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International Current Affairs
International Current Affairs Jan 1st Week 2018
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International Current Affairs Jan 1st Week 2018

 1. Israel Withdraws from UNESCO.

Israel has filed notice to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) alongside the United States.

Israel has blasted UNESCO in recent years over the organisation’s criticism of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and its decision to grant full membership to Palestine in 2011.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said on Friday that she deeply regretted Israel’s decision to withdraw.

“A member of UNESCO since 1949, Israel has a rightful place inside the United Nations agency that is dedicated to education, culture and science,” Azoulay noted.

Both Israel and the US – which filed its own withdrawal notice in October, noting that it would instead seek to establish a permanent observer mission to UNESCO – will officially cease membership as of December 31, 2018.

In announcing its withdrawal, the US Department of State noted “anti-Israel bias” and “the need for fundamental reform” within the organisation. Shortly afterwards, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would pull out of UNESCO on the grounds that the body had become “a theatre of the absurd”.

UNESCO is best known for its work to preserve heritage, including maintaining a list of World Heritage sites, and programmes to promote education in developing countries.

In May, a UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem strongly criticised Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of the city.

In July, the UN body declared the Old City of Hebron in the occupied West Bank to be an endangered World Heritage site, prompting Netanyahu to announce a $1m funding cut to the UN, saying the UNESCO vote ignored Jewish ties to the site.

Such disagreements were best dealt with from “inside UNESCO and not outside it”, Azoulay said.

“In the face of disagreements among Member States, which lead to votes for which they are responsible, engaging fully in the work of UNESCO makes possible sustained dialogue, cooperation and partnerships that are more necessary than ever,” she said.

Israel has nine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including the White City of Tel Aviv, the Incense Route along desert cities in the Negev, and the sites of human evolution at Mount Carmel.

2. Nepal Bans Solo Climbing on Mount Everest.

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal has barred solo climbers on its mountains, including Mount Everest, in an attempt to promote safety and reduce accidents, an official said on Saturday.

“The mountains in Nepal are unique, and it’s always better for climbers to go with guides,” said the official, Santa Bir Lama, who is president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. “This is good for their own safety.”

Nepal, a Himalayan nation between India and China, has eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Alpinists from all over the world pay tens of thousands of dollars for climbing permits and Sherpa guides.

But some climbers try to summit the country’s mountains on their own. Maheshwor Neupane, the secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Culture and Civil Aviation, said the new rules, which were introduced on Thursday, require that all climbers, regardless of their experience level, be accompanied by guides.

The prohibition will start soon, he said, and should apply to the spring climbing season.

Climbers with physical disabilities will also be required to obtain health clearance from their doctors before the tourism ministry issues local climbing permits, Mr. Neupane added.

3. Saudi Arabia and UAE Introduce VAT for First Time.

Value Added Tax (VAT) has been introduced in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the first time.

The 5% levy is being applied to the majority of goods and services.

Gulf states have long attracted foreign workers with the promise of tax-free living.

But governments want to increase revenue in the face of lower oil prices.

The tax kicked in on 1 January in both countries.

The UAE estimates that in the first year, VAT income will be around 12 billion dirhams (£2.4bn; $3.3bn).

No plans for income tax

Petrol and diesel, food, clothes, utility bills and hotel rooms all now have VAT applied.

But some outgoings have been made exempt from the tax, or given a zero-tax rating, including medical treatment, financial services and public transport.

Organisations such as the International Monetary Fund have long called for Gulf countries to diversify their sources of income away from oil reserves.

In Saudi Arabia more than 90% of budget revenues come from the oil industry while in the UAE it is roughly 80%.

Both countries have already taken steps to boost government coffers.

In Saudi Arabia this included a tax on tobacco and soft drinks as well as a cut in some subsidies offered to locals. In the UAE road tolls have been hiked and a tourism tax introduced.

But there are no plans to introduce income tax, where most residents pay 0% tax on their earnings.

The other members of the Gulf Co-operation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar - have also committed to introduce VAT, though some have delayed plans until at least 2019.

4. Pakistan State Bank Allows use of Chinese Currency Yuan for Bilateral Trade & Investment Activities.

Pakistan will allow the Chinese yuan to be used for imports, exports and financing transactions for bilateral trade and investment activities, in a move economists said Wednesday would simplify a massive Chinese investment project.

Both public and private sector enterprises may use the yuan for bilateral trade and investment, the central State Bank of Pakistan said in a statement issued Tuesday.

"As per current foreign exchange regulations, Chinese Yuan (CNY) is an approved foreign currency for denominating foreign currency transactions in Pakistan," it said.

"In terms of regulations in Pakistan, CNY is at par with other international currencies such as USD, Euro and JPY," it added.

The bank said that in light of a massive Chinese infrastructure project in Pakistan, the move would "yield long-term benefits for both the countries".

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $54 billion project launched in 2013 linking western China to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan, has been hailed as a "game changer" by Pakistani officials.

They hope the power stations and transmission lines built as part of the project will help ease Pakistan´s chronic power crisis.

Economic analyst and former government adviser on finance Salman Shah welcomed the State Bank´s move, saying that avoiding dollar transactions in the implementation of CPEC would "simplify matters very considerably".

The Chinese economy is now one of the biggest in the world, he said, justifying the use of the Chinese currency of choice.

5. Karnataka to Hold Largest B2B Travel Event in the Country.

Bengaluru, Jan 2 The Karnataka government today announced that `Karnataka International Travel Expo` (KITE) will be held here from February 28, billing it as the "largest" B2B travel event in the country.

The three-day event will see close to 400 delegates from 25 countries take part.

"For the first time in the country we will be having the biggest event, international expo for the tourism and travel sector," Karnataka Tourism Minister Priyank Kharge told reporters here.

The aim is to project Karnataka globally and attract tourist footfall, with emphasis on promoting the state`s wild life, luxury and adventure destinations, historical monuments and UNESCO world heritage sites, he said.

"This will be an annual event here on, and will make a mark on the international travel expo map or circuit."

Overall, a budget of Rs seven crore is expected to be spent on the event, he added.

Officials said KITE would see participation from a minimum of 100 international buyers and 250 domestic or national buyers like travel agents, tour operators, destination management professionals and wedding planners, among others.

The event will for the first time see a blogathon, which will be attended by international travel bloggers, Kharge said adding that at least 100 bloggers are expected to participate in this blogathon.

Also, the event would have a separate startup pavilion for promoting new technologies and innovations in the tourism sector, he added.

Kharge also pointed out that Karnataka enjoys ninth and fourth position in the country in attracting foreign and domestic tourists, respectively.

6. Six Countries to enter UN Security Council.

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Peru, Poland and the Netherlands formally joined the ranks of the non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday "to make a difference," the body´s president said.

"Peace and security are difficult to achieve," Kazakh envoy Kairat Umarov, who took the rotating presidency in January, told council members at a special ceremony. "You are going to have a real chance to make a difference."

One after the other, ambassadors representing the council´s six new member countries -- five men and a woman, Polish envoy Joanna Wronecka -- placed their flag among those of the body´s nine other members.

There are 15 members at The UN Security Council has 15 members, including five with permanent seats who have the power to veto resolutions -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Three women and 12 men are among the 15 ambassadors who will soon be seated at the U-shaped table in the center of the Security Council´s chamber.

In addition to Wronecka and US envoy Nikki Haley, Karen Pierce will take her seat later this month as Britain´s new ambassador.

The six countries who left the UN Security Council on December 31 are Egypt, Italy, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.

7. India and Myanmar Land Border Crossing Agreement approved.

New Delhi [India], Jan 3 (ANI): The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the agreement between India and Myanmar on Land Border Crossing.

The agreement will facilitate regulation and harmonization of already-existing free movement rights for people ordinarily residing in the border areas of both the countries.

The cooperation envisaged under the agreement will also facilitate the movement of people on the basis of valid passports and visas.

It will provide connectivity and enhance interaction of the people of North Eastern states of India with the people of Myanmar.

In addition to this, it will give a boost to the economy of the North East.

It will also safeguard the traditional rights of the tribal communities residing along the border. (ANI)

8. Prime minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin reiterate their commitment to strengthen Indo-Russia strategic ties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday discussed the intensification of Indo-Russia ties with President Vladimir Putin, as the two sides agreed to strengthen the bilateral special and privileged partnership.

Modi, during a telephonic conversation, greeted the Russian leader on the occasion of the New Year, a release from the Indian Embassy in Moscow said.

“They discussed the intensification of the bilateral relations between India and Russia and their cooperation in the international forums,” the release said.

They positively reviewed the exchanges between the two countries in 2017 and agreed to further strengthen the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia, it said.

9. US lists Pakistan with ten other nations for Religious Freedom Violations.

STATE DEPARTMENT — The U.S. State Department has placed Pakistan on a “Special Watch List” for “severe violations of religious freedom,” at the same time it announced cuts to security assistance to that country.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries,” a State Department statement said Thursday, as the United States redesignated 10 other nations as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed Thursday that Washington is suspending security assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad takes action against terrorist organizations, including the Haqqani Network.

Earlier this week, the White House said Islamabad would have to do more to combat terrorism to receive U.S. aid. The Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, while speaking to VOA, called for the two countries to remain engaged with each other and avoid steps that could create tensions and destabilize the region.

10. BSF launches Operation Alert on JK International Border to curb infiltration.

Notably, after getting the inputs of increased movement of terrorists along the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir, BSF has launched "Operation Alert" to curb the infiltration. The Inspector General of BSF Jammu Frontier, Ram Awatar said, "There are inputs that there is a movement of militants and accordingly, we have declared `Ops Alert` on the border."

IG Ram Awatar said, however, said this after BSF gave a military send-off by organizing Wreath- laying ceremony at Frontier headquarters here in the honour of the late Head Constable Radha Pada Hazara, who was martyred in sniper firing by Pakistan Rangers along the IB in Samba sector on Thursday.

He also said, "It is because of that alertness, that they have acted like that. The moral of the BSF is high and will continue to remain high." Giving details of an incident, IG Ram Awatar said, "This jawan was performing duty at a forward post and there were four to five rounds of fire from Pakistan and one of them hit him."

"It was followed by automatic weapon fire. After getting intimation the neighbouring mounts retaliated back and a solid response was given by the BSF in which Pakistan has suffered large human and property loss", he added. Pak posts were destroyed and the entire infrastructure in those posts has been damaged, the IG noted.

Earlier, on December 23 of last year, an Army major and three soldiers were martyred along the LoC in Rajouri and in retaliatory action, Indian security forces eliminated 3 Pakistani rangers in PoK two days later. Indian forces crossed the LoC and entered in Rakhchikri area of Poonch of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and fired heavily upon the Pakistani army posts and killed three troopers of the neighbouring country.

Indian Security Forces once again targets Pakistani posts which bring back the memory of 2016`s surgical strikes, which the army conducted in response to Uri Attack and destroyed 5 to 6 Pakistani posts and eliminated 45 to 50 terrorists including troopers.


11. World Book Fair Begins in Delhi.

The New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF), which has emerged as one of the most significant events in the publishing world, will be held in the Capital during January 6-14 at Pragati Maidan. The fair, organised by National Book Trust, India, promotes titles, trade, co-publication titles and – above all – the habit of reading. The fair serves as a meeting point of readers and publishers and had started in 1972 with only 200 participants. Over the years it has grown exponentially and had 886 and 800 participants as publishers in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The fair’s theme was ‘Manushi’ and had focused on writings on and by women from ancient times till the present. Considering the ramifications of climate change and in a bid to promote the same, this year the theme of the event is “Environment & Climate Change”

Scores of people, every year, make their way to the World Book Fair. The event also witnesses participation from major publishing houses all across the globe. Much like other years, there is a lot to look forward to in its 45th year and more than 35 countries will be participating. Amidst tension between India and Pakistan, only one Pakistani publisher would be participating in the event this year. The organisers, however, are hopeful that the presence of books from the neighbouring country will spread cheer among readers. Although just one Pakistani publisher would be participating in 2018 and only one stall has been taken up, the organisers are hopeful it would bring cheer among readers. Last year too, only one distributor from Pakistan had participated in the book fair.

12. Himalayan Hydro Expo 2018 Kicked off at Kathmandu.

Hunan Allonward Hydro-Generating Equipment Co. Ltd, a hydro-electric equipments manufacturer from China, started supplying its products to Nepal since 2009.

Starting to supply equipments for micro-hydro projects, the company`s equipments have now already been used in over 35 hydropower projects ranging from smaller projects to mid capacity projects up to 54 Megawatt.

"As a large number of hydropower projects are under-construction in Nepal, sales of our equipments are also on the rise," Daniel Jiang, an engineer of the Chinese company who has been staying in Nepal for some years to provide installation and maintenance services, told Xinhua on Friday.

This company is one of the seven Chinese companies participating in the Himalayan Hydro Expo that kicked off in Kathmandu on Friday.

More than 100 domestic and foreign companies offering different products and services are participating in the three-day expo inaugurated by Nepali President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

According to Independent Power Producers` Association of Nepal (IPPAN), the organizer, the expo has brought hydropower developers and equipment suppliers together providing platform for business deals.

Various equipments to be used in hydropower projects, safety equipments, new technologies, construction equipments and electric vehicles are among the materials are on display in the expo.

Guru Prasad Neupane, promoter of Arun Valley Hydropower Development Company, one of the prominent private sector power developers, told Xinhua that he saw the presence of a few new companies and the new technologies in the sector that he was not familiar with.

"With the information about many suppliers, the hydropower developers can get equipments competitive prices in the future," he said.

Nepal has so far been able to develop just 956MW of power in the 107 years of history in hydropower development in the country. Despite late entry in the sector, the private sector has emerged as the key player with around 3000MW projects under construction from the private sector, according to IPPAN.

IPPAN said additional 5000MW projects are waiting to sign power purchase agreement with Nepal Electricity Authority, the only power utility body, to ensure sales of power generated by these projects.

Nepali power developers say that despite political instability over the last decade, the private sectors poured money in hydropower developers which is worth 7 billion U.S. dollar.

"Hydropower development could take leap in Nepal as the country is likely head towards political stability after the recent elections in Nepal," IPPAN President Shailendra Guragain told Xinhua.

President Bhandari also stressed on the need for Nepali government`s facilitation and the private sector`s excitement for the hydropower development in the country.

"The availability of power will help infrastructure and industrial development of the country," she said addressing the inauguration session.


13. Turkey on the path to make relations stronger with Germany.

Turkey expressed pleasure to make relationships with Germany rockier. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for a fresh start in his country’s rocky relationship with Germany, holding out the prospect of closer economic cooperation, particularly in transport and energy, if ties improved.

“Both sides have an interest in a new start in the bilateral relationship as we live in a time full of challenges,” Cavusoglu said. “It is not the time for bullhorn diplomacy.”

Cavusoglu said Germany needed to develop a more “empathetic” tone in its dealings with Turkey. Berlin did not seem to fully understand the “trauma” caused by a failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

Cavusoglu said an improved relationship could mean that the two countries could work more closely in areas including security and trade.

He said trade between Germany and Turkey amounted to 174 billion euros ($209.91 billion)in the last five years, with major opportunities in the coming decade from big infrastructure projects, in particular in transport and renewable energy.

He stressed the importance of Turkey’s role in stemming a wave of migrants to Germany under a deal with the European Union in 2016 and said he hoped that the EU would live up to its commitments to make it easier for Turks to get visas in return.

14. Iceland Becomes first country to Legalise Equal Pay.

Other countries should follow Iceland to make it illegal to pay men more than women, politicians and equal rights campaigners say.
Iceland has been widely praised for introducing legislation on New Year`s Day that imposes fines on any company or government agency with over 25 staff without a government certificate demonstrating pay equality.
The move is part of a bid to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022 in the Nordic nation where 38 percent of parliamentarians are female - above the global average - including Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir.
"Iceland is ranked as world`s most gender equal country by (the World Economic Forum) ... Clearly Iceland is very serious about gender equality," former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote on Twitter.
Equal rights researchers said they hoped Iceland`s legislation would encourage others to follow suit in tackling the gender pay gap while also highlighting the need to address the lack of women politicians globally.
The World Economic Forum reported last year an economic gap of 58 percent between the sexes and forecast women would have to wait 217 years before they earn as much as men and have equal representation in the workplace.
This gap was highlighted amid growing concerns about the lack of female lawmakers globally as figures show only about one in four parliamentarians is a woman and fewer than one in five government ministers is female.
Data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the international organisation of parliaments, showed women held 23.6 percent of seats in 193 parliaments on September 2017.
"The new law by Iceland can help change attitudes to women in business as well as in politics, and inspire other countries to do the same," said Virginie Le Masson, a research fellow at the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
"Ample evidence shows that women work as much as men and are still paid less," she said.
US independent Bernie Sanders, a leading liberal voice in the Senate, called on the United States to follow Iceland`s example.
"We must follow the example of our brothers and sisters in Iceland and demand equal pay for equal work now, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality," he wrote on his Facebook page.



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