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December 24, 2019: National Current Affairs
1. HEC to introduce e-verification of documents
• The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is going to introduce e-verification service of educational documents to end forgery and to make the process of attestation of various documents hassle free.
• A task force on Civil Service Reforms and Austerity and Restructuring, led by Prime Minister`s Adviser Dr Ishrat Hussain, at a recent meeting advised the HEC to direct all degree awarding institutions under its supervision to immediately launch e-verification services for their issued educational documents.
• It directed the HEC to maintain and supervise an online system where all degree awarding institutions automatically submit copies of issued degrees online as soon as the degrees are awarded.
• HEC Chairman Tariq Banuri told Dawn he was not aware of the direction from Task Force but they had started the registration process of the documents few months ago.
2. Global press freedom crackdown widened in 2019: IPI
• Despite a notable drop in the number of killing of journalists, the global press freedom crisis deepened in 2019 as governments increasingly turned to legal harassment, smear campaigns and online attacks to pressure independent media and journalists into silence, said the International Press Institute (IPI).
• The Vienna-based IPPs global coverage of media freedom this year showed a rise in the abuse of new and existing laws to threaten, harass and jail journalists, as well as the increasing use of populist rhetoric designed to undermine journalism and discredit independent journalists.
• `2019 has seen a clear drop in the number of journalists killed to the lowest level in 20 years, even as impunity remains a major challenge,` IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said
3. US moved to freeze Ukraine aid 90 minutes after Trump call
• A US budget official told the Pentagon to `hold off` on military aid to Kiev 90 minutes after a controversial phone call between President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, according to an internal email.
• The email was part of a series published by the investigative nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.
• Trump is accused of withholding $400 million in assistance to Ukraine to push Kiev to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
• `Based on guidance I have received and in light of the Administration`s plan to review assistance to Ukraine… please hold off on any additional DoD obligations of these funds, Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffy wrote in an email to Pentagon officials.
4. Russia tests `sovereign` internet amid fears of online isolation
• Russia carried out tests on December 22, 2019 to ensure the `security` of its internet infrastructure in case of a foreign cyber attack as part of measures that rights activists worry could also tighten censorship and lead to online isolation.
• A controversial law that allows the country to cut internet traffic from international servers came into force in November, but the communications ministry has denied that the government is gearing up to isolate the Russian segment of the internet and said ordinary users would not notice the tests.
• The ministry said that the drills are aimed at ensuring the `integrity` of the internet.
• `The purpose of the task is to ensure the reliable operation of the internet in Russia in any conditions and under any circumstances,` deputy communications minister Alexei Sokolov said in televised remarks on Monday, speaking from the Monitoring and Cyber Threat Response Centre.
5. Nine children killed or maimed in Afghanistan every day: report
• An average of nine children have been killed or maimed every day in Afghanistan this year, says a recent report from the UN Children`s Fund, UNICEF, which describes the country as `the world`s most lethal warzone`.
• `Even by Afghanistan`s grim standards, 2019 has been particularly deadly for children`, says UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. `Children, their families and communities suffer the horrific consequences of conflict each and every day.
• In a statement released with the report, Ms Fore notes that despite these difficult conditions, Afghan children are desperate to grow up, go to school, learn skills, and build a future for themselves. `We can, and must, do so much more to reinforce their extraordinary courage and resilience,` she adds.
6. Algeria`s military chief Gaid Salah dies amid protest crisis
• Algeria`s powerful military chief Gen Ahmed Gaid Salah, who was instrumental in pushing out the gas-rich country`s long serving president amid prodemocracy protests earlier this year, died unexpectedly on Monday at age 79.
• Gaid Salah`s death thrusts Algeria into new political uncertainty as a tumultuous year comes to a close.
• Algeria`s military plays a central role in decision-making in this country, a key ally to Western powers in fighting Islamic extremism.
• Born on Jan 13, 1940, Gaid Salah was a product of the old guard that won Algeria`s independence from France in 1962 after a brutal seven year war.
7. Iran starts new operations at heavy water reactor
• Iran began new operations on December 23, 2019 at a heavy water nuclear reactor, the head of the country`s nuclear agency said.
• The move was seemingly designed to intensify pressure on Europe to find an effective way around US sanctions that block Tehran`s oil sales abroad.
• Starting up the Arak heavy water reactor`s secondary circuit doesn`t violate Iran`s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. But it does inch Tehran`s programme closer towards weapons-grade levels.
• Ali Akbar Salehi explained to state TV that the secondary circuit transfers heat to the reactor`s cooling system. He said the entire reactor system will go online in 2021
8. Iran, India agree to speed up Chabahar port project
• Tehran and Delhi have agreed to accelerate the development of an important Iranian port, India`s foreign minister said during a visit to the sanctions-hit Islamic republic on December 23, 2019.
• The Chabahar port being jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan is on the Indian Ocean about 100 kilometres west of the Pakistan border.
• But development has stalled, despite waivers to sanctions that the United States began re imposing last year after withdrawing from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
9. Saudi court sentences five to death over Khashoggi murder
• Saudi Arabia on December 23, 2019 sentenced five people to death and three to jail over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year and said the killing was not premeditated, a verdict criticised by a UN investigator as a `mockery` of justice.
• The court dismissed charges against the remaining three of the 11 people who had been on trial, finding them not guilty, Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan said. None of the defendants` names was immediately released. `The investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated… The decision was taken at the spur of the moment, Shalaan said, a position contradicting the findings of a United Nations-led investigation.
• Jamal Khashoggi was a US resident and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom`s de facto ruler. He was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found
10. Nasim`s five-for concludes proceedings as Pakistan trounce Sri Lanka
• Rising speedster Nasim Shah belied his tender age to grab his maiden five-for as Pakistan trounced Sri Lanka by a handsome margin of 263 runs at the National Stadium in an instantaneous conclusion to the second and final match of the ICC World Test Championship here on December 23, 2019.
• The 1-0 series triumph their first against Sri Lanka on home soil after an astonishing gap of 27 years (199192 season) not only catapulted to Pakistan to third from sixth spot with a tally of 80 points in the table after they pocketed 60 which were on offer for winning in a two-match rubber, but also saw them record their home victory since defeating West Indies at this venue in November 2006, and their first overall after having lost to New Zealand 13 months ago at Abu Dhabi, and their 22nd from 42 games at this imposing venue.
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