Andhra CM wears black shirt to protest against Centre

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu on Friday wore a black shirt to protest against the Centre’s “step motherly” treatment to the state and for not fulfilling its promises including granting special category status.

Naidu, also the President of the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP), reached the Assembly wearing the black shirt and white pants.

His cabinet colleagues including his son and Information Minister Nara Lokesh and all other party legislators also wore black.

The Chief Minisger wore black to the Assembly as a sign of protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “step-motherly treatment meted out to Andhra Pradesh and for breaking all promises made including #SpecialStatus”, tweeted Lokesh.

According to TDP sources, this was the first time Naidu wore a black shirt. He is usually seen wearing white, cream or yellow coloured clothes. Even when he was in the opposition, he confined to wearing a black badge in protest.

The TDP leaders also expressed solidarity with a day-long shutdown called in the state by Pratyeka Hoda Sadhana Samithi (PHSS), which is fighting for the special status to the state.

Earlier, during a teleconference with TDP leaders, Naidu said that demonstrations would be held in the state till February 10. The next day he will head to New Delhi where he would lead a protest.

The protests in the national capital would continue till February 14.



Shutdown in Andhra Pradesh over demand for special status

Normal life was paralysed across Andhra Pradesh on Friday due to a day-long shutdown called over demands for a special category status to the state.

The ruling Telugu Desdam Party (TDP), Congress, Left parties and mass organisations backed the shutdown called by Pratyeka Hoda Sadhana Samithi (PHSS), which is fighting for special status to the state. Students and workers groups have also extended support.

PHSS chairman Chalasani Srinivas said on the day when the Union Budget was being presented in Parliament, the shutdown was called to draw the nation’s attention towards the plight of Andhra Pradesh due to the Centre not fulfilling the promise to accord special category status.

Buses of Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) went off the roads, while shops, business establishments and educational institutions remained closed..

Srinivas along with state Congress chief Raghuveera Reddy and leaders of Communist Party of India (CPI) took part in a protest outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Bus Stand in Vijayawada.

Left parties and student groups staged a protest in Visakhapatnam. Demonstartions were also held in Guntur, Rajahmundry, Tirupati, Kurnool, Anantapur and other towns.

Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, his cabinet colleagues and TDP legislators will attend the Assembly session wearing black badges.

Government Employees Association has also appealed to the employees to wear black badges while attending their duties. Andhra Pradesh Lorry Owners’ Association, managements of private schools and colleges were also extending support to the shutdown.

Following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to carve out Telangana in 2014, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced in Parliament that residual state of Andhra Pradesh would be accorded the special category status.

TDP pulled out of BJP-led NDA government at the Centre last year after the latter ruled out special status.

Chandrababu Naidu, who has also accused Modi government of going back on commitments made in Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014, will be staging a protest in New Delhi on February 11.



Science & Technology

Chang’e-4 shows Moon’s far side colder than expected during night

China’s Chang’e-4 probe has found that the temperature of the lunar surface is colder than expected as it drops to as low as minus 190 degrees centigrade and lower than the data obtained by the US Apollo mission on the near side of the Moon.

China’s Chang’e-4 probe, launched on December 8, landed on the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the Moon on January 3.

This was the first time Chinese scientists received a first-hand data about the temperatures on the surface of the far side of the Moon during the lunar night, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.

“According to the measurements of Chang’e-4, the temperature of the shallow layer of the lunar soil on the far side of the Moon is lower than the data obtained by the US Apollo mission on the near side of the Moon,” said Zhang He, Executive Director of the Chang’e-4 probe project.

“That’s probably due to the difference in lunar soil composition between the two sides of the Moon. We still need more careful analysis,” Zhang said.

The rover and the lander of the Chang’e-4 probe were awakened after a long “sleep” during their first extremely cold night on the Moon, the China National Space Administration announced on Thursday.

As a result of the tidal locking effect, the Moon’s revolution cycle is the same as its rotation cycle and the same side of the Moon always faces Earth.

A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth and a lunar night is the same length. The Chang’e-4 probe switched to dormant mode during the lunar night due to the lack of solar power.

The rover and the lander carried the radioisotope heat source, which helped keep the probe warm during the lunar night.

The lander is also equipped with an isotope thermoelectric cell and dozens of temperature data collectors to measure the temperatures on the surface of the moon during the lunar night, the report said.



Tamil Nadu has given us a bad name, Vedanta tells SC

The Vedanta Group whose Sterlite Copper smelting plant has been shut down since May 28, 2018 on Thursday told the Supreme Court that they were being harassed and their image being besmirched by the Tamil Nadu government.

Telling the bench of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Navin Sinha that the State government has given it a bad name, Vedanta said that the pollution report that was shown to the court was six months after the plant was put under lock.

Describing the action against the plant as “political”, senior counsel C.A. Sundaram appearing for Vedanta, said that the State government overlooked the plea for daily maintenance to plug the sulphuric acid leaks.

Earlier, Vedanta had said that unless electricity to the plant was restored, it would not be able to comply with the conditions imposed by the National Green Tribunal in its December 15, 2018 judgment.

Senior counsel Guru Krishnakumar appearing for Tamil Nadu said that the plant management resorted to quick fixes when the environmental violations were pointed out to them.

The NGT had on December 15 directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass a fresh order allowing renewal of consent for the operation of the plant within three weeks.



Amazon logs $72.4 bn revenue, annual sales cross $200 bn

Fuelled by the growth in its Cloud arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and advertising business, Amazon’s revenue hit $72.4 billion in the fourth quarter that ended December 31 — up 20 per cent from the same period a year ago.

The strong end to the year pushed Amazon’s annual sales to $232.9 billion.

Net income increased to $3 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with $1.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017.

AWS saw sales up 45 per cent from the prior year to $7.4 billion. AWS now provides 60 Availability Zones across 20 infrastructure regions globally, with another 12 Availability Zones and four regions coming online by the first half of 2020.

The year brought a defining moment for Amazon’s smart home speaker Alexa.

“Alexa was very busy during her holiday season. Echo Dot was the best-selling item across all products on Amazon globally, and customers purchased millions more devices from the Echo family compared to last year,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO.

Customers can now choose from more than 28,000 Alexa-compatible smart home devices from more than 4,500 unique brands.

“In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20 per cent through advances in machine learning,” Bezos added.

Developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018.

The all-new Echo Dot was the top selling product on Amazon globally.

Device makers announced more new Alexa products,, including the Lenovo Smart Tab and new devices from brands like First Alert, Jabra, JBL, Kohler, LG, and Razer.

Amazon partnered with ICICI Bank to launch the Amazon ICICI Bank credit card to pre-selected customers in India.

“This is the first card in the country to offer Prime members 5 per cent in reward points for their purchases on and reward points for all other payments where Visa is accepted,” said the company.




Japan gives $8 million to boost food security in Yemen

Japan has contributed over $8 million to help the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation improve food security and nutrition for some 200,000 of the most vulnerable households affected by the war in Yemen, where the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in modern times is looming, the FAO has said.

The Japanese funds will go towards inputs and services in Yemen’s crucial agriculture sector, including the distribution of cereal and legumes seeds, restocking of livestock, and the rehabilitation of irrigation systems and other agricultural facilities, using “cash for work”, the FAO statement said in a statement on Thursday.

These measures will help hungry households produce life-saving food and generate income as well as stimulate local economies through rural job creation, the statement said.

“FAO is on the frontlines in the fight against hunger in Yemen, providing extremely vulnerable people with the means to resume and maintain food production for their families and their communities,” said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva.

“This generous contribution from the Government of Japan allows us to continue supporting the Yemeni people in this time of their greatest need. It will enable FAO to help save the lives and the livelihoods of the country’s most food insecure people and to put agriculture back on track to reduce their dependence on food assistance and food imports in the long run.”

Under the project, FAO also intends to focus on emergency livestock assistance and protection. Provision of animal feed and animal health services such as vaccination campaigns will ensure that products, especially milk, are available to the most vulnerable members of the poor families — especially children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

The Japanese funding will also enable FAO to improve food production practices and strengthen communities’ ability to manage land, soil and water resources in a sustainable manner, as well as their resilience.

The current humanitarian situation in Yemen is worse than any the world has experienced in the last few decades. With the conflict now entering its fifth year, almost 16 million people in Yemen (53 per cent of the population) are experiencing severe acute hunger, FAO said.

FAO is appealing for a total $218.5 million to provide agricultural support to 8.6 million people in Yemen this year.

Japan is the second largest contributor to FAO’s regular budget, and a leading voluntary contributor to FAO’s field programmes.



130 students arrested in visa sting face only civil immigration charges

The 130 students arrested so far in a “pay-to-stay” sting operation using a fake university face only civil immigration charges, according to media reports.

“We have arrested 130 foreign nationals on civil immigration charges,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Carissa Cutrell was quoted as telling the Detroit Free Press on Thursday. She added that more of them could be arrested.

Those students who knowingly participated in scam knowing it was not a genuine academic programme face deportation.

Eight people who allegedly ran the scam as recruiters of the students face criminal charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit and face maximum sentences of five years, according to the ICE service.

Documents filed in court by federal prosecutors said as many as 600 students were enrolled at the fake institution, University of Farmington, set up by immigration officials for the sting operation to catch student visa fraud.

Prosecutors called it a “pay-to-stay” scam because the students paid the recruiters to get documents from from the fake university to enable them to stay on in a student visa without attending classes.

Court documents show that the recruiters were paid between $5,000 and $20,000 at meetings with Homeland Security Investigations agents involved in the university for recruiting the students.

Shiva Kumar, the chairperson of SEVA, the American Telugu Association’s legal assistance programme, told IANS that they were working with the affected students to provide them help.

He said that he had met India’s Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla to ask for help for the students.

The Detroit News said that six alleged recruiters, who were arrested locally, were produced in a local federal court on Thursday wearing ankle chains and handcuffs.

Federal Magistrate Judge David Grand ordered them held without bail. On Monday the court will hear lawyers’ arguments on whether they should be jailed pending their trial.

The two others arrested elsewhere are expected to brought to Detroit.

The Free Press said the students were arrested in early morning raids in New Jersey, Atlanta, Houston, Michigan, California, Louisiana, North Carolina and Missouri states.

The federal prosecutor in Detroit, Matthew Schneider, said in a statement: “We are all aware that international students can be a valuable asset to our country, but as this case shows, the well-intended international student visa program can also be exploited and abused.”

The students had come to the US on legitimte student visas, but did not fulfill the condition of attending universities for the required classes making their continued stay illegal, which would be compounded if they worked.

Many of the students enrolled in the university were students who had transferred from other universities, according to media reports.

ICE, which carried out the operation, admitted in a press release that it had set up the private university run by undercover agents.

Farmington University had a web site as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts – but did not have a campus or faculty.

ICE said that the alleged recruiters facilitated hundreds of foreigners to illegally remain and work in the US by enrolling in the fake university without the intention of attending classes.

“All participants in the scheme knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes,” ICE said.

Sting operations are used quite frequently by US law enforcement officials, who sometimes create fake institutions to create a sense of credibility.

University of Farmington is the second fake institution of higher learning created by law enforcement to catch student immigration scams.

Although the latest arrests came during a period of heightened immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump, Farmington University was set up in 2015 by Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.

Obama administration officials had also set up the other fake institution, the University of North Jersey, and ensnared over 1,000 students, most of them from India and China, in 2016.

Twenty-one people who acted as student visa brokers were arrested in that sting.

The Detroit News reported that Michigan state allowed Farmington University in 2015 to conduct business after confirming it had “demonstrated plans to provide housing space, administration facilities, labs, a library and other teaching facilities”.

But the News said it had none of the facilities and operated out of a single office suite in the basement of an office building.

Its president was a fictional character named Dr. Ali Milani, the News reported.




Facebook, Twitter remove hundreds of malicious accounts

Facebook and Twitter have taken down multiple Pages, groups and accounts from Iran, Russia, Bangladesh and Venezuela that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour on their platforms.

Facebook removed 783 pages, groups and accounts that it said was directed from Iran, in some cases repurposing Iranian state media content, and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behaviour targeting people across the world, more heavily in the Middle East and South Asia.

“About 2 million accounts followed at least one of these Pages on Facebook, about 1,600 accounts joined at least one of these groups, and more than 254,000 accounts followed at least one of these Instagram accounts,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy said in a blog post late Thursday.

Some of the activities on these accounts dates back to 2010.

“Less than $30,000 in spending for ads on Facebook and Instagram paid for primarily in US dollars, UK pounds, Canadian dollars, and euros. We have not completed our review of the organic content coming from these accounts,” said Facebook.

The suspected Pages hosted eight events. “Up to 210 people expressed interest in at least one of these events. We cannot confirm whether any of these events actually occurred,” said Gleicher.

According to Yoel Roth, Head of Site Integrity at Twitter, they identified and suspended a very small number of accounts originating from Bangladesh for engaging in coordinated platform manipulation.

“The Tweets were entirely in Bengali and focused on regional political themes,” he wrote in a separate blog post.

Twitter also identified and suspended 2,617 additional malicious originated in Iran.

Twitter has suspended a total of 3,843 accounts from Russia.

“Our ongoing efforts have uncovered an additional 418 accounts. We cannot render definitive attribution to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) for these accounts, although most appear to originate in Russia,” said Twitter.

It also said it removed 764 accounts located in Venezuela, where there was major political upheaval.

“Additionally, we have removed 1,196 accounts located in Venezuela which appear to be engaged in a state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic audiences,” said the micro-blogging platform.




CBI questions Mamata’s close aide, summons party MP Derek O’Brien

The CBI on Thursday questioned Manik Majumdar, a close aide of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and also summoned Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien, officials said.

A senior official told IANS: “We questioned Majumdar in connection with Chief Minister’s painting case.”

The official said it has also issued fresh summons to the TMC Rajya Sabha MP.

A Central Bureau of Investigation source said the agency had earlier summoned Majumdar and Brien a few months ago.

Majumdar deposed before the agency today, but Brien has yet not joined the probe.

As the TMC MP did not join the probe, he was issued fresh summons. However, the official refused to share the date when Brien has been asked to appear before the agency officials.



JNU writes to VP against ‘violation’ of HC order by MPs, teachers reject charge

The Jawaharlal Nehru University on Thursday wrote to the Vice President of India and the Lok Sabha Speaker complaining against what it termed a violation of the High Court order by the two parliamentarians who took part in a protest meeting at the varsity’s administrative block.

The varsity authorities argued that the protest meeting was a violation of the court order which had prohibited any kind of protest within 100 meter of the administrative block.

“The JNU administration writes to you with considerable distress regarding an incident today involving honorable parliamentarians, which has violated order of honourable High Court and rules and regulations of JNU.

“JNU Teachers Association (JNUTA) had invited MP Manoj Kumar Jha and Jitendra Choudhary for a protest in the campus, which is their democratic right. However, what is shocking and unexpected is that JNUTA office bearers misled the Members of Parliament and brought them to protest at the administration building which has been prohibited by the High Court,” the varsity acting Registrar Ajay Babu wrote in his letter to the Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu.

However, the charges of violation of the court order were dismissed by the JNUTA, which pointed out that the order was meant to prohibit students from protesting at the administrative block and was never imposed on the teachers.

“There is no court order disallowing JNUTA from such a meeting. By making such a false statement – and getting someone who is not even the Registrar to sign it, JNU VC is insulting Parliament and the high constitutional offices to which the letter is addressed,” JNUTA Secretary Avinash Kumar told IANS.




Congress insulting Hindus, Hinduism says Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP on Thursday accused the Congress of insulting Hindu religion, Hindu saints and Hinduism after its leader Shashi Tharoor’s tweeted “‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva’ ideology is dividing our country”.

Addressing a press conference, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Sambit Patra said it was a conspiracy of the Congress party to insult Hindu religion.

“It is not Shashi Tharoor behind the tweet, (Congress President) Rahul Gandhi encouraged him to insult Hindus. The language used by Congress against Hindus, its saints is part of a conspiracy,” he said.

“Congress has been abusing Hindu religion every day. It is sad. It shows Congress’ real face.”

Patra said Congress’ policy was on the lines of the one adopted by the British to divide the country in the name of religion.

He hit out at Tharoor for insulting the Kumbh Mela and added that it was him who had coined the term “Hindu Taliban”.

Tharoor had tweeted in response to an incident where an immigration officer in Mumbai refused to allow an Indian student to pass through because he could not speak Hindi.