He may strike fear in the hearts of dissidents and foreign leaders, but Russian President Vladimir Putin lost his heart Wednesday to a fluffy white puppy with black and brown markings.
Putin received a belated birthday gift from Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — an alabai, a top Turkmen-bred variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog. The pup is named Verny, or Russian for “loyal.”
Putin, who turned 65 over the weekend, cuddled Verny and kissed it on the head during a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The pup joins the Kremlin kennel that already is home to a Bulgarian shepherd named Buffy, a gift from Bulgaria’s premier, and an Akita named Yume, from a Japanese official.
Putin favorite Konnie, a black Labrador famous for terrifying German Chancellor Angela Merkel, died a few years ago. He was a present from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The Central Asian shepherd dog is a multipurpose working dog native to Russia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The breed is used for a number of purposes, including livestock protection, dog fighting, personal and property protection, companionship and military work.
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Leaders in Catalonia are facing increasing domestic and international pressure to abandon plans to declare independence from Spain, ahead of a planned speech by Catalonia’s regional president.
Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address the regional parliament on Tuesday, and Spain’s government is worried the legislature will vote for a unilateral declaration of independence. Puigdemont has not revealed what his message to lawmakers will be.
Political leaders, both domestically and internationally, urged Catalan leaders on Monday to back down to ease growing tensions in the country.
Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the city council in Barcelona, Spain, Sept. 28, 2017.
Major speaks out
Barcelona’s mayor was the latest to speak out against a declaration of independence, saying this would put “social cohesion” at risk. Ada Colau called on all sides to de-escalate tensions to solve “the most severe institutional crisis since the re-establishment of democracy in Spain.”
The head of Spain’s main opposition party, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, also called for Catalan leaders to drop an attempt to declare independence, saying “a universal declaration of independence doesn’t have a place in a state ruled by law.”
Germany and France also weighed in Monday against a split. German Chancellor Angela Merkel “affirmed her backing for the unity of Spain,” but also encouraged dialogue, according to her spokesman.
France said it would not recognize Catalonia if the region declared independence. “This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics,” France’s European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said.
Tensions have grown in Spain since last week when Catalonia held a regional vote for independence, an election deemed illegal by Madrid. Police cracked down on the vote, firing rubber bullets and storming crowds to disrupt the voting, leading to hundreds of injuries.
A man, wearing a t-shirt reading in Spanish: “Please, talk” chats with a passer-by about the current political situation in Catalonia, in Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.
Huge support at the polls
Catalan leaders say 90 percent of those who went to the polls voted to break with Spain. However, opponents of the referendum say the vote did not show the true will of the region because those who want to stay in Spain mainly boycotted the polls.
Police say about 350,000 demonstrators attended an anti-independence protest on Sunday.
On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered at rallies in Barcelona, Madrid and other Spanish cities to demand dialogue to end the dispute.
An “estelada”, or Catalonia independence flag, hangs from a street light in downtown Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.
Banks, businesses may move
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would not rule out using constitutional powers to take away Catalonia’s autonomous status if the region declares independence.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists.
The crisis has prompted several major banks and businesses to announce they will move their headquarters out of Catalonia to other parts of Spain so they can be sure they will remain in the European Union common market.
Catalonia, a northeastern region in Spain, has its own language and cultural traditions. It is home to 7.5 million people and accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economy.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Our Lady of Angels Church has survived several major earthquakes, but Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 shake proved to be the final death knell for the Mexico City building’s historic cupola.
Violent cracks crisscrossed the dome, and stone from the roof continued to fall onto the church’s wooden pews. On Sunday evening, the cupola split and half crashed to the floor.
“Each earthquake has left its mark,” said Marco Antonio Fuentes, part of the church’s ministry. “This one seems to be the straw that will break the camel’s back.”
According to the Archdiocese of Mexico, more than 150 religious temples in this deeply Roman Catholic country were damaged by Tuesday’s deadly quake. Statues of saints have been left maimed, missing hands and feet. Once towering, celestial church naves now open to the sky. Dust from fallen stone and concrete cover altars.
Santiago Apostol church was destroyed during the recent 7.1-magnitude earthquake, in Atzala, Mexico, Sept. 23, 2017.
Many of the battered churches are in the state of Puebla, where the quake’s epicenter was located. There in the city of Atzala, a child’s baptism turned into tragedy when the roof of a church collapsed, killing 11 family members inside, including the 2-month-old girl being christened.
On the first Sunday since the earthquake, priests no longer able to say Mass inside collapsing churches instead held services outside paying homage to victims and survivors.
“Our religion is more than a building,” Colin Noguez, the priest at Our Lady of Angels, told parishioners inside a tent with a table holding a cross and candles from the building.
A crucifix, recovered from a collapsed church, is held up by ropes inside an auditorium during a Mass, in Tepeojuma, Mexico, Sept. 24, 2017.
Many of the collapsed buildings where rescuers have been searching for survivors held offices and apartments, places where people worked and lived. The damage to churches hit a different chord — striking places that in many Mexican cities serve as pillars of strength in times of distress.
“It’s our mother,” Azalia Ramirez, 60, said of Our Lady of Angels, which sits in a working class neighborhood. “We come here looking for communion, peace and tranquility.”
Our Lady of Angels is believed to be the most heavily damaged church in Mexico City, while the severity of destruction to religious structures is largely concentrated in Puebla.
In Atzala, a town of 1,200 people, little remains of the golden yellow church with a red roof where the 11 people died. The interior where worshippers once prayed from pews is now a mess of twisted metal and fallen stone leading to an altar where the word “merciful” now hangs at a slant.
“Everything happened in the blink of an eye,” said Sergio Montiel, the church’s sexton.
As the Santiago de Apostol church shifted to recovery mode, a planned wedding instead took place outside under a beige tent with mariachi players standing nearby. The bride and groom exchanged rings and a kiss before being showered with rice and confetti just feet from the destruction.
“I’m very sad for the church,” said Aremy Sanchez, the bride. “But we must go on.”
People kneel during a Mass held outside the Parish of Santiago Apostol, where church officials were waiting for inspectors to check damages following the recent earthquake, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Sept. 24, 2017.
At Mass in Puebla and elsewhere, priests urged parishioners to use the painful moment as a time of reflection. Damaged churches held mass in plazas and auditoriums. In San Francisco Xochiteopan, clergy members moved broken statues of saints into a gym and proceeded with a service. At the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a national shrine in Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera asked God to deliver peace.
“It pains us to see our city hurt, so many hopes lost,” he said, speaking before a giant Mexican flag. “For that reason, we come to you, consoler of the afflicted.”
The origin of Our Lady of Angels dates back 433 years, when a painting of the Virgin Mary transported by a Spanish ship was found to have been damaged by water during the journey. A painter in the city’s then-predominantly indigenous community was commissioned to create a replica.
The replica, cracked and with progressively fading paint, has stood at the altar from the time the church was little more than a small hut to its present-day construction, built in the 19th century. The Virgin Mary painting has withstood seven floods and more earthquakes than parishioners can remember.
“I say Our Lady of Angels holds the miracle of perseverance,” said Adela Corona, a member of the ministry.
Engineers told the church’s leaders that the cupola has a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of collapsing. It contains stained glass brought from Germany depicting singing archangels. Projecting above the roof, the cupola is meant to symbolize how the church brings those inside closer to God.
“It is an important part of our historical heritage,” Fuentes said as the sound of small bits of the dome falling onto the floor echoed in the church. “Our idea is to save it.”
But just hours later, half the cupola came crashing down. No one was inside and the painting of the Virgin Mary, protected by a glass case, appeared unscathed.
“Hijole,” Fuentes said after the dome fell, using a popular Spanish word to express astonishment. “There’s sadness, surprise and fear for those who live here.”
But, he added, the Virgin Mary painting’s survival is what mattered: “She’s the boss here.”
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Mexican authorities have raised the death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake to 293, as rescue workers continue to search through the rubble, refusing to give up hope of finding survivors.
National Civil Protection Chief Luis Felipe Puente said more than half the fatalities — 155 people — died in the capital, Mexico City. In a tweet Friday, he said the death tolls remained unchanged in other areas, with 73 in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico state, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.
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Rescue teams in central Mexico have been working around the clock among the flattened buildings since Tuesday’s massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake in search of survivors.
Mexican rescue workers, supported by teams from around the world, including Israel, Japan and the United States, have rescued at least 60 people in Mexico City and surrounding towns.
More than three days after the quake, rescuers were now finding more dead bodies than living survivors, but officials said there were signs of life at some sites picked up by dogs and sensors. The Mexican military said 115 people had been pulled alive from the rubble.
Work continues at the site of a collapsed building in Mexico City, Mexico, Sept. 22, 2017. Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day after Tuesday’s major earthquake.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has insisted rescue operations will continue. He praised Mexicans’ rapid response to the disaster, while stressing the priorities remain saving lives and getting medical attention to those in need.
“I need to recognize the volunteers who are unconditionally helping those who need it,” Pena Nieto said.
“Once again, Mexicans have demonstrated that the strength of solidarity is much greater,” the president’s office posted in a tweet that included a video showing thousands of people involved in relief efforts.
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But it was likely the death toll would rise.
In addition to the local response in Mexico City and the states of Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, Guerrero and Oaxaca, help was coming from other nations.
The U.S. Agency for International Development sent a team of more than 60 disaster responders and tools and medical equipment to Mexico City on Thursday.
“They’ll be working closely with Mexican disaster authorities to help rescue earthquake survivors and assess structures for earthquake damage,” USAID Administrator Mark Green said.
Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day after Tuesday’s major earthquake that devastated Mexico City and nearby states.
While officials remained focused on searching for survivors and caring for those who were injured in the temblor, those whose lives were upended in the quake were wondering what would happen to them.
About 2,000 homes were damaged in the quake. Many are uninhabitable, rendering occupants homeless.
Mexico has set up 50 shelters to house quake survivors, but some people are choosing to sleep in the streets.
The quake hit less than two weeks after another temblor killed more than 90 people in the country’s south. The U.S. Geological Survey said the two quakes appeared to be unrelated.
The earthquake struck exactly 32 years after an 8.0 temblor killed nearly 10,000 people in and around Mexico City.
Celia Mendoza contributed to this report.
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Google is biting off a big piece of device manufacturer HTC for $1.1 billion to expand its efforts to build phones, speakers and other gadgets equipped with its arsenal of digital services.
The deal announced Thursday underscores how serious Google is becoming about designing its own family of devices to compete against Apple and Amazon in a high-stakes battle to become the technological hub of people’s lives.
Over the past decade, Google had focused on giving away its Android operating system to an array of device makers, including Taiwan’s HTC, to ensure people would keep using its ubiquitous search engine, email, maps, YouTube video service and other software on smartphones and other pieces of hardware.
But that changed last year when Google stamped its brand on a smartphone and internet-connected speaker. HTC manufactured the Pixel phones that Google designed last year, perhaps paving the way for this deal to unfold.
Although Android powers about four out of every five smartphones and other mobile devices in the world, the software can be altered in ways that result in Google’s services being de-emphasized or left out completely from the pre-installed set of apps.
That fragmentation threatens to undercut Google’s ability to increase the ad sales that bring in most of the revenue to its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., as people spend more and more time on smartphones and other devices instead of personal computers.
Apple’s iPhone and other hardware products are also particularly popular among affluent consumers prized by advertisers, giving Google another incentive to develop its own high-priced phone as a mobile platform for its products and ads.
Google also wants to build more internet-connected devices designed primarily for home usage, such as its voice-controlled speaker that’s trying to catch up with Amazon’s Echo. The Home speaker includes a digital concierge, called Google Assistant, that answers questions and helps manage people’s lives, much like the Alexa in Amazon’s Echo.
The purchase is a gamble on several fronts for Google and Alphabet.
Google’s previous forays into hardware haven’t panned out to be big winners so far. It paid $12.5 billion for smartphone maker Motorola Mobility five years ago only to sell it to Lenovo Group for less than $3 billion after struggling to make a dent in the market. And in 2014, Google paid more than $3 billion for home device maker Nest Labs, which is still struggling to make money under Alphabet’s ownership.
Expanding into hardware also threatens to alienate Samsung Electronics, Huawei and other device makers that Google relies on to distribute its Android software.
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Torrential rains lashed India’s financial hub Mumbai for the second time in weeks on Tuesday, flooding low-lying areas and paralyzing traffic at the country’s second busiest airport after a plane overshot the runway.
Low visibility, strong winds and slippery conditions caused the SpiceJet flight to overshoot while landing on Tuesday night and skid onto the grass.
The airline said all 183 passengers on the flight from the northern city of Varanasi were safe, but the incident led to widespread disruptions.
India’s largest carrier Indigo and rivals Jet Airways and Vistara issued advisories saying they had halted all flights to and from Mumbai due to unavailability of runways and bad weather conditions.
The airport was earlier shut down for 30 minutes while the downpour hampered visibility.
A deluge in Mumbai last month killed 14 people, wrecked homes and caused chaos in the city of 20 million people.
Tuesday’s rain delayed services on the heavily used local train network, a rail official said, while road traffic was heavily disrupted by flooding.
The state of Maharashtra’s Education Minister Vinod Tawde in a tweet advised all schools and colleges in the city to remain closed on Wednesday, when the weather department forecasting that heavy rains would continue.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS via Reuters
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told a Brazilian court Wednesday that the corruption charges against him stem form a witch hunt and questioned the impartiality of the judge.
Silva’s deposition in the southeastern city of Curitiba was the second time he faced off with Judge Sergio Moro, who oversees the country’s sprawling investigation into bribes to politicians in return for favors to companies.
In May, Brazil’s former leader also struck a defiant note in court for another case and Moro eventually found him guilty, sentencing him to 9 years in prison. Silva is appealing that conviction.
“I am going to get home tomorrow and eat lunch with eight grandchildren,” Silva said. “Can I look my children in the eye and tell them that I testified in front of an impartial judge?”
Moro responded that he could, but Silva retorted: “That wasn’t what happened in the other case.”
In the case at hand Wednesday, the former president is accused of corruption for allegedly accepting an arrangement in which construction giant Odebrecht would buy a piece of land that was supposed to be the site of new headquarters for Silva’s Instituto Lula.
Several other charges are pending for Silva, who has denied any wrongdoing and says the accusations are politically motivated.
“This is a witch hunt,” he told the court.
Last week, Silva’s former finance minister, Antonio Palocci, who has been in jail for a year, corroborated the accusation in this case. In court Wednesday, Silva said he “pitied” Palocci and said he was lying to save his own skin.
Supporters of Silva, many wearing the trademark red of his Workers’ Party, gave him a rock star’s welcome as he made his way through the crowd to enter the court.
“We have to be in the streets, we have to protest because we can’t accept losing a great leader of the country,” said one, Richard Fogabia, adding that he thought the proceedings were a show trial.
Another demonstration was staged in support of Moro.
The judge and Silva are two of the major players in the near-operatic drama that is the “Car Wash” investigation: Each has his own staunch supporters and bitter detractors.
‘Unjust, absurd and regrettable’
Silva is just one of the senior politicians caught up in the probe, which is the largest in Brazil’s history and has jailed several executives as well.
Odebrecht was one of the companies at the center of the bribery scheme, But the focus has more recently switched to JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, whose executives have confessed to doling out millions to secure legislative and political favors.
In exchange for their testimony, JBS chief executive Wesley Batista and his brother Joesley, the company’s former chairman, have received immunity from prosecution. But prosecutors are now looking into those deals.
On Wednesday, police arrested Wesley Batista amid allegations that he and his brother used their own plea bargains to gain an advantage in financial markets.
Executives from JBS have provided evidence for some of the most serious allegations, including claims that President Michel Temer arranged to receive millions in payouts in exchange for helping the meatpacker. Temer denies wrongdoing.
In recent days, prosecutors have questioned whether Joesley Bastista and other executives may have withheld some information, violating their plea deals.
Pierpaolo Cruz Bottini, a lawyer for the Batista brothers, called the arrest “unjust, absurd and regrettable.” He said his clients had cooperated with authorities at every step and suggested they were being targeted by some within the government for having reached plea bargains.
A warrant for Joesley Batista’s arrest was also issued, but the executive has been in custody since Sunday following the questions about his plea testimony.
Wednesday’s accusations focused on the company’s activity in the weeks before their plea deals became public.
Police investigator Victor Hugo Rodrigues Alves said the Batistas knew the plea bargains would affect stock prices and cause the Brazilian real to weaken against the U.S. dollar and he alleged they used that to their advantage.
Between late April and mid-May, while negotiating their plea bargains, the brothers made large purchases of dollars on the futures markets, Rodrigues Alves said. During that period, their holding company also sold hundreds of millions of dollars in JBS shares.
“The victims are not just JBS shareholders,” Rodrigues Alves said. “In a large context, the country is a victim, as the crimes shook the confidence of the market.”
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Hurricane Irma’s path of destruction up Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sunday threatens to disrupt a thriving state tourism industry worth more than $100 billion annually just months ahead of the busy winter travel season.
Some of the state’s biggest attractions have announced temporary closures, including amusement park giants Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Legoland and Sea World, which all planned to close through Monday.
About 20 cruise lines have Miami as a home port or a port of call, according to the PortMiami website, and many have had to move ships out of the area and revise schedules.
USACarnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean have canceled and revised several sailings as a result of the storm and have offered credits and waivers on trips where passengers are unable to travel.
FILE – Royal Caribbean International’s cruise ship ‘Allure of the Seas’ enters its new home port in Fort Lauderdale as seen from nearby Hollywood, Florida, Nov. 11, 2010.
A Carnival spokesman said the situation in Florida on Sunday was still not clear enough to fully assess how widespread the effects will be.
“We will know more in the hours ahead since the hurricane is active in Florida right now,” spokesman Roger Frizzell said.
Irma made a second Florida landfall on Sunday on southwestern Marco Island as a Category 3 storm bringing winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph) and life-threatening sea surge.
Disney canceled the Monday sailing of one of its cruise ships and said it is assessing future sailings, which stop throughout the Caribbean and in the Bahamas.
Florida is one of the world’s top tourism destinations. Last year nearly 113 million people visited the state, a new record, and spent $109 billion, state officials said earlier this year.
The first half of 2017 was on track to beat that record pace, officials said.
FILE – Preslee Rakes, left, her mother Tina Rakes, center, and Brad Cunningham, right, all from Kansas, feed seagulls during a visit to the South Beach area of Miami Beach, Florida, Dec. 11, 2011.
The damage Irma’s winds and storm surge do to Florida’s 660 miles (1,060 km) of beaches and the structures built along them during more than 30 years of explosive population growth will be critical to how quickly the state’s ‘s No. 1 industry recovers.
The Gulf beaches west of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, are squarely in the storm’s path.
In 2016, more than 6.3 million people visited Pinellas County, which encompasses those cities, and generated more $9.7 billion in economic activity.
Up and down the wide, sandy beaches of Pinellas County are traditional “old Florida” waterfront hotels such as the Don Cesar, a coral pink 1920s hotel on St. Pete Beach, which was closed by the storm. There are also modern high-rises and resorts that are part of the nation’s biggest chains and brands including Hyatt Hotels, Marriott International, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
The low-lying barrier islands would be inundated if Irma’s storm surge reaches forecast heights of as high as 15 feet (4.6 meters).
While some newer structures in the area are built on elevated pilings, many older homes and businesses are not.
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South Africa entered an economic recession in June, and the country’s unemployment rate is fast approaching 30 percent, according to the government statistics agency. But for the sellers of secondhand books, business has never been better.
Eric Nofal, who has been selling used books for almost 30 years, shows a customer around his store in Johannesburg.
He says he recently faced “intense” competition before launching his fifth bookshop in the city.
“My ex-wife also wanted to open up a shop in this area, but I beat her to the punch, so she is a bit [angry] with me, actually!,” he admitted.
Nofal adds “I am making money and it is going into my third month and that is pretty good for a new business to make money so quickly. Books have come back.”
It is a big contrast to five years ago when Nofal’s sales dropped dramatically. Book lovers were embracing electronic reading devices like Kindles. He had to close six stores.
But now, Nofal says, the “kindle craze” may be over and many South Africans want to turn “real pages.”
Yet many of his clients give another reason for no longer buying new books.
“They have gone up a hell of a lot. Obviously it depends on your import or your [South African] rand level,” he said.
The rand has dropped steadily against the dollar since the end of 2011, when one dollar was valued at about eight rand. Presently, a dollar is valued at 13 rand.
“A new book should cost you about the price of a meal. In the UK [Britain] that is about right, a meal costs about seven pounds and a [new] book costs about seven pounds. Here on the other hand a reasonable meal for one person will cost you about 70 rand, 80 rand and a [new] book costs 350 [rand]. People just can not afford [new] books,” he said.
Dealers across Johannesburg put the number of second hand book stores at about 50, up from about 25 just a few years ago.
But used books are not always cheaper.
Unpacking hand-me-down books inside his shop, Doron Locketz says that despite the poor economy, some South Africans spend “big money” on rare second hand titles.
Second hand book dealer Doron Locketz sometimes makes “big money” selling rare used books.
“We sold a first edition of Long Walk to Freedom, and the big thing about it was that it was signed, pre the release date, by Mandela. It went to one of our collectors,” he said.
Locketz sold the autographed copy of Nelson Mandela’s bestseller for almost 80,000 rand … more than $6,000 US.
But he says the collectible book market is very small, and he mostly sells used books to a general audience.
“I am delighted to increasingly see more black customers, younger ones, who really have, many of them, a passion for books,” he said.
Economists are predicting a bleak outlook for South Africa for the next few years. So second hand book dealers like Locketz expect sales to rise even further in the near future.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
India’s army chief has warned the nation to be prepared for a possible two-front war — with China and Pakistan — at the same time.
General Bipin Rawat warned China would continue its efforts to “nibble away” at India’s territory, as it did during a recent standoff in the Himalayas that ended last week. He said more incidents like the standoff at Doklam plateau in Bhutan could lead to a larger conflict on India’s northern border.
If that were to happen, Rawat warned, it is possible Pakistan would seize the opportunity to strike its arch nemesis from the west.“We have to be prepared for conflict on the northern and western borders,” he said.
“As far as our western adversary is considered,” he said in reference to Pakistan, “we don’t see any scope of reconciliation because their military, the polity, and the people in that nation have been made to believe that India wants to break their country into pieces.”
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since both nations gained independence from Britain 70 years ago. India and China have also fought once since then.
All three nations are nuclear powers, but Rawat said that will not necessarily be a deterrent.
“Nuclear weapons are weapons of deterrence. Yes, they are. But to say that they can deter war or they will not allow nations to go to war, in our context that may also not be true,’’ he said.
Rawat made the comments at a seminar organized by the Center for Land Warfare Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank.