NATO chief leaves all options open to counter Russia missile


BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has refused to rule out the possibility that the military alliance might adapt its nascent missile defense shield to counter the potential threat posed by a new Russian missile system.

In February, the United States began the 6-month process of withdrawing from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty agreed with the then Soviet Union, insisting that Russia’s SSC-8 missiles contravenes the pact.

The INF treaty will end on August 2 unless Russia changes its mind. NATO defense ministers were meeting Wednesday to weigh their options.

Asked whether NATO might use the multi-billion-dollar shield against Russia’s SSC-8 missiles, Stoltenberg said he would not divulge “exactly what we will do because we are still focused on how we can get Russia back into compliance.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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French Muslim women wear burkinis to the pool as an act of protest


Many stay covered as part of their faith with garments such as hijabs, which cover the head, and burqas, which cover the entire body. So they can’t just throw on a bikini or even a one-piece when they go to a pool.

Some women wear “burkinis,” bathing suits that keep them covered while they swim, leaving their hands, feet and faces bare. But many cities across France have banned them.

To protest the bans, Muslim women from Alliance Citoyenne, a group in Grenoble that advocates for social issues, began going to swimming pools in the suits last month as an act of civil disobedience.

Alliance Citoyenne said that its campaign is inspired by the actions of black Americans during the civil rights movement, specifically the use of civil disobedience like the Montgomery bus boycott.

Seven women went to a pool in Grenoble once last month and once this week. The group plans similar protests every Sunday until the rule is changed, Alliance Citoyenne head organizer Adrien Roux said.

“Civil disobedience of Grenoble Muslim women for public pools that respect freedom of conscience,” the group said in a tweet.

Matthieu Chamussy, a member of the center-right Republican Party, criticized the action on Twitter and asked the mayor of Grenoble what he was doing about it. “New intrusion in swimsuit covering in Grenoble,” he said in a tweet. “The city ruling is no longer applied, political Islam is advancing step by step, the cause of women reversing.”

Grenoble Mayor Eric Piolle later tweeted, “When it comes to equal access of a public service, the role of the state is to pose clear and just rules for everyone. National solidarity is at stake. Refer to the ‘individual dialogue’ the resolution of tensions in territories is ambiguous and fuels fractures.”

It’s not just about pools

Muslim women in France often have difficulty accessing public services because of their hijabs and can’t even accompany their children into schools, Roux said.

This year, the French Senate voted to ban religious symbols on school trips, essentially forbidding mothers who wear headscarves from attending. And now that it’s summer, children want to go to the pool — but they can’t unless a parent is with them, Roux said. If their mothers are Muslim and wear hijabs, they can’t go.

“So they have to deny their religious beliefs and go, or not deny and not go,” he said.

Roux compared keeping covered at a swimming pool to Rosa Parks being able to ride at the front of the Montgomery bus. And he said it’s not just about pools.

“The big question is access to public employment, to certain jobs they are denied” because of religious symbols, he said. “Many cannot be teachers in France and other jobs. This is why it’s important for them.”

A study in January from researchers at Stanford University found that France’s 2004 ban on hijabs, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses in public schools had a negative impact on Muslim girls.

Specifically, it reduced their chances of completing high school and affected their ability to succeed in the labor market long term. Further, the researchers argued that the ban reduced assimilation by “casting religion and national identities as incompatible.”

Veiled women are often turned away from places that aren’t covered under the ban, Roux said. Members of Alliance Citoyenne who were veiled once tried to go bowling but were told they couldn’t enter.

“It’s illegal, but it still happens,” he said.

Fines and threats

Roux said that other pool-goers have generally received the women positively and that some people in Grenoble applauded when they arrived in burkinis.

But when the women got out of the pool, there were two police buses waiting for them, Roux said. The women were fined for their actions this month.

The next day, Roux said, the group received racist comments on Facebook, with people saying they don’t want Muslim women in France.

Two women who spoke to the media even received threats in their mailboxes, Roux said.

“Why this is making a big mess, why these national leaders feel the need to comment about these seven women that went to swim, it’s crazy,” Roux said.

Why is the burkini banned?

France rigorously enforces secularism. Religious symbols aren’t allowed in any publicly owned spaces, like public schools. Even lawmakers aren’t allowed to wear religious symbols.

Secularism, “laïcité” in French, is deeply ingrained in French culture.

Its roots lie in the French Revolution, when the people rose up against the both the monarchy and the rich, including the Catholic clergy. The separation of church and state was made into law in 1905 — almost 100 years after the Revolution.

It’s also about allegiance. Many believe that French identity is a person’s primary identity and that nothing comes before it.

During the 2018 World Cup, comedian and TV host Trevor Noah came under fire from the French ambassador to the United States after suggesting that France’s team, most of whom had African heritage, were African and not just French.

When Muslim women move to France, then, many believe that they are now French and must adopt French customs. And that means leaving the hijab or other coverings at home.

A history of the bans

In 2011, France banned burqas and niqabs, which cover the face, in public spaces. Legislators who supported the law, including then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the garments threatened French secularism and were debasing to women.

In 2016, cities across the country banned burkinis. Officials said the bans were in response to terrorism concerns after a man plowed a 20-ton truck across a busy street in Nice, killing 84 people. Though France’s highest administrative court later ruled that mayors could not ban burkinis, many cities continue to ban the swimsuits.
In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights upheld France’s burqa and niqab ban after two French women were convicted in 2012 for wearing niqabs. Four years later, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said that the ban violates the human rights of Muslim women and risks “confining them to their homes.”



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Apple buys self-driving car startup Drive.ai



Apple Inc on Tuesday confirmed that it has acquired self-driving shuttle firm Drive.ai, reports Trend citing to Reuters.

Technology news website The Information reported earlier this month that the iPhone maker was considering acquiring the firm as a move to bring aboard some of its engineering talent to boost Apple’s own self-driving efforts.

One of hundreds of startups pursuing autonomous vehicles, Drive.ai had been running a small fleet of test shuttles in Texas, The Information reported. But the startup told California regulators that it plans to lay off 90 people in a permanent closure. The San Francisco Chronicle earlier reported the closure.

In Silicon Valley, it is common for larger companies to acquire struggling startups primarily to hire their engineers, a move known in the industry as an “acqui-hire.”

Apple is vying against rivals such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo to develop self-driving vehicles. In the past year, Apple has revamped its efforts, bringing former Tesla Inc engineering chief Doug Field to oversee the operation, which includes more than 5,000 workers.

Apple is also working on key components such as sensors in addition to holding talks with potential suppliers.

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Sustainable business operations are important to 86% of Latvians, with environmental impact most important to younger people


A majority – 86% – of Latvians aged between 18 and 74 find it important that the business in which they are considering investing their money operates sustainably. At the same time, the company’s financial results and reputation are named as the main investment criteria. Meanwhile, preserving the environment is more important to younger people as an investment criterion, according to Citadele Bank subsidiary CBL Asset Management and market research company Norstat’s online public survey.

The presentation of a public survey and panel of experts took place at Citadele Bank, with the goal of determining in what sort of businesses the Latvian public wishes to invest their money whether and how the criteria of the younger and older generations differ, and whether the fact that a business operates responsibly long-term affects the public.

The public survey confirms that the most important criteria for the Latvian public when evaluating whether to invest their money in a company are financial results (as stated by 81% of those surveyed) and the reputation of the business (76% of those surveyed). This is followed by the company’s attitude towards its employees (43%), the reputation of the company’s management and owners (42%), and the company’s popularity and recognisability (36%). Meanwhile, just 14% of respondents indicated that the company’s environmental policy is important to them, and 8% mentioned the company’s donation, sponsorship and support activities.

“The results of the survey show that 86% of the Latvian public find it important that the business they invest in is sustainable. Sustainability includes environmental, social and corporate governance factors. But we see in the public survey that a company’s impact on the environment is more important to younger people. 24% of those aged between 18 and 29 acknowledged this as an important factor. Meanwhile, other age groups saw 11-14% of respondents marking this as important,” explains CBL Asset Management Chairman of the Board Kārlis Purgailis.

He emphasizes that, “the times when people only took financial results into account are long past. Worldwide, investors are giving more weight to a company’s attitude towards the environment and its employees, reputation, governance and other principles of responsible, sustainable operation alongside financial information. The basis for this is both social and financial. First of all, we see what happens to our planet, living conditions, animal diversity and natural resources when businesses don’t act responsibly. Secondly, a company’s sustainable operations have a direct impact on its financial results and stability. For example, if a business does not sufficiently take into account and thus doesn’t try to reduce the negative impact of its operations on the local environment, the risk of a natural disaster and public protest increases, and sooner or later this will affect their financial results and the value of the company’s shares,” adds Purgailis.

Would invest in IT businesses, tourism and forestry

Data from the survey suggests that, among various industries, the Latvian public would most like to invest their money in information technology businesses (25%); hospitality, tourism and catering businesses (10%); as well as in forestry (10%). This is followed by manufacturing (9%) and agriculture (9%). The public is comparatively less likely to choose to invest in industries such as financial services (8%), electric energy generation (8%), leisure and arts (7%), construction (5%), telecommunications (4%), trade (3%) and transport (3%).

All inhabitants of Latvia are investors with their pension savings

“The government puts 6% of every Latvian inhabitant’s pre-tax wages in a level 2 pension fund. This means that every employed person is an investor, because the funds they accumulate are invested by pension fund managers in the shares of various businesses and in treasury bonds.

The money saved in various pension funds worldwide is one of the largest assets in the global economy. In the last ten years, pension capital saved in the world’s 22 most-developed countries has doubled, growing from around 20 trillion Euro to 40 trillion Euro.

Pension capital saved in Latvia over the past ten years has increased almost six-fold, growing from 660 million at the end of 2008 to more than 4 billion now. This means that pension savings are playing an increasing role among investments, significantly impacting how global business develops and what impact it has on the environment and society. That’s why I invite everyone to assess whether their chosen pension manager and pension plan invests in sustainable businesses,” encourages CBL Asset Management Chairman of the Board Kārlis Purgailis.

To promote sustainable investment practices and to ensure pension savings are invested in the most responsible businesses possible in the long term, the CBL Asset Management investment management company has joined the UN-supported declaration on Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), showing that, going forward, CBL Asset Management will give additional weight to environmental, social and governance factors as well as financial information when deciding where to invest. In parallel, CBL Asset Management has created the CBL Sustainable Opportunity Investment Plan, Latvia’s first pension plan in which pension savings are invested in businesses which are leaders of sustainability in their industries. Thus Latvians have the opportunity to entrust their pension savings to a manager who invests responsibly.



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Israel seeks US approval to annex Jordan Valley over ‘security’ concerns – Middle East Monitor


Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu is allegedly seeking support and approval by the United States to enable the annexation of the Jordan Valley under the pretext that it is “a vital area to Israel’s security,” anonymous political sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The speculations come shortly after Netanyahu’s tour with US Security Advisor John Bolton around the West Bank on Sunday, in which the Israeli premier insisted that any future agreement regarding Palestine must first guarantee an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley.

“In any future peace agreement, our position is that Israel’s presence here must continue – for the security of Israel and for the security of all,” Netanyahu said, speaking on Israeli military control of the valley.

Netanyahu reiterated the importance of Israel’s interests in the area when he addressed his cabinet yesterday, announcing that the Israeli Army’s presence there “guarantees stability and security for the entire region.”

Bolton commented on the idea, saying that, “it’s too bad… that more Americans can’t come to locations like this, see the geography, understand its significance, understand how it affects Israel’s critical security position, and explain why Israel has taken the view that it has.”

Israel is targeting the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem for complete annexation

Israeli premiers and military strategists have long strived to attain the Jordan Valley due to two primary reasons: the fertile farmland of the valley which the settlers already possess vast control over, and its geopolitical strategic significance. The West Bank is elevated and overlooks Israeli territory stretching to the sea to the west.

This geopolitical advantage has led many to speculate that it is only a matter of time before Israel annexes the entire West Bank. With almost 500 illegal settlements scattered around and encircling the Palestinian territory, it will not be a difficult acquisition.

Israel has already secured its diplomatic dominance over East Jerusalem and its military dominance over the Golan Heights on the border with Syria, which ensured that the Syrian and Arab armies cannot use the strategic advantage of the heights to fire down onto Israeli territory below.

Most of the Jordan Valley is classified as Area C, which means it is already under Israeli control. The Israeli Army has expelled entire Palestinian families from the valley in recent months and has conducted a number of military exercises there. The official annexation of the valley, however, would give it far greater control and would give it an increased military advantage in the area.



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Middle East peace plan: US uses images of cancelled aid programs


In it, he sports a dark black coat with a light blue collar peaking out underneath, and looks out over the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City. The image first appeared in a June 2016 video titled “Our Power is our Pain,” which tells the story of his daughter: 10-year-old Abir, killed by an Israeli border guard in 2007.
The video was produced by Parents Circle, an Israeli-Palestinian organization that brings together families who have lost loved ones in the conflict, which Aramin joined shortly after his daughter’s death. Before this year, roughly 30% of Parents Circle’s funding came from USAID to the West Bank and Gaza—but that funding was cut in February, when the Trump administration ended all aid to the Palestinians as part of its attempt to pressure the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table.

Then Aramin’s picture popped up in perhaps the least likely of places: White House promotional materials.

When the White House unveiled the economic part of its Middle East peace plan, dubbed “Peace to Prosperity,” Aramin was astounded to find himself on page 34, gazing over the same Old City ramparts in the same jacket, under the headline “Enhancing Palestinian Governance Through Institution Building.”
The Trump administration was using a picture of a program it had financially crippled just months earlier, in order to promote its own controversial economic plan for the Palestinians.

“We were surprised to see our photos used in such a document that is explaining the ‘Deal of the Century’ which is rejected by the Palestinian people,” Aramin told CNN. “No one asked for our permission to use our photos.”

Aramin was not the only one. In at least eight different instances in the economic plan document and website, the White House appears to have used images lifted directly from USAID programs that it defunded.

Jared Kushner, US peace team face credibility test in Bahrain
On page six of the economic plan, Osama Abu Al-Rub is seen in a picture lifting a box of strawberries from his car into a market. Behind him is a fruit and vegetable stand with bananas and peppers. The same scene plays out in a video titled “The West Bank Strawberry King” from October 8, 2015. The video, produced by USAID, was part of its “Extreme Possibilities” series, designed to show the benefits to the Palestinian economy of helping farmers.

On the website for the economic plan, an image of a child drinking water from a faucet is identical to an image from another USAID-produced video called “USAID: Partnering in Palestinian Progress.”

Joel Braunold, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of NGOs in the region, was the first to notice the images. His work meant he was intimately familiar with USAID and its programs, and he knew many of the people in the programs.

“These were successful ongoing programs that were doing the hard, slow, long work to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which the Trump administration cut off, and then literally ripped off by taking the imagery to promote the programs and then putting in as material for this document,” Braunold told CNN.

“It’s pretty galling for a community that has sacrificed so much trying to build the peace and reconciliation we’re all looking for to be abused in this manner.”

The White House declined to comment on the record for this story when contacted by CNN.

Robi Damelin, a Parents Circle spokeswoman who appears in the USAID video alongside Bassam Aramin, ripped the Trump administration’s peace team in an op-ed in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz newspaper.
Israel announces new Golan Heights settlement named 'Trump Heights'
“Now comes the most cynical and cruel abuse of these two people and their organization. Jared Kushner is using them as a pawn by displaying their pictures to illustrate and unveil his ‘Economy First’ plan for Mideast peace. He did not ask their permission, which would not have been granted. We as an organization have nothing to do with this plan and resent the use of our pictures,” wrote Damelin, whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

The final images in the “Peace to Prosperity” document show four young school girls standing together. They are all wearing their school uniform — blue and white-striped dresses with white trim around the neck. They are the uniforms of UNRWA schools — the United Nations agency in charge of Palestinian refugees.

In September 2018, the Trump administration also cut its funding to UNRWA, ending some $350 million a year to the agency, which offers education, health care, social services and emergency response.

The four girls, each with a purple or pink backpack, are smiling at the camera.



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India best catching side of this World Cup | Cricket News


A dropped catch is often the difference between lifting the World Cup and going home empty-handed, a fact which has not been lost on Virat Kohli’s India. The Men in Blue have dropped just one catch in the tournament so far, and hung on to 14 — the best among all teams.

WORLD CUP SCHEDULE |
POINTS TABLE

KL Rahul’s dropped catch against Pakistan, off Yuzvendra Chahal’s bowling, is the only blip so far.

The worst catching side are Pakistan, who have dropped a total of 14 chances, or 35% of their catching opportunities so far in this Cup!

India1

The second worst are, unexpectedly, hosts England, who have dropped 12 (before Tuesday’s Australia-England game).

Also unexpectedly, New Zealand have let nine chances go abegging.

India have put in some smart work of late to improve their percentage of successful chances, as fielding coach R Sridhar revealed recently. “We have this points system where we grade catches. Grade one is a straightforward catch that comes to you and earns you one point. Grade two, which gets you two points, is where the fielder needs to move and is under pressure. Grade three is a half-chance — nobody will complain if you don’t take it, but if you do, it’s a game changer. You get four points for a grade three catch. If you drop a straightforward catch, you lose two points. If you drop a grade two, you lose one point from the series kitty. No points are deducted for dropping grade three catches,” Sridhar told website Cricinfo.

India’s 5 main parameters to assess fielders’ quality


India have developed five main parameters for assessing a fielder’s quality — interception (clean, fumble, misfield); throws (good, direct hit, off target); catches (grade one, two, three); run-outs (direct hits or run-outs with assists) and runs (saved, given). This data is used to calculate the net productivity of a player.

The methodology, coupled with an increased emphasis on fitness, seems to have paid off for India in spades: K L Rahul’s dropped catch against Pakistan, off Yuzvendra Chahal’s bolwing, is the only blip so far.



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Amit Shah to begin Jammu and Kashmir visit with prayers at Amarnath Cave


Union Home Minister, Amit Shah will begin his two-day maiden visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday by paying obeisance at the Amarnath Cave Shrine.

Amit Shah to begin J&K visit with prayers at Amarnath Cave

Union Home Minister Amit Shah

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Amit Shah will begin his two-day maiden visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday
  • He will offer prayers at the Amarnath Cave Shrine
  • He will interact with state Governor, Satya Pal Malik and spend the night at the Raj Bhawan

Union Home Minister Amit Shah will begin his two-day maiden visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday by paying obeisance at the Amarnath Cave Shrine.

A source privy to the schedule of the Union Home Minister’s visit said Shah will arrive in Srinagar today and take a chopper to reach the Amarnath Cave shrine to pay obeisance there.

“A special prayer is being organised by the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board in which Shah will take part at the Cave Shrine today,” the source said.

This year’s annual Amarnath Yatra begins on July 1 and will end on August 15.

After having ‘Darshan’ inside the Cave Shrine the Union Home Minister will chair a high level security review meeting pertaining to the security arrangements made to ensure an incident free Yatra this year.

“This will be followed by another security meeting to review the overall security in the state and the counter insurgency measures.

“The Home Minister will interact with state Governor, Satya Pal Malik and spend the night at the Raj Bhawan”, same source said.

Shah will meet state BJP leaders and also members of Panchayats at the Nehru Guest House in Cheshma Shahi area of Srinagar city tomorrow.

He will also meet delegations of civil society members, delegation of people connected with tourism and some youth delegations.

Before flying back to Delhi, the union home minister is likely to address a media conference in Srinagar tomorrow.

Shah is not visiting Jammu and Ladakh divisions of the state during his maiden visit to the state after taking over as the country’s home minister.

Security has been beefed up on Shah’s visit to the Valley. Restrictions on movement of traffic have been announced for two days on the Boulevard Road that goes round the Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Shah’s main activities during his two-day visit are taking place at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Complex (SKICC), Nehru Guest House and the state Raj Bhawan.

All these venues are located close to the Boulevard Road in Srinagar.

ALSO READ: Amit Shah on two-day J&K visit from June 26, to chair high-level security meeting

ALSO WATCH: Amit Shah on two-day Jammu and Kashmir visit from June 26

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