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LIVE! Half of US troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1

February 06, 2019


23:21  Half of US troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1:  
The US has promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, a Taliban official said Wednesday, but the US military said it has received no orders to begin packing up.
 
Taliban official Abdul Salam Hanafi, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Moscow between the Taliban and other prominent Afghan figures, said that US officials promised the pullout will begin this month.

"The Americans told us that from the beginning of February to the end of April, half of the troops from Afghanistan will be withdrawn," he said.
Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Rob Manning said, however, the US military had received orders to begin withdrawing.
"Peace talks with the Taliban continue, but (the Defense Department) has not received a directive to change the force structure in Afghanistan," he said.
The Pentagon has reportedly prepared plans to withdraw half its 14,000 troops by the summer.

22:36  1,599 cases of ceasefire violations along LoC in 2018:  
The army recorded 1,599 cases of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control  and lost 20 personnel in 2018, the government said in the Lok Sabha Wednesday.
  
In a written response to a question in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State in the defence ministry Subhash Bhamre said February 2018 recorded 223 cases of ceasefire violations, the highest in the year.

The first three months alone saw 633 cases of such violations, a quarter of the total instances in the year, he said.

Of the 20, the army lost 15 personnel in the first four months of 2018.

"Appropriate retaliation to the ceasefire violations, as required, has been carried out by the Indian Army. Also, all violations of ceasefire and infiltration were taken up with the Pakistan authorities at the appropriate level through the established mechanism of hotlines, flag meetings, Directorate Generals of Military Operations talks as well as diplomatic channels between the two countries," the minister said.

Responding to a separate question on terror attacks on army camps in Jammu and Kashmir, he said terrorists carried out one suicide attack at army Camp Sunjuwan, in Jammu, on February 10, 2018 in which the force sustained six fatal and six non-fatal casualties.

-- PTI
22:09  Vajpayee's portrait to be installed in Parliament on February 12:  
Nearly six months after the demise of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his life-size portrait will be installed in the Central Hall of Parliament on February 12 as a mark of honour for the towering late BJP leader.

The portrait of the Bharat Ratna will be unveiled by President Ram Nath Kovind in the presence of Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ministers and leaders of various parties, official sources said on Wednesday.

Vajpayee, a towering BJP leader, was the prime minister thrice first for 13 days in 1996, then for 13 months from 1998 to 1999, and then from 1999 to 2004.

Born on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP veteran passed away on August 16, 2018, after a prolonged illness.

The decision to install the portrait of the Bharat Ratna was taken on December 18 at a meeting of Parliaments Portrait Committee chaired by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.

The leaders whose portraits already adorn the Central Hall include former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

-- ANI
21:50  Robert Vadra leaves ED office after five-and-a-half hours of questioning in a money laundering case.
21:31  Shatrughan Sinha says he's fortunate he hasn't been named in MeToo movement:  
Veteran actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha on Wednesday said behind a successful man's fall is a woman but clarified that he was not making fun of the #MeToo movement and his comments should be taken in "right humour".  
  
"Today is the time of #MeToo, and there shouldn't be any shame or hesitation to say that behind a successful man's fall is a woman. Behind the troubles and infamy of successful men, there have been mostly women that I've seen in this movement," he said at the launch of the book "A Touch of Evil" by author Dhruv Somani. 

"I really call myself fortunate that in today's times, tamam harkate karne kay bawajood (despite everything that I've done), my name hasn't come out in the #MeToo movement. Hence, I listen to my wife and often take her as a shield with me so that even if there's nothing, I can show, 'I am happily married, my life is good.'"

Sinha said his wife, Poonam, is a "goddess" and his "everything".

"Even if anyone wants to say anything about me, please don't say,'" he added. 

The #MeToo movement hit Bollywood last year and saw several women coming out with their horror stories of sexual harassment and rape by actors and filmmakers from the industry. 

When asked whether he was making fun of the movement, Sinha backtracked and said his statement should be taken in "right humour."

"Don't take it otherwise. Please take it with a plain sense of humour. I highly appreciate and applaud the women, who, better late than never, have come forward... I salute their courage and guts. 

"But beyond that, I don't want to go further at this hour because it's a book launch event and we should not cross our limits. But having said this, I understand what you are saying and I am highly supportive of what you said," he added.

-- PTI
21:16  Hardik to fight LS polls, Cong says may join party:  
Firebrand Patidar community leader Hardik Patel announced on Wednesday that he would contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election.
 
Although Patel did not specify whether he would join any political party or contest as an Independent, sources in the Congress claimed that he is likely to join the party to fight the polls.
"Bilkul, hum 2019 mein chunav ladenge (I will definitely contest the 2019 elections)," Patel told reporters in Lucknow when asked if would take a plunge into electoral politics.
On joining the Congress, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader said he would take a decision about it later.

Congress sources said negotiations were on with Patel about his joining the party to fight the elections. He might contest the elections from Mehsana or Amreli seat, which have a strong presence of the Patel community, party leaders said.

But Patel has been barred from entering Mehsana by a court in a case of violence during the 2015 Patidar agitation, party sources said. He had filed a plea in the Gujarat high court against the lower court order.

"If the HC vacates the ban on his entry into Mehsana district, he is most likely to contest from Mehsana (in north Gujarat).... Amreli (in Saurasthra) is another seat which has been offered to him," they said.

Congress leaders, however, did not rule out the possibility of the PAAS leader contesting the election as an Independent candidate with the party's outside support.

Patel's entry into electoral fray will have an impact in Gujarat, where the Bharatiya Janata Party has been winning assembly elections since 1995. In the 2014 general election, the BJP had won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

-- PTI
20:38  Shashi Tharoor nominates Kerala fishermen for Nobel peace prize:  
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor today made a pitch to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to consider the fishermen of Kerala for the honour in recognition of the bravery they have shown when floods devastated the southern state last year.

They carried their boats onto trucks to get to stranded people and braved the filthy, swirling waters before most other rescuers arrived. Hundreds of fishermen were then hailed as the heroes of the Kerala floods crisis.

"It was during the height of this tragedy that fishermen groups of Kerala, at great risk to their lives and potential damage to the boats that are the source of their livelihood, jumped into the fray to save their fellow citizens," Tharoor said in his letter to the chairperson of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

"They took their boats inland, and with their expert knowledge of the local conditions, their participation in the ongoing relief operations proved to be a gamechanger, as not only were they able to pick up stranded personnel in their vicinity, but were also instrumental in guiding boats of other rescue teams amidst the swirling waters," Tharoor said in the letter that he also tweeted. "Fishermen groups across the country represent some of the most socio-economically underdeveloped segments. Kerala's fishermen are no exception."

"In spite of these conditions, as their lifesaving service during the floods clearly demonstrated, there is an extraordinarily altruistic spirit that animates and drives these coastal warriors of the state..." the Congress parliamentarian from Thiruvananthapuram said.

Union Minister KJ Alphons had also called the fishermen the "biggest heroes" of Kerala's disaster and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced a cash reward for each of them and a ceremony to pay tribute.

When the floods hit Kerala in August last year, hundreds of traditional wood and fibre boats left Kollam, a tourist destination on the Kerala coast, after appeals for help were made.


The Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for the selection of eligible candidates and the choice of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The committee has five members appointed by the Storting (Norwegian parliament). 

READ: Why we must salute Kerala's fishermen!
20:11  Centre sending notices deliberately ahead of polls: Mamata on Vadra's questioning by ED:  
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday slammed the Centre for the interrogation of Robert Vadra by the Enforcement Directorate, claiming that the BJP was deliberately doing it ahead of the general election.
 
Asserting that the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be able to scare the Opposition by the tactics of sending notices "casually to everybody", Banerjee said: "We will complain to the Election Commission against such trend."
"They (the Centre) are doing it deliberately ahead of the polls," the Trinamool Congress supremo told reporters at the state secretariat.
Vadra was on Wednesday questioned by the ED in connection with a money-laundering probe into alleged possession of illegal foreign assets, days after his wife, Priyanka Gandhi, was formally inducted into the party.
Banerjee also said she would be in Delhi next Wednesday and Thursday, where the Opposition parties would make a decision on their future course of action.

-- PTI
19:24  Karan Johar, Pandya & Rahul booked for making anti-women remarks:  


Cricketers Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul besides filmmaker Karan Johar have been booked over objectionable remarks made against women during a TV show, a police official said on Wednesday.
  
Confirming the registration of the case against the three, Luni police station in-charge Bansi Lal said it was lodged on the orders of a magisterial court in Jodhpur.

The police have begun investigating it, the station house officer added.
The court ordered registration of the FIR against the two cricketers and the filmmaker on a complaint of Luni resident D R Meghwal.
Meghwal had moved the court seeking registration of the case against the three saying they had used "vulgar and obscene" remarks against women during a TV show "Koffee with Karan".

Accusing Karan Johar of deliberately including the offensive content in his TV show, he said, the remarks were made purposefully to augment the popularity of the show.  

Earlier in May 2018, Meghwal had field another case against Hardik Pandya, accusing him of posting remarks against Dalit icon B R Ambedkar on his twitter account.

Pandya, however, had refuted the allegations stating that he never did it and the twitter account on which the anti-Ambedkar remarks were posted was not his account.

-- PTI
19:07  Terrorists lob grenade at CRPF camp in Kulgam, 1 security personnel injured:  
Terrorists lobbed a grenade at a Central Reserve Police Force camp in Kulgam on Wednesday, injuring one security personnel.

The officer sustained splinter injuries after the grenade blasted in the open ground.

The injured personnel was immediately evacuated to a government hospital in Kulgam. His condition is said to be stable.

Further details are awaited. 

-- ANI
18:36  Plea in SC on crash of aircraft, choppers of Indian armed forces:  
A petition was filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday over the "alarming increase" in crash of aircraft and helicopters of the Indian Armed Forces, seeking direction to the Centre to take steps to ensure that such accidents do not occur in future.
  
The public interest litigation has been filed after a Mirage-2000 trainer aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed on February 1 at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Airport killing both the pilots -- Squadron Leader Samir Abrol and Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi, both from Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment.

The PIL has sought setting up of a court-monitored committee comprising a retired judge of the apex court and experts from Indian defence services to conduct a thorough enquiry into the Mirage crash.

The PIL, filed by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, said the committee should fix responsibilities of erring government officials and others for the lapses leading to such incidents and also to suggest measures to ensure that it does not occur again in future.

The petitioner has referred to a recent media report which said that Indian Armed Forces have lost over 35 aircraft and helicopters in crashes since 2015-16 in which 45 lives have been lost. 

Since 2011, the Indian Air Force, the Army and the Navy have recorded accidents of over 75 aircraft and helicopters in which over 80 persons have died, the plea said referring to the report.

Srivastava said he has filed the plea in view of "alarmingly increasing number of crashes of various aircrafts and helicopters belonging to the Indian Armed Forces in the recent times, leading to loss of precious lives of a number of air warriors of India".

-- PTI
17:49  Outdated jets for warriors, 'corrupt cheese & wine' for babus: Brother of pilot killed in crash pens poem:  
The bereaved family of late Squadron Leader Samir Abrol, one of the two test pilots who died in a Mirage-2000 crash in Bengaluru last week, has said while the bureaucracy enjoy its "corrupt cheese and wine", the air warriors are given "outdated machines" to fight.
  
An emotional poem penned by Abrol's brother Sushant, posted on Facebook, states it is an "unforgiving" job to be a test pilot given the risks it posses.

"While the bureaucracy enjoyed its corrupt cheese and wine. We give our warriors outdated machines to fight,
They still deliver it with all their prowess and might," Sushant said in the post that was widely shared.

Abrol and Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi, both from Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment, died after their fighter jet crashed.

They were conducting an acceptance sortie of the  Mirage-2000 trainer, which had been newly-upgraded by state-run aerospace company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, when it crashed on Friday. 

Though the two pilots made a bid to eject, they were caught in the flames as the plane crashed with a huge explosion.

In another post, Sushant said, "It's high time we care not just for lost votes, but also for our lost pilots to the negligence of this corrupt system!!"

The post was also shared by Abrol's wife Garima on Instagram. 

-- PTI
17:37  Sonu Nigam suffers seafood allergy, hospitalised:  Singer Sonu Nigam has been admitted to Nanavati hospital in Mumbai following a severe case of seafood poisoning.  

He shared a couple of photos on Instagram of himself in hospital, and posted:  

'Thanks for your concern and love. Now that you know that I am returning back from Jeypore, Orissa, after managing a concert last night, I now don't mind sharing how I was the day before yesterday. 

'Lesson for all of us, Never ever ever ever take a chance with allergies. Sea food in my case. If Nanavati Hospital wasn't near by, my trachea would have swollen up further and lead to asphyxiation. 

'Happy and Healthy life to everyone.'
17:27  Priyanka takes charge as Congress general secretary:  The Congress's newly-appointed general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi, today reached the Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road in New Delhi and formally took charge.  

Incidentally she occupies the room that was previously occupied by brother Rahul Gandih when he was Congress vice president; Rahul, now president of the party, has moved into the office next door.
17:09  Over 1,000 swine flu cases in Delhi; 1 death: Report:  
One death due to swine flu and 124 fresh cases of Infuenza A (H1N1) have been recorded in Delhi, taking the total number of people affected by the disease in the city this year to 1019, according to a report.
  
The city had recorded 895 positive cases of swine flu till Monday, which included 712 adults and 183 children, the report by the city's Directorate General of Health Services said on Tuesday.

As many as 104 fresh cases of adults, 20 of children and one death was recorded on Tuesday, it said.

Till Monday, Delhi government had not reported any death due to swine flu, but on Tuesday, the report said, one death was recorded.

However, two Centre-run hospitals have reported 13 deaths due to swine flu this year. According to senior officials at Safdarjung Hospital, three deaths due to swine flu have been recorded this season, while RML Hospital has reported 10 fatalities.

Nine of the 10 people who died at RML Hospital were from Delhi, and the other one was from outside the city, officials said.

For any query on swine flu, people can seek assistance on the 24X7 helpline number at DGHS (HQ): 011-22300012, 22307145. 

-- PTI
16:43  PM to inaugurate War Memorial on Feb 25:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate a War Memorial at India Gate in New Delhi on February 25. The BJP in its manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls had promised that it would build a war memorial for veterans. Officials from the Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday visited the site with Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. It is the countrys first war memorial near the India Gate complex and will pay homage to over 26,000 soldiers who have sacrificed their lives since 1947.
16:40  I stand by my husband, says Priyanka as Vadra reaches ED :   Congress leader Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra Wednesday appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in connection with a money laundering probe case relating to alleged possession of illegal foreign assets. 


Vadra's wife Priyanka Gandhi accompanied him, in a white Toyota Land Cruiser along with SPG personnel in tow, and dropped him outside the agency's office in Jamnagar House in central Delhi. She soon left in her convoy of vehicles. She spoke a few words to NDTV, while entering the AICC office saying, "I wanted to send a clear message that I stand by my husband."

Vadra entered the ED office at around 3:47 pm even as a team of his lawyers had arrived minutes before him. This is the first time Vadra, also the brother-in-law of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, is appearing before any probe agency in connection with alleged criminal charges of dubious financial dealings. 


Vadra has denied these allegations in the past and termed them a political witch hunt against him. Rahul Gandhi's sister Priyanka Gandhi is married to Vadra and was recently appointed as party general secretary incharge of eastern Uttar Pradesh. 


Vadra was directed by a Delhi court to cooperate with the investigation being carried out by the central probe agency after he knocked on its door seeking anticipatory bail in this case. The court had asked him to appear before the ED on Wednesday after returning from London.


Official sources said Vadra will be put through questions on transactions, purchase and possession of certain immovable assets in London and his statement will be recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). -- PTI


Image: Robert Vadra at the Enforcement Directorate office today. 
16:38  Rail Bhawan turns saffron :  
Rail Bhawan in New Delhi, the headquarters of the Indian Railways, has  got a new coat of paint and the colour is in sync with the government's political leanings. The walls on the first two floors have been painted saffron.


Employees and visitors are perplexed not so much at the choice of colour, but at the decision to paint the walls. Apparently, a decision was taken last month that the walls needed a coat of paint since they looked dirty. 


Senior officials like members of the railway board were not told about this, until they walked in one day to work and saw the saffron walls. 


What is being wondered in the corridors of Rail Bhawan is that Railways minister Piyush Goyal is not from RSS, but is a Chartered Accountant, so why the saffron tint. Insiders have been wondering if a change in government at the Centre -- say the mahagathbandhan -- will mean the walls turn green or may be red... 

Wait till the polls, we say.  
16:13  Telugu TV actress found dead in Hyderabad:  A 21-year old Telugu television artiste was found dead in her apartment in Hyderabad, the police said on Wednesday.  

Naga Jhansi's bother found her hanging from the ceiling fan after he forcibly opened door when she did not respond to the doorbell Tuesday night, a police official said.

"We were told that she had a boyfriend who apparently started neglecting her of late. We are inquiring into it. Her brother found her dead on Tuesday night at around 8.30," Punjagutta police inspector B Mohan Kumar said. 

The deceased hailed from Krishna district and had acted in several TV serials and a few movies. Jhansi became popular with the serial "Pavitra Bandham.

The body was shifted to Gandhi Hospital for autopsy and investigation is on, the police said.
16:06  Politics of Congress and BJP driven by Hindutva: Mehbooba Mufti:  PDP president Mehbooba Mufti Wednesday said it was difficult to differentiate between the Congress and the BJP as both parties were driven by the politics of Hindutva. She was commenting on the decision of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh to invoke the National Security Act against three persons accused in a cow slaughter case and the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh recommending the withdrawal of 38 criminal cases against 100 accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. 


"The Yogi government (Uttar Pradesh) withdrew cases against accused in Muzaffarnagar riots. The Madhya Pradesh government slapped PSA (NSA) against three accused of cow slaughter," Mehbooba said on Twitter. 


"From UP to MP, political lines are getting blurred and it is difficult to differentiate between the Congress and the BJP. Hindutva drives the real politics in modern India," she added. -- PTI
16:04  Priyanka accompanies husband Vadra to ED probe:  Robert Vadra, along with his wife Priyanka, appears before ED in money laundering case probe.
15:43  SC upholds order linking PAN with Aadhaar :  The Supreme Court has said that linking of PAN with Aadhaar is mandatory for filing of Income Tax returns. A bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer said the top court has already decided the matter and upheld the section 139AA of the Income Tax Act. The court's direction came on an appeal filed by the Centre against a Delhi High Court order allowing two persons, Shreya Sen and Jayshree Satpute, to file Income Tax returns for 2018-19 without linking their Aadhaar and PAN numbers.


"The aforesaid order was passed by the High Court having regard to the fact that the matter was pending consideration in this Court. Thereafter, this Court has decided the matter and upheld the vires of section 139AA of the Income Tax Act. In view thereof, linkage of PAN with Aadhaar is mandatory," the bench said.


The top court noted that with regard to Assessment Year 2018-19, it has been informed that the two petitioners had filed the Income Tax returns in terms of the orders of the High Court and the assessment has also been completed. 


"We therefore make it clear that for the assessment year 2019-20, the income tax return shall be filed in terms of the judgment passed by this court. The special leave petition is disposed of in the above terms," the bench said in an order on Monday.


The petitioners had told the High Court that "despite orders, and multiple attempts they have not been able to file their ITR, since there is no available option to opt-out of providing an Aadhaar or Aadhaar Enrolment number during e-filing, on the website".


The apex court on September 26 last year had declared the Centre's flagship Aadhaar scheme as constitutionally valid but struck down some of its provisions including its linking with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions. 


A five-judge constitution bench had held that while Aadhaar would remain mandatory for filing of I-T returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN), it would not be mandatory to link Aadhaar to bank accounts and telecom service providers cannot seek its linking for mobile connections. PTI
15:23  Maharashtra educationist's daughter named Sweden PMO advisor:  Nila Vikhe Patil, a person of Indian descent, has been named political advisor in the Swedish Prime Minister's Office. Patil, 32, daughter of leading educationist Ashok Vikhe Patil, would be working with Stefan Lofven, the Social Democrat leader who was last month elected as Swedish prime minister, leading a Social Democrat-Green Party coalition.


"Nila has been appointed as the Political Advisor to the Prime Ministers Office in charge of Finance and will handle taxes, budgets, financial markets and housing," her father told PTI. She has also been elected to the City Council of the Stockholm Municipal Corporation. Also a Political Advisor in the PMO during the previous government, Nila has been active member of the Green Party and is a member of the Election Committee of the Stockholm Green Party, he said.


Born in Sweden, Nila spent early years in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra and is the granddaughter of former Union Minister Balasaheb Vikhe Patil and niece of Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Assembly.
15:21  Modi is 'jumla raja', his rule 'chaupat raj': Rahul :  Hitting out at the government on the issue of unemployment and farmer distress, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday dubbed Prime Minister Narendra Modi "jumla raja" (king of rhetoric) and his rule "chaupat raj" (regime of ruin). 


Using Twitter to take a swipe at the prime minister, he tagged a media report on the unemployment situation in Uttar Pradesh, claiming that youth with even PhD degrees are applying for class IV jobs. "Farmers do not get the right prices, the youth do not get the right jobs, in 'jumla raja's chaupat raj', no hard working person gets respect," the Congress chief said in a tweet in Hindi. 


Gandhi has been highly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue of unemployment and has often accused him of not fulfilling his promise -- before coming to power -- of providing two crore jobs per year to the youth. The Congress chief has also attacked Modi for not providing adequate prices to farmers for their produce. -- PTI
15:10  Shakti Mills gang-rape: Hearing on convicts' pleas from Feb 20:  The Bombay High Court will begin final hearing from February 20 on petitions filed by three convicts in the Shakti Mills gang-rape case, challenging the constitutional validity of a legal provision under which they were sentenced to death in 2014. 


Vijay Jadhav, Kasim Bengali and Salim Ansari were convicted on April 5, 2014 for raping a city-based photo-journalist in the Shakti Mills complex on August 22, 2013.


Noting that the petitions had been pending since 2014, a bench of Justices B P Dharmadhikari and Revati Mohite-Dere on Wednesday rejected the Centre and the Maharashtra government's request for further time.


"These petitions have been pending since 2014. Therefore, you (the Union and the state) have had ample time to prepare," the bench said. The court also noted that hearing on confirmation of the death sentences was stayed before another bench of the high court since it depended upon the outcome of the above petitions. It, therefore, said the court will begin the final hearing on the three writ petitions without any further delay. 


Three of the five people who were convicted by the sessions court in 2014 -- Jadhav, Bengali and Ansari -- had moved the high court soon after their conviction, challenging the constitutional validity of the law under which they were sentenced to death for a repeat offence. 


The petitioners challenged the sessions court order allowing the prosecution to invoke Indian Penal Code's (IPC) Section 376 (E) when the trial was already underway. They also challenged the constitutional validity of this section, brought in by the Union government after the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case in Delhi in 2012. 


In March 2013, the Centre amended the rape laws and introduced several stringent provisions, including Section 376 (E). The section says that if a person, who has been previously convicted for an offence of rape under IPC Section 376, is subsequently convicted for a repeat offence of rape, the courts can sentence him to imprisonment for the rest of his life, or even award a death sentence. As the three petitioners were found to have raped another woman earlier, the prosecution invoked IPC Section 376 (E) and sought the death penalty. 


The sessions court found merit in the prosecution's submissions and awarded the maximum punishment of death to the three petitioners, noting that they were habitual offenders. -- PTI
15:04  Mamata denies permission for Chouhan's chopper, claims BJP:  Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's Behrampur rally cancelled after West Bengal government denies permission to land chopper, claim BJP sources.
15:00  Indira Jaising: Basic feature of Indian Constitution which is gender justice:  
Senior counsel Indira Jaising making her submissions in the SC: "The  women who entered Sabarimala are facing social exclusion, a purification ceremony was held in temple after they entered. Purification ceremony being held affirms that menstruating women are considered 'polluted'," submits Jaising.  

"What was at stake in the original hearing of this case was that of gender justice, submits Indira Jaising. On the dissenting judgment of Indu Malhotra, Jaising says it has relied upon other dissenting judgments. "If the judgment was against us, we would not have rioted," says Jaising. "We would have filed review and curative but not indulged in violence. A case for review is not made out. Your Lordships may keep in mind the basic feature of Indian Constitution which is gender justice," Jaising concludes while seeking positive directions to facilitate entry of women who have applied online. 
14:30  In U-turn, Sabarimala board supports entry of women :  Just in: In a surprise U-turn, the Travancore Dewasom Board, which runs the Sabarimala temple, says it supports the Supreme Court verdict allowing all women inside the shrine. 


The Kerala government Wednesday vehemently opposed in the Supreme Court a batch of petitions seeking review of the verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine, even as several organisations argued that the judgement be reconsidered. 


 A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi was told by the counsel for the Kerala government that no ground was made out in any of the petitions seeking review of its September 28, 2018 verdict. Several organisations including the Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Thantri of the shrine, have advanced arguments before the bench and sought reconsideration of the verdict.


Senior Counsel Rakesh Dwivedi arguing for the Travancore Devaswom Board says that any practice which denies an equal right to practice or propagate religion falls foul of Article 25.  


Justice Indu Malhotra observes that the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) had in fact argued against the entry of women in the main case.


But Rakesh Dwivedi says the TDB has taken a decision to respect the judgment and not seek a review.  Dwivedi pointed out various questions of law addressed by the 2018 judgment and how each judge addressed them.  "We have to transform society and include women in all walks of life. We should not point out biological attributes to exclude women from any walk of life. Equality runs through the Constitution," Rakesh Dwivedi said.


Image: Women devotees stopped buses carrying other women devotees attempting to enter the Sabarimala shrine after the SC verdict. File pic. 

14:07  Sabarimala verdict should not be reviewed: Kerala govt to SC:   The Kerala government Wednesday vehemently opposed in the Supreme Court a batch of petitions seeking review of the verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala shrine, even as several organisations argued that the judgement be reconsidered. 


A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi was told by the counsel for the Kerala government that no ground was made out in any of the petitions seeking review of its September 28, 2018 verdict. 


Several organisations including the Nair Service Society (NSS) and the Thantri of the shrine, have advanced arguments before the bench and sought reconsideration of the verdict. Former attorney general and senior advocate K Parasaran, appearing for the NSS, assailed the majority verdict, saying Article 15 of the Constitution throws open for all public the secular institutions of the country but it doesn't deal with religious institutions. 


The article "throws open all public institutions of secular character for all classes of citizens but the article conspicuously omits religious institutions", he told the bench. Seeking reconsideration of the verdict, he said the article which deals with abolition of untouchability in society was wrongly used by the apex court in its judgment as exclusion of certain age groups of women was not based on caste. 


The advocate also referred to the celibate character of the deity at Sabarimala and said the court should have considered this aspect. Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta appearing for the Kerala government told the bench also comprising justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra that there was a consensus among the four judges who delivered the majority judgment on three aspects, i.e., Article 26, 25 (2) and rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Act. Gupta said in none of the review petitions questions have been raised regarding these three points and therefore other aspects "raised in the review petition will make no difference". 


The arguments by those who have filed the review petition that certain submissions were not considered in the judgment or were not advanced is not a ground for re-examining the verdict, the advocate. 


He said many of those who have sought a re-look of the judgment have not come out with valid legal points but have merely analysed the verdict by the way of a review petition and the court should not entertain them. 


Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the Travancore Devaswom Board's ex-chairperson, favoured submissions seeking review of the judgment.
13:52  Delhi HC refuses to stay trial court order against ex-HP CM Virbhadra :  The Delhi High Court Wednesday refused to stay the trial court order to frame charges against former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh for allegedly amassing disproportionate assets of over Rs 10 crore. 


Justice Sunil Gaur sought CBI's response on Singh's plea challenging the trial court order to frame charges against him. The court then posted the matter for April 16.


The 82-year-old Congress leader and his wife have sought quashing of the December 10, 2018 trial court order directing framing of charges against them and seven others in the case lodged by CBI. -- PTI
13:46  Sambit Patra calls Rahul, Robert, criminals :  Sambit Patra, BJP, holds forth: A poster of two criminals has been put in front of the Congress office. Both of them are out on bail; Criminal no.1 Rahul Gandhi in connection with National Herald case & criminal no.2 Robert Vadra who has to appear before ED today in connection with money laundering case.
13:35  'Once again Modi has done jumlabaazi' :  "The government is willing to give one crore government staff 1 lakh crore; and 12 crore farmers only Rs 75,000 crore. Is this your sabka saath sabka vikas? This is step motherly treatment with the farmers," says Vijay Jawandhia, founder member of the Shetkari Sangathana and a farmers's leader from Maharashtra.


"There is no doubt about rural distress, but based on such gimmicks and money power, the BJP will try to win the election again," Jawandhia tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih.

Read the interview here

12:49  Cong blames BJP for Vadra's pic in party poster :  Delhi: Posters of Robert Vadra along with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and  Rahul Gandhi that were put up yesterday outside AICC headquarters, have been removed today. Jagdish Sharma of the Congress blamed it on the BJP saying, "The Modi govt is doing dirty politics. Last night the posters were put up here now being removed." 


Meanwhile, Congress president Rahul Gandhi today made a brief stopover at the Jagdalpur airport in Chhattisgarh's Bastar district before proceeding to Odisha, where he is scheduled to address a rally. Gandhi landed at the airport at around 10:40 am in a special plane, and was there for a couple of minutes before leaving in a chopper for Bhawanipatna in Kalahandi district of neighbouring Odisha, a state government official said.  
12:37  Siddaramaiah issues another notice to 4 MLAs for skipping party meet:  Former Karnataka chief minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah has issued another notice to four dissenting party MLAs seeking an explanation before or after the Assembly Session.


Last month, Siddaramaiah had served notices to the four legislators who did not turn up at a Congress legislature party meeting in Bengaluru.


Speaking to the media at that time, Siddaramaiah said, "The situation is not like it is being portrayed in the media. Notice has been served to all four MLAs (Ramesh Jarakiholi, Mahesh Kamatihalli, B Nagendra and Umesh Jadhav). There is no problem to the government.


Siddaramaiah also said three of the MLAs had responded to the notice with the exception of Umesh Jadhav, the MLA from Chincholi who has not replied yet.


The four Karnataka Congress MLAs on January 18 abstained from the CLP meeting, which decided to move rest of the 76 legislators to a resort. The meeting was convened by the party to assess whether its flock was intact amid speculation that some of the party MLAs had switched over to the BJP.


The Congress, which shares power with JD-S, has 80 MLAs in the 224-member Assembly, including the Speaker. Accordingly, 79 MLAs were expected to attend the CLP meeting held under the supervision of central leaders K C Venugopal and Mallikarjun Kharge.  -- ANI
12:33  Prashant Bhushan slapped with contempt notice for criticising SC:  The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought a response from activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan on contempt pleas by Attorney General K K Venugopal and the Centre for his tweets allegedly criticising the court over the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director. 


Bhushan was given three weeks to reply. A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha said it would deal with the larger question of whether it is open for lawyers or any other person to criticise the court in a sub judice matter which would lead to influencing public opinion. Criticising the court may also lead to interference in the course of justice, the bench added. "This issue required to be heard in length, notice issued," it said, listing the matter for further hearing on March 7. 


Bhushan, in his tweets, alleged that the Centre, represented by Venugopal, misled the apex court on the issue of Rao's appointment. On Tuesday, the Centre moved the apex court seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets and said they amounted to making false statement in a pending case. This was days after Venugopal's contempt petition against Bhushan. Venugopal, in his contempt plea, referred to the extracts of the minutes of the meeting of the high powered selection committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Justice A K Sikri and leader of the largest opposition party Mallikarjun Kharge. The Centre's plea also referred to the contents of Venugopal's petition and submitted that they be also read as part of its plea. -- PTI
12:09  BJD MP Swain passes away, Lok Sabha adjourned as mark of respect:  Senior Biju Janata Dal leader and Lok Sabha member Ladu Kishore Swain died at a private hospital in Bhubaneswar following prolonged illness, family sources said on Wednesday. He was 71.   

Swain is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter, they said.   

The BJD leader, who represented Odisha's Aska Lok Sabha constituency, was suffering from a kidney ailment and passed away on Tuesday night, the family sources said.   

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and a host of other leaders have condoled the demise of Swain.   

In a tweet, the prime minister said, "Anguished by the passing away of Lok Sabha MP from Aska, Odisha, Shri Ladu Kishore Swain Ji. He will be remembered for his rich service to society."   

"His work towards rural development was noteworthy. Spoke to his son Nachiketa and expressed condolences," Modi said on Twitter.   

Patnaik in his condolence message described Swain as an able parliamentarian who had also served as a member of the state legislature. 

The Odisha assembly mourned the demise of Swain and paid homage by observing a one-minute silence.   

The proceedings of Lok Sabha too were adjourned for the day on Wednesday after paying obituary to Swain.
11:56  JK-based terror group Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen banned:  The Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, which has been fighting for "liberation of Kashmir" and involved in a series of terror acts, has been banned by the government, the Home Ministry said Wednesday. 


In a notification, the Home Ministry said the central government believes that the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen is involved in terrorism as it has committed and participated in various acts of terrorism in India and its members are getting financial and logistic support from their handlers based abroad.


The ministry said the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen came into existence in 1990 with the objective of "liberation of Kashmir" and has been actively pursuing the same by way of acts of terror. -- PTI
11:48  Airfares surge for Mumbai airport repair work:  With the Mumbai airport shutting for runway repairs thrice a week, airfares especially on the Delhi-Mumbai sector, has seen a surge of 30 per cent owning to fewer flights operating out of one of India's busiest airports.


"The fares are up by upwards of 30 per cent compared to the non-closure days. We would advise travellers to plan their travel well in advance to avoid paying these extremely high fares," Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C) Yatra, an online travel agency.


The airport will be shut between 11am and 5pm every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from February 7 to March 30 for re-carpeting of the intersection between the two runways.


According to Mumbai airport authorities, 240 flights will be cancelled daily from the Mumbai airport and various international flights have also been rescheduled. -- ANI
11:33  JNU sedition case: Court asks AAP govt to expedite sanction to prosecute:  JNU sedition case: The Delhi police tells the trial court that requisite sanctions to prosecute Kanhaiya Kumar and others in the sedition case are yet to be procured, since they are pending with the Delhi govt, but are  expected in a few days. 

The court tells the Delhi police to ask authorities concerned to expedite sanction to prosecute. "Authorities can't sit on a file for an indefinite period," the court says. Court gives Delhi Police time till February 28 to procure sanctions to prosecute Kanhaiya Kumar and others."
11:11  Sabarimala activist Kanakadurga re-enters marital home :  The Supreme Court Wednesday commenced hearing on pleas seeking review of its verdict which had allowed women of all ages entry into Kerala's Sabarimala temple. 


Senior advocate K Prasaran, appearing for Nair Service Society, opened the arguments before a five-judge bench and sought setting aside of the verdict.


Seems to be just the right time for one of the two women who entered the shrine to re-enter her marital home. News agency ANI reports that Kanakadurga, who had entered made history by entering Sabarimala on January 2, entered her in-law's house yesterday in Malappuram district after the court allowed her to stay at her in-law's house. She was earlier allegedly assaulted by her mother-in-law for entering the shrine restricted to women of menstrual age. She said, "I got the court order and I could enter my house. I'm happy. I could not see my children today, but I hope I can see them next time. I don't have any difficulty to stay with them, but they are not ready to stay with me. Everything will be solved."


The review petitions are being heard by a Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.


There are 64 cases being heard in total, out of which some are review petitions and some transfer petitions. On September 28, a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by the then CJI Dipak Misra, in a 4:1 verdict had paved the way for entry of women of all ages into the shrine, saying the ban amounted to gender discrimination. -- PTI/ANI


Image: Kanakadurga, one of the two women who had entered the Sabarimala shrine, was thrown out of her marital home after she was beaten by her mother-in-law for defiling the shrine. 
10:53  SC begins hearing Sabarimala review petition :  The Supreme Court commences hearing on pleas seeking review of verdict that had allowed women of all age groups entry into the Sabarimala temple.
10:46  The Congress must lead from behind:  The trouble for Narendra Modi's Opposition is it has answers, one too many answers, writes Sankarshan Thakur. Read the column here. 
10:40  'This may be the last glass ceiling I encounter':  "I qualified on all 4 counts to head the CBI... an easily avoidable delay of 1 day in the selection process ensured I was bumped out of the race," former IPS officer Rina Mitra tells the Telegraph. Do read  
10:35  Right-wing leader Who shot at Gandhi's effigy arrested:  Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha leader Pooja Shakun Pandey, missing since she, along with members of the right-wing group enacted the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary last week, was arrested on Tuesday from Uttar Pradesh's Aligarh. Her husband, Ashok Pandey, was also taken into custody, the police said.


The Uttar Pradesh police have registered criminal cases against 12 people in connection with the shocking recreation of Gandhi's assassination by the right-wing group. Last week the police had arrested three others, who were seen in the video.


A video showing Pooja Shakun Pandey - wearing saffron - shooting at an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi with an air pistol and garlanding his assassin Nathuram Godse on January 30 had sparked outrage. 


The Hindu Mahasabha general secretary had told reporters that her organisation had started a new tradition and it would be an annual event "just like the burning of Raavan on Dussehra".


The right-wing group regards the day of Mahatma Gandhi's death as Shaurya Divas (Bravery Day), in honour of Nathuram Godse. The right-wing activist was one of the early members of the organisation, founded by Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1915.
10:18  Rupee gains 8 paise to 71.49 vs USD in early trade:  The rupee Wednesday appreciated by 8 paise to 71.49 in early trade on the forex market amid positive opening in domestic equities and fresh foreign fund inflows. Forex traders said investors were cautious ahead RBI's Monetary Policy Committee outcome scheduled for February 7. 


Moreover, rising crude prices capped the gains for the domestic unit. At the Interbank Foreign Exchange, the rupee opened higher at 71.56 then gained further ground to touch 71.49 against the US dollar, showing a gain of 8 paise over its previous closing. In a very volatile trade, the domestic currency also touched a low of 71.60, showing a loss of 3 paise over its last close. 


On Tuesday, the rupee had settled 23 paise higher at 71.57 against the US dollar. Foreign funds purchased shares worth Rs 420.65 crore on a net basis, and domestic institutional investors bought shares worth Rs 194.31 crore Tuesday, provisional data showed. -- PTI
09:54  UP govt forms SIT to investigate 1984 riots in Kanpur:  A four-member Special Investigation Team has been constituted by the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh to investigate the circumstances that led to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Kanpur following the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.


Headed by retired Uttar Pradesh director general of police, Atul, the team includes retired additional director (prosecution) Yogeshwar Krishna Srivastava and retired district judge Subhash Chandra Agarwal. It will also include a senior-level officer from the Uttar Pradesh police.


The SIT has been asked to submit its report in six months, an official statement said on Tuesday.


According to official records, about 2,800 Sikhs were killed across India, including 2,100 in Delhi, during the pogrom that broke out after Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. 
- ANI
09:43  In Gurugram, Gabbar and Sambha will teach you traffic discipline:  In a bid to prevent road accidents, the Gurgaon police has picked Bollywood film Sholay's iconic characters Gabbar and Sambha to spread awareness among commuters and motorists to obey traffic rules.   

Volunteers of an NGO will dress up as the characters and perform street plays at important locations of the city, officials said.   

"The role of these two characters will be done by actors of private NGO. They will use typical dialogues from Sholay to encourage motorists to obey traffic rules, disciplines and respect other travellers," Gurgaon police PRO Subhash Bokan said.   

Traffic police officials and members of the Road Safety Organisation will also participate in the event to be kicked off on Wednesday at the Huda City Centre Metro station, he said.   

"The focus would be that road safety has become such a social evil in today's time that even tough nuts like Gabbar and Sambha have transformed themselves and are reminding everyone to stay safe today and every day, and everyone needs to come together to overcome this social evil," Bokan added.    

The official said the street plays will be performed at important intersections such as Iffco Chowk, Bristol Chowk, Rajiv Chowk, Atul Kataria Chowk, sector 56, sector 31 and other such places.
09:36  US misled Indian students by setting up fake varsity: Attorney:  
Flooded with phone calls from panic-stricken students, an eminent Indian American attorney on Tuesday alleged that Department of Homeland Security knowingly allowed the 'fake university' to be set up and misled students sitting hundreds of miles away in another country.

A day after the State Department blamed Indian students for the mass detention and possible deportation from the United States for enrolling themselves in a fake university set up by the Department of Homeland Security, California-based immigration attorney Anu Peshawaria said that the undercover operation has devastating consequences for hundred of Indian students.

"We are not saying that our students are not at fault. They should have done their due diligence before signing up. If they are perpetrating crime knowingly, they should be punished but if they are trapped or encouraged to commit the crime then we need to help them," Peshawaria said.

As per last week's figures provided by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as many as 130 of the 600 students from the fake University of Farmington were detained last week.

Of these 129 were Indians.Many of them since then have been released or put under restricted movement. Several of them have left the country.

Peshawaria said that some students are worried that they will have arrest on their record for ever and have lost years of education to no avail.

"They could be possible blackmail for the rest of their lives. What is surprising is that the university was registered with the education board that authorises the issuance of I-20s to students, which in turn is approved by the Department of Homeland Security," she said.

"Department of Homeland Security knowingly allowed the 'fake university' to be set up and misled students sitting hundreds of miles away in another country," she said noting that her office has been receiving numerous calls from panic-stricken friends and families of a large number of Indian students which could result in mass deportation.

Worse, these students, based on their approved i-20s even got driver licenses from the US Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This only added another stamp of authenticity to the credentials of the university, she asserted.

Many students travelled to meet the Dean of the University, which has now been closed, many of them asked for classes curriculum, she said.

"Given that authorities knew this was a set-up, they should have stopped the students there and then. If they wanted to catch the perpetrators what right do, they have to defraud innocent lives," Peshawaria said.

"In fact, during this time the government also enjoyed taxes that these consultants paid. Now, they cannot suddenly wake up and decide to put all these people behind bars," Peshawaria added.

Many students have huge loans to pay, she said based on her interaction with these students.

They were saving up to send to their families in a small village in India, she said adding that they are devastated.

"It is all easy to say that students knew what they were doing, did we all know all the laws when we moved to United States that they should get such harsh punishment," she asked.

"We are all fighting to release the students immediately. The students are calling me that US govt is forcing them to self deport but they want back their degrees and lost time and compensation for pain and anguish," Peshawaria asserted.  -- PTI

Image only for representation.
08:48  Trump in State of the Union: Will meet Kim again on Feb 27-28:  
US President Donald Trump in State of the Union address:

'Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one.

'We will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.'

He also targeted China, saying 'theft' of American jobs and wealth must 'come to an end'.  -- ANI/PTI
08:40  Case booked against Pandya, Rahul, Karan Johar in Rajasthan:  
A case has been registered against Hardik Pandya, K L Rahul and Karan Johar in Jodhpur for comments made during Johar's talk show in December last year.

Pandya and Rahul's crass comments on the show 'Koffee With Karan', where they spoke about hooking up with multiple women, were criticised by one and all and led to a social media storm, leading to their suspension for a few matches.

The suspensions were lifted on January 24 by the Committee of Administrators (CoA), two weeks after the duo was sent home from the tour of Australia.  -- ANI, PTI
08:36  Former Pak PM Gilani stopped from leaving country:  
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was stopped from leaving the country by security officials at the Lahore airport late on Tuesday night.

According to the Federal Investigation Agency, Gilani had reached the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore to catch his flight for South Korea via Bangkok to attend a conference.

However, his name was on the no-fly list.

"At the immigration counter, Mr Gilani was told that his name was placed on the black list therefore he could not leave the country," the FIA said, adding that it was following orders from the interior ministry.

Reacting strongly, the senior Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader said he had always appeared in court in the different ongoing cases against him.

"There was no point in placing my name on (the) no-fly list. I was not fleeing the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan's sole agenda seems to be targeting his political opponents," he said.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government should have informed me about blacklisting my name, Gilani said, adding that he will challenge the 'illegal decision of the government'.

Gilani is facing several corruption cases and last week, the accountability court of Islamabad had rejected his plea seeking exemption from personal appearance in a case related to awarding alleged illegal advertising contract to a private ad agency.

He is accused of misusing authority to illegally grant Messrs Midas an advertising contract in contravention of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules.

The act is reported to have cost the national treasury Rs 129.07 million.  -- PTI
08:25  In State of the Union address, Trump vows to 'build that wall':  
United States President Donald Trump has called for rejecting politics of revenge, resistance and retribution in his annual State of the Union address.

"We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good," he said.

Praising legal immigrants, Trump said he wants people to come into the US, but they have to come in legally.

"In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built.

"Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business," he said.

Trump also slammed 'ridiculous partisan investigations', says if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.  -- PTI/ANI
00:06  Netanyahu to meet Putin this month for Iran-Syria talks:  
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month in Moscow for talks on Iranian military activity in Syria.
  
It will be their first face-to-face meeting since November and follows a series of air strikes in January against what Israel said were facilities belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force in Syria.
"I'll be going on February 21 again to Russia following my discussions with President Putin in Paris a few months ago and subsequent phone conversations," Netanyahu said.
"It's very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria," he said in English, at the start of a meeting at his office with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen.
"This is one of the subjects, the main subject, that I'll be discussing with President Putin." 
On January 29, Netanyahu held talks in Jerusalem with two Russian officials on reinforcing their military coordination in Syria to avoid any "friction" there, his office said at the time.
The meeting with the Kremlin's Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin focused on "Iran and the situation in Syria", it said.
It came on the heels of January 21-22 Israeli strikes on what the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said were positions and assets held by Iran and its allies in Syria.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria in the past few years against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, and the Jewish state and Russia have set up a "de-confliction" hotline to avoid accidental clashes.

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