UK budget on March 11 as planned: new finance minister

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LONDON:Britain’s first budget following Brexit will take place on March 11 as planned, the country’s new finance minister Rishi Sunak said Tuesday after the shock resignation of predecessor Sajid Javid.

“Cracking on with preparations for my first Budget on March 11,” tweeted Sunak, who Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week appointed to the post of chancellor of the exchequer.

Following suggestions the budget could be delayed to give Sunak more time to prepare for the key event, the new finance chief added that the annual update on government tax and spend plans “will deliver on the promises we made to the British people — levelling up and unleashing the country’s potential”.

Javid resigned after Johnson offered to keep him on only if he sacked all his political advisers, as the prime minister’s Downing Street office looks to have greater say over Treasury policy.

Sunak, 39, had been Javid’s deputy.

Britain finally departed the European Union on January 31, leaving Johnson tasked with striking trade deals worldwide.

He meanwhile wishes to improve productivity in cities outside of London with the help of massive infrastructure projects like the new high-speed railway HS2.

Source: AFP

Opening of Kartarpur Corridor practical proof of Pakistan’s desire for peace, says UN chief

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By M Zulqernain

LAHORE: UN chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is a practical example of Pakistan’s desire for peace and inter-faith harmony, as he visited the revered Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev.

The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandhik Committee and Evacuee Trust Property Board officials received the UN Secretary General at Kartarpur Sahib, some 125kms from Lahore. A Sikh boy presented him a bouquet.

Guterres was also briefed about the Kartarpur Corridor pact between Pakistan and India. He was told that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan took this initiative to facilitate the Sikh community of India and elsewhere to visit the shrine.

The corridor links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur – the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev – to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Gurdaspur district.

Wearing an orange scarf, Guterres visited different parts of the Gurdwara. He was served with traditional food in lunch along with Sikhs and Pakistani officials.

Strict security measures were taken during the visit.

Indian Sikhs in good number were also present at Kartarpur Sahib.

Later talking to media persons, the UN Secretary General said the Kartarpur Corridor is a practical example of Pakistan’s desire for peace and inter-faith harmony, Radio Pakistan reported.

He said the opening of the corridor is a good step and it will promote tolerance and interfaith harmony.

The UN chief appreciated the facilities being provided to Sikh pilgrims at the complex.

Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor on November 9, 2019 in connection with the 550 birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the corridor from the Indian side on the same day by flagging off the first batch of over 500 Indian pilgrims, including former premier Manmohan Singh and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan is located across the river Ravi, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine. It was established by the Sikh Guru in 1522. The first Gurdwara, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, was built here, where Guru Nanak Dev is said to have died.

Earlier in the day, Guterres addressed students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and urged them to focus on new technologies. He termed climate change as the major issue the world is facing today. He also inaugurated a polio campaign.

Pakistan is one of the three countries where polio is still endemic.

Source: Press Trust of India

HSBC 2019 pre-tax profits drop by a third to $13.3 billion

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HSBC said Tuesday its 2019 pre-tax profits fell by a third on year to $13.3 billion as interim chief Noel Quinn warned that the global banking giant was “not delivering acceptable returns”.

The Asia-focused lender has been trying to lower costs as it faces a multitude of uncertainties caused by the grinding US-China trade war, Britain’s departure from the European Union and now the deadly new coronavirus in China.

Quinn, who took over as acting CEO after the shock ouster in August of John Flint, has been tasked with overhauling the sprawling international bank, which spans more than 50 countries but makes the vast majority of its profit in Asia.

HSBC said a 33 percent drop in annual profits last year compared to the $19.89 billion it made in 2018 was largely down to a $7.3 billion goodwill impairment related to its investment and commercial banking businesses in Europe.

It also reported a loss before tax of $3.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019.

But the bank also gave fresh details on plans to overhaul its more underperforming areas, particularly its businesses in the United States and Europe.

“The Group’s 2019 performance was resilient, however parts of our business are not delivering acceptable returns,” Quinn said.

Last year HSBC announced plans to axe some 4,700 jobs, primarily outside of its more profitable businesses within the Greater China region.

Tuesday’s statement suggests further job losses are likely in the coming months.

In the US, the bank said it planned to reduce its branch network by around 30 percent, consolidate back and middle office activities and lower operating expenses by 10-15 percent.

“We also intend to reduce our sales and trading and equity research in Europe and transition our structured products capabilities from the UK to Asia,” the bank added.

Source: AFP

Coronavirus cases top 500 on cruise ship off Japan

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Another 88 people from a cruise ship off Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, authorities said Tuesday, as those free of the disease hoped they were spending their last night on board before disembarking.

The new cases take the total from the Diamond Princess to 542 — easily the biggest cluster outside the epicentre in China — as the cruise ship has proved an especially virulent breeding ground for the virus despite quarantine.

The new cases will be sent to specialised hospitals, the ministry said in a statement, without giving further details such as their nationalities.

Sixty-five of those who tested positive were not yet showing symptoms.

Around 500 passengers will leave the vessel on Wednesday after testing negative, a health ministry official said.

Britain became the latest country to offer its citizens a way off the boat, saying it was “working to organise a flight back to the UK” as doubts grow over the effectiveness of the quarantine measures with every spike in positive cases.

Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea have already said they will evacuate their citizens from the ship, following the lead from the United States, which flew home around 300 Americans on Monday — including more than a dozen who had tested positive.

“We have done tests for everyone (on the ship),” Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

“Some results have already come out… and for those whose test results are already clear, we are working to prepare disembarkation,” he said.

In a letter sent to passengers, authorities explained that some test results would take time to process and that therefore “we plan the disembarkation to take place from 19 to 21 February”.

“If you and your roommate are both negative and have no fever of respiratory symptoms, you will be able to prepare for disembarkation,” the letter said.

But those who had close contact with anyone who tested positive will have their quarantine reset to the last date.

Around 500 passengers will leave the vessel on Wednesday after testing negative, a health ministry official said.

“They will go home on public transport but they will be taken by bus to places such as stations,” he added, saying many of those disembarking will be Japanese passengers.

The crew, some of whom have complained about conditions on board, are also expected to remain to observe another quarantine period after the last passengers leave the ship.

Japan has been forced to defend its policy amid criticism for the way it handled the situation, with dozens of new infections detected almost daily since the ship arrived in early February.

– Tokyo Marathon affected-

The Americans already evacuated will have to undergo another 14-day quarantine in the United States.

Canada said Tuesday it had arranged a chartered flight to repatriate nationals from the Diamond Princess, but gave no details when it would take place.

There were 256 Canadians on board the ship, with 32 so far testing positive for the virus.

South Korea will send a presidential aircraft on Tuesday to fly back four nationals and one Japanese spouse, an official told reporters.

There are 14 South Koreans on board, but the other ten have declined to be evacuated because they live in Japan, the Yonhap news agency reported.

While foreign governments have couched their decision to remove citizens as an attempt to reduce the burden on Japanese authorities, many have interpreted the evacuations as tacit criticism of Tokyo’s handling of the situation.

The US and Australia have told citizens that if they decline repatriation and an additional 14-day quarantine, they will not be allowed home for at least two weeks, suggesting they do not believe the ship-based quarantine worked.

Japan has also confirmed at least 74 cases domestically — including many involving people with no history of recent travel to China.

Authorities say the virus is now being transmitted locally, and have asked citizens to avoid crowds and non-essential gatherings.

On Monday, the amateur portion of the Tokyo Marathon — which had been expected to attract some 38,000 runners — was cancelled. Only elite athletes will now take part.

The public celebration for Emperor Naruhito’s birthday has also been scrapped.

Source: AFP

WHO urges calm as China virus death toll nears 1,900

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The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak rose again on Tuesday but Chinese and international health officials sought to calm global nerves, citing a study showing most cases are mild and warning against excessive measures to contain the epidemic.

Nearly 1,900 people have now died and more than 72,000 people have been infected by the virus in China, with hundreds more cases in some 25 countries.

The epidemic has triggered panic-buying in Singapore and Hong Kong, concerns about cruise-ship travel and the postponement of trade fairs, sports competitions and cultural events in China and abroad.

The outbreak is threatening to put a dent in the global economy, with China paralysed by vast quarantine measures and major firms such as iPhone maker Apple and mining giant BHP warning it could damage bottom lines.

Several countries have banned travellers from China and major airlines have suspended flights.

The World Health Organization, which has previously said travel restrictions were unnecessary, rejected the suggestion that all cruises should be halted after hundreds of passengers were infected on one vessel off Japan.

“Measures should be taken proportional to the situation. Blanket measures may not help,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO has praised China for taking drastic measures to contain the virus.

Authorities have placed about 56 million people in hard-hit central Hubei under an unprecedented lockdown.

Other cities far from the epicentre have restricted the movements of residents, while Beijing ordered people arriving in the capital to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.

– WHO urges calm –

The official death toll in China hit 1,868 Tuesday after another 98 people died, most in Hubei and its capital Wuhan, where the virus emerged in December.

There were nearly 1,900 new cases — a drop from the previous day. Reported new infections have been falling in the rest of the country for the past two weeks.

Tedros warned that it was too early to tell if the decline would continue.

The situation remains dire at the epicentre, with the director of a Wuhan hospital dying on Tuesday — the seventh medical worker to succumb to the COVID-19 illness.

But a study among 72,000 confirmed, suspected and clinically diagnosed cases showed that 81 percent of patients had only mild infections.

Those most at risk were the elderly, and people with underlying medical conditions.

The study released by China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention also showed that the death rate stood at 2.3 percent, falling below one percent for people in their 30s and 40s.

Zhong Nanshan, a prominent expert with China’s National Health Commission, told reporters that 85 percent of patients can improve “if they have good life support, treatment conditions, and nutrients”.

The research was cited by WHO officials, who said the COVID-19 illness was “less deadly” than its cousins, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

“This is a very serious outbreak and it has the potential to grow, but we need to balance that in terms of the number of people infected,” said Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme.

“Outside Hubei this epidemic is affecting a very, very tiny, tiny proportion of people.”

There have been some 900 cases around the world, with only five deaths outside the mainland — in France, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

– Cruise concerns –

Another 88 people tested positive for the virus on the quarantined Diamond Prince cruise ship off Yokohama in Japan, raising the number of infections to 542,

Since the US repatriated more than 300 American passengers on Monday, Britain became the latest country to offer its citizens a way off the boat, after similar plans by Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Attention was also turning to the Westerdam, a cruise ship in Cambodia, where many of the 2,200 people aboard passengers were allowed to disembark after all initially received a clean bill of health.

They were met by Cambodia’s premier, taken on a bus tour of the country’s capital, and allowed to fly around the world.

But an 83-year-old American woman was later diagnosed with the virus after arriving in Malaysia.

– Economic fears –

Despite the WHO’s reassurances, global concerns persist, with an international inventions show in Geneva postponed, a mixed martial arts event in Singapore closing to the public, and Chinese wrestlers barred from the Asian Championships in India.

Supply chains of global firms such as Apple supplier Foxconn have been disrupted as factories in China were temporarily closed.

Apple said it did not expect to meet its revenue guidance for the March quarter, as worldwide iPhone supply would be “temporarily constrained” and demand in China was affected.

BHP, the world’s biggest miner, warned that demand for resources could be hit, with oil, copper and steel use all set to decline if the disease continues to spread.

Source: AFP

Spare graveyard land around Babri Masjid: Supreme Court lawyer to Ram temple trust

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MEW DELHI: A senior Supreme Court lawyer has written to the Ram temple trust on behalf of a group of Muslims in Ayodhya, asking that five acres of land around the demolished Babri Masjid where a graveyard is situated be spared for the sake of ‘sanatan dharma’.

The letter, written by advocate M R Shamshad, is addressed to all 10 trustees of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra.

Shamshad said according to Muslims, there is a graveyard known as ‘Ganj Shahidan’ around the demolished Babri Masjid where 75 Muslims who lost their lives in the 1885 riots in Ayodhya were buried.

“There is a mention of this in Faizabad Gazetteer also,” he said.

“The central government has not considered the issue not using the grave-yard of Muslims for constructing the grand temple of Lord Ram. It has violated ‘dharma’,” the letter stated.

“In view of religious scriptures of ‘sanatan dharma’, you need to consider whether the temple of Lord Ram can have foundation on the graves of Muslims? This is a decision that the management of the trust has to take,” it said.

“With all humility and respect to Lord Ram, I request you, not to use the land of about four to five acres in which the graves of Muslims are there around the demolished mosque,” the letter added.

Source: Press Trust of India

Godse-Gandhi can’t go together; Prashant Kishor questions Nitish Kumar’s ideology

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NEW DELHI: Election strategist-turned-politician Prashant Kishor on Tuesday questioned the Nitish Kumar government’s development model, even as he sneered at the chief minister for making ideological compromises to stay in an alliance with the BJP.

Kishor, who has been vocal about his opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), said Kumar needs to spell out whether he is with the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi or those who support Nathu Ram Godse.

“Nitish-ji has always said that he cannot leave the ideals of Gandhi, JP and Lohiya… At the same time, how can he be with the people who support the ideology of Godse. Both cannot go together. If you want to stay with the BJP, I don’t have any problem with it but you cannot be on both sides,” he said.

“There has been a lot of discussion between me and Nitish-ji on this. He has his thought process and I have mine. There have been differences between him and me that the ideologies of Godse and Gandhi cannot stand together. As the leader of the party you have to say which side you are on,” he added.

In a direct assault on Kumar’s model of governance, Kishor said Bihar was the poorest state in 2005 and continues to be so.

“There has been development in Bihar during the last 15 years, but the pace has not been as it should have,” he added.

Source: Press Trust of India

Uttar Pradesh government presents Rs 5.12 lakh crore budget in state assembly

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NEW DELHI: The Uttar Pradesh government on Tuesday presented a Rs 5,12,860.72 crore budget for FY 2020-21 in the state assembly.

The budget, the size of which is Rs 33,159 crore more than the last year’s budget, has provisions worth Rs 10,967.87 crore for new schemes.

Finance Minister Suresh Kumar Khanna presented the budget in the presence of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

This is the fourth budget of the Yogi government.

Source: Press Trust of India

RSS holds closed door meeting with 70 columnists

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NEW DELHI: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is holding a daylong meeting with 70 columnists from across India on Tuesday in an effort to clear misconceptions about the organisation, sources said.

RSS chief Bhagwat, who last year met representatives of international media organisations posted in India, is expected to deliver a keynote address that will be followed by a free-flowing conversation, they said.

The 70 columnists attending Tuesday’s meeting write in different languages.

The meeting, in Chhattarpur in New Delhi, is a closed-door meeting and the proceedings are “strictly confidential”, the sources said.

Source: Press Trust of India

How BJP succeeded in ghar wapasi of Babulal Marandi

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NEW DELHI: Jharkhand tribal leader Babulal Marandi who joined the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday in presence of Amit Shah, had in fact once rejected the offer in 2014 when the Rajya Sabha elections were taking place.

It was in 2014, when the first Chief Minister of Jharkhand lost the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections during the Modi wave. Then BJP president Amit Shah desperately wanted Babulal Marandi back in the party fold and sent emissaries to him to join the party, offering a Rajya Sabha seat, the elections for which were due.

Amit Shah traced Babulal Marandi in Kolkata, and sent him an offer to join the BJP through a messenger.

The decks were cleared for Babulal Marandi to go to the Rajya Sabha, but he declined the offer and refused to return in the BJP.

However, as it is said “nothing is permanent” in politics, Babulal Marandi mellowed down over the years. He, on Monday, merged his party, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM), with the BJP in Amit Shah’s presence. This was the result of Shah’s six-year-long efforts which led to a ‘ghar wapasi’ of Marandi after 14 years. Babulal Marandi, a former RSS disciple, has quite an influence among Jharkhand’s tribal communities.

Babulal Marandi joined the BJP at a gala ceremony at Jagannath Maidan in Ranchi in presence of top BJP leadership. A large crowd of the BJP and JVM workers gathered to witness Marandi’s ‘ghar wapasi’. Marandi also announced the merger of his party with the BJP at the event.

Amit Shah said that the strength of the BJP will increase manifold with the arrival of Marandi. He said: “Today is a matter of great pleasure for me, because I was trying to bring back Babulalji in the party since I became the BJP President in 2014.”

Marandi, who became the first Chief Minister after the formation of Jharkhand in 2000, had to step down in 2003 due to internal strife in the BJP. After the dissatisfaction crossed a level, he formed a new political outfit by separating from the BJP in 2006.

Experts say that senior BJP leader Om Mathur played the most vital role in bringing Marandi back into the party. Marandi himself confirmed this during the meeting.

Experts also say the BJP felt the need for a strong tribal face in Jharkhand after the defeat in the Assembly elections held last year, to revive the party’s sagging fortunes in the state. Mathur, at the behest of Shah, once again started backroom negotiations with Marandi, who also felt that the time has come for him to give wings to his ambitions and going to the BJP is the only option in view of the new political equation that emerged after the Assembly elections.

Marandi also gave clarification regarding his return during the event. He said: “Some people will say that the BJP is taking him into the party due to the defeat in the state Assembly elections. But it was not a sudden decision. Rather, the BJP leaders have been talking to me for many years. Since 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s efforts to bring me to the party were continuing”.

Marandi said that he was not ready to come back once he left the party due to his stubborn nature. However, later respecting the wishes of the workers, he decided to return to the BJP.

Source: IANS