Afghan soldiers in final fight near consulate

Afghan soldiers in final fight near consulate

After a fierce gunbattle, Afghan troops moved in on Monday to clear gunmen holed up in a building next to the Indian Consulate in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, officials said. 

The standoff in the northern Balkh province began on Sunday night when the attackers first tried to storm the consulate, and then made their way into the adjacent building. 

According to provincial police spokesman Sher Jan Durani, the armed men were shooting at the Afghan forces from inside the building into the morning hours. They were armed with RPGs, hand grenades and light weapons. 

Details were sketchy but police reports said only one civilian was wounded. 

Munir Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor of Balkh province said that by morning, security forces began a clearance operation in the area.

``The suspected house where the armed men have taken over is near the residential area, so we are careful to avoid civilian casualties.'' Farhad said.

Meanwhile, in the capital, Kabul, a suicide car bomber blew up his explosives-laden vehicle near the Kabul International Airport but killed only himself and harmed no one, said police spokesman Basir Mujahad.

An hour earlier, thousands had gathered to welcome the Afghan national football team after its match in the South Asia soccer final against India, but by the time the bomber detonated his car, they had dispersed. 

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack or the Balkh siege but the Taliban have stepped up their attacks against Afghan security forces across the country.   


Daesh back on video horror trail

A video circulating online purports to show the Islamic Sate group executing five men accused of spying for Britain in Syria.

The footage Sunday bears the markings of the IS media wing, and shows five men ``confessing'' to filming and photographing sites in exchange for money within Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate. It could not be independently verified.

The men, speaking Arabic, are introduced as ``the enemy'' and ``apostates.'' Later they kneel lined up in orange jumpsuits in the desert, where they are shot in the head by masked executioners.

Before the shooting, a masked man with a British accent mocks British Prime Minister David Cameron, calls the men ``spies,'' and says IS will one day invade Britain and impose their version of Islamic law.   


Three held over slaying of mayor

Three people, including a minor, were being held Sunday in the slaying of a newly inaugurated mayor in a gang-troubled central Mexican city.

Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez ordered flags on state buildings flown at half-mast and called for three days of mourning following the murder of Temixco Mayor Gisela Mota.

He blamed organized crime for killing the 33-year-old Mota, a former federal congresswoman who had been sworn in as mayor less than a day before she was gunned down in her home Saturday morning.

Ramirez ordered security measures for all of the state's mayors, though he gave no details on what that involved.

Ramon Castro Castro, Roman Catholic bishop of Cuernavaca, celebrated Mass at Mota's home Sunday and later spoke critically of a state where some areas are in control of organized crime.

``One theory could be that it was a warning to the other mayors,'' Castro said to reporters. ``If you don't cooperate with organized crime, look at what will happen to you. It's to scare them.''

Following Mota's killing, two suspects were killed in a clash with police and three others arrested. Officials said they include a 32-year-old woman, an 18-year-old man and the minor. They gave few other details, though state Attorney General Javier Perez Duron said they had been tied to other crimes.

Temixco, with about 100,000 people, is a suburb of Cuernavaca, a city famed among tourists for its colonial center, gardens and jacaranda-decked streets. ``The city of eternal spring'' was long a favorite weekend getaway for people from nearby Mexico City.

But drug and extortion gangs have plagued the area in recent years, driving away some tourists and residents. The expressway _ and drug routes _ between Mexico City and the country's murder capital of Acapulco cuts through Cuernavaca and Temixco.

Neither the governor nor prosecutors indicated which criminal organization might be involved.

Drugs, kidnappings and extortion in the area were once under the control of the Beltran Leyva cartel, but that group's collapse a few years ago unleashed fierce competition among its progeny and rivals in Morelos and neighboring Guerrero and Mexico states.

In December 2014, a state lawmaker who was a candidate for mayor of Temixco from the same party as Mota, was kidnapped there. Authorities rescued him the following day and blamed the Guerreros Unidos cartel, which has been clashing with a group known as Los Rojos in Guerrero and Morelos.

Temixco also saw one of Mexico's emblematic killings of the past decade: The 24-year-old son of poet Javier Sicilia and six other people were found slain in March 2011, prompting the writer to start a nationwide movement against violence. Prosecutors said the seven apparently had gotten into an argument with men who turned out to be local members of the Pacifico Sur drug cartel.

Efforts to clean out corrupt local police who have protected gangs led Morelos to put officers under a unified state command in 2014. Temixco joined that system, though the state's main city, Cuernavaca, has resisted.

One organization representing mayors in the country, the Association of Local Authorities of Mexico, issued a statement saying nearly 100 mayors have been killed across Mexico over the past decade, ``principally at the hands of organized crime.''

Mota's center-left Democratic Revolution Party released a statement describing her as ``a strong and brave woman who on taking office as mayor, declared that her fight against crime would be frontal and direct.''   


Star Wars closes on box office record

``Star Wars: The Force Awakens'' marched confidently into the new year, raking in an additional US$88.3 million over the New Year's weekend and topping the box office for a third week, according to studio estimates Sunday. 

In addition to setting a new high mark in New Year's box office history, the record-busting film blew past the domestic grosses of both ``Jurassic World'' (US$652.3 million) and ``Titanic'' (US$658.7 million) to become the second-highest earner of all time with US$740.3 million in just 19 days of release. 

The top domestic film is ``Avatar'' with a US$760.5 million lifetime domestic gross, but ``Star Wars'' is barreling in to surpass it soon. For context, it took ``Avatar'' 72 days to reach US$700 million. ``Star Wars'' did that in 16 days. 

Internationally, ``Star Wars'' earned US$96.3 million this weekend, boosting its global total to US$184.6 million. The film opens in China on Jan. 9.

While ``Star Wars'' might not give up its throne any time soon, films like ``Daddy's Home'' and ``Sisters'' have proven to be incredibly strong performers.

``Daddy's Home,'' the comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, came in second with an estimated US$29 million, bringing its total to US$93.7 million in just two weeks. The film fell only 25 percent from its first weekend in theaters. Even more formidable is the mere 11 percent drop from the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy ``Sisters,'' which brought in US$12.6 million in its third weekend for a fourth-place spot. The film has earned US$61.7 million so far. 

``When you look at the holding power of `Daddy's Home' and `Sisters,' it shows you that those films are for many people the antidote to `Star Wars,''' said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for box office tracker Rentrak. ``The diversity of the slate that the studios created by not retreating from `Star Wars' is helping.''

Quentin Tarantino's bloody Western ``The Hateful Eight,'' meanwhile, took third with US$16.2 million in its first weekend in wide release after a strong limited debut. The three-hour epic, which cost a reported US$44 million to produce, has made US$29.6 million to date _ just shy of what ``Django Unchained'' made in its first weekend.

``There is still a big audience out there for auteur-driven cinema,'' Dergarabedian said. ``Tarantino, no matter what, is an interesting filmmaker. Film fans want to see what he's up to. It's not as big as some of his other films, but it's still doing well as it expands.''

``Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip'' took fifth place with US$11.8 million, dropping only 10 percent from last weekend. 

The year is off to a strong start overall, up 24.5 percent from last year. This New Year's weekend could even set a record if it tops the US$220 million total of 2009/2010, when both ``Avatar'' and ``Sherlock Holmes'' were in theaters.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday. 

1.''Star Wars: The Force Awakens,'' US$88.3 million (US$96.3 million international).

2.''Daddy's Home,'' US$29 million (US$9.2 million international).

3.''The Hateful Eight,'' US$16.2 million.

4.''Sisters,'' US$12.6 million (US$650,000 international).

5.''Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip,'' US$11.8 million (US$10.3 million international).

6.''Joy,'' US$10.4 million (US$9.3 million international).

7.''The Big Short,'' US$9 million (US$2.2 million international).

8.''Concussion,'' US$8 million (US$1.4 million international).

9.''Point Break,'' US$6.8 million (US$6.8 million international).

10.''The Hunger Games: Mockingjay _ Part 2,'' US$4.6 million (US$4.4 million international).

Afghan soldiers in final fight near consulate Afghan soldiers in final fight near consulate Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 9:37 PM Rating: 5

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