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FireWorks, Parties and Festivities mark New Year 2017 across the Globe

New Zealand, nearby Pacific islands, Australia and Russia were among the first to ring in the new year

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Fireworks explode over Victoria Harbor to celebrate the New Year's Eve in Hong Kong, Jan. 1, 2017. (VOA)

Dec 31, 2016: Much of the globe has celebrated the beginning of 2017 with fireworks, parties, and other festivities, though many are somber in reflecting on the politics and popular culture of the past tumultuous year.

New Zealand, nearby Pacific islands, Australia and Russia were among the first to ring in the new year.

One of the first prominent New Year’s celebrations to start 2017 was the annual fireworks show in Sydney, which drew a crowd of over a million people who lined the waterfront to watch a show dedicated to the late entertainers David Bowie and Gene Wilder — just two of an unusually large number of celebrities who died in 2016.

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Many countries were focusing on security while anticipating big crowds at New Year’s events.

Celebrations in Istanbul, Turkey, were interrupted by an armed attack at a nightclub. Istanbul’s governor said 35 people were killed when at least two gunmen attacked the club, which was packed with New Year’s revelers.

Added security was in place in many cities because of the December 19 truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people and other attacks during 2016.

The German capital added concrete barriers and armored cars near the traditional Brandenburg Gate celebration venue to protect crowds from vehicles.

In Dubai, hundreds of thousands of people watched fireworks launched from the Burj Khalifa, at 828 meters the world’s tallest building. The fireworks show was also streamed online.

Private security guards were stationed every 50 meters, and streets were blocked off from sidewalks to keep the roads clear for roaming emergency vehicles.

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In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said each person “may become something of a magician on the night of the New Year,” by treating family members, co-workers, friends and those in need with respect and mercy. “This is the whole secret,” he said, speaking in an address broadcast close to midnight, in turn, in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.

French President Francois Hollande used his televised New Year’s message to warn against the risks of rising nationalism.

Many countries were focusing on security while anticipating big crowds at New Year’s events.

Celebrations in Istanbul, Turkey, were interrupted by an armed attack at a nightclub. Istanbul’s governor said 35 people were killed when at least two gunmen attacked the club, which was packed with New Year’s revelers.

Added security was in place in many cities because of the December 19 truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people and other attacks during 2016.

The German capital added concrete barriers and armored cars near the traditional Brandenburg Gate celebration venue to protect crowds from vehicles.

Check out NewsGram for latest international news updates.

In Dubai, hundreds of thousands of people watched fireworks launched from the Burj Khalifa, at 828 meters the world’s tallest building. The fireworks show was also streamed online.

Private security guards were stationed every 50 meters, and streets were blocked off from sidewalks to keep the roads clear for roaming emergency vehicles.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said each person “may become something of a magician on the night of the New Year,” by treating family members, co-workers, friends and those in need with respect and mercy. “This is the whole secret,” he said, speaking in an address broadcast close to midnight, in turn, in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.

French President Francois Hollande used his televised New Year’s message to warn against the risks of rising nationalism. (VOA)

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California Sikh community Raises Money to keep City’s Fireworks Show Alive

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Sikh community
Sikh community. Pixabay
  • There are about 500,000 Sikhs presently living in the US, and it has also become the fifth largest religion round the world
  • Turbans are sported by a majority of Sikhs, which makes some people think that they are Muslims

California, July 09, 2017: Visalia, a city in California, was close to having to cancel its annual fireworks show because of lack of funds; but when the mayor said to Amritpal Singh about the issue, the businessman saved the grand occasion of the Fourth of July.

Reportedly, Singh along with the rest of the Sikh community of the city rallied together and they raised $10,000 for the grand event, which is also going to be a benefit for charity for children. Mayor Warren Gubler was quoted as saying to NBC News, “Visalia considers this to be very generous and helpful. We appreciate their show of patriotic support, as one of our newer groups of American citizens.”

ALSO READ: Sikh Temples in California accommodate thousands of Dam Evacuees in Yuba City

According to report published in The Week, it was found in a survey conducted in January 2015 that 6 out of 10 Americans knew “nothing at all” about Sikhism; while a mere 11 percent only, personally knew someone who was Sikh.

There are about 500,000 Sikhs presently living in the US, and it has also become the fifth largest religion round the world, but due to its presence under the radar in the US; a nationwide campaign for education was recently launched for educating the people and making them aware of their Sikh-neighbors. A Sikh from Fresno, California, Bill Singh Nijjer; was quoted as saying that while Sikhs have been living in central California, for about a century, “we haven’t done any outreach. That is probably the reason we were targeted and misidentified.”

Turbans are sported by a majority of Sikhs, which makes some people think that they are Muslims (even though most of the Muslims do not don turbans), and some also assume that it has been a major reason that caused violence against the Sikhs. Gagan Kaur, from Fresno was quoted as saying to NBC news, “Everyone I know has experienced discrimination. I hope that one day this [campaign] will allow our children to not have to go through what we went through.”

– prepared by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

Also read: NASA’s Curiosity rover finds a Wide Variety of Minerals in Martian Rocks

There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang