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Eight killed in truck

crash in central India


A speeding truck driver on

Wednesday crashed into a tea stall in central

India, killing eight people and injuring four others

in a horror accident that sparked angry clashes,

police said. Police said the driver lost control of the

vehicle at high speed, careering into the roadside

eatery and nearby homes in Jabalpur district of

Madhya Pradesh state. District deputy inspector

general of police B.S. Chouhan said eight bodies

were recovered at the scene. Hundreds of angry

residents descended on the accident site, pelting

stones at police and torching a patrol car, Chouhan

said. Reinforcements were called to restore order,

he added. Last week a truck driver was killed in a

neighboring district after he rammed into a house,

injuring six. India has a grim record in road safety,

with nearly 150,000 people killed in 2016, according

to government data. Authorities say an estimated 30

percent of Indian driving licenses are fake.

Gunmen kill 5 police in attack

on South Africa police station


Gunmen killed six people

in an attack on a police station in a small South

African town on Wednesday, stealing quantities

of weapons and a vehicle in what police were

treating as a robbery. Five police officers and an

off-duty soldier were killed in the attack in Nqcobo,

about 800 km southeast of Johannesburg, police

spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said. “This

incident happened in the early hours of the morning

when armed robbers, or what we suspect is armed

robbers, entered the station, randomly opened fire

on the police officers on duty,” Naidoo told eNCA

news channel.

The gunmen also shot a bystander who turned out

to be a off-duty soldier as they fled in a stolen police

vehicle, Naidoo said. South Africa’s police minister,

Fikile Mbalula, called the attack a national tragedy.

“The killing of our law enforcement officers robs us

of dedicated servants of our people whose only sin

was to serve and protect,” Mbalula said on Twitter.

US-Russia ties will be

hard to repair: Moscow


Moscow on Wednesday said it

would be “very difficult” to improve US-Russia

relations, which have plummeted to Cold War lows

on accusations of election meddling and crises in

Syria and Ukraine. Deputy foreign minister Sergei

Ryabkov accused the US of trying to meddle in

Russia’s internal affairs ahead of a presidential

election next month, after Washington indicted 13

Russians for an alleged covert effort to interfere

in 2016 US polls. “Paradoxically, the Americans

are taking steps toward meddling in our internal

affairs and exacerbating tensions in bilateral

relations ahead of the presidential election” in

Russia on March 18, Ryabkov told the news agency

Interfax. “Despite this, they continue — without any

foundation or proof — to reproach us for apparently

interfering in their electoral process,” he said. “Of

course we in Moscow regret all of this,” he said.

Philippines gives Aussie life

sentence for child trafficking


A Philippine court has sentenced an

Australian man to life imprisonment after finding him

guilty on human trafficking and child pornography

charges. Drew Frederick Shobbrook, 51, listened

quietly as the verdict was read in a court in Cebu

city on Tuesday. Footage shot by local broadcaster

ABS-CBN of the proceedings showed Leslie Ann

Fernandez, a Philippine national co-accused in the

case, crying next to Shobbrook. Both were arrested

during a 2013 operation in which 15 girls were

rescued by Philippine authorities. According to the

International Justice Mission, a global organization

that partners with local authorities to fight human

trafficking and child sexual abuse, the accused used

the girls for pornographic images and videos that

he then distributed online. The girls also testified

that he offered them to other foreigners for sexual

exploitation, according to the IJM.

Life in jail for US man who

killed Lebanese neighbor

CHICAGO, Illinois —

An Oklahoma man convicted

of the hate-motivated killing of his Lebanese

American neighbor was sentenced on Tuesday to

life in prison without parole. Stanley Majors was

convicted earlier this month of first-degree murder

for fatally shooting his next-door neighbor in the city

of Tulsa, because of his hatred of the neighbor’s

Lebanese descent. Khalid Jabara, 37, was killed

on the front porch of his family home in August

2016, just minutes after calling police to report that

his threatening neighbor had a gun. Majors had

tormented the Jabara family for years, according

to prosecutors, calling them “dirty Arabs,” “filthy

Lebanese” and “Mooslems.” The Jabaras are

Christian and had fled Lebanon’s civil war decades

ago to avoid religious persecution.

Rash of forest fires

breaks out in Indonesia

PEKANBARU, Indonesia —

Indonesia was battling

a rash of forest fires on Wednesday as it raised an

alert over the blazes which occur every year and

emit choking smog that can envelop neighboring

Singapore and Malaysia. Fires have broken out

in four provinces — South Sumatra, Riau, West

Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan —prompting

them to declare “alert emergency” status, one

notch below the most severe warning. Hundreds of

hectares of land have been destroyed over the past

week and the government is stepping up efforts

to contain the fires. The blazes are frequently

deliberately set by farmers using fire to clear land for


— Agencies

French ‘repressive’ migration

bill divides Macron’s Cabinet


The French government

was set to unveil a tough new im-

migration bill on Wednesday that is

proving one of the most divisive of

Emmanuel Macron’s young presi-


The legislation, which crimi-

nalizes illegal border crossings and

aims for quicker deportation of

those deemed economic migrants,

has sparked widespread anger from

NGOs who have branded it repres-


The government says the law bal-

ances “efficiency” with “humanity”,

offering faster asylum to refugees

found to have fled conflict or repres-


But it has opened divisions in the

left-right coalition that newcomer

Macron set up when he came to pow-

er in May, with even some members

of his Republic On The Move (LREM)

party breaking ranks to criticize it.

“The most vulnerable will be pun-

ished,” said Jean-Michel Clement,

a lawmaker who joined the centrist

LREM after switching from the So-


“It’s not forbidden to put a little

humanity into a draft law.”

Some workers at France’s refugee

protection office Ofpra were going on

strike to protest the bill on Wednes-

day, branding it “an unequivocal de-

parture from France’s tradition of


They join staff at the asylum court

who have been on strike for nine days

over their working conditions, with

immigration lawyers also raising con-

cerns over aspects of the draft law.

French President Emmanuel Macron smiles as he visits the mediatheque and

receives the report about libraries in France, during a visit to Les Mureaux on



Hard Brexit faction in UK’s ruling

party seeks clean break from EU


More than 60 Con-

servative lawmakers have written

to Theresa May demanding a quick,

clean break from the European

Union, adding pressure on the prime

minister before her ministers meet to

decide Britain’s negotiating position.

Members of the hardline Euro-

pean Research Group, a faction in her

Conservative Party, wrote the letter

days ago and have been adding sig-

natures to bolster demands for Brit-

ain to toughen its position in talks to

unravel more than 40 years of union.

The letter adds to an increasingly

divisive and angry debate over Brit-

ain’s future relationship with the EU.

Anti-EU campaigners are concerned

that those calling for the closest pos-

sible ties will force a Brexit in name


“It’s to strengthen the govern-

ment’s position, because the EU will

read the letter,” Andrew Bridgen, a

Conservative lawmaker and member

of the ERG, told Reuters.

Pro-EU and pro-Brexit campaign-

ers often send letters to May to air

their views. But the timing of this let-

ter — circulated widely, and which

Bridgen has confirmed — is no sur-


May will meet her top ministers

at her country residence on Thurs-

day. They will try come up with a final

version of her government’s approach

to possibly the most difficult phase of

the negotiations — settling on a tran-

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa

May leaves 10 Downing street for

the weekly Prime Minister Question

(PMQ) session in the House of Com-

mons in London on Wednesday.


The bill will be presented to the

cabinet Wednesday before being ta-

bled in parliament in April.

While left-wingers see it as too

punitive the right have labeled it too


Macron has come under pressure

to toughen his stance after winning

power in an election in which far-

right leader Marine Le Pen won 34

percent of the vote, capitalizing on

concerns over immigration.

The infamous “Jungle” migrant

camp in Calais was razed in 2016 but

young Africans and South Asians

continue to head to the coast hoping

to stow away on trucks crossing to

Britain, while others are camped out

on the streets of Paris.

France received a record 100,000

asylum applications last year.

Liberation newspaper noted that

while polls showed voters backing

tougher laws the relocation of thou-

sands of migrants to towns and villag-

es nationwide in 2016 went off largely

without hitch.

“The French say they are worried,

wary and want conservative migra-

tion policies. But once they get to

know refugees they also want them to

be welcomed,” the paper wrote in an


NGOs have lashed out in particu-

lar at plans to double the time asylum

seekers can be held in detention to 90

days and halve the amount of the time

they have to appeal if turned down for

refugee status.

“We’re asking for it to be with-

drawn,” the Cimade migrants’ charity

said of the bill.

“We’re not even in favor of fight-

ing for changes to the bill, because

the philosophy behind it is just too


The government has defended the

bill as “balanced” and said it is con-

sidering proposals on how to better

integrate newcomers, including dou-

bling the number of hours of French

lessons they get and allowing asylum

seekers to work.

The bill also aims to cut the aver-

age waiting time on asylum applica-

tions from 11 months to six, although

staff at the asylum court have raised

concerns that the tighter turnaround

on cases will make it more difficult to


A heated parliamentary debate

last week on a separate law on taking

in “Dublin” migrants — those whose

asylum claims are registered in other

EU countries —provided a taste of

how the issue has split Macron back-


The government has already had

to abandon a controversial proposal

to deport failed asylum-seekers to a

third country deemed “safe”.

Plans by Interior Minister Gerard

Collomb to carry out immigration

checks in homeless shelters have also

come under fire in recent weeks.


sition phase and final agreement.

The group of 62 lawmakers de-

manded a tougher approach in a num-

ber of areas, including “full regulatory

autonomy” outside the EU and the

ability to start negotiating trade deals


They represent less than a fifth of

the 316 Conservative members of par-

liament, but after May lost her parlia-

mentary majority in a snap election

last year, she cannot afford to alienate

them, and she has been wary of set-

ting out too many details of the gov-

ernment’s negotiating position.

The EU wants May to clarify how

she sees Britain’s future relation-

ship with the bloc. It is pressing for

a status-quo transition period, which

Brexit campaigners fear will see Brit-

ain subject to new EU laws that could

threaten the status of London’s finan-

cial center.

They want a veto over any news

rules or regulations and the ability to

change British laws without autho-

rization from Brussels from the mo-

ment the country formally leaves the

EU on March 29 next year.

The EU says Britain cannot un-

dercut tax, labor or other standards

and must ensure a level playing field

during a transition.

Some Brexit campaigners also

want to make sure that a future free-

trade agreement is locked in while

Britain continues to pay the EU dur-

ing the transition phase.

The debate will come to a head on

Thursday when May will host senior

ministers to try to broker an agree-

ment. She is then expected to set out

her plans in a speech in the next cou-

ple of weeks, before formal trade talks

begin in March.

— Reuters


block only

road to NZ

town after

big storm



blocked the only road to a small New

Zealand town on Wednesday after a

powerful Pacific storm caused disrup-

tions across parts of the country.

The 1,000 tourists and 5,000 locals

in Takaka are not entirely trapped, but

would have to use a boat, helicopter

or small plane to leave town now or

wait a week or more before the road is

cleared and repaired.

The storm that hit late Tuesday

was the remnants of Cyclone Gita,

which last week ripped through the

Pacific nation of Tonga, destroying

homes, churches and the historic Par-

liament House.

The winds weakened as the storm

moved on an arc through the Pacific.

But the heavy rains were enough to

cause disruptions in New Zealand,

although the country escaped major


Tasman District Mayor Richard

Kempthorne said the main concern

was ensuring Takaka had enough fuel

and food.

He said he’d been working with

civil defense authorities to ensure

supplies were being brought in by


The town is at the north end of

South Island and is near Abel Tasman

National Park, popular for its hiking

and stunning beaches. Kempthorne

said people in Takaka remained in

good spirits.

“They’re holding up fine, they’re

quite resilient and self-sufficient,” he


He said about 80 people from the

nearby town of Riwaka had evacuated

overnight due to fears their homes

would be flooded. Some had been

asked to leave by New Zealand’s mili-


Several places declared an emer-

gency as the storm hit, although most

were spared major damage.

National carrier Air New Zealand

has canceled some flights since Tues-

day afternoon from the capital, Wel-

lington, and was working through the

backlog Wednesday.

The city of Christchurch asked

residents to keep showers short and

delay washing clothes as the city’s

wastewater system came under pres-

sure from rain water.

Dozens of schools were closed

and power outages were continuing to

affect thousands of homes.

The weather on Wednesday was

sunny and calm in most places as the

stormmoved away fromNew Zealand.

“The weather is really nice now,”

Kempthorne said. “You wouldn’t

believe what we had yesterday. I

mean, apart from damage that’s been


— AP

Philippine asks court to declare

communist groups as terrorists


Justice officials asked a

court Wednesday to formally desig-

nate the Communist Party of the Phil-

ippines and its armed wing, the New

People’s Army, as terrorist groups in

a move that could further damage

chances of a resumption of stalled

peace talks.

In a petition before a Manila re-

gional court, the Department of Justice

cited deadly attacks and violence com-

mitted by the insurgents, including

bloody internal purges of suspected

military spies, in seeking the proscrip-

tion of the groups behind one of Asia’s

longest-raging communist insurgency.

President Rodrigo Duterte re-

sumed peace talks with the guerril-

las after he rose to power in 2016. He

granted concessions by appointing

three left-wing activists to his Cabinet,

but the cordial relations rapidly dete-

riorated when he protested continuing

rebel assaults on troops and police-


Last year, he canceled Norwegian-

brokered talks with the guerrillas and

signed an order declaring the rebel

groups as terrorist organizations in

a prelude to his government’s formal

move on Wednesday.

Senior assistant state prosecutor

Peter Ong said the guerrillas were in-

sincere in their talks with the govern-

ment and only wanted to grab power.

“Their main purpose is to mobilize

all their forces in preparation for the

‘people’s war’ aimed at overthrowing

the duly constituted authorities,” ac-

cording to the justice department peti-

tion, adding that the rebels wanted to

impose “a totalitarian regime.”

If approved by the court, the pro-

scription could serve as a legal weap-

on and basis for the government in

securing court clearances to put rebel

leaders and fighters under surveil-

lance and freeze their bank accounts

and assets, Ong said. Companies pay-

ing the so-called “revolutionary taxes”

to the rebels could be questioned even

though the military said such extortion

demands have been done by coercion.

The volatile Philippine president

has variously been hard line and soft

on the guerrillas, but his most recent

threats have been ruthless.

Human rights groups condemned

him last week for saying that troops

should shoot female communist rebels

in the genitals to render them “use-

less.” Duterte has offered bounties to

encourage government forces to kill

the insurgents and on Monday sug-

gested they could decapitate the reb-


“No need to bring me the body.

Bring me the head, put it in a Styro-

foam, show it to me,” he said.

But in the same speech, he showed

openness to resume peace talks, saying

Norwegian officials flew to the Philip-

pines to explore the possibility of a

resumption of the peace talks. “I have

to consult my military people. Why?

They’re the ones being killed not me,”

Duterte said. “I said, ‘I will talk to the

military. If you would agree, I might.’“

The communist rebel organiza-

tions are the second to be targeted by

the Philippine government for pro-

scription under a seldom-used 2007

anti-terrorism law. In 2015, a court ap-

proved a similar petition against the

brutal Abu Sayyaf extremist group,

which has also been blacklisted as

such by the United States for kidnap-

pings, beheadings and bombings.

The communist rebellion has

raged for nearly half a century and left

about 40,000 combatants and civilians

dead. It also has stunted economic

development, especially in the coun-

tryside, where the military says about

3,700 Maoist insurgents are still wag-

ing a guerrilla war.