US says Assad’s overthrow no longer a priority

While acknowledging the Syrian president is a ‘hindrance’ to peace, US ambassador to UN says he is no longer the focus.


by Al Jazeera

The United States has said that it is no longer focused on ousting President Bashar al-Assad as it seeks a new strategy to end Syria’s civil war.

American officials have been shifting away from their former insistence that he must go for some time, but now they have made it explicit.

In New York on Thursday, the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley condemned Assad’s history of human rights abuses against his own people.

But she said Washington would focus on working with powers like Turkey and Russia to seek a political settlement, rather than focusing on Assad.

“You pick and choose your battles,” Haley told reporters.

“And when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out.”

Shortly after Haley briefed a small group of journalists, US officials tried to clarify her comments.

A US mission official told Al Jazeera that while the US does not believe that Assad is a legitimate leader of Syria, his future is not the country’s only concern.

The official said the US is also very interested in trying to create the conditions so that the Syrian people themselves can pick their new government, one without Assad.

Other objectives of the US in Syria are to get rid of the threat from ISIL and to curb Iranian influence, the official said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also addressed the future of Assad at a news conference in Turkey.

“I think the… longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,” Tillerson said, standing alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The comment reflected language long used by Assad’s ally Russia, whose assistance Washington is courting.

Opposition angered

The Syrian opposition, whose cooperation will be needed in any negotiated solution, reacted furiously to the US shift in stance.

“The opposition will never accept any role for Bashar al-Assad at any phase,” said Monzer Makhos, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, which represents the opposition in negotiations over Syria’s war.

“There will be no change in our position,” he warned.

Under Barack Obama’s administration, the US made Assad’s departure a key goal, but new president Donald Trump has put the accent on defeating the Islamic State of Iraq of the Levant group, known as ISIL or ISIS.

“Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done? Who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria,” Haley said.

“We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way the previous administration maybe did. Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes,” she said.

“Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No.”

Previously, the United States has stuck by a UN-backed peace plan that would see Assad “transition” from office while an interim government is formed.

Tillerson is due in Moscow next month for talks with Russian leaders, and Trump has long argued the powers should work together against ISIL.

US-backed forces are closing in on the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, laying the groundwork for an assault on the city.

Numerous diplomatic efforts have failed to end the Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 320,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011.

A fifth round of UN-sponsored peace talks is taking place in Geneva but no breakthrough has been reported and they are scheduled to end on Friday.

Ashwin, Vijay set to miss IPL 10

Ravichandran Ashwin

New Delhi: India Test regulars Ravichandran Ashwin and Murali Vijay, who represent Rising Pune Supergiant and Kings XI Punjab respectively, will reportedly miss the tenth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) due to injuries.

According to a report in Wisden India, both Ashwin and Vijay will miss the entire tournament.

Ravindra Jadeja, who was man of the series in the just concluded Test series against Australia and fast bowler Umesh Yadav may also give the initial stages of the T20 league a miss.

Even Lokesh Rahul, who finished as the second highest scorer in the Border-Gavaskar series, is out of the IPL.

“Yes I have been ruled out of the IPL, don’t want to get into the details at this point. You will get an official word from the Royal Challengers Bangalore,” Rahul, who plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), told

Rahul is expected to go to London soon to undergo surgery.

Rahul first injured his shoulder during the Test series against England, not fully recovering while playing in the series against Australia.

India and RCB skipper Virat Kohli will also miss the initial matches of the cash-rich league after he picked up a shoulder injury during the third Test in Ranchi.

RCB will open their campaign against defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 5.


Girls of residential school forced to strip by Principal

Girls school strip

Muzaffarnagar: A group of girls at a residential school here were allegedly threatened and forced to strip by the Principal, following which an inquiry has been ordered into the incident.

According to a complaint filed by the parents of the victims, the students of Kasturba Gandhi Residential School at Digri village were Thursday forced to strip by the Principal.

The Principal allegedly threatened the students of dire consequences if they disobeyed her command, District Primary Education Officer Chander Kesh Yadav said.

An enquiry has been ordered, he said.

“There was no teacher around. We were called downstairs (from the hostel). Madam made us take off our clothes saying she will beat us if we did not. We are kids, what could we do? She would have beaten us if we did not obey her,” one of the students said.

The Principal, however, has denied the allegations.

“No one asked them to remove clothes. All this is a conspiracy by the staff because they do not want me to stay here. I had been asked to check whether the staff were performing their duties. I am strict, that is why they hate me,” she said.

Meanwhile, 35 out of the total 65 students of the school left after the reports of harassment by the Principal surfaced.

Many students have come forward with similar allegation, Yadav said, adding the matter is being probed.


Around The Cities

Photo illustration of logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone over a reserved lane for taxis in a street in Madrid

Uber, the ride sharing app that is transforming mobility across the world, recently introduced the Uber Lost & Found India Index, a list of the most frequently, and most surprisingly “lost & found” items by Uber riders in India. Besides this, the index also includes highlights like the cities most prone to forgetfulness, which days of the week Uber riders tend to be most forgetful, et al.

“Everyone has experienced that moment of panic when you realize you forgot a personal item on a plane, bus, train, and in many cases, your Uber. To acknowledge Uber’s most forgetful riders, and to prepare for Mercury falling into Retrograde in just over a week, we’ve created “The Uber Lost & Found Index.” Through this data and rider insight backed index, we want to bring the riders attention to the options available to them in case they lose something in an Uber, in a fun & playful manner. And I think it is specifically important for our riders in Bengaluru, given that Bengaluru has emerged as the most forgetful city in India,” – said, Christian Freese, General Manager, Bengaluru, Uber India

Here’s a quick guide for riders looking for “Lost Items”: Tap “Your Trips” and select the trip where you left something. Tap “I lost an item.” Tap “Contact my driver about a lost item.” Scroll down and enter the phone number you would like to be contacted at. Tap submit. If you lost your personal phone, enter a friend’s phone number instead. Your phone will ring & connect you directly with your driver’s mobile number. If your driver picks up and confirms that your item has been found, coordinate a mutually convenient time & place to meet for its return to you. If you are unable to connect with the driver, use “in. – app support” to report the loss and Uber Support Team will step in to help you.

As per the index, phones & rings are the 2 most commonly forgotten items, along with chargers & sunglasses. Surprisingly, there have been instances of riders have also left behind bullet – proof vests, potted plants, to pool sticks & kites, and even puppies.

Below is the snapshot of insights from Uber Lost & Found India Index: Most forgetful Indian Cities: Bengaluru, New Delhi, Mumbai,
Hyderabad, Kolkata et al.

Most common days to report items as lost (in India): Saturday, Friday & Sunday.

Most forgetful day in 2016 (days maximum items were reported as lost in India): 31st Dec, 2016, 11th Dec, 2016, 27th Nov. 2016 & 12th Dec, 2016.

Most forgetful week in 2016 (week maximum items were reported as lost in India): Week of 26th Dec, 2016, Week of 19th Dec, 2016,  Week of 21st Nov, 2016, Week of 12th Dec, 2016 & Week of 5th Dec, 2016.

Most forgetful month in 2016 (month maximum items were reported as lost in India): Dec, 2016,

Most Unique Items Forgotten in Ubers in India: Cheque worth 15 Lakhs, Keyboard,
Puppies, Expensive watch, Expensive footwear, Liquor bottles, Wooden Planks, Cabbage, Grocery Bags & Cricket Bats.

Most Common Items Forgotten in Ubers in India: Phone, Ring, Keys, Wallet, Hats & Caps, Purse &  Bags, License & I’d Cards,
Dongles, Charger & Sunglasses.

For more information on the global trends & insights from Uber Lost & Found Index, you can check out their blog: here’s the link to the blog on the Uber Lost & Found India Index:

Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our app, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders & more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in hundreds of cities till this date, Uber’s rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people & their cities closer. Today Uber is available in 450+ cities across 73 countries. The service is available in 29 Indian cities — more than any other country outside the United States & China.

Gujarat amends law against cow slaughter, raises penalty to life term


Gandhinagar: The Gujarat Assembly on Friday cleared a tough amendment to the law against cow slaughter in the state, increasing the punishment for such slaughter to life imprisonment.

The older law, amended in 2011, stipulated that cow slaughter would lead to a maximum jail sentence of seven years.

The amended law also increases penalty for the offence from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh, said NDTV.

The Gujarat Animal Preservation Act of 1954 also says the punishment for transporting of cows will be 10 years in jail.

This is the toughest law against cow slaughter in the country, NDTV reported.


SC refuses urgent hearing on Babri Masjid land dispute case


New Delhi: The Supreme Court today refused to accord an early hearing on a batch of civil appeals pertaining to the Ayodhya Ram Temple-Babri Masjid case.

During the hearing, a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar told BJP leader Subramanian Swamy that the court was made to believe that he was a party to the ongoing litigation.

This had led to the Chief Justice of India offering to mediate between the parties to the litigation, the court said.

“You did not tell us that you were not a party to the case, we only got to know that from the press,” the bench said.

Swamy, however, said that he had made it clear that he was on the issue of his Fundamental Right to worship.

“My Right to Pray is affected by the pending case and I had filed an intervening application,” Swamy said.

The bench then said that it was not going to fast track the matter.

Earlier on March 21 the apex court had suggested an out-of-court settlement to the lingering Ram Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid land dispute at Ayodhya, observing that issues of “religion and sentiments” can be best resolved through talks.

Chief Justice Khehar had also offered to mediate even as the bench headed by him suggested that the parties to the dispute adopt a “give a bit and take a bit” approach for a meaningful and sincere negotiations to resolve the vexatious issue.

The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court had in 2010 ruled for a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres area at the site in Uttar Pradesh.

The three-judge bench, by a majority of 2:1, had said the land be partitioned equally among three parties, Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the ‘Ram Lalla’.

On February 26 last year, the apex court had allowed Swamy to intervene in the pending matters relating to the Ayodhya title dispute with his plea seeking construction of Ram temple at the site of the demolished disputed structure.

The BJP leader had moved the plea for a direction to allow construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya at the disputed site and claimed that under the practices prevalent in Islamic countries, a mosque could be shifted to any other place for public purposes like constructing A road, whereas a temple once constructed cannot be touched.

He had also sought directions to expedite the disposal of several petitions challenging the Allahabad High Court verdict of three-way division of the disputed site at Ayodhya on September 30, 2010.

The dispute before the court was whether the 2.7 acres of disputed land on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on December 6, 1992, belongs to the Sunni Central Waqf Board or to the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha.



SC allows candidates above 25 yrs of age to appear in 2017 NEET exam


New Delhi: The Supreme Court today relaxed the age limit and allowed candidates above 25 years of age to appear in the NEET examinations 2017.

The bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra also extended the last date of filling up the forms till April 5.

It said that the age limit can be fixed from the next academic year. The CBSE had fixed the age limit as 25 years for the candidates.

The bench was hearing a plea challenging the age limit fixed by the CBSE for candidates appearing for NEET 2017 examination.


An appeal to our readers to help a veteran journalist in need

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This is to inform to all concerned that our Entertainment Editor Shaheen Raaj aged 65 has recently suffered 2 major tragedies.

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15 days ago he had a fall from a first-floor spiral staircase and fractured his right forearm. And last Friday midnight he suffered a paralysis on the left side of his body.

Right now he is in a private hospital in Virar. He will have to undergo treatment for both at least for a month and then complete bed rest for 3 months. The total expected cost is about Rs. 1 lakh. So here is an ardent appeal to help him out in this hour of crises.

Shaheen Raaj is a senior film Journalist serving the film industry since last 40 years. He was in Bangalore for 10 years and now he is settled in Mumbai.

Those willing to donate, please send your donation to the following account:

Allahabad Bank (Virar Branch)
A/c Holder’s Name: Shaheen Raaj
A/c No: 50300412105
IFS Code: ALLA0212893

Mukta A2 Cinemas introduces “The Return of Classics” For Its Audiences

Mukta A2 Cinemas

The “Classics” have enthralled audiences for decades. Such is the power of “Classics” that the youth happens to be familiar with the popular cast & dialogues even when they haven’t seen the movies completely. Old classics coupled with today’s technology have largely been considered as a treat to the eyes, by audiences around the country.

Keeping the love of “Classics” in mind, Mukta A2 Cinemas – one of India’s most reputed & esteemed film banner is charging ahead to bring back these super hits from the era by gone on the celluloid silver screen. They will do this through a specially curated segment with shows. To bring back memories of the old days of Matinee shows in big single screens, they would be screening all the movies at New Excelsior Mukta A2 Cinemas, one of the heritage theaters in Mumbai.

The era of the “Classics” and the much -loved movies of the past will begin on Sunday noon every week from 9th Apr, 2017. The “Classics” campaign will begin with the dance & music extravaganza Taal that will be shown at New Excelsior Mukta A2 Cinemas in Mumbai.

Speaking about the re – showcasing of Taal, Subhash Ghai averred, “Even though you have watched evergreen films like Taal, Karz, Saudagar, Karma, Pardes a 100 times on the small screen, you can experience the same motion pictures on the largest screen of India in New Excelsior Mukta A2 Cinema.”

He continues, “Get mesmerized by the visuals & reverberating sound of dance & music of Taal to begin with on 9th Apr, 2017 noon show. I bet you will love it more than ever before.”

Speaking on the launch of “Classic” films, Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts Ltd averred, “Our endeavor with this property is to bring back some of the greatest movies from the pre -millennium era and inviting cinema lovers to relive their magic on India’s biggest cinema screen. We believe that our audience has shown an inclination towards re – living the glory of “Classic” films on the celluloid silver screen, and with this property we will showcase hits like Taal and other “Classic” films over the next few months at our New Excelsior Mukta A2 Cinema.”

The popular chain of cinemas understands the changing needs of its audiences and aims to deliver the movies by also adding value to the legacy of one the oldest
theaters around. In addition to acquiring the operations of this heritage theater, MuktaA2 Cinemas aim to bring upgraded on – screen entertainment experience for all the movie buffs by re – releasing many other evergreen classics from the 70s, 80s & 90s.

New Excelsior boasts of the largest cinema screen of 83 feet, with a seating capacity of 596 and with the impact of surround sound to complement each movie’s great music. The theatre is now all set to entertain the movie – goers with its new offerings. Taking a step further, the chain of cinemas will also bring popular films like Karz, Ram Lakhan, Karma, Sholay, Rang De Basanti, Lagaan and many such loved movies to the celluloid silver screen in the near future.

Indian shuttlers shine at India Open

Indian shuttlers

New Delhi: Indian shuttlers enjoyed a successful outing at the India Open 2017 badminton tournament here on Wednesday with most of them sailing through to the second round.

Sameer Verma created one of the biggest upsets of the day when he stunned World No. 5 Son Wan Ho of South Korea 21-17, 21-10.

He found his rhythm early in the first game and did not let the Korean play the attacking strokes that he is known for.

Sameer has now set up a relatively easy clash against Hong Kong’s unseeded player Hu Yun in the second round.

“I am just taking one game at a time, and do not want to be complacent about facing an unseeded opponent. I am just looking forward to tomorrow’s match,” an ecstatic Sameer said after the win.

B. Sai Praneeth, who played against Kento Nishimoto of Japan, had to fight it out for three gruelling games before coming out on top.

The 23-yr-old Indian was surprised by the range of strokes that his opponent had, and had to slow down the pace of the game to unsettle Nishimoto.

“Kento is a tricky opponent. He is a really good player and I had to play my best game to win the match. That’s how difficult it is to win a Super series game,” Praneeth said.

It was however, a routine affair for Kidmabi Srikanth who got the better of his Chinese opponent Jun Peng Zhao 21-19, 21-16 in straight games.

Incidentally, Peng had beaten Srikanth in the opening round of this year’s All England Superseries Premier.

Srikanth is expected to face a tough battle in the next round as he will take on top seeded Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.

In the women’s section, all eyes were on Saina, who is on a comeback spree after a knee injury that she suffered after the Olympics.

The Hyderabadi made short work of Taiwan’s Chia Hsin Lee to clinch a 21-10, 21-17 verdict.

With victory in sight right towards the end of the second game, Saina conceded seven soft points, otherwise the margin of win would have been more convincing.

Saina displayed some calculated movements on the court which proved to be too good for the Taiwan girl.

Another Hyderabad girl P.V. Sindhu brushed aside fellow Indian Arundhati Pantawane 21-17, 21-6.

The third seeded Sindhu proved to be too good for her opponent and did not give her any opening as soon as the second game started.

Earlier in the day, world no. 53 Rituparna Das got the better of Taiwan’s Mei Hui Chiang, and won 19-21, 21-15, 21-19. She will run into top seed Carolina Marin of Spain in the second round.