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California wildfire death toll rises to 77

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California

Chico (US) | Authorities say one more set of human remains has been found, bringing the total number killed in a devastating California wildfire to 77. A state incident report released Sunday evening says the flames destroyed more than 10,500 homes.

Over a thousand names remain on a list of those unaccounted for after the so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on November 8. Authorities stressed that many of those may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

Hundreds of volunteers are sifting through ash and debris, searching for human remains before expected rains complicate their efforts. The predicted downpours could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search. The fire was 65 percent contained Sunday.

Crews searching for remains of people after the devastating Northern California wildfire are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work. A team of 10 volunteers along with a cadaver dog were examining burned houses Sunday in a Paradise neighbourhood looking for victims. They’re focusing on vehicles, bathtubs and mattress springs that would indicate a charred bed. If no remains are found, the team leaves a note in orange spray paint near the home.

Rain would help suppress the fire but could also complicate the search and recovery effort. Officials say ash that is now dry and easy to dust off would turn into paste, making it harder to uncover remains.

The National Park Service says all but one of 13 mountain lions being tracked in Southern California mountains have been accounted for following a devastating wildfire.

As of Friday, the only missing mountain lion was one dubbed P-74, a young male born last year. In addition, all four bobcats that the agency monitors via GPS have been located in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles.

Officials have again increased the number of homes and other structures burned by a huge Southern California wildfire. The figure rose Sunday to 1,130 buildings destroyed – many of them homes – and 300 damaged. The tally is continuing.

Firefighters are making progress against the blaze that broke out November 8 and tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu. More evacuees have been allowed back in their homes and the 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometer) blaze is now 88 percent contained.

California’s governor is expressing optimism that President Donald Trump will support the state as it deals with raging wildfires. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” airing Sunday that the Republican president has “got our back” and has pledged to continue to help.

Trump initially blamed state officials for poor forest management in exacerbating the fires and threatened to cut off federal funding. He’s since signed an emergency declaration and toured the devastated areas Saturday with Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. Brown also suggested in the CBS interview that the wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics “in less than five years” and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from wildfires going forward.

Pope Francis has prayed for victims of California’s wildfires and freezing weather on the US East Coast.

International

China’s top trade negotiator to visit US January 30-31

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China

Beijing | China’s top trade negotiator will travel to the United States to resume talks later this month ahead of a March deadline to avoid bruising tariff hikes, the commerce ministry said on Thursday.

Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington on January 30-31 for the negotiations, the ministry said, following up on talks by lower-level officials in Beijing earlier this month.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a three-month trade war truce in December, suspending US plans to increase tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods to give negotiators space to find a solution.

Liu and US officials will “hold negotiations on economic and trade issues and work together to push forward and implement the consensus” reached by Xi and Trump, ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters.

China’s senior negotiator will travel at the invitation of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Gao said. Without a resolution, punitive US duty rates on USD 200 billion in Chinese goods are due to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on March 2.

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Indian-American Raja Krishnamoorthi 1st South Asian to serve on powerful committee on intelligence

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Raja Krishnamoorthi

Washington | Indian-American Democratic lawmaker Raja Krishnamoorthy has been appointed as a member of a Congressional committee on intelligence, becoming the first South Asian to serve in the powerful body tasked to strengthen America’s national security.

Krishnamoorthy, 45, who represents Illinois’s 8th congressional district in the House, was chosen along with Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Peter Welch of Vermont as the four new Democratic members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) for the 116th Congress.

The HPSCI is tasked with overseeing the activities and budget of the 17 intelligence agencies of the US. Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi appointed Krishnamoorthi Wednesday.

Pelosi said, “Our new members of the Intelligence Committee bring exceptional judgment, expertise and determination to our mission to honour that oath and, guided by the strong, principled leadership of Chairman Adam Schiff, will restore the long tradition of bipartisanship and integrity of this critical committee. “We look forward to the many contributions these new members will bring to Democrats’ work to strengthen America’s national security and defend our democracy”.

Krishnamoorthi, after Pelosi announced his appointment, said: “It is very humbling to be chosen to serve on the Intelligence Committee in this Congress, and I am ready to join with my colleagues in preserving the safety and security of our nation”.

“The intelligence challenges and international threats facing our country today are vast, ranging from terrorism to cyberwarfare to investigating Russia’s previous and continuing attempts to sabotage our democracy.

“I am honoured that the Speaker and Caucus have placed their trust in me and the contributions I’ll make to the Committee. When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect and defend the Constitution from all threats, foreign and domestic, and I know that the work we do under the leadership of Chairman Adam Schiff will fulfil that solemn duty,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Born into a Tamil-speaking family in New Delhi, his family moved to Buffalo, New York when he was three months old. Krishnamoorthi attended Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He also attended Harvard Law School.

Early this week, Pelosi appointed Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal to the House Education and Labour Committee.

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US tells Taliban it must talk to Afghan government

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Aghan Taliban

Kabul | The US envoy in Afghanistan has said on Wednesday that a peaceful end to the 17-year conflict requires the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government, which they have consistently refused.

Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to reporters in Kabul on his latest visit to the war-torn country, where he is at the centre of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the conflict which began with the US invasion of 2001.

“The road to peace will require Taliban to sit with other Afghans, including the government,” Khalilzad said.

“There is a consensus among all regional partners on this point,” he added, according to quotes sent to the US embassy in Kabul.

The insurgents have long refused to hold direct talks with the Kabul government, which they dismiss as a puppet of Washington.

Taliban representatives have met several times with US officials in recent months, but earlier this week threatened to suspend the fledgling peace efforts, accusing the US of changing the agenda of the talks and “unilaterally” adding new subjects.

“If the Talibs want to talk, we can talk, if they want to fight we can fight. We hope that the Talibs want to make peace,” Khalilzad said in response to the threat.

The envoy arrived in Kabul on late Tuesday, where he met with the country’s political leaders. On his third tour of the region since his appointment in September, he had previously travelled to India, the United Arab Emirates and China. He is expected next in Pakistan.

His tour comes shortly after US officials said in December that President Donald Trump intends to withdraw as many as half of the 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad Wednesday said that if the Taliban choose to continue fighting, “The United States will stand with the Afghan government and the Afghan people and support them”.

He dismissed reports the US wanted to maintain military bases in the country.

“We have never said we want permanent military bases in Afghanistan,” he said.

“What we want is to see this conflict end through negotiation, and to continue our partnership with Afghanistan, and to ensure no terrorist threatens either of us.” In the long run, the US is seeking a military, diplomatic and economic relationship with Afghanistan, he added.

Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, said he hopes for fresh talks with the Taliban “very soon”.

The US is not the only country dancing around talks with the militants. Russia and Iran have held meetings with the Taliban in recent months, while China has also made overtures. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan are all participating in the US efforts.

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