each 15 digit IMEI number via SMS to 8484. The status of the mobile device can also be checked via PTA website link www.dirbs.pta.gov.pk or by downloading DIRBS android mobile application. 

World Welcomes 2019 with Fireworks and Festivities


Paris, France (AFP) | Revellers welcomed 2019 with fireworks displays and festivities as a celebratory wave swept westward across the globe from Asia to Europe and the Americas at the conclusion of a tumultuous year.
Monday´s celebrations kicked off with Sydney hosting its biggest-ever pyrotechnics display and lighting up its harbour-front skyline for a full 12 minutes.
More than 1.5 million spectators gathered to enjoy the spectacle that also featured a ceremony to celebrate Australia´s indigenous culture.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of party-goers packed the streets on either side of Victoria Harbour for a spectacular 10-minute show that burnt through $1.8 million worth of fireworks.
In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, more than 500 couples tied the knot in a free, mass wedding organised by the government to mark the arrival of a new year.
Fireworks shows, however, were cancelled out of respect for victims of a December 22 tsunami that killed more than 400 people.
In Japan, locals flocked to temples to ring in 2019, as US boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather came out of retirement to beat Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in a multi-million-dollar "exhibition" bout outside Tokyo.

Security Concerns 

In Dubai, fireworks lit up the sky over the world´s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, to the delight of onlookers, while nearby Ras al-Khaimah sought to enter the Guinness Book of Records with the world´s longest fireworks show.
Russia saw in the new year progressively over several time zones starting in the far east, with concerts and light shows planned for Moscow city parks, and more than 1,000 ice rinks opened for merrymakers.
But a tower block gas explosion that killed at least four people and left dozens missing cast a shadow over New Year´s celebrations.
In his New Year´s address to the nation, President Vladimir Putin urged people to work together to "increase well-being and quality of life so that all citizens of Russia... feel changes for the better in the coming year."
In Paris, fireworks and a light show with the theme "fraternity" were scheduled for the Champs-Elysees despite persistent "yellow vest" anti-government protests.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in a televised address, acknowledged the French government "can do better" by citizens complaining of shrinking spending power.
In Berlin, music lovers partied at a concert at the Brandenburg Gate, while Britain´s capital London opted to usher in the new year by celebrating its relationship with Europe, despite Britain´s impending departure from the European Union.
London´s fireworks display would seek to show Europe that the British capital would remain "open-minded" and "outward-looking" post-Brexit, said the city´s mayor Sadiq Khan.

Looking Ahead

In Portugal, dozens of people, some in costume, will brave the winter for a traditional New Year´s ocean dip near Lisbon, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, election officials will be counting votes after a presidential election Sunday.
In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari used his New Year´s address to promise a free and fair election in 2019, while Ivory Coast leader Alassane Ouattara vowed the creation of a new, independent, electoral commission for polls planned for 2020.
When the celebrations reach the Americas, Rio de Janeiro´s famous hilltop Christ the Redeemer statue will be brought to 3D life with special light projections before fireworks illuminate the city´s Copacabana beach where around two million people are expected to party till dawn.
As the world celebrates, many are wondering whether the turmoil witnessed in 2018 will spill over into the next.
The political wrangling in Westminster over Brexit was one of the key stories of this year, with a resolution yet to be reached ahead of Britain´s scheduled March 29 departure.
US President Donald Trump dominated headlines in 2018, ramping up a trade war with China, quitting the Iran nuclear deal, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and meeting his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.
North Korea´s commitment to denuclearisation will remain a major political and security issue into next year, as will Syrian President Bashar al-Assad´s reassertion of control after Trump´s shock announcement of a US troop withdrawal from the country.
The war in Yemen, which has killed about 10,000 people since 2014 and some 20 million at risk of starvation, could take a crucial turn in 2019 after a ceasefire went into effect in mid-December.
Numerous countries go to the polls in the coming year, including India, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, Argentina, and Australia.
Major sporting events on the calendar include the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the cricket one-day international World Cup in England, and the athletics World Championships in Qatar.

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