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Saudis made a 'strategic mistake': Iran on severing diplomatic relations

AP | Jan 4, 2016, 12.56 PM IST

Muslim Americans protest against execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a rally in Michigan on January 3. (Reuters photo)Muslim Americans protest against execution of cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a rally in Michigan … Read More
TEHRAN: Iran’s deputy foreign minister has said that Saudi Arabia’s decision to severe diplomatic relations cannot cover up Riyadh’s “strategic mistake” in killing a prominent Shiite cleric.

Hossein Amir Abdollahian also accused Saudi Arabia of promoting terrorism and extremism in the Middle East. His comments were broadcast on Monday on Iranian state television.

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran late on Sunday, hours after protesters stormed and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. It also followed harsh criticism by Iran’s top leader of the Saudis’ execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Al-Nimr’s execution has opened a new chapter in the ongoing Sunni-Shiite power struggle playing out across the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and Iran as primary antagonists.

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Indian wizards taste high-level chess in Qatar

PUNE: A large number of Indian entries, 28 in all, for the Qatar Open chess tournament had one underlining theme: an opportunity to brush shoulders with the best in business.

Going by the scores and a lack of big upsets, it was not a huge success for the Indians but the experience of playing in a truly strong and less fabricated field can give them important clues vis-a-vis their chess careers.

Surya Shekhar Ganguly (6/9) proved to be the best Indian in a 132-player field. He finished 10th and took revenge on Salem AR Saleh of UAE for taking away Asian title on `non-playing’ tiebreak.Apart from beating Saleh, he scored a win over 25-year-old English GM David Howell.

Celebrated Grandmasters P Harikrishna, SP Sethuraman, Vidit Gujrathi (5.5/9), K Sasikiran (5.5/9), B Adhiban (5/9), D Harika (4.5/9), S Kidambi (4/9) and MR Venkatesh (49) couldn’t put on an impressive show and ended up being cannon fodder. Majority of them lost Elo points.

However, the underdogs had an eventful ride over nine Swiss League rounds of the richest open tournament in the world.

After holding Harikrishna in the opening round, young Chennai GM Aravindh Chithambaram had a chance to put eventual champion Magnus Carlsen under pressure in the second round.

But he erred with time management and fumbled his lines. It was a case of so near yet so far. Still, the tournament has been a great learning curve for Aravindh (5/9), who is likely to get back his GM Elo strength of 2500 soon. No. 9 seed Harikrishna, who finished 11th, failed to pair up against any of the eight contenders rated better than him. On the other hand, Rahuri-based Shardul Gagare (2470; 5/9) played all his nine games against higher-rated players and got his third and final GM norm.

After getting a chance to play against Wei Yi, Hou Yifan, Vassily Ivanchuk, K Sasikiran and B Adhiban (lost one and drew four), Gagare’s confidence count must have reached performance-enhancing proportions.

NR Vignesh (4.5/9) and Harshit Raja of Pune (4/9) also attained GM and IM norms respectively. The latter added 39 points to his Elo strength.

Two Pune-based players Eesha Karavade and Abhishek Kelkar (3.59) somewhat redeemed themselves by inching closer to their supposed IM Elo strength of 2400. Young IM Abhimanyu Puranik started solidly but flattered to deceive.

There were a few moments of unadulterated excitement as well.

At least two games involving the Indians were far from ‘legally fixed’ draws. Adhiban and Puranik went toe to toe against each other in the opening round.

In the final position, they had only kings on the board.Ditto with Saskiran vs Raja game in the fifth round. Kelkar vs Irina Krush game in the penultimate round ended in a fascinating stalemate.

On the other hand, women’s world No. 1 Hou Yifan was rewarded with a consolation prize of $ 8,000 for the best woman despite losing rating points. Her Elo rating is 2683 and she came up with a rating performance of 2591, below the strength of a GM norm.

The rewards in the logical game continue to be illogical!

Barack Obama starts 2016 with a fight over gun control

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama is slated Monday to finalize a set of new executive actions tightening the nation’s gun laws, making his first order of business in the new year a clear signal the president in his final year doesn’t intend to go quietly.

At a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and other top law enforcement officials Obama is expected to sign off on a package of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence and cracking down on unregulated gun sales.

At the top of the list is an effort to expand background checks on gun sales by forcing more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers. The changes would be aimed at some unregistered sellers who skirt the background check laws by selling at gun shows, online or informal settings. Other moves being considered include improving reporting of lost and stolen weapons and beefing up inspections of licensed dealers, according to a person familiar with the plans who would not be named discussing proposals before they are finalized.

The package includes measures this White House has long considered but not completed, mindful of the legal fight sure to follow as well as the potential for political backlash for some fellow Democrats.

But after a steady string of mass shootings and with the clock on his tenure ticking down, Obama appears primed to push further than he has in the past.

“We definitely think there are things he can do,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for expanding background checks. Gross says his recent conversations with White House aides have left him hopeful.

“It’s very clear that the White House is feeling emboldened,” he said.

Obama announced the meeting with Lynch in his weekly address from his Hawaii holiday vacation. On Thursday, he’ll take his argument to prime time, participating in a town hall discussion of gun violence on CNN. He’s slated to make his case for changes in his State of the Union address on January 12.

The high-profile rollout reflects a White House continuing to look for ways to wrap up unfinished business, despite an uncooperative Congress.

After all-but ignoring the issue in his first term, Obama changed course after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012. The president failed to push a package of gun measures through Congress, including one expanding background checks.

At the same time, Obama took nearly two dozen executive actions to tighten gun laws, but left a major expansion of background checks out of the mix.

But after the shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon in October, a weary and angry Obama ordered his staff to redouble the effort to look for ways to work around Congress.

Under current law, federally licensed firearms dealers are required to seek background checks on potential firearm purchasers. But advocacy groups say many sellers are currently exempt from having to register, increasing the chance of sales to customers prohibited by law from purchasing a gun.

The administration is expected to reclassify some of those dealers using a mix of criteria, such as the number and frequency of guns sold, whether sellers profit off sales, whether they advertise, rent space or tables at gun shows and pay taxes. White House officials have not yet disclosed the details of the proposal.

Obama’s plans immediately set off a political debate on the presidential campaign trail, both over the policy and whether the president has the authority to make it.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has already proposed an executive action to close the gun show loophole, cheered Obama’s plans.

“I am absolutely convinced we can have gun safety measures consistent with the Constitution,” she said during a presidential campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire. “I will take on that fight. I’m very hopeful and excited that the president is going to take some action with executive action in the next week or two … but if it’s a Republican who walks into the White House within the first day, the executive orders will be reversed.”

Rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, told ABC’s “This Week” he wished Congress could find consensus but added the move was the “right thing to do.”

Republicans candidates rejected the proposals, including those who have back some gun control measures in the past.

“This president is a petulant child,” New Jersey governor Chris Christie said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.” “The fact is if he wants to make changes to these laws, go to Congress and convince the Congress that they’re necessary. But this is going to be another illegal executive action which I’m sure will be rejected by the courts.”

“I don’t like changing anything,” Donald Trump said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Right now, they have plenty of rules and regulations.”

Coaching meets family sacrifice for Gagare's GM norms

PUNE: Even a blitz tournament can change your classical life. GM-aspirant Shardul Gagare has discovered that in good measure.

The 18-year-old Rahuribased player was playing a blitz tournament in Abu Dhabi in September 2014. Ukranian GM Alexander Goloshchapov, who was following the tournament online, was so impressed by Gagare’s raw talent that he wrote an email to the player saying that if the latter trains under him, he is certain to become a GM.

There was an online session the following month, spanning about two hours twice a week. In April 2015, the 37-year-old Goloshchapov visited Ahmednagar for a 10-day individual session with Gagare. Then followed a group cum-individual session in November.

Result: Gagare is mere three Elo points away from the coveted GM title. Before being associated with Goloshchapov, the IM had attained just one GM norm in July 2013. Since then, he has added two: one in July 2015 and the third in the Qatar Open which concluded on Tuesday.

“Goloshchapov made a huge difference to my game,” said Gagare, a son of two doctors. “He imparted new ideas to me. He ensured that I use my brain before using the chess engines. He showed me the importance of discipline in calculation. And after giving me some problem-solving tests before the Qatar Masters, he concluded that I’m almost sure of improving my strength.”

Goloshchapov had worked with Parimarjan Negi, Shiven Khosla and Vaibhav Suri earlier. With 15 of the 39 Indian GMs not maintaining the Elo 2500 strength in the January list, India No. 27 and World No. 961 Gagare is aware that his tough journey will unfurl new chapters.

When he plays the Mumbai Open, which starts in the last week of this month, touching the Elo 2500 mark will be the first challenge because being so near of the title can be quite unnerving. And after getting there, he will have to find ways to protect his ranking: not just by fabricated draws when suitable; but also by winning against higher and lower rated players consistently.

Becoming a GM at 15 is not uncommon these days. Gagare has been a late bloomer by that standard. But then, the Gagares are used to challenging life. His father Annasaheb quit his medical practice and has been accompanying his son to tournaments for more than five years now.

“Chess can’t be a part-time activity like other sports,” said Annasaheb. “And it demanded total involvement from my side. I needed to travel with Shardul to various tournaments. It is a demanding sport. Hence I took up a job in medical college, so that I can devote time for his chess. My wife Sumangal takes care of our clinic.”

The family must have spent more than Rs 50 lakh over last 8-10 years.

Shardul’s elder sister Shalmali is also a chess player and a Woman International Master to boot. Currently on a sabbatical, she plans to returns to the checkered board after completing her degree in dental science.

Shardul plans to give his 12th Class exams in 2017. He will attempt bigger and meaner exams first, hoping that the GM title will give him lucrative invitations and harder work desired success.

How did Gagare treat himself after his third and final GM norm in Doha?

“My father was there to take care of my studies, strategy and food,” said the youngster. “Though I eat non vegetarian food, I generally eat safe during tournaments. Rice daal, daal khichadi and laapshi are my favourites.”

Qatar Open was the strongest ever rating tournament with players above Elo 2300 getting free entry. With the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Sergey Karjakin, Shakhriyar Mamyedarov and Vassily Ivanchuk in the fray, many strong players visited Doha. “The accommodation was not free. But I won the prize of $ 1,500 for the best junior player,” said Gagare.

Shardul’s coaches Prakash Gujrathi (Ahmednagar) Jyoti Prakash (Chennai) GM Abhijit Kunte (Pune) GM Alon Greenfeld (Israel) GM Tejas Bakre (Ahmedabad) GM Alexander Goloshchapov (Ukraine)

Shardul’s sponsors ONGC, ABIL group, Narendra Firodia, Shirdi Sansthan.

China building second aircraft carrier which will focus more on military ops

BEIJING: China’s second aircraft carrier, which is now under construction, will focus more on military operations training and technological experiments to improve its defence systems as the 2.3 million strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA) undergoes massive revamp.

“This aircraft carrier will have different missions than those for the Liaoning (the country’s first aircraft carrier),” said Senior Captain Zhang Junshe with the PLA’s Naval Military Studies Research Institute.

“We use the (the first carrier) Liaoning to test the reliability and compatibility of systems on carriers, and to train personnel. The second carrier will mainly do what a genuine aircraft carrier is supposed to do: running combat patrols and delivering humanitarian aid. Liaoning, which was refurbished after its hull was bought from Ukraine is in operation since 2013,” Zhang was quoted as saying by the official PLA Daily.

Zhang said China urgently needs a second carrier, as the country is seeking to improve its defence systems and safeguard national interests.

“The PLA needs at least three aircraft carriers. When it does, one can be on duty, one can train personnel, and the third can receive maintenance,” he said.

China’s second aircraft carrier is under construction in the coastal city of Dalian, Liaoning province, Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told media last week.

The new carrier has been designed in China and will have a displacement of 50,000 metric tons, a conventional power system, and will carry domestically developed J-15 fighter jets and other ship-borne aircraft, Yang said.

The ship will use a ski jump mode for launching fixed-wing aircraft, the same as the Liaoning, he added.

Zhang said the new carrier’s three major systems-power and propulsion, electronic systems and weapons-will all be developed by China and will have better capabilities than those on the Liaoning.

He said China will consider developing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier after it gains enough experience in operating such large vessels.

As it is set to expand the fleet of aircraft carriers, Chinese defence experts said the PLA need to need to make significant changes following last week’s upgradation of the status of the Missile force to the equal status of army, navy and airforce.

The PLA has re-designated its missile force renaming it as Rocket Force(PRF) and formed a support wing the PLA Strategic Support Force (SSF) to provide electronic and cyber surveillance.

Srikanth stuns Chong Wei

MUMBAI: Saina Nehwal’s absence from the Premier Badminton League’s opening tie between Mumbai Rockets and Awadhe Warriors on Saturday evening had left fans at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Indoor Stadium a disappointed lot. But, they had access to plenty of starpower a day later when the Bengaluru Top Guns faced off against a fancied Hyderabad Hunters outfit.

While the Hunters had the likes of Lee Chong Wei, P Kashyap, Jwala Gutta and Markis Kido to fall back on, their opponents were eager to return fire through Kidambi Srikanth, Sameer Verma, Ashwini Ponnappa and JF Nielsen. In the end, it was Hyderabad who walked away with the honours 3-2 as spectators were treated to some brilliant performances from both sides. The Srikanth-Chong Wei clash – the fifth and final match of the tie -was easily the most awaited meeting of the afternoon.

Hyderabad had sealed the fate of the tie and were leading 3-1 when the duo took to the court and the onus was on Srikanth to help his side to close the gap. He did precisely that, beating the World No.5, 15-12, 6-15, 15-7. It was the first time that the Indian shuttler had beaten the Malaysian star and former World No.1.Ironically, Bengaluru lost the tie despite recording more head-to-head wins over their opponents on Sunday, thanks largely to the Trump Match rule which came to the Hunters’ rescue.

The tone for an afternoon of excitement had been set in the men’s doubles match between Hyderabad’s Carsten Mogensen Markis Kido and their opponents Hoon Thien How Khim Wah Lim from Malaysia. Neither team was willing to concede an inch in this extremely close-fought outing with Mogensen and Kido fighting back from a game down to win 13-15, 15-9, 15-14.

Things got worse for Bengaluru in their third match as Sameer Verma, playing his team’s chosen Trump Match against Kashyap was beaten by the World No. 15, 15-14, 15-13. At this stage, Hyderabad had effectively sealed the fate of the contest, having raced to a 3-0 lead. The mixed doubles match between Jwala Gutta Markis Kido and Ashwini Ponnappa JF Nielsen was to follow and the latter won 15-13, 15-13, bridging the overall gap to 3-1.

Chennai beat Mumbai 4-3

MUMBAI: There were plenty of empty seats at the venue as Mumbai Rockets geared up to face the Chennai Smashers on Sunday evening in their second tie of the Premier Badminton League. However, there was no dearth of energy, thanks to supporters of both sides who livened things up by constantly beating their dhols, tashas and other assorted instruments. Mumbai, who had beaten Awadhe Warriors a day earlier, could not replicate their form, losing the tie 4-3. Chennai’s mixed pair of Chris Adcock and Pia Zebadiah got things rolling, beating their opponents Vladimir Ivanov and Kamilla Juhl 15-10, 7-15, 15-11 in the opening match of the evening. The Rockets’ HS Prannoy made up for the slip and levelled scores beating Brice Leverdez of France 15-8, 15-11 pretty comfortably.

The hosts however, had to dig deep to win their Trump Match which saw the doubles pair of Mathias Boe and Ivanov lock horns with Adcock and Pranaav Chopra. The Mumbai duo raced to an easy 15-10 win in the first game, but Adcock and Chopra fought hard to take the next game 15-9. It was an extremely close contest in the decider with the experienced Rockets duo holding on to a 15-13 win. PV Sindhu, the World No 12, too had to draw from her reserves before winning her singles match against China’s Han Li 15-8, 11-15, 15-8.

Triple crown for Palak in junior district badminton tournament

Suhas Nayse

| TNN | Jan 4, 2016, 09.40 AM IST

NAGPUR: Palak bagged triple crown in the Taywade College District Junior (U-17 and U-19) Badminton tournament, organized by the Nagpur District Badminton Association, which concluded at the newly-opened Taywade College Indoor Stadium near Koradi on Sunday.

On the third and final day, Palak dominated the proceedings to capture three titles. Fourteen-year-old Palak won the U-17 and U-19 girls singles. The duo of Palak and Shruti Chokhandare claimed the U-17 girls’ doubles crown too with ease.

Babanrao Taywade distributed the prizes to the winners and runners-up.

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Terror attack on Indian consulate in Afghanistan's Mazar-i-Sharif, fresh explosions heard

MAZAR-I-SHARIF (Afghanistan): Explosions and gunfire rang out Sunday as militants attempted to storm the Indian diplomatic mission in Afghanistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif city, following a deadly assault on an air base in Pathankot.

Two loud blasts and shots were heard as the gunmen launched an attack from a nearby house after darkness fell, Muneer Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the Balkh province governor said.

They were repelled after an attempt to enter the consulate and took refuge in a house across the street, he said.

“Right now our security forces are fighting them,” he said.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid on the consulate in the northern Afghan city, the latest in a series of assaults on Indian installations in the country.

“The area is completely blocked by our forces,” said Shir Jan Durrani, a police spokesman. “The attackers are holed up inside the building. We are cautiously conducting our clearance operation to avoid any civilian casualties.”

At least one civilian was wounded. But no details were immediately available on any other casualties or damage, or on the number of attackers involved.

Indian ambassador Amar Sinha tweetd to say all members of the consulate staff were safe.

Despite the attempt by the gunmen to enter the consulate, an Indian official said it was not absolutely certain that the consulate itself was the target. “Details are very sketchy at this point in time,” he said.

The incident occurred while Indian security forces were still trying to suppress an attack on an air base in Pathankot in which seven military personnel have been killed and 20 others injured.

Officials suspect the gunmen who attacked the Pathankot air base belong to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group that staged the 2001 attack on the Parliament.

The violence comes a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian premier in 11 years.

The visit immediately followed a whirlwind tour of Kabul, where PM Modi inaugurated an Indian-built Parliament complex and gifted three Russian-made helicopters to the Afghan government.

The latest unrest comes amid a renewed international push to revive peace talks with the resurgent militant movement.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are set to hold a first round of dialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China on January 11 to lay out a comprehensive roadmap for peace.

Pakistan, which wields considerable influence over the Taliban, hosted a milestone first round of talks in July but the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar.

The attack on the consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif marks the latest attack on an Indian target in Afghanistan.

In 2008, a car bomb at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 60 people and the embassy was again hit by a suicide strike in 2009.

Nine civilians, including seven children, were killed in August 2013 when suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the main eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

And in May 2014, gunmen launched a pre-dawn attack on India’s consulate in the main western Afghan city of Herat before being repelled by security forces.

Foreign secys to draw dialogue roadmap for next 6 months: Aziz

Islamabad: Underlining that there is “visible improvement” in Indo-Pak ties, Pakistan has said the foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet on January 15 to draw up a roadmap for the next six months to carry forward the bilateral engagement.

The Pakistan government will focus on the revival of peace process in Afghanistan and the consolidation of the process of improvement of relations with India, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told Radio Pakistan.

He said the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries will meet here on January 15 to draw up a roadmap for the Bilateral Comprehensive Dialogue for the next six months.

The dialogue will cover all issues, including Kashmir, Siachen and water, Aziz said yesterday.

Talking about the policy of a peaceful neighbourhood, he said it ultimately paid back as there is “visible improvement” in relations with India and Afghanistan.

Aziz asserted that economic revival, peaceful neighbourhood and non-interference in affairs of other countries is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Aziz’ remarks came as Pakistani militants attacked an Air Force base in Pathankot yesterday.

In a pre-dawn attack, a group of heavily-armed Pakistani terrorists, suspected to be belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed outfit, struck at the Air Force base in Punjab, leading to a fierce gun-battle.

Pakistan has condemned the Pathankot terror strike and asserted that building on the goodwill created during the recent high level contacts, it remained committed to partner India in tackling terrorism.

The attack came just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to Pakistan and met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with an aim of improving ties.

The process of resumption of talks was set in motion after a meeting between Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in Paris on November 30 on the sidelines of Climate Change Conference.

The meet was followed by the national security advisers’ meeting in Bangkok a week later following which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan to attend the Heart of Asia Conference.

The iconic stethoscope is dead?

PTI | Jan 4, 2016, 03.40 AM IST

WASHINGTON: The role of the stethoscope, the ubiquitous tool of the medical profession for over 200 years, is at the centre of debate in the US with a leading Indian-origin cardiologist declaring “the stethoscope is dead”. In recent years, the sounds it transmits from the heart, lungs, blood vessels and bowels have been digitised, amplified, filtered and recorded.

The widespread use of echocardiograms and the development of pocket-size ultrasound devices are raising questions about why doctors continue to sling earphones and rubber tubing around their necks.

“The stethoscope is dead,” said Jagat Narula, a cardiologist and associate dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. PTI

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