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Briefing :- 12/10/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 12th of October, 2017 :-

1. U.S. withdraws from UNESCO over ‘anti-Israel bias’ :-

The United States announced on Thursday that it is withdrawing from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO, accusing the body of “anti-Israel bias.”

“The United States would be withdrawing UN’s cultural and educational agency, effective December 31,” State Department said in a statement.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the State Department said.

“The United States would seek to “remain engaged …as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise,” the statement added.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington would establish an “observer mission” to replace its representation at the Paris-based agency.

The UNESCO chief has expressed ‘profound regret’ over US’ withdrawal.

“I deeply regret the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO,” Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO said.

“In 2011, when payment of membership contributions was suspended at the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference, I said I was convinced UNESCO had never mattered as much for the United States, or the United States for UNESCO,” UNESCO Director-General said in a statement.

“Despite the withholding of funding, since 2011, we have deepened the partnership between the United States and UNESCO, which has never been so meaningful,” Bokova said.

Paris-based UNESCO, which began work in 1946, is known for designating World Heritage sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.

The United States had cancelled its substantial budget contribution to 58-member UNESCO in 2011 in protest at a decision to grant the Palestinians full membership.

2. Hafiz Saeed will be released from house arrest if government does not submit evidence :-

Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed’s house arrest will be set aside if the Pakistan government does not submit evidence against him, a top court here has warned.

Saeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief, is under house arrest since January 31.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) yesterday heard a plea against his detention. The interior secretary was supposed to appear before the court along with complete record of the case related to his detention along with four others.

Irked by the absence of the interior secretary during the proceedings, the LHC observed that “no citizen can be detained for an extended period on the basis of merely press clippings”.

“The conduct of the government shows it has no substantial evidence against the petitioners. The detention of the petitioners will be set aside if no concrete evidence is presented before the court,” Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi said.

Another official of the interior ministry accompanied by a deputy attorney general told the court that the secretary could not attend the proceedings due to unavoidable official responsibilities in Islamabad. The law officer sought time to file a reply to the petition.

Justice Naqvi regretted that an army of officers was assigned to protect one government personality but not a single officer was available to assist the court.

Lamenting repeated requests for adjournment, the judge said the law officers wanted courts to stop working.The judge adjourned hearing till October 13.

Saeed’s advocate A K Dogar argued that the government detained the JuD leaders on the basis of apprehensions and hearsay. He said under the law no presumption and assumption could give rise to any apprehension unless it was supported by evidence.

Punjab government had already told the court that activities of JuD leaders, if released, would pose a great threat to public safety and can cause a breach of public order.

Saeed and his four aides – Abdullah Ubaid, Malik Zafar Iqbal, Abdul Rehman Abid and Qazi Kashif Hussain – have been placed under house arrest in Lahore under the anti-terrorism act.

On September 25, the house arrest of Saeed and others was extended for another 30 days by the Punjab government.

The JuD has been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States in June 2014.

The US has announced a $10 million bounty on Saeed’s head for his role in terror activities.

3. Trump set to sign order circumventing Obamacare rules :-

President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Thursday to make it easier for Americans to buy bare-bones health insurance plans and circumvent Obamacare rules, the White House said, but the action faces possible legal challenges.

Stymied in Congress by the failure of Senate Republicans to pass legislation to dismantle Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, Trump’s executive order marks his administration’s latest effort to undermine the 2010 law without action by lawmakers.

Trump was due to sign the order at a ceremony scheduled for 11:15 a.m. (1515 GMT).

“This is the beginning of the actions the administration will take to provide relief to Americans,” Andrew Bremberg, director of Trump’s Domestic Policy Council, told reporters.

Bremberg said Trump still hopes Congress will pass legislation repealing and replacing Obamacare, formally called the Affordable Care Act.

The order instructs the labor secretary to consider steps that would make it easier for small businesses to band together as associations across state lines to buy cheaper health plans that would be exempt from some Obamacare requirements.

Those requirements include the mandate that all health plans cover 10 essential health benefits, including maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, and mental health and addiction treatment.

The order also instructs the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury to change an Obama-era limit on the time span people can use short-term health insurance plans, which are cheaper but cover few medical benefits. Those plans are currently limited to three months.

Republicans, despite controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, have failed since Trump took office in January to make good on their seven-year promise to repeal Obamacare, which they have called a government intrusion into Americans’ healthcare.

Experts questioned whether Trump has the legal authority to expand association health plans.

The action could open Trump to legal challenges from Democratic state attorneys general, who have said they will sue Trump if he tries to destroy Obamacare, a law that brought health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans.

Experts said the association health plans could attract young, healthy people and leave a sicker, more expensive patient pool in the individual insurance markets created under Obamacare, driving up premiums and effectively eroding the law’s protection for those with pre-existing conditions.

Conservative groups and lawmakers have cheered Trump’s order. Republican Senator Rand Paul, who said he worked with Trump for months on the order, opposed the Senate’s most recent attempt to overhaul Obamacare because he said it left too many of Obamcare’s regulations and spending programs in place.

Trump has taken a number of steps since assuming power in January to weaken or undermine Obamacare. He has not committed to making billions of dollars of payments to insurers guaranteed under Obamacare, prompting many to exit the individual market or hike premiums for 2018.

The administration also halved the open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1, and slashed the Obamacare advertising and outreach budget.

4. North Korea says Trump has ‘lit the wick of war’: Russian media :-

US President Donald Trump has “lit the wick of war” with North Korea and his country will be made to pay with “a hail of fire”, a Russian news agency quoted North Korea’s foreign minister as saying on Wednesday.

Tensions between North Korea and the United States have risen in recent weeks over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

North Korea has test-fired several missiles and conducted what it said was a test explosion of a hydrogen bomb as it advances toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.

Speaking to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said his country’s nuclear program guaranteed peace and safety in the region and would not be a matter of discussion.

“With his bellicose and insane statement at the United Nations, Trump, you can say, has lit the wick of a war against us,” TASS quoted Ri as saying. “We need to settle the final score, only with a hail of fire, not words.”

Ri has previously called Trump “President Evil” and his comments are likely to fuel an escalating war of words between the U.S. President and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We have almost reached the last point on the journey towards our final goal – to achieve a real balance of power with the United States,” he said.

“Our principal position is that we will never agree to any talks in which our nuclear weapons will be the subject of negotiations.”

5. Clarify intentions by next week, Spain tells Catalan President :-

Spain today gave Catalonia’s separatist leader until next week to clarify whether he intends to push ahead with independence, warning that Madrid would take control of the region if it insisted on breaking away.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent Catalan secession following a banned referendum in the region, which remains deeply divided over independence.

He held an emergency cabinet meeting after Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont announced yesterday that he had accepted the mandate for “Catalonia to become an independent state.”

Rajoy told lawmakers in Madrid he was giving Puigdemont until Monday to decide if he really wanted to take the path of independence.

“It is very important that Puigdemont clarify for the rest of Spaniards if he declared independence yesterday or not,” he said.

Rajoy said if Puigdemont did push ahead with secession, the central government would give him until October 19 to reconsider, before suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy.

The deadline sets the clock ticking on Spain’s most serious political emergency since its return to democracy four decades ago.

World leaders are watching closely and uncertainty over the fate of the region of 7.5 million people has damaged business confidence, with several listed firms already moving their legal headquarters to Madrid.

Puigdemont said the referendum had given him a mandate for independence but immediately asked regional lawmakers to suspend the declaration to allow for negotiations with the central government.

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