Briefing :- 31/05/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 31st of May, 2017 :-

1. At least 80 killed, hundreds wounded in truck bomb explosion in Kabul’s embassy area :-

A powerful bomb hidden in a sewage tanker exploded in the morning rush hour in the centre of the Afghan capital on Wednesday, police said, killing at least 80 people, wounding hundreds and damaging embassy buildings.

The victims appeared mainly to have been Afghan civilians.

The bomb, one of the deadliest in Kabul and coming at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, exploded close to the fortified entrance to the German embassy, wounding some staff, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said.

One Afghan security guard was killed and others were likely among the dead, Gabriel said. A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry said the bomber’s target was unknown.

However, the area is home to other embassies and government offices so the precise target of the attack was not immediately clear. A French minister said French and German embassies were damaged in the blast.

“Such attacks do not change our resolve in continuing to support the Afghan government in the stabilization of the country,” Gabriel said. The explosion took place just 50 metres away from the Indian embassy, media reports said. Indian staff at the embassy are safe, reports said. The blast shattered all windows of the Indian embassy.

“It was a car bomb near the German embassy, but there are several other important compounds and offices near there too. It is hard to say what the exact target is,” Basir Mujahid a spokesman for Kabul police said.

Witnesses said dozens of cars were blocking roads and some wounded people could be seen. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The blast sent clouds of black smoke spiralling over the centre of the city in an area near the presidential palace and foreign embassies.

Houses hundreds of metres away from the blast were damaged with windows and doors blown off their hinges.

The Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked in 2008 by a suicide bomber. The bombing killed 58 people and wounded 141.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armoured NATO convoy that killed at least eight people and wounded 28 on May 3.

The explosion will add pressure to the fragile government of President Ashraf Ghani, which has faced mounting discontent over its inability to control the insurgency and provide security for Afghan citizens.

The Taliban have been stepping up their push to defeat the US-backed government. Since most international troops withdrew at the end of 2014, the Taliban have gained ground and now control or contest about 40 per cent of the country, according to US estimates. Ashraf Ghani’s government, however, holds all provincial centres.

US President Donald Trump is due to decide soon on a recommendation to send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to bolster the small NATO training force and US counter-terrorism mission now totalling just over 10,000.

The commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told a congressional hearing this year that he needed several thousand more troops to help Afghan forces break a “stalemate” with the Taliban.

2. Trump to pull US out of Paris climate accord :

President Trump has decided he will in fact pull the US out of the Paris climate accord, Axios reports, citing two sources with knowledge of the decision.

Details about how they will withdraw are being finalised now; To be decided is whether the withdrawal will be formal or whether to exit the underlying UN climate change treaty–the former can take three years, while the latter is faster but is “more extreme”, Axios reports.

The Paris climate agreement is at the centre of President Obama’s legacy, and is supported by every country except for Syria and Nicaragua.

Donald Trump has, very wrongly, called climate change “a hoax invented by the Chinese”.

Here is a data and graphs released by NASA, showing that climate change is real and highly dangerous, and that climate change  is not just a hoax invented by the Chinese.

3. India’s annual growth slows to 7.1%, but still fastest growing major economy :-

India’s growth slowed to 7.1 percent last year, according to official data released Wednesday, in accordance with earlier predictions made by the government and economists.

The GDP growth for the fiscal year 2016/17 that ended on March 31 was below a 7.7 per cent for the previous year.

The growth is still the fastest for any emerging economy including rival China which grew at at 6.7 per cent in 2016.

In 2018, China’s growth rate is projected to be 6 per cent against India’s 7.7 per cent.

At 6.1 per cent, the GDP growth for the period from January-March was lower than the provisional 7.0 per cent in the previous quarter.

Pulled down by construction, manufacturing and trade services, the growth was also lower than China’s growth of 6.9 per cent for the same period.

Construction activity contracted 3.7 per cent year-on-year in the March quarter compared with a 3.4 per cent growth in the previous quarter. Manufacturing grew 5.3 per cent in the last quarter from a year ago, was slower than an annual rise of 8.2 per cent in the December quarter.

Annual growth in trade, hotels and transport services slowed to 6.5 per cent in the January-March period from 8.3 per cent a quarter ago.

“This is a sharper deterioration than what I expected,” Ashutosh Datar, economist at IIFL Institutional Equities, told AFP.

“The fourth quarter (6.1 per cent) is a bit weaker than what I expected.”

The figure is the lowest since the December quarter in 2014, which registered 6 per cent growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended demonetisation as a counter-measure against corruption to weed out the black money in the economy. His government argues it will boost revenues by dissuading people from using cash, and make tax compliance easier.

While the full impact of the note ban is still not known, analysts had expected a pick-up in the fourth quarter as consumers who had held back in the weeks after the cash ban stepped up spending.

The slowdown was expected since it follows the government’s shock demonetisation of Rs 500 (around $7.50) and Rs 1000 notes last November which led to a currency crunch and reduction in demand in an economy which is primarily cash-reliant.

The weak GDP data will be a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who completed three years in office last week.

A decrease in private sector investement and a banking sector riddled with bad debt continue to dampen economic growth.

Blaming demonetisation, the IMF had also trimmed India’s annual growth forecast by 0.4 percentage points to 7.2 per cent for 2017.

The IMF, however, gave India a favourable growth forecast in the medium term thanks to the “implementation of key reforms, loosening of supply-side bottlenecks, and appropriate fiscal and monetary policies” in its annual World Economic Outlook.

A recent World Bank report has advised the Indian government to adopt a more female-and labour-intensive export growth strategy and claims India’s economy could achieve double-digit growth if it pushes reforms to increase women’s participation in the country’s workforce.

On the global front, factors holding India back are inward looking policies of protectionism of some economies,policies of the United States, increased geopolitical tension and  global financial condition, finance minister Arun Jaitley said earlier.

The finance minister has forecast a growth rate of 7.2 per cent in 2017 and 7.7 percent for the Indian economy in 2018.

On the positive side, the injection of new banknotes after demonetisation, a demand for consumer goods buoyed by the traditional wedding season along with an increase in spending — people buying fridges and air conditioners to cope with the summer — have since led a rebound in consumer spending, which fuels more than half of India’s economic growth.

An early monsoon, which hit the Southern coast this week, raises prospects of a good harvest which is expected to increase farm incomes and boost agricultural growth.

With government sector salaries also expected to rise, the outlook for a sustained recovery looks good.

India’s new Goods and Services Tax bill — which imposes a uniform rate of taxation across the country — rolls out from July 1 and should enable the country to achieve its target of 8 per cent growth in the next few years.

4. Trump blasts Russia probe, urges testimony from former adviser Page :-

US President Donald Trump sought to insert himself into congressional probes on Russia on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to hear from one of his former advisers, Carter Page, to counter testimony by directors of the FBI and CIA.

Trump has been dismissive of probes by the FBI and several congressional panels into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion by the Trump campaign.

In a series of morning tweets, the Republican president quoted a Monday letter from Page in which he asked to address the House Intelligence Committee promptly and referred to faulty testimony from US intelligence officials.

Trump accused Democrats of blocking Page’s testimony, without citing any evidence but referring to an unidentified report.

“So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don’t want him to testify. He blows away their case against him & now wants to clear his name by showing ‘the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan…’ Witch Hunt!” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the former directors of the FBI and CIA.

Trump’s early morning tweets came as his advisers are planning to establish a “war room” to combat mounting questions about communication between Russia and his presidential campaign before and after November’s election.

However, the president’s penchant for tweeting could complicate White House efforts to tamp down the scandal if the messages appear to address the investigations.

Page’s letter was reported by the Washington Examiner. Reuters has not verified the contents of the letter. A House Intelligence Committee staffer said on Wednesday the panel does not make public its communications.

Page, who advised Trump during his presidential campaign, is one of several Trump associates of interest to congressional investigators in the Russia probes that have begun to dominate his four-month-old presidency.

Moscow has denied US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Moscow interfered in the election campaign to try to tilt the vote in Trump’s favour. Trump has denied any collusion.

5. US Department of Defense successfully tests ICBM defense system for the first time :-

The US military on Tuesday cheered a successful, first-ever missile defence test involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), in a major milestone for a programme meant to defend against a mounting North Korean threat.

The US military fired an ICBM-type missile from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands toward the waters just south of Alaska. It then fired a missile to intercept it from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Experts compare the job to hitting a bullet with another bullet and note the complexity is magnified by the enormous distances involved.

The Missile Defense Agency said it was the first live-fire test against a simulated ICBM for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), managed by Boeing Co, and hailed it as an “incredible accomplishment”.

“This system is vitally important to the defence of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” Vice Admiral Jim Syring, director of the agency, said in a statement.

A successful test was by no means guaranteed and the Pentagon sought to manage expectations earlier in the day, noting that the United States had multiple ways to try to shoot down a missile from North Korea.

“This is one element of a broader missile defence strategy that we can use to employ against potential threats,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

Prior to Tuesday’s launch, the GMD system had successfully hit its target in only nine of 17 tests since 1999. The last test was in 2014.

North Korea has dramatically ramped up missile tests over the past year in its effort to develop an ICBM that can strike the US mainland.

The continental United States is around 9,000 kilometres (5,500 miles) from North Korea. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 kilometres (3,400 miles), but some are designed to travel 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) or farther.

Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, described the test as “vital” prior to launch.

“We are replicating our ability to defend the United States of America from North Korea, today,” Ellison said.

Failure could have deepened concern about a programme that according to one estimate has so far cost more than $40 billion. Its success could translate into calls by Congress to speed development.

In the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal sent to Congress last week, the Pentagon requested $7.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, including about $1.5 billion for the GMD programme.

A 2016 assessment released by the Pentagon’s weapons testing office in January said that US ground-based interceptors meant to knock out any incoming ICBM still had low reliability, giving the system a limited capability of shielding the United States.

 

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