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Rail fares rise and protests mark the beginning of 2018

The UK rail commuters woke up to the biggest annual rise in fares for five years. The latter prompted people to protest against the price increase. RMT rail union strikes took place at many England stations on Tuesday morning, the first day of average fare increases of 3.4%.  Many commuters have seen their season tickets go up by as much as £100.

The media reported that questions were raised with Downing Street after neither Transport secretary Chris Grayling or any other Transport official were available on Tuesday morning to defend the rises.  Downing Street spokesperson’s comments about Grayling being away to meet politicians and businessmen of Qatar sparked discontent, with Labour later accusing him of being in “hiding”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has frozen transport fare across the capital until 2020 questioned why ticket prices were going up elsewhere referring to it as a scandal. Opposite view was voiced by Paul Plummer,  Rail Delivery Group chief executive, who defended the rise saying fare changes would provide cash for better services and investment, including the Thameslink and Great Northern rail upgrades.

In the meantime, angry commuters took it onto the social media with Luke Block from Kent tweeting “First day back to work and a rail fare rise of £237 a year. Happy new year”.

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Turkish army shells pro-Syrian govt forces

DAMASCUS:The Turkish army has attacked pro-Syrian government forces that had earlier arrived in the Kurdish-held Afrin region in northwestern Syria to defend the Syrian Kurds against Turkey’s offensive.

“Turkish regime forces targeted the locations of popular forces with artillery fire as they arrived to the Afrin region,” Syria’s state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of popular forces from the National Defense Forces (NDF) supporting the government in Damascus began entering the Kurdish-held region of Afrin through the al-Ziyara crossing point north of the town of Nubl.”Turkish state news agency Anadolu said Turkey’s army fired “warning shots” at the Syrian popular forces, noting that they “retreated to about 10 kilometers from the town because of the warning shots.”

The shelling marks a major escalation of tensions between the two countries since Turkey and its allied militants launched a military offensive against Afrin last month.

In a statement on Tuesday, US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) spokesman Nouri Mahmoud said the Kurdish forces had called on the Syrian government to help fend off Turkey’s assault.

“The Syrian government responded to the invitation, answered the call of duty and sent military units today, February 20, to take up positions on the borders, and participate in defending the territorial unity of Syria and its borders,” the statement said.

This is the first time that Syrian government forces are deployed in the area since 2012 when the YPG held the area under its control.

Meanwhile, Turkish media say Turkey’s army and its allied Syrian opposition militants are advancing in Afrin and they have reportedly taken over a key road linking the Turkish-held town of Azaz to the city of Afrin. Turkish forces are in control of nine more villages in the region.

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ID-cards may be used as internal passports in Uzbekistan

TASHKENT: Current bio-metric passports used by Uzbekistani citizens may be kept as travel documents while ID cards may be introduced for use within the country, suggests a draft of the State Program “Entrepreneurship, innovative ideas and technologies” for the year 2018.

According to the Uzbek media, a decree should be ready by end of April 2018 and a state order is to be introduced by mid-summer 2018 (July 1). The proposal is part of the strategy attempted at aiding Uzbek citizens to travel free of a two-year travel permit issued by the authorities. Uzbekistan’s public and foreign observers have repeatedly called for a ban of such practice. Last year, the  government stated that permit stickers would be abolished and new travel passports would be introduced instead.

However, it was not long ago when Uzbekistan citizens had to exchange their previous national passports and obtain biometric passports to travel abroad. These were made obligatory for all travels out of the country since July 2014 and the passports still require a permit sticker to allow their owners to exit the country.

Social media users in Uzbekistan and beyond are hopeful that no new passports would be necessary for foreign visits. According to many, retaining the current biometric documents and abolishing the so-called “exit-visa” stickers would be the best solution for travellers.


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Senior Cleric Says Iran ‘Fully Determined’ To Boost Missile Power

Tehran interim Friday Prayer Leader Ayatolllah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami said the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully determined to upgrade its missile power aimed at “confronting whatever threat posed by Israel”, IRNA reports.

Addressing the worshipers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Khatami said “in a world where wolves rule and there is no logic in their behavior, the Islamic Republic should be armed and powerful”.

The senior cleric said Iran’s military missile might is one of the main components of the country’s policy of deterrence.

“We have missiles, we would continue building more missiles and increase their ranges”, he added.

The senior cleric further said that the most important principle of Iran’s military power is defense through deterrence.

Ayatollah Khatami said Iran would never make atomic bombs, adding that based on a Fatwa issued by Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Iran remains to believe that it should not develop and possess nuclear weapons.


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