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Washington demands probe into Yemen bus strike

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Washington |The United States called for a “thorough” investigation following the deaths of 29 children in northern Yemen in a strike on a bus carried out by the Saudi-led coalition.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US was “concerned” by reports of an attack resulting in civilian deaths. “We are calling the Saudi led coalition to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident,” she said.

Nauert added the US takes credible accounts of civilian casualties “very seriously.” “We call on the parties to take appropriate measures to protect civilians,” she said.

A hospital in Saada province supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross “received the bodies of 29 children under the age of 15, and 48 wounded, including 30 children,” the organization announced on Twitter. A spokesman for the Red Cross in Sanaa told AFP the toll was not final as casualties from the attack were taken to several hospitals.

The coalition acknowledged carrying out a “legitimate military action,” but spokesman Turki al-Maliki told AFP claims that children were inside the bus were “misleading,” adding that the bus carried “Huthi combatants.”

Saada is a stronghold of Huthi rebels, whom the Saudi-led coalition are fighting in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s forces. The war in Yemen has left more than 10,000 dead since 2015, sparking what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The US has lent its Saudi allies support in the form of arms, intelligence and aerial refueling.

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Terror financing watchdog FATF condemns Pulwama terror attack

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New Delhi | Expressing grave concern, international terror financing watchdog FATF on Friday condemned the Pulwama terror attack and said Pakistan has failed to demonstrate a proper understanding on funding of terrorist groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

In a statement, the Paris-headquartered Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said Pakistan should continue to work on implementing its action plan to address its strategic deficiencies, including by adequately demonstrating its proper understanding of the terror financing risks posed by the terrorist groups and conducting supervision on a risk-sensitive basis.

“The FATF notes with grave concern and condemns the violent terrorist attack last week that killed at least 40 Indian security forces in Pulwama in the State of Jammu and Kashmir,” it said after the week-long FATF plenary held in Paris.

“Pakistan has revised its TF (terror financing) risk assessment. However, it does not demonstrate a proper understanding of the TF risks posed by Da’esh (ISIS), AL-Qaida, JuD (Jamat-ud-Dawa), FIF (Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation), LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad), HQN (Haqqani Network) and persons affiliated with the Taliban,” the statement said.

Forty CRPF personnel were killed and five injured on February 14 in one of the deadliest terror strikes in Jammu and Kashmir when a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden vehicle near their bus in Pulwama district in Jammu and Kashmir.

The bus was part of a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel from Jammu to Srinagar.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack.

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Mention of JeM in UNSC statement only in general terms not a judgement: China

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Beijing | China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, on Friday sought to downplay the scathing statement issued by the powerful organ of the world body naming Jaish-e-Muhammad in the Pulwama terror attack, saying the mention of the Pakistan-based outfit was only in “general terms” and “does not represent a judgement”.

Forty Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in a suicide attack by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14, sparking outrage in the country.

The powerful UN Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday strongly condemned the “heinous and cowardly” terror attack.

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir, which left 40 Indian paramilitary forces dead and dozens wounded on February 14, 2019, for which Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility,” it said in a statement.

Asked about the statement highlighting the role of JeM claiming the responsibility of the Pulwama attack, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that Beijing was closely following the developments related to the terror incident.

“Yesterday, the UN Security Council issued a press statement that mentioned that a particular organisation but only in general terms. It does not represent a judgment on the attack,” Geng said.

His remarks were seen as an attempt by China, without whose endorsement the UNSC statement could not have been released, aimed at placating its close ally Pakistan and play down the indictment of the JeM.

China has been repeatedly blocking India and several other countries’ efforts to bring about a global ban on JeM chief Masood Azhar in the UN’s anti-terror 1267 committee.

While China’s endorsement of the UNSC statement was reflection of wariness on the part of Beijing to repeatedly defend JeM in the UN body, which casts a shadow on its relations with India, observers say it is to be seen what stand Beijing would take when France moves its resolution seeking to list Azhar as a global terrorist in the UN.

France, also member of the permanent five of the UNSC, has officially announced that it would move a resolution soon in the 1267 committee seeking Azhar’s listing.

Since 2016, China has consistently blocked moves first by India and later by the US, the UK and France to designate Azhar as a global terrorist by putting repeated technical holds.

In his response on Friday, Geng said, “China also noted that the Pakistani government showed readiness to cooperate with India on the investigation and that it is also ready to resolve differences with India through dialogue”.

“China hopes all parties will work to find the truth about this attack. We hope Pakistan and India will engage in dialogue to jointly safeguard regional peace and stability,” he said.

The UN statement also underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of these “reprehensible acts of terrorism” accountable and bring them to justice”.

The UN condemnation came a day after Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi met top UN leaders including with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to brief them about the escalating tensions in the region in the wake of the Pulwama attack.

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey won’t appear before Parliamentary panel on Feb 25

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New Delhi | Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will not appear before the Parliamentary panel on IT on February 25, and instead, the company is sending its Head of Public Policy Colin Crowell.

The Parliamentary panel on Information Technology had summoned Twitter head Jack Dorsey to appear before it on February 25, and had refused to meet “junior officials” of the microblogging site during its meeting on February 11.

The meeting had been called against the backdrop of growing concerns about safeguarding citizens’ data privacy and the possibility of social media platforms being used to interfere in the upcoming elections.

“We thank the Parliamentary Committee for its invitation to hear Twitter’s views on ‘Safeguarding citizen rights on social/online news media platforms’. These are issues for all Internet services globally.

“Colin Crowell, Global Vice President of Public Policy for Twitter, will meet with the Committee on Monday,” a Twitter spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement on Friday.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the government has been warning social media platforms of strong action if any attempt was made to influence the country’s electoral process through undesirable means.

Sources said on February 11, the committee had refused to meet junior officials from Twitter’s India office who were present at the meeting venue.

The panel passed a unanimous resolution that the microblogging site’s CEO should make himself available to show the company’s seriousness in safeguarding rights of Indian citizens online, they added.

As per the resolution, the panel would hear only the Twitter CEO or senior member of its global team “who has decision-making authority regarding Twitter’s operations in India,” one of the sources had said.

Even as it faces heat over allegations of political bias in the country, Twitter has maintained that it is committed to remaining unbiased and that its product, as well as policies, are never based on political ideology.

The government has been taking a strong view of the misuse of social media platforms and is also proposing to amend IT rules to curb fake news and increase the accountability of such apps.

Over the last few weeks, Facebook, Twitter and Google have promised to infuse more transparency into political advertisements on their platform and announced a slew of measures as part of their election integrity efforts.

On Thursday, Twitter said it has formed an internal, cross-functional group to lead “electoral integrity work” in India that will proactively support partner escalations, and identify potential threats from malicious actors.

The US-based company had also stated that its teams are working closely with political parties across the spectrum to train them on using Twitter to best engage with their constituents.

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