LIVE! IM terrorist involved in five bomb blasts arrested

17:32  PNB fraud: Finmin asks banks to submit status report soon:  Concerned over fraud of over Rs 11,300 crore at Punjab National Bank, the finance ministry has asked all banks to send reports involving this case or other such incidents latest by the end of this week. Earlier in the day, PNB disclosed some fraudulent transactions with financial implication of USD 1.77 billion (about Rs 11,334.4 crore).

The bank has detected some fraudulent transactions in one of its branches in Mumbai for the benefit of a few select account holders with their apparent connivance, PNB said in a statement.

Based on these transactions, other banks appear to have advanced money to these customers abroad, it said. Since more than one lender is involved, all banks have been asked by the Department of Financial Services to submit a status report soon on the fraud, official sources said.

They said the Letter of Undertaking was issued fraudulently by PNB to billionaire diamond merchant Nirav Modi and associates and was encashed overseas by them from different banks, both private and public sector. All this was being carried out in connivance with officials as high as Deputy General Manager since 2011, sources added.

As a corrective measure, PNB has suspended 10 employees in connection with the fraud.

17:30  PNB files complaint with CBI alleging Rs 11,400 crore fraud:   The CBI has received two complaints from the Punjab National Bank  against billionaire diamantaire Nirav Modi and a jewellery company alleging fraudulent transactions worth about Rs 11,400 crore, officials said today.

Modi, whose jewellery creations are popular among global celebrities, may face a fresh CBI probe as the agency is looking at suitable legal action to be taken in the case. He is already being investigated by the CBI for alleged cheating and fraud involving Rs 280 crore at a PNB branch, the officials said.

They said it had received two complaints from the PNB yesterday in which it was alleged that the bank had spotted fraudulent transactions worth over Rs 11,400 crore involving Modi and a jewellery company.

The officials, without divulging the future course of action on the complaints from the national bank, said suitable legal action could be initiated against the designer and the company after the agency had vetted the complaint. It was not immediately clear whether the jewellery company mentioned in the complaints was linked to Modi. — PTI

Image: Priyanka Chopra in Nirav Modi jewellery

17:16  Amul goes hawkish on the terror attacks by Pakistan. 

17:11  LIVE! IM terrorist involved in five bomb blasts arrested:   The Delhi Police has arrested a suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorist who had been on the run since the 2008 Batla House encounter, a senior officer said today.

Ariz Khan was arrested by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell. Khan was present at Batla House, along with four others, and had managed to give police the slip during the encounter on September 19, 2008 in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, in which two Indian Mujahideen terrorists were killed and as many arrested.

Encounter specialist and Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, who led the police action, was also killed during the operation.

A trial court in July 2013 had sentenced Indian Mujahideen terrorist Shahzad Ahmed to life imprisonment in connection with the Batla House encounter case. His appeal against the trial court’s verdict has been pending in the high court. — PTI

17:06  Another army officer detained in honey trap case:  The Indian Army’s intelligence wing on Wednesday detained a Lt. Colonel in Jabalpur in connection with a case of honey trap, said sources.

“An Army officer of Lt Colonel rank has been detained in Jabalpur over a honey trap case. The officer is working in the Jabalpur workshop and has been detained by the counter intelligence wing of the Army,” the sources said.

The sources further added that the detention was done on the basis of the officer’s suspicious conduct. “He came under radar after a big amount of money was transferred into his account. The observation is that he leaked documents after receiving the money,” the sources said.  – ANI

17:04  Sensex sheds 144 points, bank stocks sink:  Benchmark Sensex succumbed to fag-end profit-booking to end 144 points lower today after banking stocks tumbled on RBI’s new norms for recognising stressed assets.

Punjab National Bank  plunged 9.81 per cent after the state-owned lender said it has detected fraudulent transactions worth USD 1.77 billion (about Rs 11,335 crore).

In a bid to hasten the resolution of bad loans, the RBI has tightened rules to make banks identify and tackle any non-payment of loans rapidly. The Reserve Bank of India abolished half a dozen existing loan-restructuring mechanisms and instead provided for a strict 180-day timeline for banks to agree on a resolution plan in case of a default or else refer the account for bankruptcy. — PTI

16:41  Poem from the Anda Cell: I Refused to Die :  Imprisoned in the Nagpur Central Jail’s notorious ‘Anda Cell’ is a professor trapped in a wheelchair. Diagnosed with permanent post-polio paralysis of the legs, he is 90% disabled, and needs help to perform necessary bodily functions. Additionally, he has high blood pressure, spinal pain and a heart problem. Professor G N Sai Baba of Delhi University was convicted in March 2017 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for having links with Maoists, and sentenced to life imprisonment by a sessions court in Gadchiroli. Read the poem written to his wife here.

16:38  Foreign tourist arrivals up by 8.4% :  The number of foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) in India saw an 8.4 percent year-on-year jump, the Ministry of Tourism stated.

As per the data, the number of FTAs in January 2018 was 10.66 lakh, compared to 9.83 lakh in January 2017 and 8.45 lakh in January 2016.The percentage share of Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India during January 2018 among the top 15 source countries was highest from Bangladesh (16.36 percent) followed by USA (14.10 percent), UK (10.81 percent), Canada (4.63 percent), Russian Federation (4.49 percent), Australia (3.60 percent), France (2.76 percent), Afghanistan (1.86 percent) and Nepal (1.59 percent).

Meanwhile, the percentage share of FTAs in India during January 2018 among the top 15 airports saw Delhi Airport (28.03 percent) in first place, followed by Mumbai Airport (17.47 percent), Chennai Airport (7.17 percent), Goa (6.19 percent), Bengaluru Airport (5.16 percent), Kolkata Airport (4.81 percent), Cochin Airport (3.77 percent), and Amritsar Airport (1.01 percent).

16:24  PM Modi wishes Swaraj on her birthday:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday wished External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on her birthday and called her an outstanding leader.

“She has distinguished herself as an outstanding leader. As an EAM, she plays a vital role in shaping India’s foreign policy. Her proactive and compassionate nature has endeared her to Indians globally. I pray for her long life and good health,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

Following Prime Minister’s wish Swaraj thanked him on Twitter.”Thank you Prime Minister @narendramodi for your kind words,” she tweeted.

Prime Minister Modi had earlier also lauded the minister for a change in the functioning of the Indian embassies across the world.

Image: Sushma Swaraj as an NCC cadet.

16:18  PNB suspends 10 in fraud involving jeweller Nirav Modi:  The Punjab National Bank on Wednesday suspended 10 staffers including a Deputy Manager, in a fraudulent transaction case that also involved noted jewellery designer Nirav Modi.

The suspension comes following the bank uncovering fraudulent and unauthorised transactions worth USD 1771.69 million from its branch in Mumbai. Earlier in the day, the state-owned lender said that they had cracked a case of swindling, which was contingent in nature.

“The bank has detected some fraudulent and unauthorised transactions in one of its branches in Mumbai for the benefit for a few select account holders with their apparent connivance. Based on these transactions, other banks appear to have advanced money to these customers abroad,” an official statement read.

Few days ago, the Central Bureau of Investigation had booked the noted jewellery designer Nirav Modi, his brother Nishal Modi and some PNB officials for allegedly cheating the bank to the tune of more than Rs. 280 crore.

Meanwhile, Secretary of the Department of Financial Services,, Rajiv Kumar, assured that all necessary action would be taken in the case. “This is part of NPA resolution reforms agenda. Cleaning of banks is the top priority of the government, and it directed all the banks on NPA clean up to help honest borrowers avail loans. After having recapitalized, we will ensure all banks are cleaned up. This is a one-time cleaning exercise. Whatever it takes, we will do it,” he told ANI.

Image: Priyanka Chopra in a Nirav Modi ad.

16:12  Isareli PM Netanyahu faces corruption charges, refuses to quit:  In a setback to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli police have recommended his indictment in two case of alleged corruption and breach of trust even as the beleaguered leader remained defiant and refused to step down.

After a 14-month-long investigation, police announced yesterday that it found enough evidence to recommend the states prosecution to indict 68-year-old Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, the two time premier, faces prosecution in two corruption cases: a gifts-for-favors affair known as Case 1000, and a second scandal, called Case 2000, in which he is suspected of back-room dealings with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the popular newspaper Yediot Aharonot, to ensure more favourable coverage, Jerusalem Post reported.

He was chosen the Prime Minister of Israel in 2009. Previously he held the position from 1996 to 1999. The police accused Netanyahu of accepting nearly USD 300,000 in gifts over 10 years.

Netanyahu, however, said his government was “stable” and criticised the police investigation, which prompted calls for his resignation. “I can reassure you that the coalition is stable. Neither me nor anyone else has plans for elections. We’re going to continue to work together for the good of Israeli citizens until the end of the term,” he said.

He said the police report “misleads” and is “contrary to the truth and logic.” Netanyahu earlier addressed the nation the shortly before the police released their findings and made it clear that he would not step down. “I feel a deep obligation to continue to lead Israel in a way that will ensure our future,” he said.

16:04  IAF Group Captain sent to judicial custody by Delhi court:  A Delhi court has sent an Indian Air Force officer, arrested for alleged espionage, to judicial custody for two weeks after the Delhi police said he was not required for further custodial interrogation.

The court sent Group Captain Arun Marwah to custody after he was produced before it on the expiry of police custody. Marwah, booked under the Official Secrets Act, was handed over to the Special Cell of Delhi police after being interrogated for nearly 10 days by the counter intelligence wing of the IAF, the police said.

According to the police, Marwah, who was posted at the Air Force headquarters, was allegedly leaking classified documents to a woman through WhatsApp.

He had befriended her through Facebook in December last year, the agency said. As per the complaint filed against Marwah by the Air Force, he was caught by the counter intelligence wing after he was found carrying a high-end phone at the headquarters, which are banned there.

The counter intelligence wing is also probing whether he was part of a larger espionage ring. Punishment under the Official Secrets Act entails a jail term of up to seven years. — PTI

15:47  Pregnancies soar during Valentine’s week: UK study:  Valentine’s Day romance leads to a five per cent rise in pregnancies, leading to a ‘mini baby boom’ nine months later, a study has found. Researchers from UK’s National Health Service analysed data from 2015.
They found that 16,263 babies were conceived in the week of Valentine’s Day, up on an average of 15,427 each week.

Another 16,344 were conceived the following week meaning that the Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas for the number of women becoming pregnant.

15:29  Pilot’s spectacular photos taken from an airplane cockpit:   Purple lightning, psychedelic sunsets, glowing clouds and swirling Northern Lights — when it comes to crazily beautiful natural phenomena, airplane pilots have a front row seat.

For the rest of us wanting a glimpse of what life is like in the cockpit 30,000 feet above the planet, there are the incredible photos taken by Dutch pilot Christiaan van Heijst.

Van Heijst has been documenting the scenes outside his cockpit window since becoming a pilot at the age of 20.  Take a look.

15:07  Two Lashkar terrorists killed in Srinagar encounter :  Two Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists have been killed in an encounter in Srinagar’s Karan Nagar area. The Director General of Police of Jammu and Kashmir SP Vaid confirmed the same on Tuesday. The encounter between security forces and militants is still on near the Central Reserve Police Force 23 Battalion headquarters. Yesterday, a CRPF personnel lost his life in the exchange of fire. The Pakistan-based terrorist group LeT claimed responsibility for the attack. —  ANI

15:00  Case against song featuring Priya Varrier for hurting Muslim sentiments:  
Viral sensation Priya Varrier is in news again, this time for a serious reason. A complaint has been filed against the song Manikya Malaraya Poovi lyrics from Oru Adaar Love featuring Varrier and Roshan Abdul Rahoof allegedly for hurting Muslim sentiments. The complaint has been filed at Falaknuma Police station in Hyderabad. The complainant says nothing against the actors but states that the song’s lyrics are against Muslim sentiments and are offensive to the followers of Prophet Mohammad.

The complainant Muqueet Khan told CNN-Newws18, “I tried to sing the song and when I checked the translation, it was about Prophet Mohammad. A girl and boy are romancing but linking background with religious sentiments.”

14:32  BJP leader files complaint seeking Mani Shankar Aiyar’s arrest:  BJP leader and Supreme Court lawyer Ajay Aggarwal on Wednesday filed a complaint against suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar seeking the latter’s arrest over his remarks on Pakistan.

Aiyar, who was suspended by the Congress late last year after his ‘neech’ slur against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, again stirred up a row, saying: “I receive much more hatred in India than the love I receive in Pakistan. I am really happy to be here.” The Congress leader was in Karachi for the Literature Festival when he made the remarks.

14:15  Valentine’s Day: With this bleat I do thee wed:  In Karnataka, the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike organises the marriage of two sheep in Bengaluru as a mark of support to Valentine’s Day.

And in Chennai, to protest against Valentine’s Day celebrations, the Bharat Hindu Front cadres performed marriage rituals between a dog and a donkey.

The dog and the donkey were garlanded with flowers and had their foreheads marked with turmeric in Chennai’s Choolai area. The party workers raised slogans against Valentine’s Day. The women cadres carried plates filled with materials used as a ritual performed in Hindu marriages.

Meanwhile, members of Bajrang Dal harassed couples at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. The miscreants were later detained by the police.Moreover, Bajrang Dal members in Hyderabad staged a protest against Valentine’s Day.

13:59  Pak cracks down on seminaries, health facilities run by Saeed: Report:  Under pressure to act against banned groups, Pakistan has launched a crackdown on seminaries and health facilities run by Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, a media report said today.

The action came after a high-level UN sanctions team visited last month to review progress against groups and individuals banned by the world body. Following orders by the Punjab government, district administration of Rawalpindi took control of a seminary and four dispensaries run by Saeed-linked Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation.

The seminary has been handed over to the Auqaf department which controls the religious properties, Dawn reported. The paper reported that the provincial government las Friday directed the Auqaf department to take control of the seminaries.

13:33  Iran President to visit India this week :  The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani will pay a state visit to India at the invitation of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi from February 15 to 17, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Wednesday.

President Rouhani will be accorded a ceremonial reception on February 17. He will call on President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Modi.

During the visit of the President Rouhani, both sides would review the progress achieved in bilateral relations and also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.

It may be recalled that Prime Minister Modi had visited Iran in May 2016. Besides his official engagements in Delhi, President Rouhani will also visit Hyderabad.  — ANI

13:19  We don’t communalise: Army slams Owaisi :  
Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General Devraj Anbu on Wednesday said social media is acting as a catalyst in brewing terror.

Urging for an immediate solution in the connection Lt Gen. Anbu said, “Social media is also responsible for increase in terror, it’s engaging the youth at a large scale and I think we need to focus on this issue soon. Also, we don’t communalise; those making statements don’t know the Army well. The nation is above religion for us.”

“The enemy is frustrated and is trying for softer targets, when they fail at borders they attack on camps. Yes, youth joining terror is a concern, we need to address this trend,” he added.

Lt Gen. Anbu further said Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Jaish-e-Mohammed or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are hands in glove.

“All three groups like HM, JeM or LeT are hands in glove whether it’s in valley or here. There is no differentiation; they keep jumping from one Tanzim to other. Anyone who picks up an arm and is against the state is a terrorist and we’ll deal with him,” Lt Gen. Anbu noted.

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi on Tuesday racked up another controversy by giving a communal angle to the sacrifice of Indian soldiers in the terror attack on Jammu’s Sunjwan Army Camp.

Condemning the attack, Owaisi said, “The so-called nationalists blame and question the nationalism of Muslims. In this attack, five out seven who sacrificed their lives are Kashmiri Muslims. It’s a reminder to all those who question our integrity and love for the country. Muslims are dying for the country, but are called Pakistani. Terrorists are not differentiating but Muslims are still asked to prove their loyalty to the country.”

Image: Family members and locals carry the body of JCO Mohammad Ashraf Mir, martyred in the Sunjuwan Army Camp attack, in Kupwara on Tuesday. Photograph: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com

13:00  I love Pakistan because I love India: Aiyar:  “Thus, I concluded, the time was propitious to take up what, for the past two decades, I have been calling an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue. I believe this is feasible, I believe this is desirable. And I believe that we must frontally take on the most difficult issues as the priority, as Dr. Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf had so courageously and dramatically demonstrated. My parting shot was, “I love Pakistan because I love India”.

Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar on why he said what he did in Pakistan. Read his column here.

The suspended Congress leader, who is visiting Pakistan, sparked another controversy on Tuesday, saying he received “much more hatred in India” than the love he receives in Pakistan, according to several media reports.

Aiyar made these comments during the Karachi Literature Festival, ANI reported.

12:37  Sensex pares early gains, turns choppy:  The benchmark BSE Sensex trimmed early gains and turned choppy to trade flat amid volatility ahead of Wholesale Price Index numbers to be released later today. Buying was seen in realty, telecom, capital goods, consumer durables, metal, IT and energy counters. Banking, utilities and power stocks saw most selling activity. — PTI

12:35  Delhi court rejects RK Pachauri’s plea for gag order on media:  A Delhi Court on Wednesday refused to restrain media from reporting on allegation of sexual harassment against former The Energy and Resources Institute Chief RK Pachauri.

However, the Patiala House Court said all reportage on the matter should carry Pachauri’s views or that of his representatives and indicate that the matter is pending before the court.

After registration of an FIR against him by a colleague in February 2015, and with more women raising allegations in the months that followed, a civil suit was filed by Pachauri against media houses the next year.

Pachauri then filed a plea for injunction and defamation seeking damages amounting to Rs. 1 crore against few media houses.

On March 1, 2016, the Delhi Police had filed a 1,400-page charge sheet against Pachauri for allegedly sexually harassing a former woman colleague.

He had also been accused of stalking and criminally intimidating the victim. According to reports, after a year-long probe against Pachauri, police found more than 6,000 texts and WhatsApp messages between him and the complainant between September 2013 and February 2015, besides 34 calls he had made to her in that time.In February 2016, another woman accused Pachauri of sexually harassing her. — ANI

12:17  IAF gets a V-Day gift: a vintage Dakota :  A vintage Douglas DC3 aircraft, better known as the Dakota, the workhorse which first saw action in the 1930s, has been gifted to the Indian Air Force yesterday. The airplane was revived and made airworthy at the behest of RS MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar who bought the aircraft from Ireland in 2010. It will now be part of the IAF’s its fleet of vintage aircraft.

Read: The lengths this MP is going to preserve a piece of history

11:56  Hyderabad: Members of the Bajrang Dal staged a protest against Valentine’s Day. 

11:52  When you have nothing better to do. In Chennai, a group called the Bharat Hindu Front get a dog and a donkey married in protest against Valentine’s Day.

11:44  Barack and Michelle, like you’ve never seen them before:  The official portraits of former United States president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are in — and they aren’t like anything else in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The 44th American president is seen sitting on a wooden armchair that seems to be floating amid dense foliage and flowers in a portrait created by Kehinde Wiley. Michelle, painted against a robin’s egg blue background, rests her chin on one hand and stares at the viewer with a curious mix of confidence and vulnerability in a canvas painted by Amy Sherald. 

The artists, both in their 40s, are the first African-Americans to paint official portraits for the museum and both have dedicated their careers to showcasing people of colour in unique way.

Read what Obama said about Michelle’s portrait.

11:35  RK Singh clarifies his ‘slit the throats’ remark:  Union Minister of State for Power RK Singh clarified his remark on slitting the throat of corrupt officials during a question and answer session at ANI-organised India Infracon Conclave 2018.

“By saying so, I meant that if anyone creates issues in any of our schemes, I would not spare take strict action against them. People who know me are aware that I hate corruption.”

The Power Minister further said that when we were young our mother often threatened to break our neck but she never did so. ( Maa humesha kehti thi badmashi karoge toh pitkar gardan thod denge toh iska matlab thodi na gardan thod dete the).The Union Minister stirred up the controversy after he said at a public gathering in Bihar on January 27 that he would “slit the throats” of corrupt officials, while addressing a special village development campaign that has been organised at his constituency, Arrah, in Bihar.

He said, “Only those schemes would be passed which would benefit all. There would be transparency in the tender and construction. My name will be involved in whatever work will be done, so if there is any wrongdoing then I will slit the throat of the wrongdoer, lodge case against him, and send him to jail.” — ANI

11:29  PNB detects $1.7 billion fraud in a single branch in Mumbai:  Punjab National Bank (PNB) has detected fraudulent transactions amounting to more than $1.7 billion, the bank informed the stock exchanges on Wednesday.

Live Mint reports that in a communique to the BSE, the bank said the fraud was detected in one of its branches in Mumbai and that it has referred the matter to law enforcement agencies.

“The Bank has detected some fraudulent and unauthorised transactions (messages) in one of its branch in Mumbai for the benefit of a few select account holders with their apparent connivance. Based on these transactions other banks appear to have advanced money to these customers abroad,” PNB said.

It added the liability of the bank will be determined after taking a closer look at these transactions.

“In the Bank these transactions are contingent in nature and liability arising out of these on the Bank shall be decided based on the law and genuineness of underlying transactions,” the statement mentioned, adding the bank is committed to clean and transparent banking.

11:24  Bajrang Dal promises to marry off unwed couples celebrating V-Day:  
Maharashtra: The Bajrang Dal took out a rally in Nagpur against Valentine’s Day celebrations, saying, ‘Agar unhe Valentine’s Day manaane ka haq hai toh humein apni sanskriti bachaane ka bhi haq hai. If they have a right to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we too have a right to save our culture.” The Bajrang Dal said that if they found any couple on the street on Valentine’s Day, they would get them married

A day ahead of Valentine’s Day, posters with messages like ‘Say no to
Valentine’s Day’ and ‘Love Jihad: Hindu girls beware’ were witnessed in
Gujarat’s Ahmedabad.The Hindu outfit has also approached the pubs and
restaurants in Hyderabad, asking them to boycott Valentine’s Day
celebrations. Such incidents of moral policing by the right-wing outfit
on this day are reported every year.

10:33  BJP conspiring to wipe Tripura off history: Manik Sarkar:  Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar on Tuesday hit out at the alliance of the BJP and the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, saying that both the parties are conniving to wipe off the state from the history.

Addressing a rally ahead of the upcoming assembly election in the state, Sarkar accused the BJP of creating disturbances throughout the nation.

“The alliance between BJP and IPFT is unholy. BJP is supporting IPFT which demands the separation of Tripura. It is a conspiracy to wipe off Tripura from history,” he said.

“Four years back, the BJP came to power with promises of ‘Acche Din’ among others but kept none,” he added. He noted that the country’s inflation rate and petrol prices were higher than the rest of the world. — ANI

10:20  America set to delivery 88M flowers this valentine’s day :  While on V-day, Americans feel that flowers can convey their feelings of love like nothing else can.

It has come to light that UPS is expected to deliver 88 million flowers to significant others, spouses, and family members on the Valentine’s Day.

To be specific, America will see about 8 million pounds or 5,14,000 boxes out for shipping on the Hallmark holiday.

According to a statement by UPS, about 55 percent of people will celebrate the holiday with an average spend of about 143.56 USD, which comes out to be roughly 7 USD more than what it was in 2017.

The National Retail Federation reported that average Americans will spend about 2 billion USD on flowers in 2018, which is roughly 10 percent of what people spend on Valentine’s Day gift.

Also, the majority of estimated 19.6 billion USD spend will be shelled out on spouses and significant others which comes out to be around 12.1 billion USD .Subsequently, Americans will spend the most on jewellery which is about 4.7 billion USD and on wine-and-dine with about 3.7 billion USD.

10:15  New twist to Valentine’s Day: Death-themed confections :  A new twist to Valentine’s Day, apart from chocolates, heart cushions and balloons and all things gag-inducing, are death-themed confections. Small businesses are putting out macabre looking chocolates and other bakery items to poke a fun at the Hallmark holiday, according to The Guardian.

It has come to light that a bakery in Pennsylvania, has been selling out black, heart-shaped box of chocolates called ‘Fatally Yours’ for Valentine’s Day.

This year’s chocolate box has been modelled after an Ouija board and features white chocolate skeletal hands, among other creepy looking chocolate treats.

The bakery is named Vegan Treats by Danielle Konya and is one of the biggest sellers for Valentine’s Day confectionaries in the area.Konya, the founder of Vegan Treats, said, “On a holiday that survived on stuffed bears and roses, it satisfies the black heart in all of us. When I think of a black heart, it’s the adversary to the traditional red heart symbol of love. The black heart is complex . occasionally feels a little dead on the inside and listens to sad songs”. — ANI

10:04   Sensex extends rally, rises 173 pts on positive macro data:  The benchmark BSE Sensex gained 173 points to 34,473.43 in early trade today, rising for the second straight session on back of positive macroeconomic data and sustained buying by domestic institutional investors (DIIs) amid appreciating rupee. Besides, a mixed trend in other Asian markets following positive lead from Wall Street buoyed sentiment.

10:03  Rupee gains 19 paise against dollar in opening trade:  The rupee strengthened by 19 paise to 64.13 against the US dollar in opening trade today aided by stronger domestic equities. The weakness in dollar against some currencies overseas after US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said that the central bank would remain alert to risks to financial stability in the wake of recent market rout also supported the rupee’s upmove. The US dollar hit a five-month low against the yen after Japan’s economy recorded its longest growth streak in 28 years.  Besides, industrial output grew 7.1 per cent in December and selling of the American currency by exporters supported the rupee, forex dealers said. Forex market was closed yesterday for a public holiday.

09:58  US approaches FATF to put Pak on global terrorist financing watch list:   The US has approached an international group to place Pakistan on global terrorist-financing watch list, accusing Islamabad of not complying with the UN Security Council resolutions relating to terror groups including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, a top State Department official said today.

US President Donald Trump, in his first tweet of 2018, had lashed out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to terrorists and accused it of “lies and deceit” and of fooling US leaders while sheltering terrorists.

Unveiling his new South Asia policy in August last year, Trump had warned of tougher measures against Pakistan if it failed to cooperate with the US in the fight against terror. — PTI

09:54  BJP minister calls Pak ‘chhutputiya desh’. (No, it’s not a gaali):  Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan belittled Pakistan by calling it a ‘chhutputiya desh’ (small country).

Taking part in a question and answer session at the ANI-organised India Infracon 2018 here on Tuesday, the Union Minister criticised Pakistan for indulging in frequent anti-India activities across the border.

“Pakistan is a small country whether it is Pakistan or China our forces are capable of replying them (Pakistan chutputiya desh hai. Our forces will give an apt reply. Pakistan ho ya China humare forces sakshmam he),” Pradhan said.

Dharmendra Pradhan further averred that Pakistan does not serve friendly relations with any country. “Pakistan is not a country which deserves friendly relations with any country. Some people want talks, we did that initially with all honesty, but Pakistan is now crossing all limits,” added Pradhan.

Recently, Pakistan backed terrorists attacked on an army camp in Sunjwan area of Jammu on February 10. — ANI

09:18  Pakistan-backed terrorists to continue attacks inside India: US:  

America’s intelligence chief today warned that Pakistan-supported terrorist groups would continue to carry out attacks inside India, thus risking escalation of tension between the two neighbours.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ remarks came days after a group of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists struck the Sunjuwan Military Camp in Jammu on Saturday, killing seven people including six soldiers.

Pakistan, in fact, will continue to threaten US interests by deploying new nuclear weapons capabilities, maintaining its ties to terrorists, restricting counter-terrorism cooperation, and drawing closer to China, Coats said in his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Militant groups supported by Islamabad will continue to take advantage of their safe haven in Pakistan to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests,” Coats said during the hearing on ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment’ of the US intelligence community.

He said Pakistan’s perception of its eroding position relative to India, reinforced by endemic economic weakness and domestic security issues, almost certainly will exacerbate long-held fears of isolation and drive Islamabad’s pursuit of actions that run counter to US goals for the region.

09:06  Trump slams India for high import tariffs on Harley-Davidson:  

US President Donald Trump today slammed India for a high import tariff on Harley-Davidson motorcycle, calling it “unfair”, even as New Delhi slashed customs duty on imported motorcycles from high-end brands to 50 per cent.

Trump, during a discussion with members of the Congress over steel industry, also threatened to increase the tariff on import of Indian motorcycles to the US.

He said the recent decision of the Indian government to reduce the tariff from 75 per cent to 50 per cent was not enough and asked that it should be reciprocal, as the US imposes “zero tax” on the import of motorcycles.

“We have so many countries where we made a product, they make a product, ..We pay a tremendous tax to get into their countries — motorcycles, Harley Davidson — it goes into a certain country. I won’t mention the fact that it happens to be India, in this case,” Trump said amidst laughter from the audience.

In fact, he also indirectly referred to the recent conversation he had with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this regard.

“And a great gentleman called me from India and he said, we have just reduced the tariff on motorcycles, reduced it down to 50 per cent from 75, and even 100 per cent,” Trump said in an apparent reference to his last week’s conversation with Prime Minister Modi.

“We have — if you are Harley Davidson, you have 50 to 75 per cent tax, tariff to get your motorcycle, your product in.  And yet they sell thousands and thousands of motorcycles, which a lot of people don’t know, from India into the United States. You know what our tax is?  Nothing,” he told the lawmakers and his other Cabinet colleague.

Trump once again pitched for a “reciprocal tax” on countries that he says abuse their trade relationships with the US.

— PTI

08:51  Government approves Rs 15,935 crore plan to buy guns for military:  

In a major decision, the defence ministry today approved capital acquisition proposals worth Rs 15,935 crore which included purchase of 7.40 lakh assault rifles, 5,719 sniper rifles and light machine guns to bolster the strength of the armed forces.

The approval to the proposals come amid increasing hostilities by Pakistan along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir as well as China’s aggressive posturing in several sectors along the nearly 4,000-km-long Sino-India border.

The defence ministry said the DAC chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman cleared capital acquisition proposals which were valued at Rs 15,935 crore.

It said the DAC accorded approval for procurement of 7.4 lakh assault rifles for the three services at an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 crore.

The rifles will be produced in in India under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ category  through both state-run Ordnance Factory Board and private sector.

In a statement, the ministry said “essential quantity” of Light Machine Guns will be through the “fast track” route at an estimated cost of over Rs 1,819 crore, primarily to meet the operational requirement of the troops deployed on the borders.

— PTI

08:29  Delhi sends showcause to Pierce Brosnan over pan masala ad:  

If Hollywood actor Pierce Brosnan does not respond to the showcause notice filed against him by the Delhi governments health department for appearing in a surrogate advertisement for an Indian pan masala brand, the actor could face a fine of Rs 5,000 or two years in prison, or both, said officials.

On Monday, the department issued a notice under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, that bans all kind of direct and indirect advertisements of tobacco products. Additional Director (Health) S K Arora said that the department had received information on the company promoting the surrogate product through different media platforms.

We have issued the notice to Pierce Brosnan through the company, and also reached out to him via social media platforms. If he fails to respond to the notice, he would face punishment of a fine up to Rs 5,000 or two years in prison, said Arora.

The Delhi government argued that areca nut or supari is a cancer-causing agent. The Irish actor has been asked to clarify his position within the next 10 days.

Brosnan, 63, had earlier said his contract stated that he was to advertise a breath freshener/ tooth whitener andthat he was shocked by the deceptive use of his image in the pan masala brands advertisement.

08:01  Pakistan okays law to ban Hafiz Saeed and other UN-listed terrorists:  

Keen to avert international sanctions, Pakistan has quietly amended its anti-terror laws to include Hafiz Saeed-linked Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation and other terrorist outfits on the list of UN proscribed groups, a media report said.

A major impact of a new ordinance promulgated by Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain would be the proscription of Saeed-linked JuD and FIF along with the UN listed outfits of Al Akhtar Trust and Al Rashid Trust, Dawn newspaper reported.

Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, heads the charity JuD, believed to be a front for Lashkar-e-Tayiba terror group.

The move to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 ends an old discrepancy between the UN sanctions list and the national listing of terrorist groups and individuals, the report said.

It has come ahead of the crucial Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris, scheduled to be held from February 18 to 23.

The US and India are spearheading an effort to get Pakistan included in the watchdog’s international money-laundering and terror-financing ‘grey list’, the paper said.

Pakistan was last placed on FATF’s grey list in February 2012 and stayed on it for three years, the report said.

Last week, Pakistan’s National Security Committee had directed the “ministries concerned to complete the few outstanding actions at the earliest”.

— PTI

00:39  Rohingya issue may escalate terrorists’ recruitment: US:   The Rohingya issue in Myanmar and Bangladesh may expand opportunities for recruitment of terrorists, America’s intelligence chief warned on Tuesday.

Some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine and taken refuge in Bangladesh after the country’s military launched a brutal crackdown in August last year after attacks.

“The turmoil resulting from more than 600,000 Rohingyas fleeing Burma (Myanmar) to Bangladesh increases regional tension and may expand opportunities for terrorists’ recruitment in South and Southeast Asia,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Further operations by Burmese security forces against Rohingya insurgents or sustained violence by ethnic Rakhine militias probably would make it difficult to repatriate Burmese from Bangladesh,” Coats said during the hearing on ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment’ of the US intelligence community.

Coats said democracy and human rights in many Southeast Asian countries will remain fragile in 2018 as autocratic tendencies deepen in some regimes and rampant corruption and cronyism undermine democratic values.

Countries in the region will struggle to preserve foreign policy autonomy in the face of Chinese economic and diplomatic coercion, he said.

“The crisis resulting from the exodus of more than 600,000 Rohingyas from Burma to Bangladesh will threaten Burma’s fledgling democracy, increase the risk of violent extremism and provide openings for Beijing to expand its influence,” Coats said.

Cambodian leader Hun Sen will repress democratic institutions and civil society, manipulate government and judicial institutions and use patronage and political violence to guarantee his rule beyond the 2018 national election.

Having alienated Western partners, Hun Sen will rely on Beijing’s political and financial support, drawing Cambodia closer to China as a result, he said.

“In the Philippines, President (Rodrigo) Duterte will continue to wage his signature campaign against drugs, corruption and crime. Duterte has suggested he could suspend the Constitution, declare a ‘revolutionary government’ and impose nationwide martial law,” Coats said.

His declaration of martial law in Mindanao, responding to the ISIS-inspired siege of Marawi city, has been extended through the end of 2018, he said.

“Thailand’s leaders have pledged to hold elections in late 2018, but the new Constitution will institutionalise the military’s influence,’ Coats told lawmakers.

On Afghanistan, he said that the overall situation in the war-torn country will deteriorate modestly this year. — PTI

Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

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