Thursday, February 12, 2009

7.2 Quake Rocks Indonesia

196-27-indonesia-earthquake At least 42 people were injured and hundreds of homes and buildings damaged when a major earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the Richter, struck off Indonesia's Sulawesi island near the Philippines early on Thursday, officials said. Indonesia's geophysics agency was prompt in issuing a tsunami alert, which was later revoked.

AFP reports say a total of 42 people have been injured, ten of them seriously, t attributed the information to crisis centre head Rustam Pakaya told AFP by text message.

Around 700 homes as well as office buildings, schools and health clinics were damaged in the remote Talaud Islands in North Sulawesi province, said a government spokesman.

"About 309 buildings have been heavily damaged and 390 others suffered light to medium damage," he was quoted as saying by the French media giant.

Scores of residents were camped outdoors on high ground out of fear of aftershocks and tsunamis.

An estimated 5,000 residents have fled their homes.

Indonesia was the nation worst-hit by the earthquake-triggered tsunami in December 2004 that killed more than 200,000 people in 11 countries across Asia, including over 168,000 people in Indonesia's Aceh province and Nias island.

Thursday’s quake also caused the partial collapse of the main district hospital, forcing it to move patients to local clinics, said ministry officials.

The epicentre of the quake was about 320 kilometres northeast of the Indonesian town of Manado and 280 kilometres southeast of General Santos in the Philippines, the US Geological Survey said.

There were no reports of any damage or casualties in the Philippines.

The USGS initially put the magnitude of the quake at 7.5, but later revised this down to 7.2. Indonesia measured the quake at 7.4 on the Richter scale.

Several aftershocks with magnitudes of up to 6.3 struck in the hours following the original quake, the USGS reported.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre sent a bulletin saying there was "no destructive widespread tsunami threat" based on available data.

Scores Flee Lanka Conflict Zone

lanka The US House of Representatives passed a resolution recognising Mahatma Gandhi's influence on Martin Luther King Jr. and plans to commemorate the golden jubilee anniversary of the American civil rights leader's visit to India in 1959. A US cultural delegation arrives in India on Friday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kabul Suicide Attackers Bomb Govt. Offices

kabul On a suicide mission, suspected Taliban bombers launched concerted attacks on government buildings in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday, at least 20 people have reportedly been killed in the explosions and gunfire that spawned death, destruction and paranoia on Kabul streets.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attacks, which targeted five buildings including the justice and education ministries, and warned of similar attacks in telephone calls to media offices.

Sources say the Justice and Education ministry offices were targeted as the Talibam blames them for sentencing the ‘Islamist’ fighters and propagating western education.

An interior ministry spokesman said four or five civilians and one policeman were killed at the prison directorate, which was hit by a double suicide strike, reported the Associated Press.

Accoesding to witnesses at least three civilians died at the Justice ministry where security personnel shot dead two attackers and another at the education ministry.

"Our men shot dead one suicide attacker at the first floor and another one at the third floor of the (justice) ministry," an unnamed intelligence official was quoted as saying by AFP.

Security forces say, more attackers may still be present inside the offices that were yet to be sanitized.

The attacks came as US President Barack Obama considers the deployment of an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan to quell the Taliban.

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to the troubled region, is in Islamabad to hold crucial talks with the Pakistani side as the US tries to up the ante against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The Fidayeen also attacked the prison directorate in the north of the city, said an AFP reporter present at the scene.

Police officials speaking on condition of anonymity say there are lots of dead.

The AFP reporter says the area was splattered with blood and remains of those wounded and killed in the ghastly attack.

The intensity of the explosions smashed the panes on the five-storey building and the entrance where another attacker struck was completely destroyed.

A spokesman for the Taliban was quoted on Afghan television saying that seven attackers had entered the city and were targeting various government offices, adds Associated Press.

Security groups issued warnings for people to exercise caution and remain indoors.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

India to Spare No Efforts to Overcome Terror: Pranab

February 12, 2009 News Service


Amid diplomatic tactics employed by Pakistan to shun liabilities brought forth by the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai, Minister for External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee Thursday said India would "spare no efforts in tackling the multi-dimensional challenges of terror". He was addressing the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi.

"Security has been a concern? There are multidimensional challenges before us," said Mukherjee.

He pointed out that "terrorists from Pakistan" had targeted "financial centers" and the economy.

"Medical centers, aviation and infrastructures have not been spared. In recent times India has become a victim of terrorism including cross border terrorism. The 26/11 attacks was one such gruesome example. This needs to be tackled in a resolute manner. We will spare no efforts to deal with terrorists."

Speaking on a more indigenous topic and one that has found his party at the receiving end in Andhra Pradesh, Mukherjee asserted that the Satyam scam cannot be allowed to harm the prospects of the Indian IT industry.

The government says it would employ every measure to get to the bottom of the fraud.

"We will spare no effort in getting to the bottom of this terrible scam and will take whatever measures are necessary on the basis of the findings," said Mukherjee, who also holds the finance portfolio.

The government acted swiftly and is doing everything in the domain of investigations, protecting the livelihood of thousands of employees and restoring confidence among clients.

Without naming Satyam, he said that a single aberration does not undermine the reputation of the Indian IT industry or the country's standing as an emerging trillion dollar economy.

"The adverse fallout of the (wrong-doings) in a single company cannot be allowed to cast its shadow on the entire Indian IT industry worth 60 billion dollars," Mukherjee said.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Washington Miffed over AQ Khan’s Release

The Bhopal-born Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr. AQ Khan is back in the media glare, as his release, from house-arrest in Pakistan, has sent ripples across the international community. Expressing concern over his release, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Obama Administration will have “more to say about that."

"I am very much concerned," Clinton told reporters in response to a question on the issue at a joint media availability with Philippine President, Macapagal-Arroyo, at the State Department headquarters in Washington.

"We'll have more to say about that," Clinton said in her brief response over a Pakistani court’s decision to free Khan.

Earlier in the day, the State Department made it clear that it was not pleased with the release of Khan, who is better known as the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear programme.

Terming Khan a significant "proliferation ris," State Department spokesperson, Gordon Duguid said it would be "unfortunate" if he were to be released from house arrest.

"We believe AQ Khan remains a serious proliferation risk. The proliferation support that Khan and his associates provided to Iran and North Korea has had a harmful impact on the international security, and will for years to come," Duguid said in reply to a query.

A significant section of the international community believes Khan was responsible for providing crucial assistance to the weapons programme in the two countries.

Vajpayee Serious But Stable, Doctors

Doctors tendng to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), termed his condition as serious but stable on Saturday morning, the octogenarian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwart is suffering from an infection in the lower respiratory tract.

"He is in a serious but stable condition and continues to be on mechanical ventilation following lower respiratory tract infection," AIIMS medical superintendent DK Sharma was quoted as saying by IANS.

Vajpayee was on Tuesday admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at the premier facility after he complained of difficulty in breathing.

He was put on mechanical ventilation Friday.

"A multi-disciplinary team of doctors is regularly monitoring his health and all his basic parameters, including blood pressure, kidney and liver, are normal," added Sharma.

26/11 Probe Report on Monday, Gilani

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani while speaking to reporters in Lahore on Friday expressed optimism that the report on preliminary investigations into the Mumbai attacks will be submitted to him on Monday and its findings will be made public soon, reported dawn News on its website Saturday morning.

Talking to media at the Lahore airport Gilani said the findings would be shared with India and the international community.

“No fact will be kept secret,” he stressed.

Rejecting media reports that suggested an Indian diplomatic offensive, launched after the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes, had left his country isolated. Gilani said: “The entire world is supporting our stance on the Mumbai attacks.”

He stressed that his administration was not silent on the Kashmir dispute and wanted its resolution in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir.

He informed that the issue had been raised with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during his recent visit to Islamabad and also with US Vice-President Joe Biden and at the World Economic Forum, he added.

He also sought to play down speculations of differences between his government and Kashmiri leaders on his side.

Meanwhile on Saturday Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said Pakistan's probe into the Mumbai incident "can only reach fruition with Indian cooperation".

Qureshi was addressing "young leaders roundtable on security" in Munich.

He lamented that New Delhi’s "belligerent" response to the Mumbai terror strikes "unfortunately threw the Pakistan-India peace process back to square one".

"Democratic governments in Pakistan have always pursued a policy of friendly relations with India. We want to cooperate with New Delhi in rooting out terrorism from the region and to resolve all our differences including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir through dialogue," he said.

Analysts say Qureshi’s inclusion of the term “democratic” was significant, especially, as he represents a country with a long and oft-repeated history of military disctatorships.

Terming the Indian diplomatic action as "unfortunate” Qureshi said: “Mumbai was as much a blow to Pakistan as it was to India."

In Kolkata, Reacting to Premier Gilani’s statements, Minister for External Affairs, Pranab Mukherje said India was yet to receive an official response on the dossier it handed over to Pakistan on the Mumbai terror strikes.

"I am yet to receive any official communication from Islamabad so far," said Mukherjee while talking to he media on Saturday.

Scores Flee Lanka Conflict Zone

Over 2,500 civilians are reported to have Sri Lanka's war zone in the last two days as government forces continued to step up pressure against Tamil Tiger rebels. The civilian exodus came soon after the military on Friday announced the capture of the biggest sea base of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The fighting is concentrated around a circle of jungle in the country's northeast, where the military says it has all but surrounded the LTTE.

Thousands of civilians - said by aid agencies, the government and a growing list of nations to be held in the war zone by the LTTE - are under grave threat of harm from the fighting.

"Today, 600 people have come up until now," Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, the Sri Lanka military spokesman, said on Friday.
The previous day, 1,637 escaped the fighting, he said.

The international community, including US, Britain and the European Union, has urged the LTTE to surrender, and for both sides to stop firing temporarily to allow civilians out and aid into the island’s embattled north.

Sri Lanka, however, has rejected a call by international donors for it to begin negotiating with the LTTE.
While stressing that the LTTE would not accept unconditional surrender, Damien Kingsbury, a professor at Australia's Deakin University and an expert on Sri Lanka expressed fears that captured Tiger rebels would be shot down in cold blood.

"Quite clearly they fear that if they do surrender, they will be treated very badly if not killed on the spot," said Kingsbury, he was speaking to Al Jazeera.

He added: "Tamil civilians are claiming that they are being very badly mistreated in this conflict ... and this is going to widen the gap between the government and Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority.

Sri Lankan military officials on Thursday said that following the fall of the Chalai base, the LTTE was now left with just 20km coastline in the northeastern district of Mullaittivu.
The seizure of Chalai would disrupt LTTE supplies as the sea base was used to receive arms and fuel from other countries through a widespread smuggling network.
The Sri Lankan government says that the LTTE is close to being vanquished, as the Army marches ahead towards victory in what the government has repeatedly termed a “decisive war.”
The UN and other aid agencies say more than 250,000 civilians are still trapped in the war zone.
Aid groups said the last functioning hospital there was shut down on Wednesday after being shelled for the fifth time in three days.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said staff and patients fled the hospital after the incident.

Sri Lankan troops have been engaged in an all-out offensive in recent months against the LTTE, which has been fighting for a separate Tamil heartland since 1983.

Bhujbal-Thackeray Meet amid Speculations

Key NCP leader and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal met his mentor late on Saturday night, though Bhujbal termed the meeting a courtesy call, his clarifications failed to calm media houses that were abuzz with speculations of troubled times ahead for the ruling NCP-Congress alliance.

Bhujbal, accompanied by his wife and son, arrived at Matoshri - Thackeray's residence in Bandra West at around 2100 hours and spent some two hours behind closed doors with the Thackeray family.

It was the first meeting between the Sena chief and Bhujbal after a gap of 18 years.

Bhujbal had quit the Sena after differences with the Thackerays in December 1991. In October 2008, he made a unilateral gesture of withdrawing a 10-year old defamation suit he had filed against the 82-year-old Sena supremo.

After the meeting, Bhujbal, dismissed all speculation by saying that it was "a get-together" between the two families. He reiterated that the old 'bitterness' between the two leaders had ended.

Bhujbal's efforts at mending fences with the Thackerays have alarmed many in the NCP.

The meeting is said to have comprised of several emotional moments as the leaders attempted to pick up threads they had left untouched for nearly two decades.

Present on the occasion were Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray and his wife and children.

Bhujbal, according to reports, carried several gift for his one-time mentor.

With general elections round the imminent corner, the dinner meeting was considered significant on various counts.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar too enjoys a great rapport with the Sena chief and had met him a few months ago at Matoshri.

The Sena, recently, offered to support Pawar as prime minister if such a situation develops after the next elections - annoying many within Sena’s alliance principality, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Pawar, however, played down the meeting saying: "What is wrong if Bhujbal meets his erstwhile mentor? In fact, Thackeray had invited me too, but I could not make it," he told mediapersons in Satara.

With Pawar unfazed by the development, the meeting may well set the clock ticking on the Congress-NCP alliance which has had its rough moments in recent times after a wrinkle free alliance for nearly five years and may see the Congress attempt to iron-out differences with the NCP.

Dooars Tense, Two Killed in Clashes

A Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha supporter, Akbar Lama, and a petty trader from Chamurchi, Sunil Mandal, died when GJMM supporters clashed with activists of CPI-M, Akhil Bhartiya Adviasi Vikas Parishad and locals in the Dooars of Jalpaiguri district on Saturday.

Another GJMM supporter Sanu Dorjee was gravely injured in the clash and is fighting for his life in a Jalpaiguri hospital.

The clashes erupted during a bandh sponsored by the GJMM in the proposed areas of Gorkhaland, which includes the Dooars, Terai and Siliguri.

While the bandh was total in the Darjeeling Hills and was peaceful, people resisted it on the outskirts of Siliguri and in the Dooars in general, sparking off incidents of violence at Debidanga near Siliguri and the Dooars.

An unspecific number of people were injured in the Dooars clashes and are receiving treatment. A GJMM supporter is being treated in Kurseong hospital for injuries.

The IGP, north Bengal, KL Tamata said 15 police personnel had been injured in Saturday’s hostilities. “Additional police force is being brought in from the neighbouring districts to maintain law and order,” he added.

Jalpaiguri District Magistrate Vandana Yadav said agitators torched over 20 houses and shops at Chamurchi and Birpara.

“The agitators also burnt a number of two-wheelers. Twenty people had been arrested for the violence in Dooars. Section144 of the CrPC has been promulgated at Kalchini, Birpara, Banarhat, Malbazaar and Madarihat blocks and RAF deployed. The situation is now under control,” said Yadav.