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Seventeen die in Delhi Hotel fire 

At least 17 people have died in a Delhi hotel fire that broke out early on Tuesday morning, police said. Eyewitnesses said the dead included a woman and a child who attempted to jump from a window to safety.

Officials said 35 people were rescued. Some were injured and have been taken to the hospital. Hotel Arpit Palace is located in Karol Bagh, an area popular with tourists for its budget hotels and shopping.

Videos recorded by eyewitnesses show people jumping from the building - in one of them, a man can be seen hanging on to the side of the building before he jumps off.

"There was wooden panelling in the corridor, because of which people couldn't use the corridors to leave the hotel," firefighter Vipin Kenta told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

He said they were still investigating what caused the fire. Local media reported that most of the deaths were caused by suffocation. Fire accidents are not uncommon in Indian cities, where builders often flout safety regulations.

Many structures, both old and new, lack proper fire exits. In recent months, officials have shut down a number of shops and restaurants in some of Delhi's most exclusive neighbourhoods for not following fire safety measures.

Owners of commercial buildings have also been known to construct additional floors without the necessary permissions.

Delhi minister Satyendra Jain told the NDTV news website that the Arpit Palace had built the fifth floor with a kitchen and a terrace, even though the owners only had permission to build four storeys. (BBC)

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Belgium bans halal and kosher animal slaughter

A ban on kosher and halal slaughter has come into effect in the Flanders region of Belgium unless the animal is stunned before it is killed. 

It comes after legislation prohibiting animal slaughter without pre-stunning was passed in the nation's parliament in July 2017. 

The northern region of Flanders is the first in Belgium to implement the ban, with the legislation coming into effect on New Year's Day.

Similar restrictions will be in place in the southern Wallonia region from September.

The law was branded the "greatest assault on Jewish religious rights in Belgium since the Nazi occupation" by the European Jewish Congress in May 2017, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

Both the Muslim halal and Jewish kosher rituals require that the animal is butchered by slitting its throat and draining the blood. 

Under the new law, animals will have to be stunned electrically before being killed.

Belgium's Muslim and Jewish communities have expressed opposition to the law, with several religious organisations filing lawsuits to stop the new legislation, MailOnline reported. 

These include the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organisations, the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress.
It is hoped the lawsuits might still light the ban later this year.

Countries including Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand already prohibit unstunned slaughter.

(Evening Standard)

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Trump announces second North Korea summit

US President Donald Trump has announced in his State of the Union speech that he will hold a second nuclear summit with North Korea's leader this month.

The president said on Tuesday night that he would meet Kim Jong-un in Vietnam from 27-28 February.

Plans for a second summit have been in the works since the two leaders' historic talks last year. Trump and Kim's meeting last June in Singapore was the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

On Tuesday night, Trump said: "Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months.

"If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea. "Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one."

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Afghanistan gold mine collapse in Badakhshan kills 30

At least 30 people have been killed in the collapse of a gold mine in north-eastern Afghanistan, officials say.The collapse occurred in the Kohistan district of Badakhshan province.

Villagers had reportedly dug a 60m (220ft) deep but makeshift shaft in a river bed to hunt for gold and were caught in its collapse. Afghanistan has vast resources of minerals but many of the mines are old and poorly maintained, creating severe safety issues.

Villagers were reportedly using an excavator at the site when the mine collapsed.  At least seven other people were injured, officials say.

Kohistan district chief Rostam Raghi told the BBC's Afghan service: "Locals rushed to the scene and managed to rescue only 13 workers. Dozens of others, including some children, died."

Nik Mohammad Nazari, spokesman for the provincial governor, told Agence France-Presse: "The villagers have been involved in this business for decades with no government control over them. "We have sent a rescue team to the area, but villagers have already started removing bodies from the site."A spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority told AFP the families of the dead would receive 50,000 afghanis ($660; £520).

Afghanistan's vast resources remain largely untapped due to the conflict with the Taliban.The conflict has seen the rise in illegal mining both by villagers and Taliban fighters who use it as a key source of revenue. (BBC)

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Philippines bomb attack in Church kills 27

Two bombs at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines have killed 27 people and injured dozens more, local officials say. The first blast happened as Sunday Mass was being celebrated at the church on Jolo island, where Islamist militants are active. As soldiers responded, a second device was detonated in the car park.

The attack comes days after a majority-Muslim area in the region voted for greater autonomy in a referendum. No group has so far said it was behind the attack. Jolo has long been a base for militants including those of the Abu Sayyaf group. The local officials say the first blast happened at 08:45 local time (00:45 GMT) inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been hit by bombs in the past.

The second explosion was shortly afterwards on the doorstep of the church. Most of the victims are civilians.

Images posted on social media showed the main road leading to the church sealed off by soldiers in armoured personnel carriers. Some of the wounded were evacuated by air to the nearby city of Zamboanga.

Calling the attack a "dastardly act", Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana urged the local population to work with the authorities to "deny terrorism any victory". "We will use the full force of the law to bring to justice the perpetrators behind this incident."

In last week's referendum, voters approved the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in majority-Muslim areas of southern Philippines. But voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it. The referendum was the result of a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The authorities have previously expressed hopes that the vote could be a political solution to try to end decades of fighting between Islamist separatists and the Philippine army in the predominantly Catholic country. (BBC)

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Malaysia king: Sultan Muhammad V abdicates in historic first

Malaysia's king, Sultan Muhammad V, has unexpectedly abdicated in a historic first.No Malaysian monarch has stepped away from the throne since the country gained independence from the UK more than 60 years ago. The National Palace did not give a reason for his resignation but said it would take effect immediately.

It comes amid intense speculation about Muhammad V's private life following reports that he has married a Russian. He went on medical leave in November and, later that month, photographs emerged that appeared to show him marrying a former Miss Moscow in the Russian capital.

Officials have not commented on the rumours or given any further details about his health."His Majesty tells the people of Malaysia to continue to be united to maintain unity, tolerance, and work together," a statement from the palace said.

It added that the king, who took the throne in December 2016, was "ready to return home to the state of Kelantan". He may serve as acting king before a new monarch is selected by the Council of Rulers, the Straits Times reports.

Muhammad V, who was just 47 when he became king, has garnered a reputation for having relatively youthful interests. He is keen on extreme sports like off-road driving, shooting and endurance challenges.

Malaysia is the only country in the world to have a rotational monarchy, in place since the country became independent in 1957. The top job is passed between nine hereditary state rulers, with a rotation happening once every five years. But it is largely ceremonial, with power in the hands of parliament and the prime minister.

Despite this, the role is accorded considerable prestige, particularly among the country's Malay Muslim majority, for whom the king is seen as upholding Malay and Islamic tradition. Criticism deemed to incite contempt of the king can attract a jail term

The current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who returned to office in a shock election victory last May, had a tense relationship with the Sultans during his previous governments when he attempted to limit their authority, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports.

Last week, he warned that all Malaysians must be bound by the law, whatever their status, our correspondent adds. (BBC)

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China to top U.S. as world's No. 1 retail market in 2019

China is expected to top the U.S. as the world’s largest retail market this year, a new report says, underscoring the Asian country’s growing middle class and shift to a consumer-driven economy.

Retail sales in China are forecast to grow 7.5 percent to $5.6 trillion in 2019, according to eMarketer’s worldwide retail and e-commerce forecast. Meanwhile, U.S. retail sales are projected to increase 3.3 percent to $5.5 trillion. While growth is slowing for both countries, China is expected to outpace the U.S. through 2022, the report says.

“In recent years, consumers in China have experienced rising incomes, catapulting millions into the new middle class,” says Monica Peart, senior forecasting director at eMarketer.

China is already the world’s leader in e-commerce sales, with 35.3 percent of the country’s retail sales set to take place online this year, eMarketer estimates, compared to 10.9 percent in the U.S. China’s ecommerce sales are projected to grow 30 percent to $1.9 trillion in 2019.

By the end of the year, China will comprise 55.8 percent of the world’s online retail sales, the report says.

PIC market

Shoppers outside Apple's store in Nanjing, China. Will the crowds thin out? (Photo: Apple)

While Alibaba will account for 53.3 percent of China's ecommerce sales this year, its share has been declining as smaller players like social commerce platform Pinduoduogrow, eMarketer says.For the past decade or so, the Chinese government has been trying to shift the underpinnings of the country’s economy from factory exports and commercial and residential investment to consumption.

 “It has really picked up in the last three to five years,” Peart says, a trend highlighted by China's expected rise to .

Millions of Chinese workers have moved from rural to urban areas and realized significant wage increases.

The U.S., however, still far outpaces China in per capita retail spending annually, with projected 2019 sales of $16,661 in the U.S. and $4,056 in China, the study says.

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Indonesia tsunami: Death toll from Anak Krakatau volcano rises

The death toll following the tsunami caused by the Anak Krakatau volcano in Indonesia has risen to at least 429, the disaster mitigation agency says.

On Saturday giant waves crashed into coastal towns on the islands of Sumatra and Java. It is thought that volcanic activity set off undersea landslides which in turn generated the killer waves.

About 150 people are still missing, while more than 16,000 have been displaced, the agency says. Coastal residents near the volcano have been warned to keep away from beaches amid fears it could trigger a new tsunami. Anak Krakatau erupted again on Sunday, spewing ash and smoke.

Video shot from a charter plane captured the magnitude of the volcanic event in the Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java. Rescue efforts are being hampered by blocked roads but heavy lifting equipment is being transported to badly hit areas to help search for victims.

Source : BBC

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Drug kingpin 'El Chapo' paid $100m bribe to former Mexican president Peña Nieto

Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto accepted a $100m (£77m) bribe from drug cartel kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, a witness has testified.

Alex Cifuentes, who says he was a close associate of Guzmán for years, told a New York City courtroom that he had told authorities of the bribe in 2016.

Guzmán is accused of being behind the Sinaloa drug cartel, which prosecutors say was the largest US drug supplier.

 105199008 untitled asf23431241Former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (L) and Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán (R)/ Getty

Mr Peña Nieto served as the president of Mexico from 2012 to 2018.

Guzmán, 61, has been on trial in Brooklyn since November after he was extradited from Mexico to face charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs as leader of what the US has called the world's largest drug cartel.

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"El Chapo" (right) is the highest-ranking alleged drug lord to face trial in the US so far/Reuters

According to reporters in the Brooklyn courthouse, Mr Peña Nieto had requested $250m before settling on $100m.

Cifuentes claimed the delivery was made to Mexico City in October 2012 by a friend of El Chapo.

Cifuentes, a Colombian drug lord who has described himself as El Chapo's "right-hand man", worked as his secretary and spent two years hiding from authorities with him in the Mexican mountains, according to prosecutors.

He was arrested in Mexico in 2013 and was later extradited to the United States where he pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in a deal with prosecutors.

Mr Peña Nieto has not responded to the latest claim, but has previously rejected allegations of corruption that have surfaced during the trial since it began in November.
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A high-stakes case

Analysis by Tara McKelvey, BBC News, Brooklyn

The trial in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn is a security circus - with guards everywhere and metal detectors set up in different areas of the building, leading to the courtroom on the eighth floor.

Outside of the building, part of the street is blocked off. The trial itself has offered macabre details about assassinations carried out by drug traffickers and stunning allegations about state officials.

After the a former top lieutenant for El Chapo testified of an alleged bribe to the former Mexican president, reporters rushed out of the courtroom, heading to file their stories.

It's hard to know what to believe when former drug traffickers testify, but one thing is clear: the tight security makes sense in a place where the stakes are so high.

Guzmán's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, has argued that the real leader of the Sinaloa cartel is Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.

He claims Mr Zambada has survived prosecution by bribing the "entire" Mexican government, including Mr Peña Nieto and former president Felipe Calderón.

President Peña Nieto and Mr Calderón immediately rejected the accusation, with the latter calling it "absolutely false and reckless".
In November another cartel member testified that an aide to current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was allegedly paid a bribe in 2005.

Cifuentes testified earlier on Friday that El Chapo had ordered a $10m bribe be paid to a general, but later decided to have him killed instead. The hit was never carried out.

(BBC)

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China to take over Kenya’s main port over unpaid huge Chinese Loan

Kenyan government risks losing the lucrative Mombasa port to China should the country fail to repay huge loans advanced by Chinese lenders. In November, African Stand reported on how Kenya is at high risk of Losing strategic assets over huge Chinese debt and just after some few months the Chinese are about to take action.

The loans have been granted for the development of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). Also at stake is the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi, which receives and dispatches freight hauled on the new cargo trains from the seaport. Implications of a takeover would be grave, including the thousands of port workers who would be forced to work under the Chinese lenders.

Management changes would immediately follow the port seizure since the Chinese would naturally want to secure their interests. Further, revenues from the port would be directly sent to China for the servicing of an estimated Sh500 billion lent for the construction of the two sections of the SGR.

In September 2018, Zambia lost Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to China over debt repayment. The SGR –operated by the Chinese, is a hugely loss-making venture, meaning it cannot generate enough money to repay loans. SGR reported a near Sh10 billion loss in its first year of operations.

The Auditor General has warned that the eventuality is likely because of a lopsided loan agreement that greatly favours the China Exim Bank, who advanced Kenya the loan.Specifically, Kenya got the short end of the stick in the agreement where any disputes arising from the debt servicing would be arbitrated in China.

An audit completed last month indicates that Kenya Ports Authority’s (KPA) assets, which include the Mombasa port, could be taken over if the SGR does not generate enough cash to pay off the debts.

“The China Exim Bank would become a principal in (over) KPA if Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) defaults in its obligations and China Exim Bank exercise power over the escrow account security,” the audit reads in part. (African Stand)

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Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council bans child marriages

Saudi Arabia has banned the marriage of minors following a ruling by the Kingdom’s Shoura Council, according to a statement issued by the council on its website.

The council’s speaker Abdullah Al-Sheikh approved the law that called for banning of marriage of all minors, male or female, at a recent session of the council.

The ruling also received the support of two thirds of the council.

After the decision Shoura Council member Latifa Al-Shaalan Tweeted her approval of the council's decision, calling it “a good step forward that was not easy to reach.”

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Transgender women allowed to pray at India's Sabarimala temple

Four transgender women have been allowed to pray at an Indian temple at the centre of a bitter row over whether women should be permitted to enter.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling allowing women devotees into the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala state, they have been blocked repeatedly by mobs.

The transgender women, all wearing black sarees, were allowed to enter on Tuesday under police protection.

The temple has historically been closed to women of "menstruating age". The group of transgender women had been blocked from accessing the temple on Sunday by police, citing security concerns.

Before September's Supreme Court ruling, transgender women were allowed to enter the shrine, but since the decision - which sparked violent protests - some police officials had suggested that transgender women should dress as men in order to gain access.

They refused and took their case to a committee set up by the Kerala High Court. The panel agreed that they could pray at the shrine, and temple officials also said they did not object to the transgender women because they do not menstruate.

Source : BBC

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