The 39 Indians missing in Iraq since they were kidnapped by the terror outfit ISIS four years ago have been confirmed dead after their bodies were found, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said in parliament today. "With full proof I can say these 39 are dead. We wanted to give the families closure only after concrete proof," she said.

Opposition allegations exploded after the revelation; the Congress accused the government of giving the Indians' families false hope and misleading the nation. Last year, Sushma Swaraj had told parliament that until evidence suggested otherwise, the workers would be presumed alive.

The minister said in the Rajya Sabha it was confirmed yesterday that the DNA of 38 had matched remains found underneath a mound, one of many in and around Mosul and Badush after their liberation from ISIS. One body was a 70 per cent match.

"We used a deep penetration satellite... It had exactly 39 bodies with distinctive features like long hair, non-Iraqi shoes and IDs," Ms Swaraj said.

"It was a most difficult task to get the proof. It was a pile of bodies. To track down the bodies of our people and to take them to Baghdad for DNA tests was a huge task," she informed, commending her junior, Minister of State VK Singh, for supervising the challenging job.

Congress lawmaker Ghulam Nabi Azad reminded Ms Swaraj that she had "assured us last year that the Indians were alive".

"We never misled anyone. We said unless we have evidence, we cannot declare them dead," said Mr Singh.

The Indian construction workers, who were from Punjab, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Bengal, were taken hostage when the ISIS overran Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in 2014. The workers were trying to leave Mosul when they were caught.

One of them, Harjit Masih from Punjab's Gurdaspur, managed to escape after posing as a Muslim.

Last year, Ms Swaraj had told the families of the workers that an Iraqi official had told Mr Singh the Indians were made to work at a hospital construction site and then shifted to a farm before they were thrown into a jail in Badush.

Harjit Masih, the escaped Indian, claimed that he saw his compatriots executed but the government rejected it.

"For four years, the minister had told me that they were alive, I don't know what to believe anymore," said Gurpinder Kaur, sister of Manjinder Singh, one of the men killed in Iraq.

Ms Kaur said she had been waiting to speak to the minister but then heard her statement in parliament

More than 10,000 Indians fled Iraq at the height of ISIS violence in 2014. These included nurses held captive by the ISIS in Tikrit and Mosul before being allowed to return home.

India regained the status of the world's fastest-growing major economy in the October-December quarter, driven by higher government spending and a pick-up in manufacturing and services. Gross domestic product or GDP grew 7.2 per cent in in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, according to government data released today. The growth rate is higher than what the Street had expected. A Reuters poll of more than 35 economists estimated the economy to grow 6.9 per cent in the October-December quarter. China had recorded a growth of 6.8 per cent in the December quarter.

India's GDP or gross domestic product growth had fallen to a three-year low of 5.7 per cent in the April-June quarter due to destocking in the run-up to the July 1 launch of the goods and services tax (GST) and a lingering impact of demonetisation. But in July-September quarter, the economic growth picked up to a revised 6.5 per cent annually, a return to a faster growth trajectory after five consecutive quarters of slowdown.

Meanwhile, for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018, the government revised its GDP growth forecast higher to 6.6 per cent from 6.5 per cent earlier.

Separately, infrastructure output grew by a strong 6.7 per cent in January from a year ago, government data showed today. The growth in output compares with an upwardly revised 4.2 per cent year-on-year growth in December. Infrastructure output, which comprises eight sectors such as coal, crude oil and electricity, accounts for nearly 40 per cent of industrial output.

Economists widely expect India's GDP growth to accelerate further this year. Moody's Investors Service estimates India to grow at 7.6 per cent in calendar year 2018 and 7.5 per cent in 2019, amid signs of economic recovery from impact of demonetisation and GST.

The International Monetary Fund projects India's GDP to grow at 7.4 per cent in 2018 as against China's 6.8 per cent. The IMF's update, released last month, projects a 7.8 per cent growth rate for India in 2019.

GENEVA:  Maldives will seek help from other countries to investigate judges suspected of taking bribes and "hijacking" the Supreme Court to drag the island nation into political crisis, a senior Maldives diplomat told Reuters in an interview.

NEW DELHI:  Iran's President Hassan Rouhani was greeted at the Rashtrapati Bhavan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ram Nath Kovind today on the last of his three-day visit of the country.

NEW DELHI:  Iran's President Hassan Rouhani was greeted at the Rashtrapati Bhavan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ram Nath Kovind today on the last of his three-day visit of the country. Mr Rouhani's visit comes a month after the Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was here, indicating India's delicate balancing act. The Iranian President's first stop was Hyderabad where he visited the Salar Jung Museum, Golconda Fort and Qutb Shahi Tomb. This was his second visit to Hyderabad and the first after becoming Iran's President in 2013. Addressing people at the Makkah Masjid after offering Friday prayers, he talked about "unity against western powers" and praised India for"peaceful coexistence" of people of different religions.

 China today defended Pakistan saying the world community should acknowledge its all-weather ally's "outstanding contribution" to counter terrorism, a day after US President Donald Trump lashed out at Islamabad for providing safe havens to terrorists.

Mr Trump had on Monday accused Pakistan of "lies and deceit" and of fooling US leaders while sheltering terrorists.

"The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools," Mr Trump had tweeted yesterday.

"They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!", he said in a scathing criticism of Pakistan.

Today China, on expected lines, praised Pakistan's counter terrorism record.

"Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifice fo the fight against terrorism and has made very outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter terrorism. The international community should acknowledge that," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said here when asked about Trump's criticism of Pakistan.

He said China is glad to see Pakistan engaging in international cooperation, including counter terrorism, on the basis of mutual respect so as to contribute to regional peace and stability.

"China and Pakistan are all weather partners. We stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides," Mr Geng said.

China is currently investing heavily in Pakistan as part of the USD 50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) over which India has raised objections as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

During the first ever trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan here last week, Beijing had announced plans to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan which shares close ties with India.

Afghanistan also accuses Pakistan of sheltering Taliban militants, leading to a long running spat between the two countries. China is seeking to mediate between the two neighbours through the trilateral mechanism.

Analysts here say US is mounting pressure on Pakistan as it has firmed up an alliance with Beijing by allowing heavy Chinese investments in the strategic CPEC corridor providing China access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Asked whether Mr Trump's criticism would affect China's efforts to bring peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Geng said "We believe as neighbours China, Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely linked not only geographically but also in terms of common interests. It is natural for us to enhance communication and exchanges".

He said during the December 26 trilateral meet, the three countries "reached a lot of consensus" on cooperation. This included the three nations enhancing cooperation on counter terrorism and fighting against terrorism in all forms and manifestations. "The parties will enhance cooperation in this regard," Mr Geng said.

In his strongest attack against Pakistan yet, Mr Trump in his first tweet of the year on New Year's Day also appeared to suggest he could cut off foreign aid to Pakistan.

His remarks came days after the New York Times reported that the US is considering withholding USD 225 million in aid to Pakistan, reflecting its dissatisfaction with Islamabad's reluctance in the war against terrorism.


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