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Late Saudi king's 'secret wife' gets huge UK payout

LONDON: A British judge on Tuesday ordered a huge financial payout for a woman who claims she was the “secret wife” of the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

Judge Peter Smith ruled that Palestinian-born Janan Harb, 68, should receive more than 15 million pounds ($ 23 million) and two expensive apartments in London’s Chelsea neighborhood that had been promised her.

The High Court judge said her claim to having been promised a financial settlement by one of the king’s sons was “credible.”

Harb had told the court she secretly married the king in 1968 when he was still a prince. She testified that he had promised to look after her financially for the rest of her life. Harb had told the court the king’s family opposed their marriage because she was a Christian. She converted to Islam right before the marriage.

Her testimony indicated she had been promised the financial settlement by Prince Abdul Aziz, the son of another of the king’s wives, when he met with her at London’s posh Dorchester Hotel in 2003 when the king was seriously ill.

The court did not rule on whether she and the king had ever married, but on whether the prince had promised her a cash settlement and the luxury London properties.

The prince denied the assertion in written statements, but refused to testify in person or be cross-examined, earning a contempt of court citation. He was ordered to make a 25,000 pound charity donation.

The judge told the prince’s lawyer his case had been severely damaged by the prince’s refusal to appear because the case revolved around whether his or Harb’s statements were believable. He also criticized Harb for her lavish lifestyle and gambling debts.

Harb said she was “very relieved” by the decision Tuesday and criticized the prince for not honoring his father’s wishes.

“This has been 12 years of misery for me. I am very happy with British justice,” Harb said.

The prince’s lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment.

Russian plane crash: Flight recorders reveal ‘unusual sounds’ moment before jet disappeared

The disappearance of the Russian airliner which crashed in Sinai on Saturday was preceded by sounds in the cockpit “uncharacteristic of a standard flight”, according to Russian media.

The Interfax news agency quoted officials in Cairo as providing a first insight into audio recordings from the Airbus 321’s “black box” recorders.

READ ALSO: Mystery deepens over Russian airliner crash in Egypt

They reported that after a period of routine discussions between crew members, “the recordings show sounds uncharacteristic of a standard flight precede the moment of the airliner’s disappearance”.

According to Interfax, the recordings also suggest “there was a sudden emergency situation on board which took the crew by surprise, and the pilots did not have time to send a distress signal”.

Confusion remains over whether the crash of the plane, which broke up in mid-air and sent debris across the remote and conflict-ridden region of Egypt, was caused by an internal fault, explosive device or external action.

READ ALSO: US intelligence expert doesn’t rule out ISIS role in downing Russian plane

On Monday evening, US intelligence officials told NBC News that an American satellite picked up a strong “heat flash” in the area at the time of the crash.

According to NBC, officials said the flash was not preceded by a heat trail from below – suggesting there’s no indication the plane was struck by a missile.

“The speculation that this plane was brought down by a missile is off the table,” the official said.

READ ALSO: Russian airline rules out ‘technical fault’, blames crash on ‘external’ factor

US officials pointed to an explosion on the plane itself as the most likely cause, but there is no way of telling from satellite images whether it was caused by a fuel tank or possible bomb on board.

Kremlin officials have not ruled out a terrorist attack on the plane, which was carrying 224 people at the time.

But speaking to BBC News, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said that Isis’s claim to have brought down the jet at 35,000ft was “propaganda”, and said the area of Sinai in question was under government forces’ “full control”.

READ ALSO: First bodies of Russian victims in Egypt crash brought home

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Cairo has instructed its staff to avoid travel anywhere in the Sinai Peninsula as a “precautionary measure” until further notice.

On Tuesday morning, a St Petersburg official said the first nine bodies of victims in the crash have been officially identified, and their families informed.

Igor Albin, a deputy governor of Russia’s second city from which the majority of passengers hailed, said the identification process could take several weeks.

READ ALSO: Russian delegation arrives in Egypt to begin crash investigation

Air strikes in Yemeni city kill over 33 people

AP | Nov 3, 2015, 11.18 PM IST

CAIRO: Yemeni security officials say fighting between Shia rebels and their opponents has killed over 33 people in Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city.

The officials said on Tuesday that 21 rebels, known as Houthis, died in airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition that opposes them. Eight civilians died when their bus hit a land mine and four fighters from the anti-Houthi forces were killed in street clashes.

The officials are independent in the conflict that is roiling Yemen. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk to journalists.

Yemen’s fighting pits the Houthis and allied army units against forces loyal to the internationally recognized government as well as southern separatists and militants. At least 2,615 civilians have died since the anti-Houthi air campaign began in March, according to the UN.

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Turkey hits Kurd rebels, cracks down on Erdogan rivals

ANKARA: Turkey cracked down on rivals of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday and launched air strikes against Kurdish rebels, clearly signalling a return to hardline tactics after an election that cemented his grip on power.

The West has voiced deep concerns about Sunday’s vote that delivered Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) a landslide victory, fearing the country will slide into increasingly authoritarian rule.

Hopes of a possible return to Kurdish peace talks after the vote were dashed after the military said its warplanes bombed bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeastern Turkey and their northern Iraq stronghold on Monday.

“Shelters, caves and arms depots identified as being used by terrorists from the separatist terrorist organisation were destroyed with air bombardments,” it said in a statement.

Three Kurdish rebels also died on Tuesday after clashes erupted with security forces in two areas of the restive southeast, the first reported deaths in PKK ranks since the election.

Analysts say anxiety over the resurgent Kurdish conflict and a spate of bloody attacks by the Islamic State group were key reasons why voters flocked back to the AKP.

In a turnaround that confounded pollsters, Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP reclaimed the majority it lost five months ago, winning almost half the votes and returning the Muslim-majority state of 78 million to single-party rule.

And events in Turkey appear to bear out grim predictions that the “Sultan” who has dominated politics for more than a decade will brook no dissent as he seeks to expand his presidential powers.

Prosecutors on Tuesday charged two journalists over a magazine cover critical of Erdogan, while police rounded up dozens of supporters of a US-based cleric now regarded as the president’s nemesis.

The leftwing Nokta magazine said on Twitter its editor-in-chief Cevheri Guven and managing editor Murat Capan had been arrested and charged with “attempting to overthrow the government by force”.

Police had raided its Istanbul offices on Monday after the election edition of the magazine hit the streets with a front cover declaring “The start of civil war in Turkey”.

Police also detained 44 suspects including high-ranking bureaucrats and police as part of a “terrorism” investigation into exiled lay preacher Fetullah Gulen.

Gulen is charged with running a “parallel state” which launched a widespread corruption probe into the president’s inner circle in 2013 that tarnished Erdogan and his party, whose initials AK mean “pure” in Turkish.

Three former provincial governors and an ex-deputy police chief were among those held.

The action came only a day after the United States and two European observer missions expressed concern about media intimidation during the election campaign.

Ankara denied there was any pressure on the media, despite a string of high-profile arrests and raids on opposition television stations that raised alarm in the run-up to the vote.

“Nobody is forced to be silent in this country,” deputy premier Akdogan said, but added: “Press morality goes hand in hand with press freedom.”

Despite constant concerns about human rights that have hampered Turkey’s EU aspirations, analysts say the bloc will have no choice but to deal with Erdogan.

EU president Donald Tusk even congratulated Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on his election win on Tuesday while urging Turkey to show its readiness to work with Brussels on issues such as the migrant crisis.

Brussels has voiced worries over deteriorating security linked to the brutal war in Syria, which has seen two million refugees take shelter in Turkey.

Tusk also urged Ankara to restart the peace process with the Kurds but deputy prime minister Yalcin Akdogan said conditions were not yet ripe.

“For us to say the peace process has started, the factors poisoning this process should be removed,” he told NTV television.

Ankara had unleashed a new air war against PKK rebels after renewed militant violence in July, destroying a 2013 truce and hopes of fresh talks to end a conflict that has claimed 45,000 lives since 1984.

Erdogan, who became prime minister in 2003 and then Turkey’s first directly-elected president in 2014, was initially hailed in the West for transforming Turkey into a model of Muslim democracy and turning around its basket-case economy.

But a brutal police crackdown on nationwide protests in 2013, a massive purge of the judiciary following the corruption probe and constant concerns about human rights have cooled relations with both Washington and Brussels.

“The AKP should take comfort in its large majority and start to view minority views and even peaceful dissent more benignly, in a way that befits a country negotiating accession to the European Union,” said Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (Edam).

“The lesson of the two elections is clear: Turkey’s voters want a strong, stable government, but not one that runs roughshod over its opponents,” he said.

Nepal may get an AAP as Maoists split again

KATHMANDU: Nepal’s powerful Maoist party, a key constituent of the government, is set to split again, and the breakaway faction wants something akin to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of India.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, which led a decade long civil war until 2006 and is headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, is on the verge of a fourth split.

READ ALSO: Nepal ex-PM Baburam Bhattarai quits party, parliament

The man spearheading the rebellion is his former confidant and former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, who completed his PhD from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on regional development and planning.

Bhattarai, who quit the party in September voicing displeasure over the new constitution the party chose, wants to form a new political party akin to Delhi’s ruling AAP, his aides said.

This could happen within one and a half month.

Bhattarai said his party would be socialist in nature and not a hardcore communist outfit.

READ ALSO: Nepal’s big 3 parties unite against India

A total 45 central committee, standing committee and politburo members of the Maoist party close to Bhattarai on Tuesday furnished their resignations in order to join the proposed party.

A meeting of these leaders held at Bhattarai’s residence decided to end their association with the Maoist party, said Ram Rijan Yadav, a party leader. “We have also given up the party membership.”

This is not the first time the Maoists have split in Nepal.

In 2009, a faction led by Matrika Yadav split. In 2012, the party suffered another split led by veteran communist leader Mohan Bidhaya Kiran.

The party again split in 2014. This time a long-time aide of Prachanda, Netra Bikram Chand, formed a new communist party.

Prachanda’s UPCN-Maoist is in the government led by the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

South Africa have adjusted to bowling with SG balls: Simon Harmer

MOHALI: South Africa spinner Simon Harmer on Tuesday said he was comfortable bowling with the SG ball which is different from the Kookabura balls with which they bowl at home.

“The SG ball that we played with in the warm-up, which is the ball that will be using in the game, is a hell of a lot different to the kookabura ball. There are a few little things that we have worked on with the variations with the kookabura ball. Seam wise may be it would be slightly different, but we have adapted pretty quickly,” Harmer said.

“Kookabura ball as it gets closer to 90 overs, the seam starts to disappear into the ball whereas SG ball starts to come out of it. Now for me, as a finger spinner that means I can grip the ball better later on into the game and I think sweat is going to play a big part with the reverse swinging ball. But in terms of actual seam, I think it is better than what the kookabura is,” he said.

Asked what line he was planning to bowl, Harmer replied, “On morning of day one, you are not going to bowl outside off stump. It’s going to be very dependent on the wickets that we play on. Days 4 and 5 you have to look to be attacking, I don’t think you can look to bowl defensively there, unless you are 500 runs behind. But I definitely think, our spinners will bowl attacking lines.”

Continuing further, the 26-year-old right-arm spinner said, there was healthy competition amongst the team’s spinners which apart from him includes Imran Tahir and Dane Piedt.

“Myself, Dane and Imran we get along very well, competition is always good. I think it can only be good for spin bowling in South Africa,” Simon said during a media interaction at the PCA stadium here on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, young South African player Temba Bavuma, who is just four Tests old, is also looking forward to the challenge of playing in the sub-continent conditions if he gets a chance in the playing eleven.

“I am looking forward to the prospect, this is my third time here in India,” he said.

Asked if there was a chance that he may earn a place replacing J P Duminy, who split the webbing on his right hand, Bavuma said, “they are big boots to fill. Our top seven batters are world class batters. Coming to Test side and asked to perform any kind of role is big. If opportunity comes my way, I will try to take it with both hands.”

He also said that he learns a lot from the experienced players, even by just watching them in the nets and speaking to them.

“In my personal capacity, I try to be as observant as possible,” he said.

Commenting on his earlier tours to India, the 25-year-old right-handed batsman said “my first tour was with the T20 Champions League in 2012, most recently it was playing in ‘A’ series in Kerala.”

He also said that he learnt a lot from India A coach and former batsman Rahul Dravid.

“I got an opportunity to speak to him on the last day of the tour, about different approaches, different plans you got to adapt as a player. Having a talk with him was helpful and he was quite open, he gave valuable advice,” he said.

Russia says it doesn't mind if Assad stays or steps down

MOSCOW: A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday that Moscow does not consider it a matter of principle that Syrian President Bashar Assad should stay in power, stepping back from its previous position of strong support for him.

Asked whether it was crucial for Moscow that Assad stays, Maria Zakharov said on the Ekho Moskvy radio station: “Absolutely not, we’ve never said that.”

“What we did say is a regime change in Syria could become a local or even regional catastrophe,” she said, adding that “only the Syrian people can decide the president’s fate.”

Russia is believed to be Assad’s strongest backer and has previously balked at the West’s suggestions that the Syrian president should be ousted.

Russia in September began carrying out air strikes at Islamic State fighters in Syria at Assad’s request.

Earlier on Tuesday, deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russian news agencies that Moscow is aiming to host a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week.

Bogdanov said the Syrian government has agreed to participate, but that it is unclear which opposition groups might come. He did not give a specific date for the proposed talks.

The talks are expected to be discussed Wednesday at a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura, Bogdanov said.

Assad made a surprise visit to Moscow last month, which was viewed as a signal that Russia ultimately seeks a political settlement after weeks of heavy airstrikes in Syria, although the terms of such an arrangement are uncertain.

India eye second spot in Test rankings

DUBAI: India will have an opportunity to climb to second position of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Test rankings when they take on South Africa in the four-match series which starts in Mohali on Thursday.

However, climbing to the summit will not be easy for the fifth ranked Indians. Trailing top ranked South Africa by a fraction of a point, the hosts will have to win all four Tests. On the other hand, South Africa will vault to 130 points and India will plummet to 96 points if the visitors win all four Tests.

The Test rankings may undergo several changes as Australia, who currently hold the second spot on the table, host sixth-ranked New Zealand in a three-match series, including the first-ever day/night Test in Adelaide.

With third-ranked England and fourth-ranked Pakistan, battling for supremacy in the ongoing Sharjah Test, the top six sides in the Test arena are separated by just 26 points on the ICC Test Championship table.

If Pakistan win the final Test, then they will move marginally ahead of Australia into second place for the first time in nearly a decade, while England will drop behind New Zealand to the sixth position by a fraction of a point. In the case of England winning the Test, both sides will retain their pre-series rankings and points.

The Test Championship table will then be updated at the end of Australia-New Zealand series, which means Australia will have to win the series by 1-0 or better to ensure it stays ahead of Pakistan (if Pakistan win 2-0). In this series, Australia can rise to as high as 110 points, but can also drop to as low as 99 points.

In contrast, New Zealand will gain seven points if they wins 3-0 but will slip to 94 points if Australia sweep the series.

The next update of the ICC Test Championship table will take place following the conclusion of the India-South Africa series.

The ICC Test Player Rankings are also up for a major reshuffle as the bulk of the star performers will be in action over the next few weeks.

Virat Kohli is India’s highest-ranked batsman at the 13th position. Cheteshwar Pujara (19th) and Murali Vijay (20th) are the only other Indian batsmen inside the top 20.

Although the Test player rankings will be updated following the conclusion of the Sharjah Test, England’s Joe Root currently occupies the coveted number-one spot with Australia captain Steven Smith in second, just three points behind.

Root and Smith have been involved in the fight for the number one slot since the Trent Bridge Test. And because there is such a small gap between the two batsmen, neither of them has been able to retain the slot for an extended period of time. With Root left with just one innings in the ongoing series, Smith has an opportunity to not only leapfrog Root but also create some daylight as he has six innings in hand.

Breathing down the throats of Root and Smith are the South African duo of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, who are separated by just nine points, with team-mate Faf du Plessis sitting in 16th spot.

Kane Williamson (seventh) of New Zealand and Australia’s David Warner (ninth) are the other batsmen inside the top 10 with Black Caps’ Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum in 13th and 15th positions respectively.

Star South African fast bowler Dale Steyn is numero uno among the bowlers. The Proteas also boast Vernon Philander (seventh) and Morne Morkel (11th) inside the top 20 with Imran Tahir at the 59th spot.

For India, Ravichandran Ashwin (eighth) and Ishant Sharma (19th) are inside the top 20. The next highest ranked bowler is Ravindra Jadeja at the 30th spot, followed by Amit Mishra (38th), Umesh Yadav (42nd) and Varun Aaron (86th).

The New Zealand batsmen will face a real challenge in the three-Test series as five Australia bowlers feature inside the top 20. These include Mitchell Johnson (sixth), Peter Siddle (13th), Josh Hazlewood (16th), Nathan Lyon (17th) and Mitchell Starc (20th).

Fifth-ranked Trent Boult will spearhead New Zealand’s bowling attack, which also includes Tim Southee (10th), Mark Craig (39th) and Doug Bracewell (40th).

UK lawmakers wary of government plan for Syria air strikes

LONDON: The British government says it is still considering air strikes against Islamic State group targets in Syria, even though an influential group of lawmakers says the military action would be “incoherent” and ineffective without a plan to end the country’s civil war.

The foreign affairs select committee on Tuesday dealt a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempts to expand UK action against the militants from Iraq into Syria.

Cameron and his defense minister, Michael Fallon, have said they favor expanding the strikes to Syria, with the approval of Parliament. But it looks increasingly unlikely that the government could win the backing of a majority of lawmakers.

The foreign affairs committee — dominated by members of Cameron’s Conservative Party — said the debate about air strikes “is a distraction from the much bigger and more important task of finding a resolution to the conflict in Syria.”

Committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a Conservative legislator, said he feared the government was “responding to the powerful sense that something must be done … without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long-term plan for defeating (IS) and ending the civil war.”

The Royal Air Force is part of a US-led campaign of air strikes against militant targets in Iraq. But in 2013 British lawmakers unexpectedly rejected the government’s proposal for military action in neighboring Syria.

In a report published Tuesday, the foreign affairs committee said Russia’s intervention in the conflict in support of Bashar Assad’s government “has complicated even further any proposed action in Syria by the U.K.”

It said that without an international strategy to end Syria’s civil war, “taking action to meet the desire to do something is still incoherent.”

The committee said the government needs to answer fundamental questions about the proposed air strikes — including their legality without United Nations approval and whether they would have support from regional powers including Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Until then, it said, “we recommend that it does not bring to the House a motion seeking the extension of British military action to Syria.”

The committee’s report is not binding on the government, but its warnings will make it harder for Cameron to gain lawmakers’ approval for air strikes.

Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said RAF air strikes had had “a substantial impact in degrading (IS) in Iraq” and that further military action was still on the table.

“It is right that we continue to use military force against ISIS while we use diplomatic power to work towards a political solution in the Syrian civil war,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the militant group.

Amir Khan looks forward to 'amazing fight' in Pacquiao farewell

NEW DELHI: British boxer Amir Khan said on Tuesday his team is negotiating a fight with Manny Pacquiao in what would be the Filipino great’s final bout before taking to full-time politics.

Winner of world titles in eight different weight classes, the 36-year-old Pacquiao is recovering from a surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff following his defeat to Floyd Mayweather Jr in May.

Already a member of the country’s lower house of representatives, Pacquiao wanted to fight Mayweather Jr again in April before focussing on his political career but the American has said he has since retired with a 49-0 record.

“It would be an amazing fight, two fighters who know each other really well,” Khan told reporters in New Delhi of a potential fight with Pacquiao.

“We have trained together, sparred together and obviously I have left it to my team,” said the 28-year-old Briton.

“I’m on a vacation here, my office arranges the fights for me. If the fight happens, it would be an amazing fight, it would be a big fight.”

A former world light welterweight champion, Khan possesses, among other things, an Olympic silver medal from 2004 Athens Games and he said the governing body of amateur boxing (AIBA) might allow the professionals to fight in Olympics.

“I was with Mr (Ching-Kuo) Wu, president of the AIBA, and he said they would like to have professionals in the Olympics. So I think that could be something that may happen in the future.”

Of late, Khan has also taken interest in mixed martial arts, having acquired an undisclosed stake in Super Fight League (SFL), an India-based MMA promotion.

Looking ahead, he did not rule out taking the MMA plunge at some point.

“You never know. It has crossed my mind. Maybe one day, I’m still too young,” he said.

“You never know man. I might have a try in SFL one day. Maybe I would have a go. To have a boxer in a cage in an MMA would be amazing, it would be something different.”

The Briton is travelling in India where he plans to launch academies that would help local amateur boxers turn professionals.

“We are setting up five academies in Pakistan and want to do the same in India. I want to make a big difference here,” he said.