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  • Narendra Modi sacks top diplomat Sujatha Singh, tightens grip over govt policy
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fired Sujatha Singh, the country’s highest ranking diplomat, and replaced her with India’s ambassador to the United States, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a day after a successful visit by US President Barack Obama.
    Modi’s appointment of Jaishankar as foreign secretary, the top bureaucrat at the foreign ministry, underscores the prime minister’s control over foreign affairs.
    But his abrupt sacking of Sujatha Singh, the foreign secretary appointed by the previous Congress administration, was criticised by the Congress party.
    Since he swept to power last year, Modi has virtually taken over the reins of foreign policy, beginning with an unprecedented invitation to regional leaders to attend his inauguration and followed by high profile meetings with the leaders of United States, China, Japan and Australia.
    Singh was asked to step down from the post, the government said late on Wednesday, with seven months to go before retirement. The last time the head of the elite foreign service was removed was in the late 1980s.
    “Why have you replaced the head of the foreign service so unceremoniously,” Manish Tewari, a leader of the Congress party said. “The government needs to explain.”
    During Singh’s tenure under the previous administration, India and the United States were embroiled in a diplomatic row over the arrest of a junior Indian diplomat in New York for an alleged visa fraud. Ties hit their lowest level in a decade.
    Since then, Modi has moved rapidly to rebuild ties with Washington, putting behind his own embarrassment at being denied a visa for a decade for religious violence in the state he governed earlier.
    He went on a state visit last September, building a relationship with Obama and then hosting him as the guest of honour at this week’s Republic Day Parade, the first US president to do so.
    Jaishankar, credited with helping Modi turn around the relationship, said his job was to carry out the government’s priorities.
    “A big responsibility. I am honoured that I have been assigned this responsibility,” he told reporters as he took charge.
    Jaishankar has previously been ambassador to China and Singapore.
    Narendra Modi sacks top diplomat Sujatha Singh, tightens grip over govt policy
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fired Sujatha Singh, the country’s highest ranking diplomat, and replaced her with India’s ambassador to the United States, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a day after a successful visit b...See more
  • Simpson created a new blog post
    Delhi Uber passenger who alleges driver rape sues in U.S.
    A passenger who said she had been raped by an Uber driver in New Delhi sued the online car service in U.S. federal court on Thursday, claiming the com...
  • Simpson created a new blog post
    Armed man interrupts Dutch TV before being overpowered
    The Hague: An armed man disrupted Dutch television on Thursday evening when he entered the building of public broadcaster NOS demanding airtime before...
  • Simpson created a new blog post
    Malaysia declares MH370 an accident, airline to proceed with compensation
    boA seven-nation investigation has failed to discover what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 327 days after the plane disappeared over the So...
  • Simpson created a new blog post
    Malaysia declares MH370 an accident, airline to proceed with compensation
    boA seven-nation investigation has failed to discover what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 327 days after the plane disappeared over the So...
  • Prosecutors say Hernandez DNA found at murder scene
    A marijuana joint found next to a slain Boston man in North Attleborough contained traces of both his DNA and the DNA of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, a Bristol County prosecutor said Thursday in an opening statement in Hernandez’s murder trial.

    A footprint at the murder scene in an industrial park also matched sneakers worn by Hernandez, and Hernandez’s DNA was found on a .45-caliber shell casing found in a car he had rented, Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Bomberg said.

    Bomberg said Hernandez and two associates in June 2013 drove the victim, Odin L. Lloyd, “to a secluded, isolated area in North Attleborough, a town where Odin Lloyd knew no one but the defendant and the defendant’s fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins. There Odin Lloyd was shot six times. He was killed, and he was left in a secluded area.”

    Hernandez, 25, a native of Bristol, Conn., has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and weapons charges.

    The story of Hernandez, a wealthy young professional athlete who has allegedly squandered a bright future, has generated headlines nationwide. His trial is beginning just before his former team takes on the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Hernandez played in the team’s last Super Bowl appearance three years ago, a loss to the New York Giants.
    Defense attorney Michael Fee, in his opening statement to the Bristol Superior Court jury, said, “Aaron Hernandez is an innocent man. ... Aaron Hernandez is not guilty.”

    Fee said the investigation of Hernandez had been “sloppy and unprofessional” and the evidence police had collected “should have led them in another direction.”

    “We are here today,” he said, “because police and the prosecution targeted Aaron Hernandez from the very beginning. As soon as they found out Aaron Hernandez — a celebrity football player for the New England Patriots – was a friend of Odin Lloyd’s, it was over.’’

    After a break for lunch, the prosecution called two witnesses. One was the Bishop Feehan High School student who found Lloyd’s body. The court recessed for the day shortly before 4 p.m.

    Bomberg, painstakingly outlining the case built by the state against Hernandez, said Hernandez and his two associates, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, had picked up Lloyd in Boston in the early morning hours of June 17, 2013. The four men drove to a North Attleborough industrial park. Less than 10 minutes later, only Hernandez and the two associates arrived at Hernandez ‘s home, which is not far from the industrial park, Bomberg said. He showed the jury video surveillance footage from Hernandez’s home system of the three men getting out of the car.

    Lloyd’s body was found later that day by the student. The murder weapon has not been found.

    Bomberg said Hernandez had not only orchestrated the murder, he had tried to cover it up.

    The prosecutor revealed little about a motive in the case. But he did say that when Hernandez and Lloyd were at a Boston nightclub a couple of evenings before the slaying, Lloyd saw some of his other friends there and Hernandez left the establishment “unhappy,” even though he exchanged no words with those friends of Lloyd.

    The prosecutor said a valet saw Hernandez standing that night outside a downtown Boston hotel, shoving a gun into the waistband of his pants and then covering the gun with his jacket before leaving the area with Lloyd.

    Fee acknowledged that Hernandez had set up a meeting with Lloyd two nights later, the night of the slaying, but he said Hernandez had simply wanted to go out partying with Lloyd, Wallace, and Ortiz.

    He said the evidence might show Hernandez was with Lloyd before he was killed, but there was no evidence he killed him.

    “Mere presence is not enough in our system,” he said. “We can’t be convicted of a crime just because we hang with the wrong people or are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

    He also questioned whether Hernandez had a motive to kill Lloyd, saying Lloyd was “one of his partying pals” who was known as the “blunt master’’ because of the marijuana cigarettes he supplied to Hernandez. Fee also noted that Lloyd was dating Jenkins’s sister and could have ultimately ended up being Hernandez’s brother-in-law.

    “Aaron Hernandez is not the murderer of his friend,’’ Fee said. “In June 2013, Aaron Hernandez was planning his future, not a murder.’’

    Bomberg spoke for about an hour, while Fee spoke for about 35 minutes.

    Among those in court Thursday was Jenkins. She was offered immunity by prosecutors, but there was no indication in the prosecutor’s opening statement that she would provide any testimony. Hernandez’s brother, D.J. Hernandez, was also there, along with Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, and other Lloyd family members.

    After the opening statements, Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh, who is presiding, told jurors that prosecutors did not have to prove Hernandez pulled the trigger to secure a murder conviction. Rather, they must show that he “knowingly participated” in the slaying and intended to bring it to fruition, she said.

    Hernandez’s associates, Wallace and Ortiz, also face murder charges in the slaying and will be tried separately. They have pleaded not guilty.

    Hernandez also faces charges in a 2012 double slaying in Boston, as well as civil suits from the families of his alleged victims.

    Hernandez spent three seasons (2010-12) with the Patriots, appearing in 38 games. The most recent Super Bowl touchdown pass thrown by quarterback Tom Brady went to Hernandez, who caught a 12-yarder in the loss against the New York Giants three years ago. Hernandez was the Patriots’ leading receiver in Super Bowl XLVI, catching eight passes for 67 yards and the touchdown.

    In Phoenix Thursday, New England Patriot safety Devin McCourty said he still thinks about the team’s former tight end.

    “I’m sure today we will be, just because with the news of the trial starting,” McCourty said. “It’s kind of hard for you not to think about it, he was a former teammate of ours. But yeah, I think people think about it.’’
    Prosecutors say Hernandez DNA found at murder scene
    A marijuana joint found next to a slain Boston man in North Attleborough contained traces of both his DNA and the DNA of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, a Bristol County prosecutor said Thursday in an opening statement in H...See more
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  • Oil markets open up weak following record US stockpiles
    Oil prices opened up weak on Thursday in Asia after record US stockpiles sent it tumbling to near six year lows in the previous session, and analysts said that the outlook remained weak.

    US crude prices tumbled on Wednesday after the US reported record-high inventories that raised anxieties about the global oil glut that had pressured the market since last summer.

    The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said domestic crude oil stocks rose by almost 9 million barrels last week to reach nearly 407 million, their highest since the government began keeping records in 1982. "The market expects stockpiles to keep rising, pushing front-month prices further down as refineries enter maintenance season and are likely run at lower utilisation rates," ANZ said in a morning note on Thursday.

    Thursday's markets opened up close to their previous settlement levels, and analysts said the outlook remained weak.
    Brent crude was trading at US$48.60 a barrel at 0131 GMT, US crude was at US$44.43 a barrel, both close to six year lows.

    Swiss bank UBS said in a note on Thursday that cheap oil would not have a major boosting impact on Asian economic growth. "Big, big drops in oil; small effects on economies... Cheap oil should give a small boost to Asian GDP, but not really enough to warrant major changes in growth forecasts," it said.

    Researchers at Energy Aspects said in a note that "a new normal is in the making for China-slower and less oil intensive growth".

    They added that "oil consumption in China will become more efficient, leading to slower demand growth of around 0.2-0.3 mb/d (million barrels per day) compared to expectations of above 0.5 mb/d."

    Oil markets open up weak following record US stockpiles
    Oil prices opened up weak on Thursday in Asia after record US stockpiles sent it tumbling to near six year lows in the previous session, and analysts said that the outlook remained weak.

    US crude prices tumbled on Wednesda...See more
  • Ringgit falls as Asia's worst-performing currency weighed by oil
    [KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's ringgit extended losses as this month's worst-performing Asian currency on concern a protracted drop in crude will weigh on the oil-exporting nation.

    The currency declined for a second day and reached a new 2009 low after Brent slid 2.3 per cent overnight on a report showing US oil stockpiles climbed to the highest level in weekly data going back to 1982. Malaysia kept borrowing costs at 3.25 per cent Wednesday even as central banks around the world eased monetary policy amid slowing global growth and falling consumer prices. The nation's 10-year government bond yields headed for the biggest monthly decline since 2008.

    "The ringgit is weakening on concern crude oil will fall further after the US record inventory report," said Nizam Idris, Singapore-based head of foreign-exchange and fixed-income strategy at Macquarie Bank Ltd. "There is also growing pressure on central banks to ease monetary policy and Malaysia is probably doing so via weakening the currency." The ringgit fell 0.4 per cent to 3.6340 a dollar as of 10:08 am in Kuala Lumpur, adding to yesterday's 0.6 per cent loss, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency earlier touched 3.6375, the weakest level since April 2009.

    ING Groep NV cut its year-end forecast for the ringgit to 3.78 a dollar from 3.68, after Singapore's central bank unexpectedly eased policy yesterday via its currency band.
    Bank Negara Malaysia's decision to hold the benchmark rate was predicted by all 19 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The policy stance is accommodative and appropriate given the developments in monetary and financial conditions, the central bank said in a statement Wednesday.

    Prime Minister Najib Razak last week reduced the country's 2015 growth forecast to 4.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent from as much as 6 per cent earlier due to the drop in oil.

    The yield on the nation's 10-year sovereign bonds was little changed at 3.86 percent after yesterday dropping six basis points, or 0.06 percentage point, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The yield has fallen 29 basis points this month, the most for a benchmark of that maturity since December 2008.
    Ringgit falls as Asia's worst-performing currency weighed by oil
    [KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's ringgit extended losses as this month's worst-performing Asian currency on concern a protracted drop in crude will weigh on the oil-exporting nation.

    The currency declined for a second da...See more
  • North Korea may be restarting reactor which produces nuclear bomb fuel
    North Korea may be attempting to restart its main nuclear bomb fuel reactor after a five-month shutdown, a US research institute said Thursday.

    If true, the finding, which is based on recent commercial satellite imagery, will be an added worry for the United States and the North’s neighbours at a time of increasing animosity over recent sanctions against the North and Pyongyang’s fury about a UN push to punish its alleged human rights abuses.

    Activity at the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor is closely watched because North Korea is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs, part of its efforts to build an arsenal of nuclear tipped missiles that could one day hit America’s mainland.

    Yongbyon, which has produced plutonium used for past nuclear test explosions, restarted in 2013 after being shuttered under a 2007 disarmament agreement. It has been offline since August.

    Possible signs in satellite imagery from 24 December to 11 January that the reactor is in the early stages of being restarted include hot water drainage from a pipe at a turbine building that indicates steam from the reactor and growing snow-melt on the roofs of the reactor and turbine buildings.

    The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, however, said that since the recent observation period was only about two weeks, it’s too soon to reach a definitive conclusion about what’s happening and more monitoring is needed.

    The institute’s website, 38 North, published the findings.

    Yongbyon can likely produce about one bomb’s worth of plutonium per year. A uranium enrichment facility there could also give it a second method to produce fissile material for bombs. It is not clear if North Korea has yet mastered the technology needed to make warheads small enough to be mounted on missiles, but each nuclear test presumably moves its scientists closer toward that goal.
    North Korea has said it is willing to rejoin international nuclear disarmament talks last held in 2008, but Washington demands that it first take concrete steps to show it remains committed to past nuclear pledges.

    The United States also rejected a recent North Korean offer to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps its annual military drills with Seoul; Pyongyang claims those drills are invasion preparation. The US called the linking of the military drills, which it says are defensive and routine, with a possible nuclear test “an implicit threat.”

    Always rocky ties between Pyongyang and Washington dipped lower because of a recent Hollywood movie depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    The US blames the North for crippling hacking attacks on the movie’s producer, Sony, and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country, inviting an angry response from Pyongyang, which has denied responsibility for the cyberattacks.
    North Korea may be restarting reactor which produces nuclear bomb fuel
    North Korea may be attempting to restart its main nuclear bomb fuel reactor after a five-month shutdown, a US research institute said Thursday.

    If true, the finding, which is based on recent commercial satel...See more
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