PM says he stands by official who suggested Indian factions sabotaged trip by Trudeau

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau is standing by a senior government official who suggested factions within the Indian government were involved in sabotaging the prime minister’s visit to India last week.

But he’s nevertheless accepted the offer of Liberal backbencher Randeep Sarai, who’s taken responsibility for inviting an attempted murderer to events with the prime minister in India, to resign as the chair of the party’s Pacific caucus.

During his first question period since arriving back in Canada, opposition MPs grilled the prime minister Tuesday about invitations issued to Jaspal Atwal — a B.C. Sikh convicted of attempting to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986 — to attend two events with the prime minister in India.

In a background briefing arranged by the Prime Minister’s Office, a government official last week suggested that Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cosy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.

Conservatives identified the official as Trudeau’s national security adviser, Daniel Jean, and they pressed Trudeau to say whether he agrees with Jean’s “conspiracy theory.”

“A senior security official made these allegations. Does the prime minister agree or disavow those allegations?” asked Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer.

Trudeau defended the official as a member of the professional, non-partisan public service that provides quality advice. He accused the previous Conservative government of using the public service for partisan ends, saying “they torqued the public service every possible way they could.”

“And they do not understand that our professional, non-partisan public service does high quality work. And when one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians, it’s because they know it to be true.”

Conservative MPs pressed Trudeau to provide evidence to back the assertion, but it was left to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to field those questions.

“Before our prime minister destroys our relationship with our ally, the government and country of India, will he please tell this House what proof he has of that allegation?” asked Tory MP Candice Bergen.

Goodale said Bergen was providing “her interpretation of events” and said “her insinuations and her accusations are false.”

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus asserted that Atwal — who has been photographed over the years posing with various Liberal MPs, ministers and leaders, including Trudeau himself — turned up on the trip because his presence was “useful” to local Liberals back in Canada. And he accused Trudeau of using a senior civil servant to “spin a conspiracy theory that somehow the Indian government is trying to make the Liberals look bad.”

“What was the prime minister thinking, putting the interests of the Liberal machine ahead of national security, international relations and Canada’s reputation?” Angus demanded.

Atwal, a one-time member of a Sikh separatist group that is banned in Canada and India as a terrorist organization, was convicted of attempting to kill Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986.

He was also charged, but not convicted, in connection with a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, a staunch opponent of the Sikh separatist movement, who later became B.C. premier and a federal Liberal cabinet minister.

Trudeau’s office says Atwal’s invitation to a party in New Delhi was revoked as soon as his name was discovered on the guest list. However, Atwal showed up at a reception earlier in the week in Mumbai and was photographed with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife.

Shortly after endorsing the official’s theory that factions in the Indian government arranged Atwal’s presence to embarrass Trudeau, the prime minister met with Sarai late Tuesday and accepted the B.C. MP’s resignation as Pacific caucus chair.

“I want to again apologize for my role in recent unfortunate events,” Sarai said in a statement, adding that he’ll “be exercising better judgment” in future.

“As I don’t want to distract from the good work of the Pacific caucus, I will be stepping down as caucus chair.”

News of Atwal’s presence was an embarrassing setback for Trudeau, who had spent much of his trip trying to reassure Indian political leaders that Canada does not support separatist Sikh extremists.

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, who was also photographed with Atwal in Mumbai, said he had no idea who Atwal was and simply posed for a picture when asked. He declined to say whether he shares the belief that factions in the Indian government were behind the embarrassment.

“(It) doesn’t help to be speculating on these kind of things,” Sohi said.

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China has plan to build nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

By Guo Yuandan and Bai Tiantian Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/28 15:53:39

China’s future aircraft carrier may be nuclear-powered as a State-owned defense company identified relevant research in its agenda.

China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) said in a statement on Tuesday that it plans to “speed up the process of making technological breakthroughs in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, new-type nuclear submarines, quiet submarines, maritime unmanned intelligent confrontation systems, maritime three-dimensional offensive and defensive systems, and naval warfare comprehensive electronic information systems.”

This is the first time a State-owned Chinese defense company has openly identified nuclear-powered aircraft carriers on its agenda.

Military experts said China may have achieved initial progress in its research of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and that it may not be too long before the authority confirms the news.

“I think we can say that China has made major breakthroughs in the implementation of nuclear power on large vessels,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

In a veiled reference, Hu Wenming, chairman of the board of CSIC, said in a speech in November 2017 at the construction site of China’s first domestically made aircraft carrier, the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co., that China is capable of designing and building any type of aircraft carrier.

“Hu’s speech indicates that China can build aircraft carriers powered by either diesel, gas or nuclear power. The country has mastered all the fundamental core technologies, including ski-jump and catapult-assisted launch technologies,” Li said.

“In the future, China’s national interests will continue  to expand overseas. Without a fleet of large nuclear-powered vessels, the Chinese navy cannot sail for a long time to faraway waters,” Li said. “Aircraft carriers with conventional power require the company of large depot ships, which in turn requires replenishment from ports or overseas bases. US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers can sail for as long as six months. This is conducive to protecting national security and overseas interests.”

China commissioned its first-ever aircraft carrier, Liaoning, a refurbished Soviet ship it bought from Ukraine, in 2012. Its second carrier and the first domestically built carrier, known as Type 001A, was a close copy of Liaoning and was launched in April last year. A third aircraft carrier, Type 002, is said to be under construction at the Shanghai Jiangnan Shipyard Group, although it has yet to be officially confirmed by Chinese authorities.

“Each carrier achieves some breakthroughs. The second absorbed and consolidated technologies from the first one. The third carrier is able to use  an electromagnetic aircraft launch system from the conventional ski-jump system. The fourth may witness breakthroughs in power units,” Li said.

Established in July 1999, CSIC owns the largest shipbuilding and repair facilities in China, including the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co., and is a leading player in the research and design of naval and merchant ships, according to its website.

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Jitan Ram Manjhi quits NDA to join RJD-led Grand Alliance

Former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi said that his Hindustani Awam Morcha will quit the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state and join the RJD led Grand Alliance later tonight
Former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi made the announcement in the presence of RJD leaders Tejashwi Yadav, Bhola Yadav, Tej Pratap Yadav and others in  Patna. Photo: Hindustan Times

Former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi made the announcement in the presence of RJD leaders Tejashwi Yadav, Bhola Yadav, Tej Pratap Yadav and others in Patna. Photo: Hindustan Times

Patna: Former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi said that his Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) will quit the ruling NDA in the state and join the opposition ‘Mahagathbandhan’ later tonight.

The ‘Mahagathbandhan’ (Grand Alliance) currently comprises the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress. The announcement was made by Manjhi outside his residence, in the presence of RJD leaders Tejashwi Yadav, Bhola Yadav, Tej Pratap Yadav and others who had called on the former Bihar chief minister. “We will quit the NDA and join the Mahagathbandhan. A formal announcement to this effect will be made later tonight when the reasons for this major decision will also be made public,” Manjhi said.

Tejashwi Yadav, who is the leader of the opposition in the state assembly, said “the hollowness of the claims by the BJP-led NDA about its cohesion stands exposed. We welcome Jitan Ram Manjhi, a father figure and a champion of social justice, to the Mahagathbandhan”.

The development came two days after Manjhi had demanded that the NDA field at least one member from his party for the six Rajya Sabha polls in the state scheduled next month and warned that the HAM would not campaign in support of candidates of the BJP and the JD(U) for by-polls in two assembly and one Lok Sabha seat scheduled for 11 March.

Formerly with the JD(U), Manjhi had quit the party in 2015 after being forced to step down as the chief minister to make way for the return of Nitish Kumar. He later on formed the HAM and joined the NDA. Kumar, who was then with the Grand Alliance, returned to the NDA in July last year. Asked whether Manjhi has been promised a Rajya Sabha seat, Tejashwi Yadav said “decisions regarding Rajya Sabha candidates will be taken at an appropriate time.

“Today’s development underscores the simmering discontent within the arrogant NDA. Upendra Kushwaha (Union minister and RLSP chief) has expressed his discomfiture in the BJP-led alliance many times. It is time for people like him to take a decision,” Tejashwi said.

Meanwhile, Bhola Yadav, a close confidant of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad and a party general secretary, told reporters outside the Vidhan Sabha, “Manjhi joining the Grand Alliance is just the beginning. A number of legislators of Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) are also in touch with us”.

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Jayendra Saraswathi passes away: Kovind, Modi pay rich tributes to 82-year-old Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham seer

Kanchipuram: Jayendra Saraswathi, who broad based the activities of the Sankara Mutt with inclusive activities, died in Kanchipuram on Wednesday in a private hospital. He was 82.

The 69th pontiff of the Mutt, established by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century, was ailing for quite some time. He was admitted to a private hospital early on Wednesday after he complained of breathlessness. Doctors said the pontiff died following cardiac arrest. His last rites will be conducted on Thursday and his body will be interred in the Mutt premises itself in accordance with traditions followed for Hindu seers.

The mortal remains of Saraswathi were kept at the Nandavanam in Kanchi mutt for devotees to offer their prayers. He would be given ‘maha samadhi’ at the Nandavanam, near the Chandrasekarendra Sarawathi Swami’s. Meanwhile, junior pontiff Vijayendra Sarawati was elevated and given the charge of heading the mutt.

Born Subramaniyam Mahadevan on 18 July, 1935, in Irulneekki in erstwhile Thanjavur district, Saraswathi was anointed successor to the Mutt by Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi Swamigal and was given the title Sri Jayendra Saraswathi on 22 March, 1954.

File image of Kanchi mutt pontiff Jayendra Saraswati. Image courtesy: KA Vishwanathan

Saraswathi had a huge following in South India and had sought to play the role of a mediator in the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute during the BJP governments headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 1998 and 2004.

He was also mired in controversy when he was arrested in 2004 during the regime of late J Jayalalithaa and made an accused in the murder of Sankararaman, an official of the famous Varadharaja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram.

He, along with junior pontiff of the Mutt Vijayendra Saraswathi and 21 others, was acquitted by a court in 2013 in neighbouring Puducherry where the case was transferred from Tamil Nadu.

Another controversy in which he was involved was in August 1987 when Saraswati suddenly decided to leave the mutt. After spending 17 days in Tala Cauvery in Kodagu in Karnataka, he returned to the Mutt to a warm welcome by thousands of devotees. He then kick-started his social organisation, Jana Kalyan.

Saraswathi sought to diversify the activities of the Sankara Mutt, which was largely run on orthodox lines for long, by entering into charitable activities. It ran several schools, eye clinics and hospitals. He had his spiritual tutelage from ‘Maha Periyava’ Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi and travelled the length and breadth of the country with his guru.

In January 1994, when Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi attained siddhi, Saraswathi formally took over as the head of the Kanchi Mutt. There began a spiritual journey that saw several highs and lows for the institution.

As news of his death spread, a pall of gloom decended on the Kanchi mutt with hundreds of his followers thronging the mutt to pay their homage. A host of national leaders and even political leaders in Tamil Nadu, who had differences with Jayendra Saraswathi and the Mutt, condoled his demise. President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were among those who expressed their condolences.

Meanwhile, the mortal remains of the seer are kept in the Sankara Mutt in Kanchipuram so that people can pay homage.

Senior BJP leader and former Union Home Minister LK Advani in his condolence message said that he knew the seer closely who played a key role in defusing acrimony between the Hindu and Muslim communities over the Babri Masjid dispute.

“I had the privilege of knowing Jayendra Saraswati Swamiji very closely. Our association became closer during the rule of NDA-I, when I was the Minister of Home Affairs in the government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji,” Advani said in a written message. “Swamiji proactively initiated a dialogue with various religious and social leaders of the Muslim community to evolve an amicable solution to the Ayodhya dispute. This dialogue helped a lot in promoting mutual trust and goodwill between Hindu and Muslim communities,” he added. The BJP veteran said he joined millions of devotees of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt in “offering prayers to the Almighty and in seeking peace to the departed soul”.

Tamil Nadu governor Banwarilal Purohit and leaders of political parties on Wednesday expressed their condolences. In a statement, Purohit said: “Yesterday only I have met him and got blessings of Sankaracharyaji. “During his period, Jagadguru Sankaracharya had started many schools, eye clinics and hospital, Childs Trust Hospital, Hindu Mission Hospital, Tamil Nadu Hospital and other public welfare institutions for the welfare of the society. His death is a great loss to the society particularly to his followers,” he added.

Former Union minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss said the pontiff had moved well with the people and his death is a great loss to those who are associated with him. DMK leader MK Stalin, in his message, condoled the demise of Sankara Mutt pontiff and conveyed his condolences to those who are close to Saraswathi.

The Tamil Nadu unit chief of BJP Tamilisai Soundararajan said the nation has lost a spiritual leader with a nationalist outlook. She said the seer got down to the ground and worked against the conversion of downtrodden people. He also set up several educational institutions and hospitals by going beyond the spiritual calling, she added.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) condoled the seer’s death and said Saraswathi served for protection of Hindu Dharma, Hindu culture and uplift of Hindu society. It is a great loss not only to Tamil Nadu but also to the entire Hindu society.

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Karti Chidambaram taken into CBI custody; to be produced at Patiala House Court

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BJP’s Subramanian Swamy raises question over Sridevi’s death


PublishedFeb 27, 2018, 2:13 pm IST
UpdatedFeb 27, 2018, 2:16 pm IST
Pointing fingers at underworld don, Swamy said, ‘we should take cognisance of the ‘illicit relations between cinema actresses and Dawood.’
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said Sridevi had a 'fetish for health' and she 'never touched hard drinks'. (Photo: Twitter | ANI)

 BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said Sridevi had a ‘fetish for health’ and she ‘never touched hard drinks’. (Photo: Twitter | ANI)

Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy on Tuesday opined that veteran actress Sridevi was murdered, even as the forensic report rules out any kind of foul play in her death.

Swamy also pointed a finger at underworld terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, saying that we should take serious cognisance of the “illicit relations between cinema actresses and Dawood.”

“It doesn’t appear to me the facts that have come out in the media are consistent. She never drank hard liquor so how did it enter her system? Was she forcibly fed? What happened to the CCTV, we have not heard a word about that,” Swamy told news agency ANI, and added, “It suddenly appears in the media that she died of heart failure as if it’s pre-planned.”

At length, he concluded, “If you ask my opinion I’ll tell you that I think it’s murder.”

Also, talking to news channel Times Now, Swamy said that Sridevi had a “fetish for health” and she “never touched hard drinks”.

“It is very difficult to die and drown in a bathtub unless somebody pushed you or prevent you from breathing,” the BJP leader told the channel.

The mystery around the death of the Indian actress has taken the country by storm since the forensic report stated that she died of accidental drowning after losing balance and falling in a bathtub full of water, contrary to initial reports that the cause of her death was cardiac arrest.

Traces of alcohol were also found in the actor’s body.

On Monday, Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh had dismissed speculations that Sridevi was intoxicated at the wedding ceremony. “In wedding ceremonies, as far as I know, Sridevi ji, she did not consume hard liquor. She used to have wine sometimes like me and like many others in public life,” he had said.

The statement given by writer Taslima Nasreen on Monday also seemed to be further deepening the alleged mystery around Sridevi’s sudden death. Taslima Nasreen had tweeted, “Healthy adults don’t drown in bathtubs accidentally.”

Sridevi was in Dubai for a family wedding and had stayed back after the ceremonies. Her husband, Boney Kapoor had flown back to Mumbai with their younger daughter Khushi but returned to Dubai to surprise Sridevi.

The news of her death, was first reported late on Saturday night, sent shock waves across the country.

The Dubai Police has recorded the statement of Bollywood producer Boney Kapoor, the husband of late veteran actress Sridevi. Sources told Gulf News that Boney was called to the Bur Dubai police station for questioning. The police took his statement after which he was allowed to return to his hotel.

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UN Links North Korea to Syria’s Chemical Weapons Program

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea has been shipping supplies to the Syrian government that could be used in the production of chemical weapons, United Nations experts contend.

The evidence of a North Korean connection comes as the United States and other countries have accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons on civilians, including recent attacks on civilians in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta using what appears to have been chlorine gas.

The supplies from North Korea include acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, according to a report by United Nations investigators. North Korean missile technicians have also been spotted working at known chemical weapons and missile facilities inside Syria, according to the report, which was written by a panel of experts who looked at North Korea’s compliance with United Nations sanctions.

The report highlights the potential danger posed by any such trade between Syria and North Korea, which could allow Syria to maintain its chemical weapons while also providing North Korea with cash for its nuclear and missile programs.

The possible chemical weapons components were part of at least 40 previously unreported shipments by North Korea to Syria between 2012 and 2017 of prohibited ballistic missile parts and materials that could be used for both military and civilian purposes, according to the report, which has not been publicly released but which was reviewed by The New York Times.

William Newcomb, who was a member of the United Nations panel of experts on North Korea from 2011 to 2014, called the report “an important breakthrough.”

Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, there have been suspicions that North Korea was providing equipment and expertise to maintain the chemical weapons program of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Those suspicions were not assuaged when in 2013 Syria signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention and claimed to give up its chemical weapons stocks.

“We knew stuff was going on,” Mr. Newcomb said. “We really wanted to up the game on chemical weapons programs, and we just weren’t able to get what we needed to do so.”

The report, which is more than 200 pages long, includes copies of contracts between North Korean and Syrian companies as well as bills of lading indicating the types of materials shipped. Much information was provided by unidentified United Nations member states.

The military-related cooperation, if confirmed, indicates major shortcomings in the international effort to isolate both countries. The shipments would have eluded detection even though both nations are subject to highly restrictive sanctions, and are under the intense scrutiny of American and other spy services.

North Korea’s relationship with Syria takes up one section of the report, which also documents the many ways the government of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has tried to circumvent sanctions. It describes how North Korea uses a complex web of shell companies and sympathetic foreign citizens to gain access to international financing, employs sophisticated cyber operations to steal military secrets and enlists its own diplomats in smuggling operations.
A man got medical attention after what witnesses said was a chlorine gas attack by Syrian government forces last month on rebel-held eastern Ghouta. Credit Mohammed Badra/European Pressphoto Agency

It also criticizes Russia and China for failing to do enough to enforce sanctions on items like oil, coal and luxury goods.

The sanctions, it says, have yet to be matched “by the requisite political will, international coordination, prioritization and resource allocation necessary to drive effective implementation.”

The report gives fresh details of a military relationship between North Korea and Syria that goes back decades. During the Arab-Israeli wars in the 1960s and 1970s, North Korean pilots flew missions with the Syrian Air Force. Later, North Korean technicians helped to develop Syria’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and to build a nuclear power plant capable of producing plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. Israel destroyed the plant in 2007.

In 2015, Syria honored that assistance by opening a monument and park in Damascus dedicated to North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current leader. The unveiling ceremony, held as Syria’s civil war raged, featured North Korean and Syrian dignitaries, military officials and a marching band.

North Korea has provided training and support for Syria’s chemical weapons program since at least the 1990s, according to a coming book by Bruce Bechtol, a former Korea analyst at the United States Defense Intelligence Agency who is now a professor at Angelo State University in Texas. The book also describes an accident in 2007 in which several Syrian technicians, along with North Korean and Iranian advisers, were killed in the explosion of a warhead filled with sarin gas and the extremely toxic nerve agent VX.

The relationship with Syria “has been a boon for the North Korean military-industrial complex,” Mr. Bechtol said in an interview.

The United Nations report says the cooperation continued during Syria’s civil war, despite international sanctions. Crucial evidence of that was found in January 2017, when two ships carrying acid-resistant tiles, commonly used in the construction of chemical weapons factories, were interdicted at sea en route to Damascus, the report said.

Those shipments were among five deliveries agreed to in a contract between a government-owned company in Syria and the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., a North Korean company involved in arms exports, according to the report. It based those findings at least in part on copies of contracts provided by the shipping company, identified as Cheng Tong Trading Co. Ltd., based in China.

The report said the three other shipments had been sent between Nov. 3 and Dec. 12, 2016.

The report did not say which country interdicted the two January tile shipments or whether the other three shipments were delivered to Damascus. The contract stipulated that the materials were to be delivered to the Metallic Manufacturing Factory, a company run by the Syrian government that was penalized by the United States Treasury Department last year for its involvement in Syria’s weapons industry.

Several months earlier, in August 2016, a delegation of North Korean missile technicians visited Syria, at which point there was a transfer of “special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons,” the report said, without elaborating. An unidentified United Nations member country told the report’s authors that North Korean missile technicians worked at Syrian chemical weapons and missile facilities in Barzeh, Adra and Hama.

In 2013, after the Obama administration threatened military action in response to a sarin gas attack on the rebel enclave of Ghouta that some experts estimated killed 1,400 people, Mr. Assad agreed to destroy his stockpile and join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which comprises 192 countries that are to have dismantled their chemical weapons programs.

But Western officials and nonproliferation experts have long suspected that Mr. Assad retains some chemical weapons.

So far this year, according to diplomats and witnesses, several chlorine gas attacks have occurred in rebel-held areas in Ghouta, Idlib and Afrin. A separate United Nations panel also said Mr. Assad’s forces were responsible for a sarin gas attack on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun last April that killed at least 83 people and sickened roughly 300.

Mallory Stewart, a former State Department official who was involved in the Obama administration’s efforts to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program, said that there were always concerns that the Assad government had not listed all of its chemical weapons stockpile on its declared inventory of what it gave up. The report, she says, “confirms everything we’ve been saying.”

“Certainly what we tried to do in the last administration is dismantle the entire chemical weapons program,” Ms. Stewart said, “which we know they never did.”

Establishing the origins of such weapons has been difficult. In November, Russia used its Security Council veto to end the work of an independent panel investigating chemical weapons used in the Syrian conflict. The Joint Investigative Mechanism, as it was known, had found that both the Syrian government and Islamic State militants had used chemical weapons in the war, though Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations labeled the panel’s reporting “a joke.”
Excerpts from Source: New York Times.

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