U.S. places Pakistan on watch list for religious freedom violations

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom,” it said on Thursday, days after the White House said Islamabad would have to do more to combat terrorism to receive U.S. aid.

The State Department also said it had re-designated 10 other nations as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

The re-designated countries were China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They were re-designated on Dec. 22.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Pakistan for not doing more to combat terrorism, and his administration has informed members of Congress that it will announce plans to end “security assistance” payments to the country.

Pakistan has said it is already doing a lot to fight militants, and summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain a tweet by Trump that said the United States had been foolish in dispensing aid to Islamabad.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Thomas)

Magnitude 7.2 Earthquake Strikes in Tajikistan, Aftershocks Follow

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake occurred in a remote area of Tajikistan on Monday.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported the quake occurred about 68 miles west of Murghob at about 12:50 p.m. local time. Several aftershocks occurred nearby, USGS data show.

NBC News reported buildings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India shook as a result of the quake.

There were not any immediate reports of deaths, injuries or damage.

The earthquake occurred 18 miles underground near Sarez Lake in the Pamir Mountain range.

According to the USGS, earthquakes in that part of Tajikistan seldom lead to shaking-related deaths because the region is so remote. But they have sometimes triggered fatal mudslides.

The USGS website shows that eight other quakes of magnitude 4.5 or greater occurred in or near Tajikistan on Monday.

There were magnitude 4.8 and 4.6 aftershocks near Sarez Lake within three hours of the initial earthquake, according to USGS data.

There was also a cluster of four earthquakes further northeast closer to the city of Karakul. They ranged in magnitude from 4.8 to 5.4, the data show.

Further northeast, on the other side of Karakul, the data show there were magnitude 4.5 and 4.6 quakes near Tajikistan’s border with China.