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Washington demands probe into Yemen bus strike

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Yemen

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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China’s defence minister to visit India tomorrow

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China

Beijing  |  China has said its relations with India are improving steadily in all areas including the military sphere as its Defence Minister Lt Gen Wei Fenghe is set to begin his four-day visit to New Delhi tomorrow, the first after the Doklam standoff.

Billed as an important visit by officials on both sides to improve communications and the atmospherics between the two militaries after last year’s 73-day Doklam standoff, Gen Wei would have in-depth exchanges with his counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman during the visit.

This will be their second meeting this year as Sitharaman met him during her visit to Beijing in April to take part in the defence ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Gen Wei’s visit is regarded as a full-fledged bilateral visit aimed at solidifying military ties in the larger improvement of relations after this year’s informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping.

The summit at Wuhan had set in motion conscious attempts by both countries to set the Doklam standoff aside and improve ties in all spheres.

Echoing the sentiment, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a media briefing here that Gen Wei’s visit comes in the backdrop of steady improvement of relations between the two countries.

“For some time, you would have noticed that China-India relations are improving steadily. Exchanges and cooperation in all areas have moved forward including the military to military exchanges,” he said while replying to a question on the significance of Gen Wei’s visit to India.

While no agreements are expected during Gen Wei’s visit, officials told PTI here that it is aimed at improving communication between the two militaries at the highest level as well as the atmospherics which would send a positive signal to the troops on the ground along the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control.

The countries have opened several points for heads of the ground forces to meet periodically to improve relations.

But so far both militaries have not been able to operationalise efforts to establish a hotline facility between their military headquarters due to procedural issues.

The hotline between the two militaries was regarded as a major confidence-building measure as it would enable both the headquarters to intensify communication to avert tensions between border patrols and to avoid standoffs like Doklam.

Gen Wei’s visit signals that relations between the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army have generally recovered, Qian Feng, a research fellow at the National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times recently.

“The military relationship has entered a positive development track with overall improvement and a warming trend in political relations between the two countries,” he said.

Gen Wei’s visit comes in the backdrop of the successful visit in early July by Gen Liu Xiaowu, deputy commander of the Western Theater Command, Qian said.

In return General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army, Lt Gen Abhay Krishna visited China from August 15 to 19.

According to the Indian Embassy here, he met with PLA Commander General Han Weiguo.

On the visit of Gen Liu to India, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Col Ren Guoqiang told media earlier that during the visit the two countries forged consensus to implement the decisions reached by Modi and Xi at Wuhan.

They also agreed to control risks at the border area, expand joint tactical drills, strengthening culture and sports interactions between the border defence forces, and jointly safeguarding peace and stability at the border, Col Ren said.

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Musharraf demands presidential-level security to appear in Pakistan court in treason case

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Pervez Musharraf

Islamabad  |  Pakistan’s former dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf today demanded presidential-level security to appear before a special court hearing the treason case against him, saying his life is in “danger”.

The previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had filed the treason case against Musharraf over the imposition of extra-constitutional emergency in November 2007. The 74-year-old former Army chief is currently living in Dubai.

A special court presided over by Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Yawar summoned the interior secretary on August 27. The bench will also consider whether the trial can continue without recording Musharraf’s statement.

Musharraf’s attorney, Akhtar Shah, told the bench that his client wants to appear before the court in the high treason case but wants assurances that he would be given presidential-level security. The court observed that it is the federal government’s duty to provide security for the accused and adjourned the hearing of the case till August 27, Dawn newspaper reported.

During the hearing, Shah told the Justice Ali-led two-member bench that his client would return and “appear before the court if he is given presidential level security by the defence ministry”.

“Musharraf’s life is in danger,” he added. “There were two attempts on his life: once in the Islamabad court and the other in Quetta during the Akbar Bugti case hearing.”

Bugti was a Baloch leader killed in a 2006 army operation.

Last month, lawyer Akram Sheikh stepped down as the head of the prosecution team tasked by the government in 2013 to prosecute Musharraf.

Sheikh was appointed as the head of the prosecution in the case, by the then-PML-N led government.

Musharraf, the former army chief, was indicted in the case in March 2014 after he appeared before the court and rejected all charges.

On March 18, 2016, he left Pakistan for Dubai for medical treatment after his name was removed from the Exit Control List on the orders of the Supreme Court.

A few months later, a special court had declared him a proclaimed offender and ordered the confiscation of his property owing to his no-show.

Later, on the orders of the Supreme Court, Musharraf’s passport and identity card were also cancelled since he failed to return to the country despite giving him a last chance.

The legal experts believe that the treason case is a test for the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan’s, as one of the reasons of civil-military tussle was that the PML-N government had initiated the case against the former army chief.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief had vowed in November 2007 that his party would initiate proceedings against Musharraf over his unconstitutional acts but it has also been witnessed that the PTI has remained silent over the issue in the recent past.

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Afghan officials: Taliban take at least 100 people hostage

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Kabul  |  The Taliban ambushed a convoy of buses today on a road in northern Afghanistan and took more than 100 people hostage, including women and children, in the latest brazen assault by insurgents, provincial officials said.

The ambush came despite Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement of a conditional ceasefire with the Taliban during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this week.

The fate of the abducted in Kunduz province in an area that has recently fallen under Taliban control was not immediately known and there was no statement from the insurgents.

The Taliban have resurged in recent years, seizing entire districts across Afghanistan and regularly carrying out large-scale bombings and attacks that have killed scores of people.

According to Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council in Kunduz, the insurgents stopped three busses on the road near Khan Abad district and forced the passengers to come with them.

Ayubi said he believes the Taliban were looking for government employees or members of the security forces who usually go home for the holidays.

Abdul Rahman Aqtash, police chief in neighbouring Takhar province, said the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces and were travelling to the capital, Kabul.

“So far, there is no news on the fate of the passengers, but tribal elders and local officials are trying to negotiate with the Taliban,” Ayubi added.

In his call yesterday for the truce, Ghani said, “The cease-fire should be observed from both sides, and its continuation and duration also depend on the Taliban’s stand.” Ghani made the announcement during celebrations of the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence, just a day after the leader of the Afghan Taliban said that there will be no peace in the country as long as the “foreign occupation” continues.

The militant leader, Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah, reiterated the group’s position that the country’s 17-year war can only be brought to an end through direct talks with the United States.

In a message released on the occasion of Eid al-Adha and without pointing to any cease-fire the Taliban leader said on Saturday that the insurgents remain committed to “Islamic goals,” the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war.

For his part, Ghani said he hoped extensions could also be agreed upon to make the cease-fire last until November 20, which will mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.

The government had previously announced a cease-fire with the Taliban during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June. The Taliban accepted that three-day cease-fire, but later rejected a call by the president to extend it.

Earlier this month, the Taliban launched a major assault on the eastern city of Ghazni, just 120 kms from Kabul and the capital of a province with the same name.

Afghan security forces battled the militants inside the city for five days, as the US carried out airstrikes and sent advisers to help the Afghan ground forces.

The battle for Ghazni killed at least 100 members of the Afghan security forces and 35 civilians, according to Afghan officials.

The heavy casualties underscore the challenges the government in Kabul faces since the US and NATO officially ended their combat mission at the end of 2014. Since then, American forces, now in a training and advising role, have repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces.

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