Archive | February, 2016

Anushka announces her next production venture

Posted on 25 February 2016 by admin

Anushka Sharma has announced she will co-produce and star in romantic film ‘Phillauri’.

The 27-year-old actress is co-producing the film with with Fox Star Studios. She will be sharing screen space with singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh and Suraj Sharma, of ‘Life of Pi’ fame.

The movie has been tagged as an uncommon romantic film set in Phillaur, Punjab. It will be directed by debutant Anshai Lal.

“‘Phillauri’ has a unique premise. It took almost 100 years, a crazy Punjabi wedding and rank strangers to complete this love story, and that’s the crux of the film,” said Anushka Sharma.

The actress made her debut as a producer through her Clean Slate Films with last year’s much-acclaimed crime drama ‘NH 10’.

“Anushka Sharma is a phenomenal actress and has proven that she is a producer par excellence with her brave first film.

We are thrilled to be working with her,” said Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios.

The film goes on floors in April this year.

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Sonam and Fawad together again

Posted on 25 February 2016 by admin

Actors Sonam Kapoor and Fawad Khan, who wowed fans through their chemistry in romantic comedy film `Khoobsurat`, have come together for a new Pakistani commercial.

In the advertisement made for the brand Tarang, the two look quite similar to their roles in `Khoobsurat`.

Fawad, who made his debut in Bollywood with `Khoobsurat`, plays Prince Charming in the video, while Sonam can be seen as Cinderella.

`Khoosurat`, directed by Shashanka Ghosh, received good response from viewers upon its release.

Fawad will next be seen in `Kapoor and Sons` alongside Sidharth Malhotra and Alia Bhatt.

Meanwhile, Sonam’s film `Neerja`, a biopic based on the life of air hostess Neerja Bhanot who was shot dead by plane hijackers, was released on February 19.

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Check Out: Who spotted Parineeti’s acting talent?

Posted on 25 February 2016 by admin

Actress Parineeti Chopra has revealed that actor Ranveer Singh spotted her acting talent even before producer Aditya Chopra and director Maneesh Sharma.

“Ranveer was the first person who caught me dancing on ‘Sheila ki jawani’ song in front of a mirror. He saw me from far and this ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ actor who had still not appeared in front of you all, told me that you are going to be an actress,” Parieeti said at the Zee Cine Awards 2016.

“And it turned true. He made this prediction even before Adi (Chopra) and Maneesh (Sharma),” she added.

Adding to Parineeti’s statement, Ranveer said: “See I discovered a ‘heera’ (diamond) first”.

Parineeti made her Bollywood debut in 2011 with “Ladies vs Ricky Bahl”, which also starred Ranveer. On the work front, the 27-year-old actress will next be seen in the upcoming movie “Meri Pyaari Bindu”, with debutant Akshay Roy.

She will be seen playing an aspiring singer in the Maneesh Sharma production, which will also star Ayushmann Khurrana.

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Ann Buller: a leader ensuring Centennial’s graduates are ready for meaningful work and lives

Posted on 18 February 2016 by admin

Centennial College President, Ann Buller, is in her third term as the head of one of Canada’s leading colleges. She shares with me her time at Centennial, her signature contributions and reflects on the long-term vision she has for colleges in Canada.

You are on your third term as President. The chair of the Board of Governors at Centennial describes you as one that has brought “boundless energy, enthusiasm and deep commitment to” Centennial. Share with us some of the highlights of your time at the college.

There are so many highlights it is hard to choose – but here are some of the most compelling:

n  Valuing the diversity of our local communities and Canada’s vision of a multicultural nation, we committed to focusing on global citizenship through the creation of our Signature Learning Experience (SLE). The SLE takes the tradition of applied and creative learning to a whole new place. Learning outcomes are embedded across the curriculum, ensuring that every student – regardless of their field of study – grasps the concepts of global citizenship and social justice. A mandatory general education course“Global Citizenship: From Social Analysis to Social Action” and the development of a portfolio as a graduation requirement, ensure students have multiple opportunities to build their competencies. The addition of Global Citizenship and Equity Service Learning Experiences in more recent years means students have an opportunity to gain leadership skills as they work with communities around the world (and on-reserve in Canada) on community, environmental and social issues.

–       Strengthening our impact, by committing to our own employees. Establishing the Centre for Organizational Learning and Teaching (COLT) is a personal highlight for me. It’s at the heart of Centennial’s commitment of “learning through engagement,” and brings to life our vision of every employee as a learner.

–       Investing in new learning and student spaces. Watching our community embrace new athletic facilities, new libraries, and soon, a whole new campus in Downsview, has been simply amazing.

–       Watching the college embrace applied research and continue to excel in this space. Our faculty and staff are incredibly innovative – almost 1,000 have supported 90 businesses over the years.

–       Convocation! Shaking the hands (and sometimes hugging) every graduate who crosses the stage is without a doubt the highlight of a career in education.

You are a respected and ambitious public servant, serving in many boards and committees, including as chair of the Association of the Canadian Community Colleges. During your term, Canada was selected as a partner to help India revamp its educational system. Share with me that experience and why such an initiative is important for Canada to embark on?

The Canadian college system is respected throughout the world, primarily because of its sophisticated approach to meeting labour market needs by combining theoretical and applied learning. We are also deeply engaged in community economic develop, social inclusion imperatives and applied research – a quite magical triad because it strengthens communities, drives innovation and empowers individuals.

In emerging nations with high rates of youth unemployment, there is a temptation to simply put people to work; that is, to rely on a highly stratified education system that ghettoizes by teaching people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale very basic skills. While there may be short-term gains from this approach (labour is cheap, but people are earning something) it limits individual and, I would argue, national potential.

It is my personal belief that countries, and for that matter, organizations, should be judged on how they treat their most vulnerable citizens. India has incredible potential, and if sharing the learning and values of Canadian colleges can assist them in reaching their social and economic inclusion goals, then I think we have a moral imperative to engage. Working on this project also gave me a bully pulpit, allowing me a chance to speak to women’s issues.

One of the recent signature initiatives you brought to Centennial is to have students gain an international perspective by travelling abroad. Why do you think that is important?

I believe passionately that learning should be visceral, imaginative, exciting, liberating and empowering. I am not a scholar whose work has focused on internationalization, but rather the leader of an institution who wishes to ensure that the benefits are real, that they accrue to both students and employees.

My bias is clear: internationalization should not be a financial gambit, a feeble attempt to make tolerance palatable nor a second-rate education cloaked in lowered expectations, weakened outcomes and resembling “tourism for credit.” It should be comprehensive, it should have teeth, it should have heart, and it should transform.

When I look at our world, I see the need for understanding and for solutions to pressing economic and societal issues. When I look at the communities we serve locally, I see capacity, ingenuity and ability. Centennial’s job is to ensure that our graduates are prepared to do meaningful work and to have meaningful lives. We cannot do that in isolation, and we cannot do it without giving students significant opportunities to engage, locally and internationally.

Our award-winning approach to internationalizing Centennial includes a mandatory course entitled “Global Citizenship: From Social Analysis to Social Action,” a portfolio requirement for graduation, opportunities to travel for language and cultural training, internships, co-op work terms, on-reserve work within Canada, and volunteer experiences through our Global Citizenship and Equity Service Learning Experiences.

This kind of learning is life changing. And the impact will be felt in Toronto, and around the world.

Upon taking the Presidency in 2004, you were described as the “youngest woman” to lead such a respected college in Canada. Looking back on the last decade, is it still rare to have a woman lead such a higher institution?

There are currently seven women leading colleges in Ontario and I feel privileged to be in their company. We serve thanks to the trailblazers who came before us, and to our Boards of Governors who hire for talent, perspective, experience and leadership skills. While the number of women in presidential roles is an important measure, we can also gauge the impact women have on our system when we look at those in the vice-presidential and decanal roles. There are fantastic leaders on their way to the presidency!

Since Boards usually hire presidents, it is important to consider the diversity on these governing bodies. Seven of our 14 external governors at Centennial are women, a participation rate I expect would be fairly consistent within our sector.

Catalyst Canada released a study of high-potential women in 2014. It showed some startling facts: “Women in our study made $8,167 less than men in similar jobs, they were far likelier (72%) than men (58%) to begin their careers in entry-level positions. Only 19% of the Canadian women we studied who chose to enter the corporate world received international assignments, compared with 29% of men.” (, November 24, 2014)

We still have a way to go.

The college is now a very attractive destination for many international students. In fact, the college is educating approximately 5,000 international students a year. What is making these students choose Centennial?

Simply put, our approach to global citizenship resonates with students from around the world.

Centennial has taken our role as a mechanism for peace and prosperity to unprecedented heights. Our approach to internationalization means that we combine the best of a college education with the competencies, skills and attitudes that lead to exceptional educational and employment opportunities.

We are one of the few postsecondary institutions in Canada to have a Statement of Diversity and a Statement of Respect. These documents represent the commitment our community has to inclusivity and equity. No matter where you come from, you are welcome here.

International students are also drawn to our unique “Distinction in Leadership” certificate, a second credential offered to students who engage in curricular and experiential learning focused on creating the next generation of leaders.

And, like their Canadian university graduate counterparts, international students love the post-graduate options offered at Centennial. These programs build on their university education and offer a fasttrack to a career.

What are some of the long-term vision of Centennial?

–       Making our new Aerospace Campus at Downsview Park a catalyst for strengthening the local community, and driving social and economic inclusion imperatives. The vision for this site combines two leading aspects of our work – sophisticated technological learning, and pathways to allow more students access to postsecondary learning.

–       Building innovative academic and industry partnerships in support of experiential learning and student/graduate mobility.

–       Increasing the opportunities for students and staff to have life-changing international experiences.

–       Using technology to enhance access to high quality education and furthering the experiential components of learning, while staying true to our belief that education is strengthened by inter-personal interactions and engagement

Where do you see yourself in the next decade?

This is by far the most difficult question of all! The short answer is, I want to be doing work that I love, with people who are passionate and committed, for an organization that makes a difference.

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Feds closely studying advice on how to help startups become billion-dollar firms

Posted on 18 February 2016 by admin

The federal government is closely studying recommendations on how to help Canadian tech startups grow into global success stories —transformations that could eventually provide a boost for the ailing economy.

Along with diversifying the economy and expanding trade and exports, the document highlights the need to turn research and technological innovation into high-growth Canadian firms that compete on the global stage.

To get there, it explored six “priority areas” for Canada:

— Focus on better identifying companies with high potential and help them to scale up.

— Improve accountability by demanding better reporting and more data transparency from startup assistance groups — like business incubators and accelerators. It’s seen as a way to shed more light on the actual return on public investments.

— Attract more large corporations to participate in the success of Canadian incubators and accelerators. These partnerships are much more common in the United States.

— Boost the quality of mentor programs by connecting more high-potential companies with business leaders who have experience building billion-dollar tech firms.

— Increase the exposure of startups to international markets.

— Explore new models to increase the role of investors in startups.

,” said the report, commissioned under the previous Conservative government.

The new government confirmed it will study the document to further its understanding of how incubators and accelerators can “drive innovation, entrepreneurship and the global competitiveness of Canadian companies,” Hans Parmar, a spokesman for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, wrote in an email.

Internally, a federal memo prepared last fall for the deputy minister of Industry Canada, said the six priority areas in the findings “can be taken by governments and the BABI industry (business accelerators and business incubators) to help address weaknesses in Canada’s entrepreneurial support system.”

The memo and the report were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act. A version of the study has also been posted on the think-tank’s website.

Since coming to power last fall, the Liberals have emphasized the country’s knowledge-based economy.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used a high-profile international speech to promote the idea that Canada has more to offer than just commodities, although he acknowledged they were still a crucial part of the economy.

“My predecessor wanted you to know Canada for its resources,” Trudeau told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “I want you to know Canadians for our resourcefulness.”

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Ontario boosts subsidies for electric car-buyers to a maximum of $14,000

Posted on 18 February 2016 by admin

Ontario is throwing more green at motorists to go green with electric vehicles, raising the maximum subsidy for buying one to $14,000.

The goal of the $20-million program is to get people thinking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, given that there are only 5,800 electric cars on the road in Ontario.

“We know we can do better than that,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said at an underground parking lot charging station on Queen’s Quay West, where there are spots to juice up 14 vehicles.

“Cars account for more greenhouse gas emissions than the iron, steel, cement and chemical industries combined,” she added.

Getting motorists to consider electric vehicles is key given that transportation emissions are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 35 per cent of the total.

“The personal vehicle will continue to be an important part of our transportation mix,” said Wynne, whose government is also planning to electrify GO Train line.

Ontario, which will soon announce a cap-and-trade system for industrial carbon emissions, has pledged by 2030 to cut greenhouse gases to 37 per cent below 1990 levels.

The money for motorists will help defray the cost of electric vehicles — with about 20 different models available in Ontario that typically carry higher price tags than traditional cars, minivans, SUVs and trucks.

For example, a Kia Soul can be bought for around $20,000 but the electric model is around $35,000, roughly the same price as the base-model Chevy Volt, now in its second generation.

Even with gas down to less than $1 a litre, it pays to get an electric vehicle in the long run because electricity costs about one-quarter of that, said Care Clairman, chief executive of the non-profit group Plug’n Drive.

“I can fill up for 25 cents a litre. I’m pretty sure gas prices are never going that low,” she told reporters.

Depending on the price of the vehicle, the basic purchase subsidy is rising to between $6,000 and $10,000 from a range of $5,000 to $8,500 under a program that began in 2010.

Some plug-in electric hybrids qualify as long as they are approved by the Ministry of Transportation.

But if the electric vehicle — or EV for short — is worth more than $75,000 and less than $150,000, the subsidy is limited to $3,000 given that someone who can afford wheels in that price range doesn’t need as much financial assistance.

Wynne said the aid can rise to the maximum $14,000 only if the vehicle has an extra-large battery — a detail yet to be determined — and seats five or more people to encourage carpooling.

Those subsidies are worth $3,000 and $1,000 respectively.

Motorists can also get up to $1,000 toward electric vehicle chargers for home and business use.

The government is also boosting its funding to build more electric vehicle charging stations by $20 million.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said electric vehicles can use HOV lane regardless of how many people are riding and will be able to use HOT or high-occupancy toll lanes free once they are up and running.

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Syrian Refugees In Canada Not The Only Ones Facing Adversity, Other Refugees Say

Posted on 18 February 2016 by admin

Solomon didn’t face a welcoming committee with cameras clicking when he landed in Toronto as a refugee. Instead, he got a send-off.

The smuggler who had brought him into the country gave him a lift into one of the city’s predominantly Ethiopian neighbourhoods, wished him well and left him to fend for himself.

With the help of his fellow countrymen, the 16-year-old found his way to a youth shelter, which then passed him off to other community organizations that were largely ill-equipped to help a newly arrived refugee seeking sanctuary in Canada.

His experience stands in stark contrast to the welcome offered to the thousands of Syrian refugees arriving in the country. The earliest arrivals were greeted by none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who offered them handshakes, hugs and winter apparel.

Unequal access to resources

People fleeing the raging war in Syria went through an accelerated screening process before boarding flights that would take them to a country that has pulled out all the stops for their arrival. The medical care, transportation costs and warm national welcome are all readily available thanks to a Liberal government initiative targeted specifically toward Syrians.

Solomon, who requested that his real name not be used, applauds Canada for offering a helping hand to those fleeing persecution. But he also cautions that Syrians are not alone in facing adversity in their homelands.

“Our (Ethiopian) government has trouble distributing everything to the people,” he said in a telephone interview. “Apparently on paper we have what appears to be a democratic country, but when you live there it’s totally different.”

Differences lie at the heart of the concerns voiced by organizations supporting the thousands of refugees that seek asylum in Canada each year.

While they commend the government’s efforts to support a population in crisis, they lament that others in similar circumstances don’t have access to the same resources.

A two-tier system

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, fears recent government initiatives have created a two-tier system.

Gaining refugee status in Canada is a complex and bureaucratic process fenced about with rules, quotas and government restrictions.

Dench said many of those barriers have been removed as part of the Syrian refugee resettlement program. The country’s sponsorship agreement holders, for instance, are allowed to bring in as many Syrians as they wish while the number from other regions is still subject to government-imposed caps.

Smaller private sponsorship groups, too, are typically only allowed to support those who have been formally recognized as a refugee by either the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or the country in which they were residing when they filed their application.

That lack of recognition was what prompted the then-Conservative government to reject a refugee claim from Mohammad Kurdi, the uncle of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned along with his brother and their mother when their boat capsized before reaching the Turkish shore. A photo of Alan’s lifeless body face down on a Turkish beach is widely credited with galvanizing Canada’s efforts to resettle Syrian refugees.

Dench said official recognition is no longer necessary for those fleeing Syria, a fact that she said highlights the disparity between the way other populations are treated during the application process.

“The whole system is really set up to discourage people, and to make it difficult, if not impossible, to sponsor other refugees,” she said.

One Montreal church discovered the disparity first-hand after deciding to sponsor a refugee.

John Docherty, pastor of the Menonite Fellowship of Montreal, said the congregation was torn between sponsoring a Syrian family or one from another part of the world where demand is high. The East African country of Eritrea, for instance, is the original home to a third of the world’s refugees, according to the UNHCR.

Docherty and his parishioners began looking into the issue and soon encountered a fact that may prove decisive — processing times for non-Syrian refugees are often years longer than for those who are part of the government’s current target program.

John McCallum, the federal minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said the current focus on Syrian refugees has not diverted resources from efforts to bring in refugees from other countries.

“The problem is that the immigration department that we inherited, people have been waiting for years for many things,” he said after a panel discussion in Toronto.

“You cannot have any area where there’s not a backlog,” he said. “One of our major challenges is to reduce those backlogs and to bring down the processing times and that’s what we will be doing. You cannot do it overnight.”

According to data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the average wait time for private sponsorships originating in Africa and the Middle East in 2015 was 45 months, a marked contrast to the quick turnaround expected for the incoming Syrian refugees.

In some visa offices, waits can reach up to 69 months — or just shy of six years.

Docherty said the lengthy wait times are making his group more inclined to direct their sponsorship efforts towards a Syrian family.

“People have energy today that they may not have five years down the road,” he said. “The prospect of initiating something now while the enthusiasm is high, the motivation is there, the willingness to pitch in and put money up is palpable. Five years from now, that will have evaporated for sure.”

Solomon does not see his own more difficult beginnings in Canada as a disadvantage today. He completed high school with a 93-per-cent average and is currently attending Ryerson University on a scholarship.

He believes his initial trials made him “more of a man,” adding that the playing field tends to level out for all refugees once the crucial claim documents have been secured and government support tapers off.

“Once you have a good decision about the (refugee) hearing, you don’t really care about what you’ve been through in my opinion,” he said. “Paper is the most important thing in Canada. You know, documents. So once you are allowed to have that, you don’t care what you’ve been through because it’s only a matter of time to make everything in the right direction.”

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B.C. to unveil new measures to improve collection of real estate data

Posted on 18 February 2016 by admin

British Columbia will introduce new measures to improve the collection of data around real estate transactions – information Finance Minister Mike de Jong says will then be shared with the Canada Revenue Agency.

“The vast majority of Canadians and British Columbians, I believe, will pay their taxes and understand the services that are dependent on that,” the minister said Monday. “They want to know that everyone else is abiding by the law as well and doing their part, and it’s our job to ensure that they are.”

The Real Estate Council of B.C., which regulates licensed agents, and the Canada Revenue Agency did not immediately comment on Mr. de Jong’s plan. The council, in a broad statement, said recent media reports around the professional conduct of some licensees is a “matter of significant concern” and it will enforce regulations and standards to the fullest extent possible.

Mr. de Jong made his remarks the same day a continuing Globe and Mail investigation into Metro Vancouver’s skyrocketing real estate market found several recent sales in which brand new and seemingly vacant houses – some staged with furniture – were marketed to buyers as “owner-occupied” and, therefore, “no GST” required.

The Canada Revenue Agency has told The Globe it is auditing cases of possible GST evasion on new-house sales. It is also investigating cases of undeclared capital gains or income, many involving homeowners who evade taxes by declaring investment properties as principal residences. The sale of a principal residence is not subject to capital-gains taxation.

The Globe also found some agents were making dubious claims in their marketing materials and using brazen techniques to try to get people to sell their houses. One Richmond property owner said she woke up to a for-sale sign spiked into her front lawn. When she called the agent who left the sign, she was asked if she was interested in selling her residence.

The latest Globe story was published one week after the paper’s investigation into so-called shadow flipping prompted the province’s Superintendent of Real Estate and the Real Estate Council of B.C. to launch a review. Shadow flipping, or contract assigning, essentially involves arranging a sale and then finding a new buyer willing to pay more for a given property before the deal closes. Assigning contracts is legal, but controversial. Speculators who profit in this manner don’t pay property transfer taxes, because technically the property does not change hands until the deal closes.

Mr. de Jong said our system of taxation is rooted in the principle that people report information accurately, and when that doesn’t occur there is an enforcement mechanism in place.

“All of that needs to happen. To the degree that we can enhance enforcement process by governments sharing information that assists in enforcement, we should be exploring that,” he said.

Mr. de Jong said there are already some protocols in place to share tax-related information, but he vowed to step up the province’s efforts.

David Eby, an opposition NDP MLA and the province’s housing spokesperson, said “it’s not a surprise to me that taxes aren’t being paid following The Globe’s earlier work on this.”

“This whole market appears to be an entirely unregulated grey market without any apparent connection to the realities of tax obligations, of professional conduct, of duty to clients,” he said.

Mr. Eby said the “obvious solution” is to start enforcing rules that are already in place.

“We have a property transfer tax, that should be enforced. We have rules around GST on new homes, those should be enforced. We have rules around professional conduct for Realtors, those need to be enforced,” he said.

Aaron Jasper, an agent with Klein Group, Royal LePage and a former Vancouver park board commissioner, said hard-working and ethical real estate agents welcome the attention the industry is currently receiving. Mr. Jasper has said he would support harsher penalties for those who are found to have conducted themselves unprofessionally.

“It’s never a bad thing when this kind of conduct is exposed,” he said Monday.

Mr. Jasper said he had never even heard of some of the tactics mentioned in The Globe investigation, including the planting of a for-sale sign in front of a house that was not for sale.


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Posted on 18 February 2016 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

  Syria is an unfortunate country that has been experiencing internal war since March 2011. Within a month of the internal revolt against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, a minor protest in Syria in March 2011 was dealt toughly by the security forces of the Syrian government of Bashar-al Asad. This led to more protest and by July 2011 it had turned into a major revolt against Bashar-al Asad.

  Unlike Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the Syrian President Bashar-al Asad survived the uprising against him mainly because the Army and the bureaucratic structure stood by him, although there were a couple of defection from his government. Further, as he was faced with diverse opponent forces that were not united, he managed to survive.

  However, the cost of internal war has been very high for the people of Syria. According to the information compiled by the United Nations and some international human rights groups around 250,000 people were killed and 11 million people had been dislodged from their homes. A large number of them have become refugees within Syria. Others have gone to the neighboring states of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Some of these displaced people reached the European Union in order to seek a better life. Several hundred were drowned in sea as they make their way to the Europe in small and ill-equipped ships. Now the European states are putting restrictions on their entry. All this has increased the agony of Syrians. Within Syria, there is an acute shortage of food, medicines and health care facilities. There is a major humanitarian crisis in Syria with a negative impact on the neighboring states.

  A ray of hope in the Syrian situation developed in Munich, Germany, on February 12, 2016, where the Foreign Ministers of the United States and Russia met and discussed with representatives of some states to address the Syrian problem. They agreed to stop fighting in Syria as a first step to a ceasefire in Syria. The underlying idea is to provide humanitarian help to the war affected people who are facing displacement, hunger and a lack of medical support. International groups are expected to provide food and related relief goods in the next couple of week if the stopping of hostilities persists.

  The Foreign Minister of Russia and the U.S. Secretary of State have declared that they would continue to target terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda. It is difficult to understand how could attacks and fighting stop if the extremist groups would continue to be attacked. These groups will retaliate by using violence in different parts of Syria.

  Another attempt is being made by the United Nations to persuade the competing parties in Syria to a ceasefire. This effort is being made by the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy. This first meeting two weeks ago hardly achieved anything because the groups opposed to Bashar-al Asad did not cooperate. Another meeting will soon be held to address humanitarian issues. There has also been some thinking by Russia and the U.S. for seeking a political solution of the internal war, including the replacement of the current Asad government. There is no agreement as yet on this.

  The military and political situation in Syria is very complex because different Syrian groups and outsiders are involved in the civil war. The neighboring states like Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran are supporting one party or another. The U.S. has been supporting some groups fighting against Bashar-al Asad. Russia made an entry into the civil war towards the end of September 2015 in support of the Asad government. Iran is also supportive of this government. Other states want to get rid of the Asad government. In January 2016 Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates threatened to send their ground troops to Styria to fight against the Asad regime.

  The situation became problematic as the Islamic State entered the Syrian war in early 2015. The Al-Qaeda also entered the fighting and its affiliate, Al-Nusra Front took a leading role. The U.S. supplied weapons and gave training to relatively moderate opponents of Bashar-al Asad. The U.S. and conservative Arab states want to remove the current Syrian government but they do not want the Islamic State to take over.

  Russia decided to involve its air force in Syria in September 2015 in support of the Asad government, especially to fight against the Islamic State. Its air raids in the Islamic State controlled areas in Syria have forced its fighters to retreat. This air support enabled the ground troops of the Asad government to retake some areas, including the Aleppo region.

  The Russian agenda of fighting against the Islamic state and the Al-Qaeda affiliate is shared by the U.S. This is the main reason that the U.S and Russia have agreed to halting attacks with the exception of the operations against these extremist organizations.

  Russia’s direct military involvement in Syria has strengthened the position of the government of Bashar-al Asad. However, his political future is uncertain. Russia is not against the removal of Bashar-al Asad but it favors some political arrangement that will keep Asad’s supporters and his party in the political field. Even if Asad leaves office under a political arrangements, the United States and the United Nation do not want any extremist Islamic group to take over the country. Nor do they want Syria to turn into another Libya that has slipped into chaos after the killing of Gadafi.

  The current focus in Syria is to provide food, medicines and medical support to the people. If this effort succeeds, the U.S., Russia and other states will gradually move in the direction of preparing a peaceful alternative to the Asad government. They would also like to knock out the Islamic State. This means that Syria’s internal strife will not end soon.

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NBA all-star weekend success from start to finish for Toronto

Posted on 18 February 2016 by admin

Drake, the unofficial ambassador of Toronto to the world and officially the global ambassador of the Toronto Raptors, brought years of hope and months of planning to fruition on Sunday night when he spoke before the start of the NBA all-star game.

“This is the best game with the best players, finally, in the best city in the world,” he said.

There were challenges — a frigidly cold Saturday only served to make a chilly Sunday feel significantly warmer than it actually was — but Toronto’s first go at hosting the NBA’s annual mid-season celebration of itself was a success.

Year to year, the show stays the same, with the league assuming control of the host city’s arena and loading it up with everything it needs to have that special ambiance — like the theatre lighting that made for a softer feel and grander-feeling stage — fans have come to appreciate.

The theatre lighting was a talking point for fans throughout the weekend, but it’s not something that will work its way into Raptor games anytime soon.

“We have looked at it for a number of years, actually,” Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s vice-president, live entertainment Wayne Zronik said, noting the league’s lighting is in the range of a million-dollar setup. The lower bowl of the ACC is currently a brightly-shown part of the game with broadcast lighting.

“We feel there’s more energy in the crowd when (the lower bowl is) lit up,” Zronik said. “There are people who think that, but there are also people that think (theatre lighting is better).”

Under the league’s soft lights, Toronto was blessed with a magical show on Saturday night.

With the CN Tower painted across centre court, Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon’s dunk-off, a highly competitive and star-studded three-point contest and Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns’ three-pointer to win the Skills Challenge all made for instant classic moments. The three events coming together so seamlessly and dramatically might never happen again.

“I think (the all-star game) capped a great weekend,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said on Sunday night. “The slam dunk, three-point contest, (it) being Kobe’s last all-star game. But Toronto, I think we put ourselves on the map a little bit around the world.”

“I think everybody got the feel of the energy we witness every single night when we play as Raptors players,” added Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. “I think all the guys really got insight on how in-tune the city of Toronto and all of Canada is to basketball. I think just the energy . . . I think all the guys really enjoyed it.”

The ACC has hosted playoff games for both hockey and basketball, concerts and the world junior hockey championship leading up to this, but Zronik said the NBA all-star game presented different demands than those events.

“The NBA event, we had it across all of our facilities, and that was different,” he said. “We used Ricoh Coliseum, had televised events there and we thought that was great to put Ricoh on the world stage.

“You definitely get more media. I think it was 3,800 accredited journalists for the all-star game and so you can imagine the scale and the scope, it’s just a more global game. We had media from all over the world and it’s a bit different in that respect.”

The venue may have felt stretched to its limits at times, but it worked.

“I thought it was well put together,” New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said. “I thought Toronto was ready for it.”


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