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SOFIA: European Union foreign ministers disagreed on Thursday over a proposal by the bloc?s executive to push for expansion into the Western Balkans, a region still scarred by ethnic wars fought in the 1990s and dogged by a reputation for lawlessness. Meeting in Bulgaria, the EU ministers discussed for the first time the plan by the European Commission that set out 2025 as a goal for Serbia and Montenegro to join the bloc. Hungary?s Peter Szijjarto was ?very much disappointed? by that target, saying the first two countries from the Western Balkan six should be admitted already in 2022. ?I think 2025 is very late and they deserve a much quicker way to integration,? Budapest?s foreign minister told reporters, stressing that EU entry would help relieve tensions between neighbors in a region that sits on the bloc?s doorstep. But Germany, the EU?s leading power, is very reluctant, pointing to rule-of-law shortcomings in the newer member states - from Romania and Bulgaria, to Poland and Hungary. ?I?ve just come from Serbia and in Kosovo the situation is exceptionally difficult. We will speak frankly about this today,? said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel. Serbia?s refusal to recognize the independence of its former province Kosovo - something endorsed by most, though not all, EU states - is just one example of intractable regional disputes that threaten the Western Balkans? Western integration. EU diplomats say that corruption and powerful criminal gangs that smuggle arms, drugs and migrants over European borders top a long list of problems the six Balkan hopefuls would have to crack down on if they are ever to be allowed into the EU. Poland, Italy and Austria are among other EU countries in favor of stepping up efforts to open the bloc to the region, which has seen growing Russian and Chinese influence. ?Who will be first in Belgrade - China or the EU? It is that (which) we have to counteract, as it is our immediate neighborhood,? Austria?s Karin Kneissl told reporters. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said he would host the heads of the Balkan states on March 1 for talks with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on building new highways and railways to improve links with the EU. But Slovenian Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec thought that even 2025 was ?not realistic? as a goal, saying the Western Balkan states would need more time to settle their disputes and meet criteria for EU entry. France?s Jean-Yves Le Drian was also cautious. ?It?s clear there are conditions and that those conditions are demanding.?
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ADMIN posted a blog entry in Geo News BlogPetroChina's logo is seen at its petrol station in Beijing, China, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files BEIJING: PetroChina?s oil and gas trading arm aims to buy petrol stations and fuel storage facilities, setting up business in Pakistan, West Africa, and Brazil in a major global expansion aimed at taking on international rivals, according to three senior oil industry executives briefed on the plans. The ambitious drive at one of the world?s top oil merchants is taking shape eight months after Tian Jinghui ? the vice president at PetroChina ? took over the reins at the company's trading vehicle Chinaoil. Tian is a veteran of fuel marketing at PetroChina ? a listed unit of state giant CNPC and Asia?s largest oil and gas producer, China Daily reported on Wednesday. Analysts believe the aim of PetroChina is to have a foothold in emerging markets and grow market share locally. Li Li ? the energy research director at energy market analysis and consulting company ICIS China ? said the business expansion in the three regions is in accordance with the country?s Belt and Road Initiative. The expansion is also aimed at tapping the transportation fuel market in those regions, where demand is growing faster than the global average, the executives said on the condition of anonymity. The new investments are expected to start as soon as next year and mimic the moves Vitol and Trafigura ? the world?s top oil merchants ? have made recently, spending billions to buy up thousands of petrol stations in Pakistan, Turkey, and Africa. "However, there are possible risks and challenges in setting up business abroad, considering different various economic, political, social, and policy risks," Li said. Li quoted the case of another oil major Sinopec, which failed to buy Chevron?s South African and Botswana assets despite reaching a deal with local investors. Commodities trader and miner Glencore replaced China?s Sinopec as the buyer of Chevron?s South African and Botswana assets in October, including a 100,000 barrel-per-day oil refinery in Cape Town, a lubricants plant in Durban, as well as 820 petrol stations and other oil storage facilities. It also includes 220 convenience stores across South Africa and Botswana. Young staff from PetroChina?s massive domestic marketing team were sent on a three-month English course earlier this year as candidates for potential new overseas postings, said two of the three people with knowledge of the plans.
ADMIN posted a blog entry in Geo News BlogPakistan has voiced firm opposition to the creation of new permanent seats in any reformed Security Council in the United Nations, a press release said. Speaking in the General Assembly on Security Council reform, Pakistan?s Ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi reiterated Pakistan?s position on representation to the Council, and said that additional permanent seats were contrary to the universally agreed principles of democracy, accountability and transparency. ?After all, permanent membership remains at the core of much that is flawed about the existing Security Council?, she remarked. ?It is therefore, counter-intuitive to us that an expansion in the Council could be advocated as a means to address its inherent dysfunctionalities?. Drawing attention of asembly to the growing and complex challenges to global peace and security, Lodhi said this warrants firm and clear action by the Security Council. An enlarged permanent membership, operating on the basis of the least common denominator, she said, would erode the standing of the Council, not strengthen its role, as some argue. ?An enlarged permanent membership of the Security Council would also compromise its efficiency and effectiveness?, she added. The envoy criticised the position taken by a handful of countries demanding a permanent seat in the Security Council saying that these states seek a privileged and unequal status for themselves, anchored in power politics, which is in sharp contradiction to the democratic spirit of our times. ?Even more telling, while they remain firmly wedded to their own positions, they ask others to be flexible?, she commented. She argued that it is not a lack of will on the part of the many, but a lack of will on the part of a few, that remains the most persistent stumbling block in the way of achieving a more representative, transparent, accountable and effective reform of the Security Council. Lodhi argued for an expansion in the non-permanent category of membership, based on equitable geographic distribution and a system of fair rotation and said that this solution was both fair and just, and was supported by all member states and groups. ?This should serve as a natural point of departure for any reform of the Council?, she added. Lodhi justified the position taken by the Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group, of which Pakistan is a member, saying that the UfC has calibrated its position to reflect the interests and aspirations of all member states - small, medium-sized and large. ?It is time for others to show the same spirit of compromise and flexibility?, she commented. On the issue of regional representation, she said: ?We fully respect the Common African Position, which voices the demand of an entire continent, and see this as inherently different from the demand for permanent seats in pursuit of narrow national ambitions?. Lodhi concluded by reaffirming Pakistan?s commitment towards a comprehensive reform of the Security Council saying that anything less would be a great disservice to the UN and the inspiring vision that it espouses for our collective humanity.
ADMIN posted a blog entry in Geo News BlogJERUSALEM: Israeli authorities on Wednesday approved a major expansion of an east Jerusalem settlement, signing off on plans to add 176 homes, the city's deputy mayor said. The latest approvals come after Israel last week advanced plans for more than 2,600 settlement homes in various areas of the occupied West Bank. The expansion approved on Wednesday would create the largest Israeli settlement inside a Palestinian neighbourhood of the city, NGOs say. It will allow the Nof Zion settlement to add 176 housing units to the 91 existing homes. The settlement is located in the annexed east Jerusalem Palestinian neighbourhood of Jabel Mukaber. The plans were approved by a Jerusalem planning committee, Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman told AFP. However, the property remains the subject of an ongoing ownership dispute between two different firms and the court case must be resolved before construction can move ahead, a spokeswoman for the Peace Now settlement watchdog told AFP. The approvals were granted but made conditional upon the case being resolved. Peace Now and other NGOs say the approvals would make Nof Zion the largest Israeli settlement inside any Palestinian neighbourhood of east Jerusalem and possibly also of the West Bank. Most settlements, particularly in the West Bank, are located outside of Palestinian residential areas. They are typically far larger than Nof Zion. Jerusalem´s status is ultrasensitive and central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community. It sees the entire city as its indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state. 'Actions on the ground' Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement earlier this week announcing the expected approval of the permits that "we are continuing to build and to strengthen Jerusalem". "We are reunifying Jerusalem with actions on the ground," he said. Palestinians and human rights groups however strongly criticised the plans, saying they would further diminish hopes for an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinian cartographer Khalil Tufakji spoke of the "sensitivity" of the area of the project and its "strategic location" south of Jerusalem's Old City. Senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi said earlier this week that the new Nof Zion units were part of Israel´s plan "to impose a de facto one-state solution." "Without Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, there will be no Palestinian state, and without a Palestinian state, there will be no peace or stability in the region," she said. Government officials have pledged a major boost in settlement home approvals this year, with US President Donald Trump so far much less critical of such plans than his predecessor Barack Obama. Israeli officials say around 12,000 housing units will be given various stages of approval this year, four times the number in 2016. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel´s history, and settlement advocates wield heavy influence in his ruling coalition. Settlement building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is considered illegal under international law. It is seen as a major obstacle to peace as the settlements are built on land the Palestinians regard as part of their future state. Prominent members of Netanyahu´s coalition openly oppose the idea of a Palestinian state and advocate annexing most of the West Bank. Netanyahu recently said he plans no uprooting of settlements, blaming Palestinian "incitement" and attacks against Israelis, among other issues, for the lack of progress in peace efforts.
ADMIN posted a blog entry in Geo News BlogNEW DELHI: Oil giant Saudi Aramco will open an Indian subsidiary next week, three sources said, as the top global oil exporter looks to tap rising demand and invest in the world?s third-biggest consumer. The company is investing in refineries in major markets to lock in customers ahead of its initial public offering next year, and the India unit, on top of sales, will look for opportunities to take stakes in refining and petrochemical projects in the country. Saudi Arabia is competing with Iraq to be India?s top oil supplier, with Iraq displacing it for a fifth month in a row in August, data compiled by Reuters showed. Aramco Chief Executive Amin Nasser will inaugurate Aramco Asia India during a visit to New Delhi next week to attend the IHS-CERA conference, which starts on Sunday and which will also be attended by OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo. Nasser will also meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday as part of an industry delegation to discuss investment in the oil and gas sector, one of the sources said. Neither Aramco nor the prime minister?s office was available to comment. Mohammed Al-Mughirah, a company veteran handling crude sales, will head Aramco Asia India, two of the sources said. He also worked as deputy managing director at Aramco Asia Korea, according to his LinkedIn profile. Major oil producers that have lost market share due to the rise in U.S. shale oil production are tapping rising fuel demand in Asia. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia pledged billions of dollars of investment in projects in Indonesia and Malaysia to ensure long-term oil supply deals. The Kingdom wants to mirror that strategy in India, after missing out to Russia?s Rosneft in an opportunity to buy a majority stake in private refiner Essar. Saudi Arabia?s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih has said that India was a prime target as Aramco looked for collaboration opportunities across Asia. The International Energy Agency estimates India?s refining capacity will lag fuel demand going forward, requiring investment in new plants. Aramco representatives have met officials of provincial governments including West Bengal and southern Andhra Pradesh to scout for investment opportunities, sources said. Indian oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said earlier this year that Aramco wants to have exclusive talks for a stake in a planned 1.2 million barrel per day refinery on India?s west coast.
waqas dar posted a blog entry in Geo News BlogThe United States announced Wednesday it would implement tough new security rules for all airlines flying into the country, but held off from a threatened expansion of its carry-on laptop ban. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said evolving terror threats made it imperative to raise overall security standards, rather than take a piecemeal approach on personal electronics. "Make no mistake: our enemies are constantly working to find new methods for disguising explosives, recruiting insiders, and hijacking aircraft," Kelly said. "We cannot play international whack-a-mole with each new threat. Instead, we must put in place new measures across the board to keep the traveling public safe and make it harder for terrorists to succeed." The move put off for the moment an extension of the ban on laptops and other carry-on personal electronics to flights from Europe, something that had been under discussion for months. The laptop ban was instituted in March for eight North African and Middle East countries based on intelligence that the Daesh group was working to build a bomb into a tablet or laptop computer. For the same reason, Britain also banned similar-sized electronics from being carried into cabins on direct flights from six countries. In a speech at a conference of the Center for a New American Security, Kelly said the terror threat to airlines has not diminished. "In fact, I am concerned that we are seeing renewed interest on the part of terrorist groups to go after the aviation sector -- from bombing aircraft to attacking airports on the ground, as we saw in Brussels and Istanbul." He said airlines and airports around the world would have to implement a mix of new technological and physical screening methods for passengers and their devices. 2,000 daily flights in focus Homeland Security officials said the agency would issue directives to about 180 air carriers in 105 countries, including US carriers, that fly into the United States. Collectively they operate about 2,000 US-bound flights each day carrying some 325,000 passengers. Kelly also said the United States would push harder for foreign airports to accept "preclearance" immigration operations manned by US Customs and Border Patrol officials to process US-bound passengers before they board their flights. Such operations have already been established in 15 locations in six countries, including Canada, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. But it raises sensitive sovereignty issues to have US law enforcement officials operate inside another country. US officials remained vague about the specific requirements of the new program. Airlines will be pressed to adopt a mix of new measures, including installing new screening technology, making more use of chemical sniffer dogs, and other unspecified steps. But the precise requirements in each case would depend on individual airlines, the airports they fly from, and their current levels of security. Some will have to make only minor improvements, they said. Asked about timeframes, officials would only say that they would give adequate time for the airlines to adapt. "We are raising the bar globally" for security standards, said one senior official who declined to be identified. They also said they expect nearly all carriers to be able to meet the new standards. Those that cannot or will not, they said, would be forced to reject all passenger electronics, either in the cabin or hold of the aircraft, or may even find themselves unable to fly to the United States.
waqas dar posted a blog entry in Geo News BlogThe Oval cricket ground in London. LONDON: London´s two major cricket grounds announced expansion schemes on Friday, with the Oval set to overtake Lord´s as the venue with the largest capacity. The Oval, the south London headquarters of Surrey, plans to increase its capacity from 25,500 to 40,000 in time for the 2023 Ashes Test series against Australia. That would take it well above Lord´s, the self-styled ´home of cricket´. Friday also saw Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which owns Lord´s, announce a more modest plan to increase the northwest London ground´s capacity from 30,000 to 32,000. The MCC is considering two proposals. One would involve building two 10-storey blocks of flats adjacent to the Nursery Ground that would provide some £100 million towards ground development. The other, less ambitious scheme, known as the Masterplan, would see work worth £89 million carried out using the club´s own funds. Officials insisted Lord´s could continue to stage matches while any building work was ongoing, with MCC saying in a statement: "MCC is assuming that it will continue to host its current level of international cricket because of its historically strong ticket sales and confidence that every touring team wants to play at Lord´s." MCC members have been invited to give their views before a vote at a special general meeting in September. Lord´s is also home to Middlesex, the reigning English county champions. Even with the planned increases, the capacity of both Lord´s and the Oval would still be behind that of other major international cricket venues such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground (100,000) and Kolkata´s Eden Gardens (66,000). Surrey said their plans for the Oval had been driven by spectator interest. "Most of our major games now sell out, either for county cricket or international cricket, and we need more seats to meet demand," said Surrey chief executive Richard Gould. The Oval is set to stage the final of the ongoing Champions Trophy one-day international tournament and Surrey chairman Richard Thompson said: "The time is now right for (English) cricket to think on a bigger scale." The first Test match played in England took place against Australia at the Oval in 1880, three years after the teams had first met in Melbourne. Although it is more than 40 years since MCC ceased to run English cricket, it retains worldwide responsibility for the sport´s ´Laws´ or rules.
waqas dar posted a blog entry in Geo News BlogJapan has posted its longest economic expansion in over a decade, government data showed Thursday, chalking up a win for Tokyo's growth bid even though the battle to conquer deflation is still far from won. The world's number three economy grew 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2017, its fifth straight winning quarter, up from a 0.3 percent rise in the last quarter of 2016, the Cabinet Office said. Japan's prospects have been improving on the back of strong exports, with investments linked to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics also giving growth a boost. The labour market is tight and business confidence is high. But consumer spending remains tepid and efforts to lift inflation have largely fallen flat despite years of monetary easing by the central bank. Individual spending accounts for more than a half of Japan's GDP. Private consumption picked up a modest 0.4 percent in the first quarter from the preceding three months' zero growth. The latest reading nonetheless means Japan's economy has had its best string of gains since 2006, during the tenure of popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. The figures are good news for the current prime minister Shinzo Abe -- whose brief and underwhelming first term as Japan's premier came directly after Koizumi. A string of short-term leaders followed before Abe swept back to power in late 2012 on a pledge to reignite Japan's once-booming economy with a plan dubbed Abenomics. The scheme -- a mix of huge monetary easing, government spending and reforms to the economy -- stoked a stock market rally and fattened corporate profits. The Bank of Japan (BoJ), aiming to create two-percent inflation as a key part the growth bid, now expects to reach that goal by 2019 -- four years later than planned. Still, the central bank and International Monetary Fund both recently lifted their projections for growth. Wages stagnating A weak yen has helped prop up the economy as it makes Japanese exports more competitive and inflates profits when overseas income is repatriated. An improving global outlook with strong demand for Japanese smartphone parts, memory chips and construction machinery has also been a tailwind, analysts said. "With growing external demand set to continue, we believe there will be the need for many companies to replace machinery and equipment," Katsunori Kitakura, lead strategist at asset manager Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Group. "The crucial question is how far capital expenditure will be increased in the meantime," he said in a commentary released ahead of the GDP data. Cash-rich firms have also been stingy with pay hikes, which hurts spending and acts like an anchor on the economy. In March, some of Japan's top companies, including Toyota and Hitachi, announced their lowest wage hikes in years. "Wages are still stagnating, despite sharp falls in unemployment," research house Capital Economics said in a commentary. "This seems to be because aggressive monetary easing has failed to lift expectations of future price rises among households and firms. "Unless this changes, the chances of inflation settling at two percent or higher are slim," it added. Despite healthy profits, many Japanese firms remain cautious about the world economy, partly due to worries that US President Donald Trump's protectionist leanings could hurt exports. Japan has been struggling to conquer years of deflation and slow growth that followed the bursting of an equity and property market bubble in the nineties. Falling prices can discourage spending by consumers, who might postpone purchases until prices drop more or they might save money instead. That puts pressure on businesses, creating a cycle in which firms then cut back on expanding production, hiring new workers or boosting wages.