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Castro turns 79 on the job, no plans to retire

HAVANA, Aug 12: Cuban President Fidel Castro turns 79 on Saturday with no plans for retirement at the helm of the Western Hemisphere's only Communist state. The world's longest serving head of government is busy repairing Cuba's battered socialist economy.

Castro says he is "perfecting" the egalitarian society he began to build after he and his bearded guerrillas ousted U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and seized power in 1959. His stamina undiminished, the aging leader continues to give marathon four- to five-hour speeches denouncing U.S. imperialist aggression to staunch supporters who sing the Marxist Internationale anthem when he is done.

When Hurricane Dennis roared into Cuba last month, Castro showed up at a television studio to monitor the storm's path of death and destruction in a live broadcast to the nation. Dressed in his trademark military uniform, the "Comandante" has taken to the stage like a television game show host to tout the bounties of new pressure cookers and Chinese-made electrical appliances he has promised Cubans.

"If I have lived many years, that's because I played a lot of sport. I climbed mountains, which is good for the heart," he said on Monday. "It is the Olympics of history that matter, and there we will take the gold medal," he said in a speech to physical education graduates. Last October, Castro tripped and shattered his knee in a fall that was broadcast live on television. To the chagrin of his opponents, he was back on his feet within two months dispelling speculation that he would have to cut back his leadership role.

Castro's bitterest enemies, mainly right-wing exiles living in Miami, see Cuba as a gulag run by an autocrat who impoverished Cuba's 11 million people, restricts their right to leave the island and suppresses dissent. Only 14 of the 75 pro-democracy activists jailed in a March 2003 crackdown have been released, and 15 more dissidents were arrested last month during a series of peaceful protests.

Malaysia declares emergency as air pollution index soars

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11: Malaysia declared a state of emergency on Thursday as the air pollution index soared to extremely hazardous levels on the west coast, which is worst-hit by smoke from fires in Sumatra, an official said.

"We are now in a state of emergency," a National Security Council official said after the environment department said the air pollution index had reached 529 in Port Klang and 531 in Kuala Selangor.

Indian visa applicants to Canada can check status via SMS

NEW DELHI, Aug 10: Indians wishing to travel to Canada can now easily know the status of their visa applications by sending an SMS from any part of India.

The service will be available for applicants of temporary visas related to tourism, business and educational purposes, VFS (India) Private Limited, the outsource partner of Canadian High Commission for visa purposes, said in a statement in the Capital on Wednesday. This status service is available on both GSM and CDMA connections of BSNL, BPL, Hutch and Reliance Telecom.

Purported al-Qaida video threatens troops

DUBAI, Aug 10: A purported al-Qaida-made video shows militants in Afghanistan - including Europeans, Arabs and others - preparing to attack U.S. troops and showing off what they said was a U.S. military laptop.

The video, parts of which have been shown by Al-Arabiya television, including a segment aired Tuesday, features interviews with a masked man yelling "As you bomb us, you will be bombed!" and shows a group of men packing explosives into bombs.

The authenticity of the videotape could not be confirmed. Air Force Capt. Lennea Montandon, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command in Qatar, said the military would not comment because it had not seen the broadcast.

If authentic, the program would be the latest attempt by the al-Qaida network to use the broadcast media and Internet to promote its cause. The three-part video, titled "The War of the Oppressed People," depicts what appears to be a few months in the lives of a group of fighters in wilderness camps in the Afghan mountains.

The men cook tea over campfires and kneel in prayer under the open skies, then duck into a makeshift classroom where an instructor outlines the coming "Operation to Defeat the Crucifix" against U.S. and allied forces. In one scene, the tape claims al-Qaida was responsible for shooting down a U.S. Chinook helicopter, killing all 16 American troops on board.

The tape features an appearance by top-ranking al-Qaida member Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, as well as shots of a U.S. Air Force A-10 jet making bombing runs on a mountainside, and a close-up of a U.S. soldier quivering face down on the ground. Al-Iraqi, speaking with a scarf hiding his face, says the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have created "two fronts" for recruiting terrorists to the cause of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. "Now all the world is united behind Mullah Omar and Sheik Osama," he says.

The program includes interviews with bearded fighters claiming they are avenging the killing of Muslims by the U.S., Britain, Israel and India. "If this is terrorism and fundamentalism, then OK, we are terrorists and fundamentalists," a Pakistani man who identifies himself as Bilal says in Urdu.

The tapes feature a diatribe by a British- or Australian-accented man wearing a black robe, AK-47 and military-style vest, who warns Westerners of "the lies of Blair and Bush."

"The Muslim world is not your backyard," he yells. "The honorable sons of Islam will not let you kill our sons. It is time for us to be equals. As you kill, you will be killed. As you bomb, you will be bombed."

India, Pak reach agreement over missile tests

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 7: India and Pakistan have reached an understanding on the proposed agreement on pre-notification of flight-testing of ballistic missiles.

Briefing newsmen after the two-day expert level intensive dialogue on nuclear confidence-building measures (CBMs), the Additional Secretary (UN), Ministry of External Affairs, Ms Meera Shankar, said the two countries have also decided to establish by next month the hotline between the Foreign Secretaries.

During the talks, the two sides had emphasized the importance of early operationalization of the hotline link proposed to be established between the Foreign Secretaries, through their respective Foreign Offices, to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues. In this connection, discussions on related technical parameters were held. Details about implementation and testing schedules were exchanged.

While Ms. Meera Shankar led the Indian delegation, Mr Tariq Osman Hyder, Additional Secretary (UN & EC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led the Pakistan side. The visiting Pakistani delegation also called on the Foreign Secretary, Mr Shyam Saran.

The agreed text of the proposed agreement on pre-notification of the tests will be referred to the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries for formalisation, said Ms Shankar. The two sides also agreed to report the progress made in the present round of the talks to the respective Foreign Secretaries, who will decide on the date and venue of the next Expert Level meeting on Nuclear CBMs.

"The proposed agreement commits both sides to pre-notify in a structured format flight testing of ballistic missiles with the objective of enhancing mutual confidence and engendering predictability and transparency of intent," a joint statement said.

The present round of discussions was the third meeting held between India and Pakistan at the level of experts on the subject of nuclear CBMs, under the Composite Dialogue process. The two sides continued to hold wide-ranging discussions in a cordial and constructive atmosphere, including on their respective security concepts and nuclear doctrines, said the joint statement.

In pursuance of the MoU of 21 February 1999, which inter alia provided for undertaking national measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons under their respective control, the Indian side handed over a draft of such a proposed Agreement.

Trapped Russian submariners rescued

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY (Russia), Aug 7: Seven Russian sailors trapped for three days on the ocean floor in a small submarine off Russia's Pacific coast were retrieved alive and well on Sunday after a British undersea robot cut the vessel free of debris, Russian naval officials said.

"The submarine resurfaced and the seven submariners are alive," Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said. "They emerged by themselves, transferred to a motor-launch and will be placed aboard a ship where they will receive medical treatment," Dygalo was quoted by news agencies as saying.

Once back on land, the crew were expected to be taken to a local hospital in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky for observation and medical care. Rear Admiral Vladimir Pepelyayev, deputy chief of the Russian naval general staff, described the condition of the crew as "satisfactory."

The "Priz" AS-28 mini-submarine returned to the surface after a sophisticated British "Scorpio" submersible robot equipped with heavy-duty cutting blades succeeded in extracting the vessel from undersea debris in which it had become entangled, officials said. The Priz AS-28 is of Soviet design dating from 1986 and only four were built. Meant for deep-water rescue missions, there is room for three operators and 20 saved sailors.

Rescuers race to free trapped submarine

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY (Russia), Aug 7: Russian crews looped cables under an underwater antenna snaring a mini-submarine on the Pacific floor Saturday and would try to lift them closer to the surface before air ran out for seven trapped sailors, a navy spokesman said.

Capt. Igor Dygalo described the rescue effort as U.S. and British crews with robotic undersea vehicles raced to reach the site of the accident off the remote Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. A ship carrying British equipment was the first to leave port for the scene.

Authorities could not say exactly how much air remained on the mini-sub, which was some 625 feet below the surface, but an admiral said Saturday the supply should last until the end of the rescue.

Dygalo said two ships had worked a cable beneath the sub entangled in an underwater antenna assembly that is part of Russia's coastal monitoring system. Officials initially said the sub's propeller was snarled by a fishing net as it participated in military exercises Thursday. Dygalo said rescuers hoped to raise the sub to a depth of at least 165 feet, which would allow divers to reach the 44-foot-long AS-28 and help the crew swim to the surface.

Rescuers made contact with the crew Saturday evening and said their condition was "satisfactory" despite temperatures of 41 to 45 degrees in their vessel, Russia's Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Viktor Fyodorov, said. It wasn't clear how contact was being made or why it was only intermittent.

"They are not giving up hope," Fyodorov said in televised comments. "I assure you, work is continuing without interruption through night and day and will not stop until we actually lift our guys up to the surface."

U.S. and British planes flew in unmanned submersibles, known as Super Scorpios, on Saturday. They were being taken by ship to the accident site and could be used to cut the sub loose from the entangling equipment if the Russian effort to lift the vessel failed. Russian news reports said the antenna array was held down by two concrete anchors weighing 60 tons.

The plea for international assistance underlined the deficiencies of Russia's once-mighty navy and strongly contrasted with the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk five years ago, when authorities held off asking for help until hope was nearly exhausted. All 118 crew died in that accident.

Former British Foreign Secretary Cook dies

LONDON, Aug 7: Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet in opposition to the Iraq war, has died, Scottish police announced Saturday.

Northern Constabulary said Cook, 59, died after collapsing on Ben Stack mountain in the Scottish Highlands while walking with his wife. He was taken by Coast Guard helicopter to a hospital in Inverness, where he was pronounced dead.

Jack Straw, Cook's successor as foreign secretary, said he was "devastated." "Robin and I had been good friends for nearly 30 years and that friendship survived our policy disagreements over Iraq," Straw said. "He was the greatest parliamentarian of his generation and a very fine foreign secretary. I deeply mourn his loss."

Cook served as foreign minister from 1997 to 2001 before being demoted to leader of the House of Commons. His resignation speech, days before war began in March 2003, received a rare standing ovation from lawmakers. In it he asked: "Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years, and which we helped to create?"

Qaeda's Zawahri warns Britain, US of more attacks

DUBAI, Aug 5: Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri has warned the United States and Britain of more attacks, saying they would not rest in peace until they pulled their troops from Iraq and other Muslim states.

His video aired on Thursday was the first to directly focus on Britain's policies, warning Britons of more attacks after last month's bomb blasts against London's transport system, which killed more than 50 people. Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, also repeated previous threats against the United States.

"What you have seen in New York, Washington and Afghanistan, are only the initial losses," he said, referring to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States for which al Qaeda claimed responsibility. "If you continue the same hostile policies you will see something that will make you forget the horrors you have seen in Vietnam," added Zawahri in the tape aired by Al Jazeera television.

"Our message to you is clear, strong and final: There will be no salvation until you withdraw from our land, stop stealing our oil and resources and end support for infidel, corrupt (Arab) rulers," Zawahri said. "Blair's policies brought you destruction in central London and will bring you more destruction," said Zawahri who stopped short of directly claiming responsibility for the London blasts. At least two groups linked to al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for the London attacks.

Zawahri said the United States was lying about its losses in Iraq as it had in Vietnam and called on Washington to immediately withdraw its troops.

"There is no way out for Washington except by immediate withdrawal. Any delay in this decision means more killing and losses. If you don't withdraw today you will inevitably withdraw tomorrow, but only after tens of thousands are killed and injured."

The tape appeared recent because the London bombings took place in July. Zawahri, wearing a black turban and a white robe, looked older than in previous tapes. He said Western nations would not live in peace as long as they ignored a truce offer made by bin Laden in April last year. "To the people of the crusader coalition ... our blessed Sheikh Osama has offered you a truce so that you leave Muslim land. As he said, you will not dream of security until we live it as a reality in Palestine and until all your infidel armies leave Prophet Mohammad's lands," he said.

Zawahri last appeared in a video aired by Al Jazeera in June in which he called for an armed struggle to expel "crusader forces and Jews" from Muslim states and said peaceful change was impossible.

London launches massive security operation

LONDON, Aug 5: Some 6,000 police officers patrolled London's streets and sprawling Underground system Thursday, four weeks after four suicide bombers killed 52 people, while the city's transit system took a step toward normality by reopening the subway station worst-hit in the attacks.

Officials said they had no specific intelligence of a third attack Thursday, but the massive security operation was intended to reassure the public after the deadly July 7 attacks on three subway trains and a bus and the failed July 21 attacks.

Undercover police were mingling with passengers and officers armed with automatic rifles and pistols patrolled stations and streets in London. Police helicopters hovered above and traffic was heavier than normal. "It's a little bit eerie," said Rosalyn Cooper, 23, before she got on the Tube. "You can't help thinking about when it will happen again."

British authorities stressed that they were not acting on a specific threat but were seeking to reassure Londoners four weeks after the first attacks.

"This is a major threat and we are doing everything we can, both covert and undercover policing, to try to stop another attack," said Deputy Chief Constable Andy Trotter of the British Transport Police. "There is no specific intelligence but we are still at a very high level of alert in London."

London transport authorities also reopened the busy Piccadilly Line, easing disruption on the network that carries some 3 million passengers a day.
"The return of the Piccadilly line is a major step as the Underground and London get back to normal," London Underground Managing Director Tim O'Toole said.

The Piccadilly Line is one of the busiest sections of London's subway system. Service had been partly suspended since a bomb exploded on a train July 7, killing 26 commuters and the suspected bomber - a closure that caused significant disruption on the network. Transport for London, the public body that runs the Underground, said passenger numbers had dipped by 30 percent at weekends and by between 5 percent and 15 percent on weekdays since July 7.

Saudis pledge loyalty as King Abdullah assumes power

RIYADH, Aug 5: Hundreds of tribal chiefs, Islamic clerics, princes and commoners pledged loyalty to Saudi Arabia's new King Abdullah, vowing to "hear and obey" in a traditional Islamic ceremony that seals his status as monarch after a decade as de facto ruler.

Abdullah's investiture strengthens his hand to push forward with what have been the hallmarks of his unofficial rule - limited steps toward reform and a crackdown on Islamic extremism and militants linked to al-Qaida. "I promise God and you that I will adopt the Qur'an as the constitution and Islam as the course, and that all my concerns will be to establish righteousness and justice," Abdullah said in his first address to the nation as king. "I appeal to you to support me and help me carry this trust and don't hesitate to advise me."

Western dignitaries flowed through a Riyadh palace to congratulate the 81-year-old Abdullah and express condolences for the death of his predecessor and half brother, king Fahd. Abdullah, in white robes and a cream-coloured cloak, sat with Britain's Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as the king of Sweden and other European heads of state.

Saudi Arabia is a major US ally in the Middle East, and Abdullah has worked to repair ties strained by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in which 15 of the attackers were Saudis.

Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said he expected US-Saudi relations to continue to improve and vowed a "total war" on terrorism. "We stand firmly against (terrorism) not only militarily with security forces, but also with an ideological plan dealing with the causes and roots of those who joined the evil-doers," al-Faisal told reporters. Quoting Abdullah on terrorism, he said: "This disease must be rooted from the body of the politics of Saudi Arabia."

The allegiance ceremony - known as "bayah" - is key for Abdullah, who has been de facto ruler since Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995. Fahd died Monday at age 84.

Abdullah is believed to have met some resistance on both reform and the fight against militants from hardliners in the Islamic clergy and their allies in the royal family, though such squabbles are kept strictly behind the scenes. So far, reform steps have been severely limited, centred on the kingdom's first election, held this year to pick local councils. But Abdullah faces pressure to allow a wider number of Saudis a say in government.

Being monarch will likely boost Abdullah in pushing through his plans. He may also be helped by money: The kingdom's coffers are overflowing with oil profits amid rising prices - spiking to $61 US on news of Fahd's death. After years of deficits due to low oil prices, Abdullah now has cash to please disgruntled members of the royal family.

The kingdom's grand mufti and other top Islamic clerics were the first to file by Abdullah, shake his hand and vow their loyalty to him as Saudi Arabia's sixth king. The House of Saud has depended for legitimacy on the support of clerics from the kingdom's strict Wahhabi version of Islam since Abdullah's father, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, welded the Arabian peninsula tribes into a country under his name in 1932.

Hundreds of tribal chiefs, royal family members, government officials and uniformed senior military officers - all men - lined up, some shouting "Long live the king" as they waited their turn to honour Abdullah. A palace servant swung an incense burner among them to bless the gathering, in a large marble-columned hall covered with silk carpets and graced by giant chandeliers.

Each man shook Abdullah's hand and pronounced, "I express my allegiance to you. I hear and obey, except in what would disobey God." The ceremony has its roots in the succession after the death of the Prophet Muhammed in the seventh century, when the caliphs who followed him received the support of the Muslim community.

Saudi King Fahd buried in simple Riyadh grave

RIYADH, July 3: Saudi Arabia's King Fahd was buried in a simple unmarked grave on Tuesday after a brief funeral to mourn the monarch who ruled the oil superpower for more than two turbulent decades.

In keeping with the kingdom's austere Islamic tradition Fahd, who in life enjoyed enormous wealth and privilege, was laid to rest in a sprawling Riyadh cemetery alongside hundreds of other unidentified dirt graves.

Fahd died on Monday after 23 years ruling the strategic Gulf state which is both the world's biggest oil exporter and the cradle of Islam -- drawing more than a billion faithful to turn five times a day toward Mecca in prayer.

In the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in the capital, Muslim leaders from across the world joined ordinary Saudis to offer condolences to Fahd's successor and half-brother Abdullah, and performed Muslim prayers for the dead.

The brief afternoon ceremony was devoid of pomp. Fahd's body, wrapped in a brown shroud and laid on a bier, was carried out of the mosque and driven to his final resting place in an ambulance.

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd Dies in Riyadh

RIYADH, Aug 1: Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, who moved his country closer to the United States but ruled the world's largest oil producing nation in name only since suffering a stroke in 1995, died early Monday, the Saudi royal court said. He was said to be 84.

Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's 81-year-old half brother and the country's de factor ruler, was appointed the new monarch. "With all sorrow and sadness, the royal court in the name of his highness Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and all members of the family announces the death of the custodian of the two holy mosques, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz," according to a statement read on state-run Saudi TV by the country's information minister.

Fahd died at approximately 2:30 a.m. EDT. President Bush was alerted within minutes of Fahd's death, the official said on condition of anonymity. The king's funeral was to be held Tuesday evening, he said.

Saudi TV, which said the king was 84 years of age, broke into regular broadcasting to announce Fahd's death. Quranic verse recitals followed the announcement by the minister, Iyad bin Amin Madani, whose voice wavered with emotion as he read the statement. Madani said only that the king, whose exact date of birth wasn't known, died of an illness.

Fahd died at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where he was admitted on May 27 for unspecified medical tests, an official at the hospital said. At the time of his widely publicized hospitalization that caused concern home and abroad, officials said he was suffering from pneumonia and a high fever.

The Saudi statement said the new King Abdullah announced that his half brother and the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, 77, would be the nation's next crown prince.

Third terror cell on loose in London: Report

LONDON, July 31: A third Islamist terror cell is planning multiple suicide bomb attacks on Tube trains and other 'soft' targets in central London, according to intelligence sources.

Intelligence about a cell with access to explosives and which plans to unleash a "third wave" of attacks was the trigger for last Thursday's unprecedented security exercise- the biggest since the second world war- in London which saw 6,000 police, many armed, patrolling across the city, says the Sunday Times.

The members of the third cell were said to be independent of the July 7 and July 21 terrorists but have "associations" with some of the suspects who have been arrested in connection with the July 21 attacks.

Bhutan King to visit India from Monday

NEW DELHI, July 31: India and Bhutan will consolidate their strategic and economic ties when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck arrives here on a four-day working visit beginning Monday.

"India and Bhutan share warm and cordial relations and a tradition of periodic exchange of high-level visits. His Majesty's visit would provide an opportunity to discuss bilateral and other issues of mutual interest," according to Mr Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.

During his stay here, the King will call on President A P J Abdul Kalam and meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh and other Cabinet Ministers.

The Prime Minister will host a dinner in honour of the distinguished visitor. The King of Bhutan will also meet United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

The British-educated King Jigme, who succeeded at the age of 16 in 1972, early this year announced the end of a century of absolute monarchy with the publication of a draft constitution to establish a multiparty democracy by the end of the year.

India recently provided assistance package worth $450 million to Bhutan for its ninth five-year plan ending 2007. New Delhi has extended support to five-year plans of Bhutan since their inception in 1961 as part of its effort to spur developmental and modernisation processes in the Himalayan kingdom.

Economic cooperation, especially in the hydropower sector, represents a win-win situation for both countries with India receiving an assured supply of cheap and clear energy and Bhutan getting considerable revenue in return. The 336 MW Chukha and 60 MW Kurichhu projects, which have already come on stream, and the 1,020 MW Tala project nearing completion are enduring symbols of India-Bhutan friendship and cooperation.

New Delhi has helped Bhutan with key development projects in social, health, infrastructure and strategic sectors.

This close cooperation has translated into tremendous goodwill for New Delhi in Thimpu and has enhanced cooperation in strategic areas as demonstrated by the operations undertaken by the Royal Bhutan Army to flush out the Indian insurgent groups based in Bhutan in December 2003 and January 2004.

All July 21 bomb suspects in custody

LONDON, July 30: Police raiding apartments Friday in London and Rome rounded up the last of the four suspected attackers from the failed July 21 transit bombings in Britain, officials said.

Two of the suspects were arrested in west London, near the trendy Notting Hill neighborhood, following raids by heavily armed police. Video of the arrests broadcast by ITV News/Daily Mail in London showed two men identified as bombing suspects stripped to the waist and emerging at gunpoint on a balcony of an apartment after police apparently fired tear gas inside.

Italian police in Rome arrested Osman Hussain, a naturalized British citizen from Somalia, as part of an ongoing investigation in the bombings, said Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu. Hussain, who reportedly fled London and stopped in Milan and Bologna en route to the Italian capital, was "the fourth attacker," he said.

With those arrests, as well as that of Yasin Hassan Omar on Wednesday in the city of Birmingham, authorities believe they have captured all four men whose photos they released following last week's botched bombings, a police official said.

"We have four people in custody we believe are the images we released," said the official, who asked not to be identified in accordance with British practice, referring to the images, taken from closed-circuit TV cameras on July 21.

Suicide bomber identified in Egypt attack

SHARM EL-SHEIK, July 26: Investigators have identified a suicide bomber in the weekend attacks that killed scores in this Red Sea resort, saying he was an Egyptian with Islamic militant ties, security officials said Tuesday as investigators questioned dozens more people.

The bomber who was identified carried out the devastating truck bomb attack on the Ghazala Gardens Hotel. DNA tests identified him as Youssef Badran, an Egyptian Sinai resident with ties to Islamic militants, the officials said on condition of anonymity because the release of the details had not been authorized.

Police held members of Badran's family for questioning and were trying to determine his associates, the officials said. Across Sinai, security forces took in 70 people for questioning Tuesday, bringing to 140 the number held since Saturday's pre-dawn blasts.

Also on Tuesday, an Egyptian diplomat said Pakistanis were not involved in the bombings, despite police circulating photographs of five Pakistani men a day earlier. Police distributed photos of five Pakistani men at checkpoints in and around Sharm el-Sheik on Monday, and several state-owned newspapers published the same pictures provided by the Interior Ministry.

There has been no direct link between the wanted men and the bombings, even though at least two security officials said the Pakistanis had flown into Sharm from Cairo several days earlier. "No Pakistani national was involved in the terrorist attacks that rocked Sharm el-Sheik late last Saturday," the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad said in a statement.

Egypt's ambassador to Pakistan, Hussein Haridy, said he informed the Pakistani government by telephone late Monday of the Egyptian conclusion.

Posters of the missing Pakistanis were put up in Cairo. Officials now say they are seeking the men for illegally entering Egypt.

Two blasts rocked the popular Naama Bay tourist strip, including the suicide truck bomb attack at the hotel. Two miles away, a third truck bomb ravaged an area called the Old Market, which is popular with Egyptians. The death toll stood at 88, according to the head of the Sharm el-Sheik hospital that treated the victims, but Egypt's Health Ministry has put it at 64. Hospitals said the ministry count excludes some sets of body parts.

South Sinai's governor said Monday that 17 of the dead were non-Egyptians, including Westerners and citizens from other Arab states. One American, Kristina Miller, 27, of Las Vegas, was killed.

Plane crashes near German Parliament

BERLIN, July 23: A small aircraft crashed onto a lawn between Germany's Parliament and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office in central Berlin on Friday, killing the pilot as it burst into flames, police and witnesses said.

The single-engined, ultra-light aircraft crashed a couple of hundred metres the Reichstag building that houses the lower house of Parliament and about the same distance from the Chancellery, witnesses said. Personnel from the Parliament rushed over and pulled the burning pilot from the wreckage, they said.

Berlin Interior Minister Ehrhart Koerting told a news conference at the scene there was no indication the crash was in any way related to terrorism.
"Nothing indicates that this had anything to do with terrorism. It appears at this point that it may have been some sort of accident or a case of suicide," Koerting said.

The plane appeared to have taken off from somewhere in the eastern state of Brandenburg that surrounds the German capital, he told reporters, adding that the pilot's identity was unknown. David Silveira, a tourist from Brazil, said he saw the aircraft flying upside down and out of control near the Parliament building. "If he had wanted to fly into the Reichstag he could have. He was clearly out of control and trying to land the plane," Silveira said. The pilot was a heavy-set, elderly man, he added.

Koerting told reporters such aircraft are generally permitted to fly over the capital. Asked whether security would have to be reviewed, he said: "That's something we'll have to look at in coming days."

Blasts rock London

LONDON, July 21: Four small bombs hit London's bus and Underground train network on Thursday, without causing major casualties, exactly two weeks after bombers killed more than 50 people in the capital.

A large part of the capital's underground train network was suspended, but police reassured the public that the emergency was not as serious as two weeks ago. London's Police Chief Ian Blair told reporters there had been four explosions or attempted explosions but the bombs were small and casualties appeared to be light.

The emergency coincided with a service to commemorate those killed by bombs detonated by four young British Muslims in three underground trains and a bus at morning rush hour, killing more than 50 people and shocking a capital that had hitherto been spared Al-Qaeda-style attacks on civilians.

That attack confronted Britain's people and politicians with the prospect the country could be nurturing its own generation of the type of Islamist militants loyal to Osama bin Laden who had already inflicted carnage in the United States on September 11, 2001, in Bali and on Madrid's suburban trains last year. All four bombers died in the July 7 attacks, leading most people to assume they had been suicide bombers.

Britain's leading shares fell sharply on news of the latest incidents, but recovered once it appeared that the effect of the latest attacks would not be on the same scale as two weeks ago. Although markets rebounded from the latest shock, nervousness was growing about the prospect of more attacks. "It is a massive worry," said Jeremy Hodges, head of foreign exchange sales at Lloyds TSB bank.

"It is obviously going to cause big issues in this country now. The security issues have just got about 500 per cent greater. It will reflect badly on the economy, badly on tourism and you have got to suggest that we are going to cut (interest) rates."

7/7 bomber trained in house occupied by Osama

LONDON, July 16: The latest report links Shehzad Tanweer, one of the three Leeds-based bombers who struck terror in London on July 7, with Osama bin Laden. It is believed he was taught terror tactics at an estate in north Pakistan, where bin Laden's lived earlier and where Markaz-e-Dawa, a notorious religious school, is now housed.

Tanweer had gone to Pakistan last December after dropping out of his sports science course at Leeds Metropolitan University. His movements, traced so far, suggest he flew to Lahore. The city, the British police now feel, is a hotbed of fundamentalism. From Lahore he went to Markaz-e-Dawa, the madarsa co-founded by bin Laden on the 190-acre site at Muridke, 30 miles from Lahore.

The estate comprises a mosque, a foundry, a garment factory, a woodwork centre, a computer centre, three residences for recruits and 30 schools.

Bin Laden had a house there until he became a fugitive on the run in 1990, according to The Mirror. Intelligence experts believe apart from teaching the Koran, the school also runs a 21-day course covering assassinations and bombs.

Tanweer returned in February. But before that he is said to have visited Jamia Manzoorul Islamia, a madarsa in Lahore. After his return, Tanweer became more devout. He may have fallen into the clutches of Jaish-e-Muhammad, which is banned in Pakistan.

Egyptian biochemist jailed in UK attacks

LEEDS, England, July 16: Police in Cairo detained a biochemist who studied in the United States and taught at a university in Leeds - the home base for at least three of the London bombers. Investigators in Britain raided an Islamic book shop and the Egyptian's home, searching for explosives and other evidence Friday.

In another sign of the investigation's widening global reach, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said authorities were trying to determine whether any of the four "foot soldiers" - suicide bombers who ranged in age from 18 to 30 - had ties with Pakistan-based cells of the al-Qaida terror network.

In an interview with BBC radio, Blair said the inquiry was focusing on the organizers of the four London suicide attacks, which killed 54 people, and confirmed police were focusing on a Pakistan connection. Three of the bombers - Shahzad Tanweer, Mohammed Sidique Khan and Hasid Hussain - were Britons of Pakistani origin. At least two had traveled to Pakistan.

Blair said that a man who was on Britain's terrorism watch list had entered the country but was not put under surveillance. In an apparent slip by British intelligence, the unidentified man was able to leave the country in the days before the bombings. "With this particular man there is nothing at the moment that links him directly," Blair said.

Egypt's Interior Ministry announced Friday that Egyptian authorities were interrogating el-Nashar, who studied at North Carolina State University and the University of Leeds. It said el-Nashar denied having any connection to the attacks. In Cairo, a government official said el-Nashar, 33, was arrested in the Egyptian capital on Sunday or Monday after British officials informed Egypt of their interest in him. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was giving information not in the official ministry announcement.

But el-Nashar's youngest brother, Mohammed, said he was arrested Thursday when he went to a local mosque to pray but didn't return. It was unclear why there was a discrepancy between the two accounts. In London, Blair said British authorities would seek his extradition, if need be, although the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

A security official in Cairo said Britain was pressuring Egypt to hand el-Nashar over, but that Egypt was trying to determine if there was enough evidence against him to do so. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not authorized for official release.

Britain's Foreign Office had no comment on the security official's statement.

The Egyptian Interior Minister said el-Nashar came to Egypt from London on vacation and had intended to go back to Britain to continue his studies.

"El-Nashar denied having any relation with the latest events in London," the ministry said. "He pointed out (to questioners) that all his belongings remained in his apartment in Britain."

In Leeds, authorities searched el-Nashar's town house in a complex of two-story brown brick apartments. The home was surrounded by blue and white police tape and covered in scaffolding draped in white plastic sheeting. Forensic teams in white coveralls carted out material.
TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, is a highly unstable explosive made from commercially available chemicals. Earlier media reports had suggested the London bombers used military-grade explosives.

Andy Oppenheimer, an explosives expert with Jane's Information Group, said TATP is strong enough to have caused the damage wreaked by last week's bombs. But he said making such a highly volatile explosive stable enough to carry out closely synchronized attacks would have required advanced knowledge of chemistry. Police say the three subway blasts happened within a minute.

El-Nashar's research at Leeds focused on biocatalysis and enzyme immobilization, according to a biography of him at the university's Web site.
That kind of research "wouldn't have anything directly to do with explosives" or with biological weapons, said Constance Ann Schall, an associate professor at the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Toledo in Ohio.

India shocked at attack on UK Gurdwaras

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 10: Expressing its "deep shock" at reports of attacks on two places of Sikh worship in the UK following the London blasts, India has asked the British Government to take all necessary steps to apprehend the perpetrators and make efforts to maintain peace and religious harmony in the country.

A spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs said such attacks were an affront not only to the great Sikh religion but also to entire humanity. "The Sikh community in the UK has carved out a highly respected place for itself in the British society through its industriousness and commitment. They have enriched the political landscape and contributed significantly to economic activity," he said.

The spokesman said "We would appeal to the British government to take all necessary steps to apprehend the perpetrators of these attacks and protect the Sikh community against any further expressions of racial tension."

On attack on Islamic places of worship in the wake of the events of July 7 in the UK, the spokesman said such shocking attacks go against the spirit of pluralism and religious freedom, which the UK upholds. "We would hope that the perpetrators of these attacks will be expeditiously apprehended and every effort be made for the maintenance of peace and religious harmony in the UK," he added.

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Minorities has also condemned the reported attack on a Gurdwara. "Sikhs in India are shocked over the incident especially as the members of the community have lived peacefully in Britain for decades," according to Tirlochan Singh, NCM Chairman.

Mr Singh said he had discussed the matter with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who said authorities here were in constant touch with the Indian High Commission in Britain. Mr Singh, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP, appealed for calm so that communal harmony was maintained.

London blasts may have Pak link

LONDON, July 9: The terrorists, who carried out Thursday's serial bomb blasts in London, may have been from a gang of young and well-educated British Asians, who went to Islamic schools in Pakistan, after graduating from Britain.

But, not enough evidence had been collected to arrest them, though in order to establish their links with al Qaeda, intelligence agencies have in the past, monitored phone calls between them and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, The Sun reported.

Said to be in their 20s, these Muslim extremists are graduates who completed their college education in the UK and then went to Islamic schools in Pakistan near the Afghan border, the paper quoted a US security source as saying. The Pak-Afghan border is full of Pashtun tribals, and has over the past few years earned the notoriety of being the den of hard core terrorists believing in Osama's ideology.

Security men feel that the terrorists were 18-20 in number. Professor Michael Clarke of King's College London was quoted as saying that planting a string of bombs "would require a cell of at least 18 to 20 people". A website, believed to be run by a Osama associate based in London and having links to Abu Dhabi, said that a European wing of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.

Under the name "Secret Organization Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad Organization in Europe", the group called the bombers "heroic" and demanded troops be withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the report, the European group said on the website: "We have repeatedly warned the British Government and people.

We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahidin exerted strenuous efforts over a long period to ensure success of the raid. He who warns is excused." The report further said that Sheik Omar Bakri, a radical Muslim cleric, had three months ago issued a chilling warning that a European wing of the al-Qaeda was preparing to attack London.

In an interview with a Portugese magazine, the Sheikh had said: "One very well organised group in London has a great appeal for young Muslims. I know that they are ready to launch a big operation. It is inevitable."

The paper quoted the Sheikh as saying: "We don't make a distinction between civilians and non-civilians, innocents and non-innocents, only between Muslims and unbelievers. And, the life of an unbeliever has no value, no sanctity."

Pak Minister Rashid's house was used for storing arms: ex-militant

NEW DELHI, June 27: In a damning revelation, a former top JKLF militant has said that Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid's mansion in Rawalpindi was used as a "guest-house" and for "arms storage" for the Kashmiri militant recruits between 1987 and 1992.

Abdul Ahad Waza, one of the first Kashmiris to go across the LoC for militant training, has also talked about the involvement of the Pakistani establishment in starting militancy in Jammu and Kashmir by saying that then Pakistani military ruler Zia-ul Haq, had signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with him for recruiting Kashmiris.

Substantiating what JKLF chief Yasin Malik, had said in Pakistan before retracting, Waza has told Jammu-based 'Daily Excelsior' newspaper that Rashid's mansion functioned as a "transit camp" for JKLF militants and it was guarded by "men of Pakistani army in civies". JKLF trainees were lodged at Sheikh Rashid's "safe-house", trained at Kachgari, given guns and grenades, accommodated back in the "safe house", he has been quoted as saying.

Waza, who first crossed over to PoK in 1987, says that when he went across the LoC for the second time in 1988, he was lodged in the same house along with other members of his group. Rashid has earlier denied having helped militants, saying he only provide relief to Kashmiri refugees.

"Same armed men in civies, who lodged at the safe house, gave us arms training. It was a seven-hour Toyota drive from the 'safe house' to the training camp. On return, after 10-15 days of training, they used to lodge us at the safe house, clicked our photographs and sent us back to the valley," Waza said.

The former militant commander, who is now acting Chairman of a faction of People's Conference separatist outfit, said he had stayed in Rashid's house "several times" in 1988. Waza recalls that when he first visited Pakistan, a meeting of his, along with another person Ghulam Nabi Bhat, was arranged with ISI's Col Assad who eventually arranged their meeting with Zia at President's House in Islamabad. "Bhat Sahib and myself had a long meeting with Gen Zia. We signed an MoU," the former militant notes.

"Gen Zia wanted the Kashmiris to take up arms against the Indian rule. He told us that he had helped the Afghans and he would provide every kind of help to the oppressed Kashmiris," Waza said. He recalls how after returning to Kashmir, he started motivating youth for militancy and sent them in batches across the LoC for training.

Ahmadinejad wins Iran presidential vote

TEHRAN, June 25: Ultra-conservative Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swept to a landslide win in presidential elections on Saturday, spelling a possible end to Iran's fragile social reforms and tentative rapprochement with the West.

Ahmadinejad, 48, won the backing of the religious poor to defeat veteran political heavyweight Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was supported by pro-reform parties and wealthy Iranians fearful of a hardline monopoly on power in the Islamic state. "The figures show that Ahmadinejad is the winner," Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani told reporters.

He will be Iran's first non-cleric president for 24 years when he takes office in August. An official at the Guardian Council, which must approve the election results, said that out of 24.8 million votes counted, Ahmadinejad had 61.7 percent, defying forecasts of a tight race. Officials said turnout was about 26 million, or 56 per cent, down from the 63 per cent of Iran's 46.7 million eligible voters who cast ballots in an inconclusive first round on June 17.

"It's over, we accept that we've lost," said a close aide to Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997. Although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on all matters of state, a hardline presidency removes the moderating influence on decision-making exercised by outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami since 1997.

"This all but closes the door for a breakthrough in US-Iran relations," said Karim Sadjadpour, Tehran-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. Washington broke ties with Iran in 1980 and now accuses it of developing nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism. Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, denies the charges.

"I think Ahmadinejad is less amenable to compromise on the nuclear issue, but it is unclear how much influence he will have on it," said Sadjadpour. The result was a crushing blow to Rafsanjani, 70, who has been at the forefront of Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic revolution and was widely considered Iran's second most powerful figure before the vote. His last venture to the polls in 2000 parliamentary elections also ended in failure.

"Today is the beginning of a new political era," Ahmadinejad said after voting on Friday. His victory was the latest by a new breed of hardline politicians, many of them former Revolutionary Guardsmen, who won local council and parliamentary elections in 2003 and 2004 amid widespread disillusionment with the slow pace of reform.
Deep divisions. Friday's vote exposed deep class divisions in the nation of 67 million people.

A former member of the special forces of Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards, Ahmadinejad's humble lifestyle and pledges to tackle corruption and redistribute the country's oil wealth appealed to the urban and rural religious poor. "I vote for Ahmadinejad because he wants to cut the hands of those who are stealing the national wealth and he wants to fight poverty," said Rahmatollah Izadpanah, 41.

Rafsanjani voters had said they feared Ahmadinejad would reverse modest reforms made under Khatami that allow women to dress in brighter, skimpier clothes and couples to fraternise in public without fear of arrest. Washington repeated accusations that the vote was unfair due to the disqualification of more than 1,000 hopeful candidates.

Partition was a mistake: Dalai Lama

NEW DELHI, June 21: It may not be L.K. Advani's view but the Dalai Lama believes that the Partition of India was a big mistake and an unfortunate event. The success of Indian secularism, the Tibetan leader said, evidenced by the fact that there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan, shows that the Indian model is the best for the region.

The Dalai Lama said that Acharya Vinobha Bhave had it right when he spoke about a federation that included India, Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the region. The Dalai Lama believed that such a conglomeration would be best for the people of the region.

He contrasted India's democratic and secular traditions with those of China. "No matter how much people may complain about inefficiency and corruption," he said, "Indian democracy has very strong roots. And Indian secularism as defined by Mahatma Gandhi does not mean 'no religion' but freedom to all religions."

Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama conceded that China had made remarkable economic progress - "almost a miracle," he said. Tibet, he felt, could gain from China's prosperity and economic development. It was because of such considerations, he explained, that he does not demand independence for Tibet. Rather, he wanted full autonomy and a fully-functioning democracy where Tibetans could elect their own leaders.

At present, he said, the Chinese were engaged in 'cultural genocide', wiping out all traces of Tibetan culture and flooding Tibetan cities with immigrants. "In most of our cities now," he added, "Tibetans have been reduced to a minority."

The Dalai Lama said he had no major disagreements with the Indian government despite Delhi's recent recognition of the Tibet Autonomous Region as an integral part of China. His concerns, he said, were not with Chinese sovereignty but with Tibetan autonomy. "Today, when the whole world is coming together, I am not saying that we want to separate. We only want to preserve our culture and live in a democratic society. By opposing us, it is the Chinese who are being split-ist," he said.

The Dalai Lama is optimistic that eventually Beijing will meet the aspirations of the Tibetans. "The Chinese are a very proud people," he said, to explain why Beijing has been so unyielding. "But now Tibetan Buddhism centres are opening all over China and a new generation is ready to take over" His hope is that autonomy will be more acceptable to a new generation of Chinese leaders.

Dalai Lama defies Beijing, calls for greater Tibetan autonomy

Oslo, June 15: The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists, on Tuesday called for greater self-rule for Tibet in spite of a warning by Beijing that he should not engage in political activities during a visit to Scandinavia.

He told parliamentarians that Tibetans did not seek independence but the greatest degree of self-rule possible, according to the Norwegian press agency NTB. He said that overall he was optimistic since the situation was evolving positively and Tibet shared the same basic values and aims as China -- peace, progress and stability.

But he said the situation in Tibet was almost desperate because Tibetans were far from having won respect for their culture, values and human rights.
Earlier in the day China said it had warned Sweden against allowing him to engage in political activities during a brief stay in Scandinavia. "The Chinese side expressed concerns to the Swedish side," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in Beijing of the visit to Gothenburg by Tibet's most revered spiritual leader.

Sonia to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin

MOSCOW, June 15: UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in his hometown St. Petersburg on Wednesday to discuss ways to further enhance Indo-Russian strategic partnership. At her talks with Putin, Gandhi would be accompanied by External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh and Indian Ambassador to Russia Kanwal Sibal.

This is Gandhi's fourth Russia visit and first after becoming UPA Chairperson. Earlier she had visited Soviet Russia with her husband late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Last time she visited Moscow with Rajiv in February 1991 as personal guests of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

She is on a four-day visit of Russia at the invitation of President Putin as his personal guest. She visited ancient Russian twin-cities of Vladimir and Suzdal on Tuesday, world famous for their churches and monasteries.

She also visited the grand golden domed cathedral of Christ the Saviour on Tuesday, near the Kremlin, which was blown by Stalin in 1934 and rebuilt in mid-1990s after the fall of Communism in Russia.

Russia's local and foreign media is closely watching Sonia's visit. In a country with thousands of Indiras, for any Russian above 40, Nehru family and Bollywood are the very embodiment of 'Hindi-Roosi Bhai-Bhai'.

Mrs Gandhi was accroded a red carpet welcome on arrival here on Monday.

On a rainy Moscow morning, Mrs Gandhi was given a red carpet welcome by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov and Deputy Railway Minister Vladimir Yakunin and other senior officials at the VVIP Vnukovo-2 airport.

Russia to roll red carpet for Sonia Gandhi

NEW DELHI, June 11: Russia will throw a red carpet welcome to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, as she leaves on Monday on a four-day visit as the personal guest of President Vladimir Putin.

"This visit is an exceptional gesture of friendship made by the Russian President taking into account the high degree of importance attached by both sides to India-Russia relationship," said the Indian ambassador Kanwal Sibal, while about the upcoming visit of the Congress chief.

Talks with Putin in his hometown St Petersburg on Wednesday would be the political centerpiece of Sonia Gandhi's Russia visit - her first tour to a UN Security Council's P-5 nation after becoming UPA Chairperson. Sonia Gandhi's agenda for talks with President Putin would not include issues, which are the prerogative of the Prime Minister or the President of India, officials here said.

In Moscow, besides meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, an old India hand, Sonia is also scheduled to address a function on Tuesday organised in her honour by the civic body 'Centre of National Glory of Russia'. The Centre has top Kremlin officials including Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and daughter of the world's first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, Yelena Gagarina on its trustee council.

In recent weeks, there has been an unprecedented number of high level visits between the government, state and party leadership to sustain and advance a political dialogue between New Delhi and Moscow. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had toured Moscow to attend Victory Day celebrations in the beginning of May, followed by President APJ Abdul Kalam, who paid his first state visit to Russia on May 22-25.

In the beginning of this month, External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh visited Russia's far eastern port-city of Vladivostok for bilateral talks with his Russian colleague Sergei Lavrov and to attend a India-Russia-China trilateral meeting.

Australia initiates steps to meet $ 5 b trade target with India

NEW DELHI, June 9: The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Alexander Downer, has said that Australia had initiated concrete measures to ensure that the volume of bilateral trade with India exceeds the target of US $ 5 billion in the next three years from the current figure of US$ 3.5 billion.

Mr. Downer was responding to the issues raised by the FICCI President, Mr. Onkar S. Kanwar, when a FICCI delegation called on the visiting minister here on Thursday.

The Australian Foreign Minister said his country was bidding for development of Delhi and Mumbai airports along with a French consortium and keenly looking forward to the opening up of India's retail sector foreign investment. Australia had also liberalised immigration rules for skilled migrants and there was scope for further enhancement of student visas for study in Australia.

The FICCI Chief presented a five-point Action Agenda to enhance trade ties with Australia and spoke of the need to revisit the list of commodities which are subjected to Non Tariff Barriers in Australia to remove/reduce these barriers to facilitate market access.

Mr. Kanwar expressed Indian industry's desire to enlarge export of Indian agriculture and marine products to Australia, easing of Australian visa norms for students and skilled professionals from India and relaxation of requirements for business visas which should be given for a longer duration to enable businesses to deepen synergies.

He urged the Australian Minister that there was need to recognise degrees from Indian institutions in Australia and the easing of the regulations for Indian institutes opening educational centres in Australia.

While the process of registering certified Indian drugs with concerned Australian authorities could be made a lot smoother, Mr. Kanwar pointed out that the problem of delay in movement of goods between the two countries due to their transhipment through Singapore should be resolved on a priority basis.

Mr. Kanwar informed Mr. Downer that there were tremendous possibilities for cooperation and collaboration between the two countries. With Australia poised to host the 2006 Commonwealth Games, there are immense synergies that can be worked out between the two countries. Infrastructure would be an important area, besides Mining, Food & Agriculture Processing, IT Services, Financial & Education Services, Retail and Consumer products.

The FICCI delegation's meeting with the Australian Minister comes close on the heels of the 40-member FICCI business delegation to Australia along with India's Minister of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Kamal Nath, from May 18 to 21, for the Joint Business Council and Destination Indian meeting, which was held, co-terminus with the Joint Ministerial Commission..

Australia backs India for UNSC seat

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 8: In what could be music to Indian ears, Australia has not only backed India's candidature for a permanent membership of the expanded UN Security Council, but it has also expressed confidence that New Delhi would be able to muster the two-thirds majority at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for this.

Besides backing India, the visiting Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, also supported two other members of the G-4 group -- Japan and Brazil -- in their efforts for a permanent UNSC seat. "Japan is the world's second largest economy and a big donor towards aid projects across the developing world. And Brazil because of its size," he said.

''This is not the time to give up,'' he said and urged India and the other members to keep working towards achieving their goal. To another question, Mr Downer said that there was a ''reasonable chance'' that the expansion of the Security Council would take place this year.

He confirmed that the Minister of External Affairs, Mr Natwar Singh, did raise the issue at the talks with him and that he made it clear that India was one of the countries that Australia would like to see as a permanent member on the UNSC. ''It is not proper for India to be excluded from the permanent membership,'' he said. As India had one billion people and a significant economy, it was natural that it wanted to make a big statement at the global forum, he said.

Mr Downer said "Australia in principle supports the G-4 group and would like to see India as one of the permanent members of the UNSC that was originally comprised of all the victorious powers in the World War II.

He said that India and Australia had also contributed towards allied victory in the World War II. "Times have changing and situation now is much different from the San Francisco summit at the end of Second World War," he said, adding that expanded UNSC was required under the present scenario.

He said that India and Australia were having good economic ties, which were improving day by day, and this included the IT sector also. "Australia and India can become very close in the IT sector. There is a lot of exposure in enhancing our ties in this field. In fact we should try to forge ties in the field of science as well and not only restrict it to IT and biotechnology," he said, adding that during his talks with Mr Natwar Singh, the two also discussed on matters relating to carrying out joint research.

He said that India and Australia had good trade agreements, and India's look east policy and participation in ASEAN was also encouraging.
"India and Australia have good trade agreements. Both the countries have laid down agreements for enhancing trade co-operations. As of now the two don't have any free trade agreements, but maybe one day we might have free trade from the North of China, India, South East Asia to Australia," he added.

Mr Downer said that the two sides also discussed terrorism. Although there was no talk of any joint patrolling, there were talks of defence co-operation between the two sides, adding that talks on providing security at sensitive points on trade routes like the Strait of Malacca did arise.

On the political asylum by Chinese Diplomat Chen Yonglin posted in Sydney, the foreign minister said the diplomat has been asked to apply for a "protection visa" instead of seeking political asylum. The immigration officials would consider the protection visa application "objectively", he said. Any decision on the visa application would not affect the economic and political relations between Australia and China, he said.

Britain puts EU referendum on ice

LONDON, June 6: Britain suspended legislation on Monday to set up a referendum on the new European Union constitution and said the bloc's leaders must collectively decide the way ahead.

"We reserve completely the right to bring back the bill providing for a UK referendum should circumstances change. But we see no point in proceeding at this moment," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told parliament.

"It is not for the UK alone to decide the future of the treaty," he said, adding that the first chance for collective discussion was at next week's heads of governments summit in Brussels.

Taiwan successfully test-fires missiles - paper

TAIPEI, June 5: Taiwan has successfully tested its domestically developed Hsiung Feng anti-ship missile, the China Times newspaper said on Sunday, as the island attempts to beef up its defence capability against China's growing military threat.

Taiwan could begin "small initial production" of the Hsiung Feng, with a 1,000-km range that could hit military bases in China's southeast, this year or in 2006, the Chinese-language newspaper said, quoting unidentified sources. Taiwan is keen to boost its defences against China, which claims the self-governing, democratic island as part of its territory. China has threatened to invade if Taiwan declares formal independence.

The Taiwan government has been trying to push through a $15 billion special budget to buy U.S. arms, but opposition lawmakers have repeatedly blocked the plan, saying that the weapons were overpriced.

China has an estimated 725 missiles aimed at Taiwan and analysts rate the Taiwan Strait one of Asia's most dangerous hot spots. On Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused China of enhancing its military ability to project power at a time when it faced no threat.

Dutch voters reject EU Constitution

AMSTERDAM, June 2: Dutch voters worried about social benefits and immigration overwhelmingly rejected the European Union constitution Wednesday in what could be a knockout blow for a charter meant to create a power rivaling the United States. With nearly all votes counted, the charter lost 62 percent to 38 percent, an even worse defeat than the 55 percent "no" vote delivered in a French referendum Sunday.

"The Dutch people have spoken tonight. It is a clear result. Naturally I am very disappointed," Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said in conceding defeat in his campaign for ratification. The charter was designed to provide such trappings of statehood as a flag, a president and an anthem for what has largely been an economic bloc, while creating a more integrated political entity of 450 million people with a bigger economy than America's.
But the idea has proved increasingly polarizing, with opponents worrying about loss of national control and identity to a stronger, unaccountable EU bureaucracy at the heart of a superstate. There also is anxiety about mostly Muslim Turkey possibly becoming an EU member.

Nine EU states have ratified, but the charter needs approval from all 25 states to take effect in late 2006, and the "no" vote in both France and the Netherlands - founding members of the bloc - was a clear message that European integration has gone awry. "We must acknowledge that many Europeans doubt that Europe is able to answer the urgent questions of the moment," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, leader of the EU's richest nation and a strong proponent of the charter. "The crisis surrounding the ratification of the European constitution must not become Europe's general crisis."

French President Jacques Chirac, whose support for the constitution was repudiated by his people, said the vote "shows strong expectations, questions and concerns about the development of the European project."

Although the referendum was consultative, the high turnout and the decisive margin left no room for the Dutch parliament to turn its back on the people's verdict. The parliament meets Thursday to discuss the results. Some 62 percent of Dutch voters turned out, far exceeding expectations in a reflection of the heated debate in recent days.

Dutch liberals worried a more united EU could weaken the country's liberal social policies, such as tolerating marijuana use, prostitution and euthanasia. Conservatives feared losing control of immigration rules that have been tightened to stem an influx from Muslim countries amid ethnic clashes.

Geert Wilders, a prominent opponent who argued that the charter would open the Netherlands to more migrants and lead to Turkey joining the EU, said voters were angry about "the country's identity slowly being eaten away."

"I'm incredibly happy that the Dutch voter has rubbed their noses in it," said Wilders, referring to the governing elite. It was the first chance the Dutch public had to rule on their country's deepening involvement in Europe, since the process had never been an issue in any domestic election. The result was not only a rejection of the EU's expanding power over their daily lives but also a repudiation of the politicians who many voters believe are sacrificing the Dutch identity.

"I think it's the end of the story now that two important countries have said no," said Wouter Bos, the Dutch opposition leader who joined Balkenende in supporting the charter.

Asked about the vote, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the constitution was a matter for the Europeans. "The United States is committed to a Europe that is united and strong, and one that works in partnership with us to address our common challenges. We've done that in the past, and we want to do that as we move forward in the future," McClellan said.

At EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged member governments not to make any hasty judgments about the ratification process and wait for the bloc's mid-June summit to assess the constitution's situation. "We have a serious problem, but we must continue our work," Barroso said.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said EU leaders needed to analyze what went wrong, but said they should press on. "This is not the end of the process for the constitution and not at all the end of European integration," he said.

Filmmaker Ismail Merchant dies

London, May 25: Mumbai-born filmmaker Ismail Merchant, who in partnership with James Ivory made some memorable movies, died in London on Wednesday at the age of 69. A spokesman of the Merchant-Ivory production company's London office said Merchant died in hospital. Merchant had been reportedly suffering from stomach ailments for the last few days.

Merchant and Ivory, an American, made some 40 films together, including "A Room With a View," "Howards End", both based on PM Forster's novel, "Heat and Dust" starring Shashi Kapoor and "The Remains of the Day". "The Mystic Masseur", based on the novel by Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, is Merchant's latest work as Director and was released in 2002.

Merchant made an impressive debut with "In Custody", based on a novel by Anita Desai, and starring Shashi Kapoor, which won Indian National Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Costume and Best Production Design. His second directing feature, "The Proprietor", starred Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Pierre Aumond and Christopher Cazenove and was shot in Paris.

Militant leader Zarqawi wounded in Iraq: Web

BAGHDAD, May 25: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and one of Washington's most wanted men, has been wounded, a web posting said on Tuesday in an announcement that could mark a breakthrough against the two-year insurgency.

The statement, which U.S. officials said could be a ruse, was posted on an Islamist site that often publicizes Zarqawi's group. It was released on another day of violence in Iraq, with three US soldiers and two Iraqis killed in car bombings. "O nation of Islam... Pray for the healing of our Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from an injury he suffered in the path of God," said the posting by al Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq.

"You are the beloved of the mujahideen, and may God heal you and make you steadfast," the statement said. The announcement follows unconfirmed reports this month that Zarqawi, a Jordanian for whom the Americans have offered a $25 million bounty, was wounded in fighting in western Iraq and had sought treatment at a hospital in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

Those reports followed the capture of one of Zarqawi's drivers, an aide and his laptop computer during raids in western Iraq, when the U.S. military said it almost also caught Zarqawi. Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda's overall leader, are Washington's two most-wanted man.

Tuesday's web posting did not say how or where Zarqawi was wounded, but urged his followers to pray for his recovery. The language used indicated his injuries could be severe. "The injury of our leader is an honor and an incentive to tighten the noose on the enemies of God and a reason to step up our attacks on them," the statement said, citing Koranic verses that referred to the Prophet Mohammad being wounded in battle.

If Zarqawi were captured or killed it would mark a significant breakthrough for US and Iraqi forces, although analysts also warn it would not put an end to the insurgency. "I think it's pretty credible....I wouldn't be surprised if within a couple of days he ends up being dead and they end up proclaiming his martyrdom," David Claridge of Janusian Security Risk Management in London said of the web posting.

Kashmir issue will remain till Pak accepts LOC as border

WASHINGTON, May 24: The Kashmir issue will go on for a "very long time" unless and until Pakistan reconciles itself to accepting the LoC as the border, former US Ambassador to India Robert D Blackwill has said.

"Unless and until Pakistan reconciles itself to accepting the Line of Control as the border, the Kashmir dispute will go on for a very long time and cross-border terrorist violence from Pakistan against India would resume," Blackwill, also a former strategic adviser to US President George W Bush in the National Security Council, said. "Pakistan will not succeed in Kashmir," he said writing in "The National Interest," a leading American quarterly.

The former envoy said for more than fifty years, young cadets, including Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf himself, have been taught in Pakistan's military academies that their "holy mission" was the "liberation" of all of Kashmir and that the central purpose of Pakistan itself was to further this task.

"Beginning in 1947, Pakistan's attempts to accomplish this directly by military force have failed. Thus thwarted, in the past decade and a half, Pakistan has used terror as an instrument of attempted change in Jammu and Kashmir. This too has not succeeded," Blackwill wrote.

When faced with such a fruitless strategy, a Government has three choices: It can stick with the losing strategy, develop a new strategy or change objectives. "In my judgment, Pakistan has not yet made a strategic shift away from its long-time policies of territorial acquisition and cross-border terrorism," he said.

Blackwill said although Pakistan has reduced its effort to push "killers" across the Kashmir border, Musharraf implicitly holds out the possibility of Pakistan resuming terror against India if the bilateral talks with New Delhi do not produce favourable results regarding Kashmir.

"The terrorist infrastructure inside Pakistan -- the camps and the instructors, the weapons caches, the communications capabilities, the terrorists themselves -- is still in place. Nevertheless, Islamabad holds a losing hand." The former envoy said that Pakistan is unstable as a government and society and it "continues to worry both India and the United States".

There were two serious assassination attempts on Musharraf's life last year or so, one of which came very close to succeeding. "Add to that the thousands of madrassas inside Pakistan and the hundreds of thousands of potential jihadis, as well as Taliban sympathizers who travel back and forth across the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Equally problematic is Musharraf's unwillingness to promote genuine democracy inside Pakistan, despite the fact that the only long-term answer to the problem of systematic instability in Pakistan is pluralism and democratic expression," Blackwill said.

"The Indian Government will give up no territory it now controls, including Jammu and Kashmir," Blackwill said in a leading American quarterly. "Officially, India remains committed to the return of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir to India. But the Indian elite would likely settle for the permanent international border being drawn along the current Line of Control.

"Therefore, unless the Pakistani Government and Army change for good their objective and accept the current division of territory, the Kashmir dispute will go on for a very long time," the former US Ambassador to India said. The two countries that would be most negatively affected by a convulsion within Pakistan, a country with dozens of nuclear weapons, are India and the United States, he claimed.

"Bush Administration policy regarding Pakistan has been adept and effective to this point, but that could change if Musharraf is murdered. This is why both India and the United States have such a stake in the emergence of a democratic, stable and prosperous Pakistan. Washington and New Delhi should have a sustained secret dialogue on how best to promote that historic goal," Blackwill said.

He said many Indians believe that the US-Pakistan relationship is based on an incandescent double standard. "They think that although the Administration declares that state supporters of terrorism will be viewed the same way as terrorists themselves, the quintessential state sponsor of terrorism, including against India across the Kashmir border, is in their view given a pass by Washington," Blackwill said

India, Russia to enhance cooperation in power generation

MOSCOW, May 24: Cementing their bilateral ties, India and Russia on Tuesday agreed to enhance cooperation in power generation, outer space and economic spheres.

This was discussed during an hour-long one-on-one meeting visiting President A P J Abdul Kalam, had with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, at the Kremlin here and later at the delegation-level talks between the two sides. "We have agreed to increase cooperation in power generation through nuclear reactors supplied by Russia," Kalam told reporters after the meeting.

Kalam, who is on a four-day visit to Russia, said that a lot was needed to be done in the energy sector. He also said that the two sides would be working towards boosting trade and hi-tech cooperation to touch 25 billion dollars over the next decade.

"I am absolutely sure this visit will give another major boost to the development of our cooperation," Putin responded observing "India is one of the key partners of Russia in the Asia-Pacific region." Kalam underscored India's hopes of consolidating cooperation with Russia in the areas of nuclear and fossil fuel.

"Russia and India are unique nations. In difficult times for India and happy times for India, you are our close friend," Kalam told Putin. Kalam, who was accorded a ceremonial welcome when he arrived at the Kremlin, was also of the view that the two countries should now broaden their cooperation in outer space.

Recalling that New Delhi and Moscow had signed an agreement in December last year on cooperation in outer space, Kalam said more satellites could be launched and both countries could take advantage of them, according to official sources. During his meeting with Putin, Kalam also suggested launching of a 'World Youth Satellite' which would be beneficial to millions of young people across the globe.

Putin, welcoming the President, said that significant progress had been registered in bilateral projects. He also referred to the joint Indo-Russian nuclear power project at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu which would be completed by 2007.

The Russian President said that the central theme of the Indo-Russian relations was in favour of a just world order and all issues were solved through dialogue without any foreign interference. Observing that "the volume of investment cooperation has been growing," Putin said India's state-owned ONGC would make a large capital investment in the Sakhalin-1 oil project on Russia's east coast.

The Russian President, in his press statement, said "We hope that this visit will be a milestone in relations between the two countries and will open new opportunities for development of Russian-Indian multi-direction cooperation."

"We are interested in raising the level and the scale of our cooperation in various fields. We think nowadays we have all the necessary conditions for it. During the talks we discussed a wide range of bilateral issues and exchanged opinions on the basic issues of world policy. We believe that Russian-Indian relations are developing successfully and are becoming more meaningful and dynamic," Putin said.

In the sphere of economic cooperation, the important industries related to the two countries' interaction, such as energy, space, metallurgy, railway and sea transport and information technology were discussed, he said.

One of the key issues in the meeting was enforcing stability on Eurasian continent and in the whole world. "Our countries stand for forming order of justice in the world. The base for it should be formed by international law norms, principles of mutual respect and consideration of each other's interests. All the questions, that come up between bigger and smaller countries should be solved on dialogue basis, without dictatorship and outside interference," Putin said.

"We are unanimous, that the efforts in fighting against global and regional dangers of all countries have to be united. In order to combine the efforts in fighting against these dangers India and Russia are planning active collaboration within international organisations," Putin added.

Italian decoration for four Indian personalities

NEW DELHI, May 24: Italy on Tuesday decorated four eminent Indian personalities, including film critic Aruna Vasudev, and noted scholar Lokesh Chandra, with the `Ordine Stella della Solidarieta Italiana' award here. The other awardees are Gautam Kaul, who is a known music and art expert, and MD/CEO of Ashok Leyland Limited Ram J Shahaney.

The Ambassador of Italy, Antonio Armellini, gave away the awards at a ceremony at the Italian Embassy. The decoration is given yearly to eminent personalities who distinguish themselves in the promotion of Indo-Italian cooperation.

While Vasudev has been decorated for enhancing the popularity of Italian films in India, Chandra was chosen for the award for his research into the inter-cultural Indo-European dialogue with particular emphasis on the Indo-Italian relationships, according to a communique from the Embassy. Kaul,who is Honorary Secretary of the Delhi Symphony Society, is known for his expertise in the field of Italian art and music, while Shahaney is Honorary Correspondent for Italy in Chennai.

India, Russia, China Foreign Ministers' meet on June 1

MOSCOW, May 21: In their first ever 'stand alone' trilateral meeting, Foreign Ministers of India, Russia and China will hold talks in Russia's far eastern port city of Vladivostok on June 1 and 2.

"The Foreign Ministers will meet in Vladivostok to discuss our interaction," Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, told State Duma (Lower House) on Friday. "Our relations are developing and they are not aimed against anybody, but are pursued in the interests of our countries," Lavrov said.

During his visit to Vladivostok, India's External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh is also scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Sergei Lavrov to discuss the whole spectrum of bilateral ties.

The Sun publishes Saddam's half-naked snaps

LONDON: A British newspaper ran intimate photographs on Friday of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in US military custody, including one of him half-naked, prompting an investigation into possible human rights abuses.

Under the headline 'Tyrant's in his pants,' The Sun ran a front-page photo of a bare-chested Saddam standing in white underwear and holding an item of clothing as he appeared to be getting dressed, with an unpainted wooden door behind him. In the accompanying article with other intimate photographs of him, the mass-circulation daily quotes US military sources as saying they handed over the photos in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq.

"Saddam is not superman or God, he is now just an ageing and humble old man. It's important that the people of Iraq see him like that to destroy the myth," the source was quoted as saying. "Maybe, that will kill a bit of the passion in the fanatics who still follow him," the source said. "It's over, guys. The evil days of Saddam's Baath Party are never coming back - and here's the proof."

In Baghdad, a US military spokesman said the military was investigating the photos of Saddam to find out who had taken them and decide what kind of disciplinary action should be taken.

External Affairs Spouses' Association donates Rs 25 lakh for Tsunami relief

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 17: External Affairs spouses Association (EASA) have contributed Rs 25 lakh towards Tsunami relief fund. Speaking to this correspondent, Mrs Anita Saran, President of EASA, said "we collected a staggering amount of little over Rs. 25 lakh from the members of EASA and all the Embassies and the Indian High commissions situated abroad."

This, she said, was in addition to the day's salary every government employee contributed for the victims. "This was collected for the purpose of rehabilitation of the Tsunami victims. This has been our major fundraiser for the year 2005 and donations are still being collected throughout the year to help the tsunami victims rebuild their lives," said Mrs Saran.

The Minister of State for External Affairs, E Ahamed, and Mrs Anita Saran presented the cheques to the NGOs at a special meeting of the Association held here recently. The NGOs that received the cheques for the purpose of rehabilitation: Sneha; the South Indian federation of societies at Tharangampadi; and Swami Dayanand Educational Trust - Rs. 5 lakh each; Seeds - Rs.3.5 lakh; Rotary club working in the Andamans - Rs.3.5 lakh.

Chinese army enters into Indian territory

NEW DELHI, May 16: Hardly a month after India and China signed a landmark agreement to settle their border dispute, a Chinese Army patrol intruded deep into Indian territory and stayed there for close to 24 hours before withdrawing on May 10. The border violation took place in Asafila area of the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.

This is the same area where on June 26, 2003, a Chinese Army team had intruded into India, stripped Indian intelligence officials of personal weapons and held them hostage for several hours. The incident had coincided with the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's official visit to China. The issue was taken up by India with the Chinese government then.

The latest intrusion was carried out by a five-member team of the Chinese Army, sources say. The patrol reached the border on May 10 and crossed over the next day, trekking some five kilometers into the Indian side. They spent almost the entire day inside Indian side before retreating.

By May 12, the patrol team had fully withdrawn to their normal stated position beyond the Line of Actual Control. "Our troops did not allow the situation to get out of hand," sources said. There was no exchange of fire. The government and Ministry of External Affairs are in the know of things, sources said. But there was no immediate confirmation if the issue has been taken up with China through diplomatic channels.

When contacted by this website, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman, Navtej Sarna, said he had no information regarding the issue. The Asafila area, one of the eight pockets of dispute in Arunachal Pradesh, is patrolled by Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Newly-appointed Director General of ITBP S K Kains was not available for comments on the intrusion.

His office said the DG was away on tour to the "forward areas" in the eastern part of the country but there was no confirmation if his trip was to assess the situation in Asafila area.

What is baffling is that the intrusion came just a month after the highly successful visit of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to India. Among the agreements concluded during his visit, the most noticeable one was the "Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question". There have been occasional claims by India of intrusion by Peoples Liberation Army.

In 2000, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Mukut Mithi claimed there have been repeated incursions by Chinese troops. Then reports had pointed out that the Chinese had built a mule trail in Kaila Pass in Dibang Valley district. China officially does not recognise Arunachal Pradesh as an Indian state. Chinese Army had overrun most of Arunachal Pradesh during the 1962 war, but had vacated it after the war.

The Line of Actual Control is punctured at many pockets of dispute. In 1986-87 there was a serious flare up of the border stand off between the Indian and Chinese forces in the Sumdorong Chu Valley of Arunachal. In 1993, the two sides signed an accord to reduce tensions along the border and to respect the LAC.

In 1996 the two sides also put in place many Confidence Building Measures for improving the border peace. Among the CBMs is an agreement of non-aggression, prior notification of large troop movements and a 10-km no-fly zone for combat aircraft.

Hundreds reported dead as Uzbek president consults with Kremlin

ANDIZHAN, May 15: How many dead? ... Thirty? ... Or ten times that number? Amid continuing turbulence and widening international ramifications, the situation in Uzbekistan remains unclear. What is certain is that events have taken a heavy toll.

Dozens of bodies were strewn about the streets of the eastern town of Andizhan, the epicentre of the upheavals where on Friday police opened fire on protestors. Eyewitnesses spoke of 300 bodies loaded by soldiers onto lorries. President Islam Karimov, speaking publicly for the first time since the violence erupted, said around 30 people had died, including nine soldiers.

He linked the protests to an Islamist group and said the situation was now calm. But reporters said the situation remained chaotic in Andizhan.He held telephone talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the two leaders denounced "attempts at destabilisation in central Asia."

Uzbekistan closed its border with Tajikistan, but 500 Uzbeks have reportedly forced their way into neighbouring Kyrgyzstan despite the closure of the border on Friday. The Islamist group Hizbi Tahrir in London rejected Karimov's claim that it was behind the unrest. Critics say Karimov is using the threat of Islamic extremism to justify his authoritarian rule.

No change in nuclear policy, says India

NEW DELHI, May 14: The Indian Government on Friday said the new legislation to prohibit unlawful activities in relation to Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and their means of delivery in no way indicated any change in India's nuclear policy.

Speaking to newsmen here, a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Navtej Sarna, said "it does not indicate any change in our nuclear policy. It does not in any manner constrain our nuclear programme, civilian or strategic."

Describing the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Bill 2005, approved by Parliament as an "overarching and integrated" legislation, he said India was determined to utilise advanced technologies for its security, welfare of its people and to meeting the nation's developmental requirements.

Through updated controls for the export of WMD-usable materials, equipment and technologies and prohibitions related to non-State actors, India fulfilled its mandatory obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolution. He said the legislation and its passage underlined India's role as a responsible nuclear power and its respect for such responsibility arising from the possession of sensitive dual use technologies.

India has stated that it was fully committed to safeguard its security as a Nuclear Weapon State and to deepen its autonomous scientific and technical capability for meeting its security imperatives and developmental goals.

Europeans warn Iran not to resume nuclear work

VIENNA, May 13: France, Britain and Germany have warned Iran they will break off talks and join Washington in seeking UN Security Council action if Tehran makes good on its threats to resume atomic work, EU officials said on Thursday.

The foreign ministers of the European Union's three biggest powers sent a strongly worded letter to Hassan Rohani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, warning that resuming potentially arms-related nuclear work "would bring the negotiating process to an end", an EU diplomat quoted the letter as saying. "The consequences could only be negative for Iran," it said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair spelled out the potential consequences, telling reporters: "We certainly will support referral to the United Nations Security Council if Iran breaches its obligations and undertakings."

The United States believes Iran's nuclear energy programme is a front to develop atomic weapons and has been pressing for Iran's case to be sent to the 15-member U.N. council for possible economic sanctions and other actions. "Iran needs to abide by its international obligations," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. He said Tehran needed to refrain from enrichment as "an objective guarantee ... that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons".

The EU shares U.S. suspicions but has offered incentives to try to get Tehran to give up its atomic fuel programme, which Iran insists is only for nuclear power plants, not for arms. The EU letter proposed "ministerial level talks" between the Iranians and Europeans within the next two weeks to break the impasse and avoid a crisis, EU diplomats said.

India-Pak agree to expand bus links

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, May 11: Continuing the peace momentum build by the Congress-led UPA Government, India and Pakistan have agreed in principle to run bus services between Amritsar-Lahore and Amritsar-Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak, but deferred their operationalisation by two months to work out more technical details.

While one more technical-level talk would be held in New Delhi to run the Amritsar-Lahore bus service in two months time, the two sides agreed in "principle" to start the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service, according to a Joint Statement issued simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad. The modalities and frequency of the proposed Amritsar-Nankana Sahib service would be discussed in a subsequent technical-level meeting to be held in New Delhi in two months time, said the joint statement at the end of the two-day talks in Islamabad.

According to the joint statement, the two sides discussed the modalities for operationalisation of the Amritsar-Lahore bus service, including the designated route, bus terminals, and facilities for the bus crew, modalities of visa arrangements and a Protocol/MoU for the Amritsar-Lahore bus service.

They also agreed that the next technical-level meeting between the two sides would take place in New Delhi in July. Both sides described the May 10 and 11 meeting in Islamabad as being held in a "friendly and cordial" atmosphere.

Mohammad Abbas, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Communications led the Pakistan delegation and Alok Rawat, Joint Secretary, Department of Road Transport and Highways led the Indian delegation. Before leaving for New Delhi, the Indian delegation called on Pakistan's Minister for Communications, Muhammad Shamim Siddiqui.

Alok Rawat and Mohammad Abbas said at a joint press conference in Islamabad that the bus service would be started after the next round of parleys.
The Indian delegation also included Damanbir Singh Jaspal, Principal Secretary to Government of Punjab. Rawat said one more round of talks was necessary to enable the state-run bus transport corporations on both sides to get the buses ready to operate in the 56 km route.

Though it was not announced, officials from the two sides have worked out modalities for fare structure and frequency of the Amiritsar-Lahore bus service. Both sides agreed in principle to run the Amritsar-Lahore bus service once a week, an agency report said. The fare was decided as Rs 750 from Indian side and Rs 900 from Pakistan.

Officials said it was unlikely that the bus service to Guru Nanak's birthplace would begin simultaneously along with Amritsar-Lahore bus service as the two countries have not yet finalised the modalities and frequency as in the case of Amritsar-Lahore bus service.

Both the bus services figured prominently in the Joint Statement issued at the end of President Pervez Musharraf's talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi last month.

It may be recalled that Sikh history originates from Nankana Sahib. Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikh faith, was born here in 1469. The name of the place at that time was Rai Bhoi di Talwandi. The landlord contemporary of Guru Nanak Dev was Rai Bular, who himself became a devotee of the Guru. It was renamed Nankana after the Guru. It is located in what is called Nilianwali Bar (forest where nilgais abound), and is about 75 kilometers west-southwest of Lahore.

Both Prime Minister Singh and Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarendir Singh have made strong pleas to Pakistan to run the bus service to Nanakana Sahib as thousands of Sikh pilgrims visit it every year.

India and Pakistan already run two bus services one from Lahore to New Delhi and another from Muzaffarabad to Srinagar, besides a train service between Lahore and Attari near Wagah border.

India, Russia agree to expand nuclear energy cooperation

MOSCOW, May 9: Cementing their strategic ties, Russia has expressed its readiness to further expand cooperation with India in civilian nuclear energy, defence and space as the two sides decided to set up a study group to examine the feasibility of a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement.

At a meeting lasting more than the scheduled 30 minutes with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Vladimir Putin, expressed Moscow's willingness to look into issues of civilian nuclear energy cooperation with India, including the supply of nuclear fuel for Tarapore plant and new nuclear power reactors.

During the talks, held in a very warm and cordial atmosphere, "Putin agreed to look into these issues after the festivities of the 60th anniversary of Nazi defeat were over," National Security Advisor M K Narayan, told newsmen here after the meeting. Russia is helping India in the construction of Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu under a deal signed in 1985 by then Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, and erstwhile Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

However, after the break up of the USSR, Russia joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which bans it from selling civilian nuclear technology to non-signatories of the NPT, including India.

Thousands rally against Pak's Al-Qaeda hunt

MIRANSHAH (Pakistan), May 7: Thousands of pro-Taliban tribesmen rallied against Pakistan's hunt for Al-Qaeda-linked militants on Friday and torched effigies of US President George W Bush, witnesses said.

About 5,000 people attended the rally, called by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) party to call for an end to the "illegal military operation", they said.
"Down with the United States," shouted the protestors in Miranshah, the main town of the tribal North Waziristan region which border Afghanistan.
The rally took place just two days after Pakistan announced the capture of Al-Qaeda number three Abu Faraj al-Libbi.

Pakistan has sent thousands of troops into its north-western tribal districts bordering Afghanistan to hunt Al-Qaeda-linked militants who sneaked across the frontier after the US-led ousting of the Taliban in late 2001. US officials believe Osama bin Laden and other key militants may be sheltering somewhere along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Blair retains old guards in key posts

LONDON, May 7: A day after he was voted to power for a historic third term with a drastically reduced majority, British Prime Minister Tony Blair carried out a cabinet reshuffle reappointing most of his old-guards in their key posts, including his heir-apparent Gordon Brown as finance minister.

David Blunkett, forced to quit in December 2004 as home secretary after it emerged that a visa application for his ex-lover's nanny was fast tracked, returns as the new work and pensions secretary. Jack Straw will remain the foreign secretary. Brown, a more popular figure than Blair thanks to his stewardship of the Britain's strong economy, had been expected to stay on as chancellor of the exchequer.

Brown is virtually certain to become the premier if Blair steps down. Blair reappointed Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott as first secretary of state, Charles Clarke as the Home Secretary and Ruth Kelly as Secretary, Department of Education. John Reid former health secretary will be the new defence secretary and former defence secretary Geoff Hoon will be the Leader of the Commons. Former trade secretary Patricia Hewitt will be the new Health Secretary.

Peter Hain becomes Northern Ireland secretary at a troublesome point in the peace process, as the Ulster Unionist party leader David Trimble lost his seat at Westminster in a rout of the UUP. The reshuffle sees Alan Johnson take the new post of secretary for productivity, energy and industry, meaning the Department of Trade and Industry will be renamed. Blair has also brought three new faces into his Cabinet, with David Miliband, Des Browne and John Hutton joining the top table.

The former immigration minister Des Browne joins the cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury, a position vacated by Paul Boeteng who opted to be the new High Commissioner to South Africa. The former health minister John Hutton takes on Alan Milburn's old cabinet job as minister for the cabinet office, while Milburn's former deputy David Miliband takes up the new post of minister of communities and local government.

Alan Milburn, who was criticised for his handling of the election campaign, last night told Blair he did not want to stay in the Cabinet. The remaining sub-cabinet level ministerial posts will be announced on Monday, Downing Street said.

After winning an historic third Labour term on Friday morning, and being invited by Queen Elizabeth II to form the next government, Blair struck a modest note as he reassumed the reins of power in Downing Street. With results of 644 of the 645 seats declared till Friday night, Labour has secured 355, Conservative 197 and Liberal Democrats 62. Labour's 161-member majority in the dissolved Parliament has dwindled to 66.

In the elections the ministerial casualties included the schools minister, Stephen Twigg, who lost the Enfield Southgate seat he won in 1997. The health minister, Melanie Johnson and the constitutional affairs minister, Chris Leslie, also fell. Despite the Tory gains, Michael Howard announced yesterday that he would stand down as Conservative leader once the party had had an opportunity to review and change its election rules.

Canadian prosecutors not to appeal verdict in

Air-India case

VANCOUVER, May 4: The Canadian authorities have decided not to file an appeal against the verdict in the Air-India bombing in which two suspects -- Ripduman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri-- were acquitted by the British Columbian Supreme Court Judge, Justice Ian Josephson, on March 16.

In an e-mail sent to the families of the victims of the June 23, 1985, bombing of the Air-India flight 182 off the Irish coast, says, "Members of the prosecution team, seniors members of the Criminal Justice (Branch), have conducted an exhaustive review and have come to the difficult decision that there are no grounds on which the Crown could launch an appeal."

A formal announcement in this regard will be made later. The relatives of the victims had a closed-door meeting on Saturday with Deputy Prime Minister and Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) chief Giuliano Zaccardelli, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director Jim Judd and former Ontario premier Bob Rae who will look into the possibility of a public inquiry into the case. In this meeting, the families were informed about the work of the intelligence agency prior to the bombing.

Jim Judd informed the families that the intelligence agency (CSIS), which criticised the judge in his verdict for erasing tapes of conversations between Bagri and the plot mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar, had warned the RCMP as many as 13 times about the threat to Air-India from the militants.

As per what he told the families, intelligence agents followed Parmar for 39 of the 72 days before the bombing, and for 17 consecutive days from June 1, 1985 onward. However, the surveillance was withdrawn on June 17 to focus on a Soviet spy. However, Parmar was kept under watch from a particular place till June 22, Judd told the families.

About the destroyed tapes of conversation between Bagri and Parmar, Judd told the families that in any case the tapes would not have been admissible as evidence in a criminal trial. However, he said, the tapes were thoroughly listened to and their threat content noted before they were destroyed. But had there been any information about the plot, CSIS agents would have told the RCMP, he said.

Judd informed them that the destroyed tapes would have no bearing on the outcome of the trial, though the judge in his verdict has slammed the agency for its "negligence'' in the matter.

The families were also told that the Government of India agents had no hand in the Air-India bombing as alleged by some radical groups. "Based on all of the information and intelligence available to the Service, we concluded that the Government of India played no role in the events of June 23, 1985," the Vancouver Sun quoted Judd as saying.

Osama's right-hand man in Pak net

ISLAMABAD, May 4: Abu Farraj al-Libbi, a senior Al-Qaeda suspect wanted in two attempts to assassinate President Gen Pervez Musharraf, has been arrested in Pakistan after a fierce gun battle with fire fight, the government said on Wednesday.

Al-Libbi is a native of Libya, who authorities say is the number three in the Al-Qaeda network and a close associate of Osama bin Laden, acted as Al-Qaeda's operational chief in Pakistan. He was arrested earlier this week, said Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. "This is a very important day for us," Ahmed said. He would provide no details on where al-Libbi was captured, or where he is being held.

But three Pakistani intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity that al-Libbi was one of two foreigners arrested on Monday after a firefight on the outskirts of Mardan, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Peshawar, capital of the deeply conservative North West Frontier Province.

One of the officials said authorities were led to the hideout by a tip-off that foreigners had been spotted in the area. Ahmed said the Pakistani government had been offering a $1 million reward for information leading to al-Libbi's capture, though it was not immediately clear if it would be paid.

"They are in the custody of a Pakistani intelligence agency," the intelligence official said. The name of the second arrested suspect was not released.

Al-Libbi reportedly spent time in South Waziristan, a tribal region along the border with Afghanistan that is considered a likely hideout for bin Laden. But he fled following a series of military operations in the area last year.

Authorities had said privately in recent weeks that they felt they were zeroing in on his location. Before Ahmed's announcement, senior government and military officials on Wednesday repeatedly denied rumours that they had al-Libbi in custody.

Al-Libbi is accused of masterminding two bombings against President Gen Pervez Musharraf in December 2003. The military leader escaped injury but 17 others were killed in one of the attacks. He is accused of taking over as Al-Qaeda's operational chief in Pakistan after the March 1, 2003 arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the terror network's alleged number three. Mohammed was later handed over to US custody, and his whereabouts are unknown.

Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism, named the Libyan as the chief suspect in the bombings against him. He was among six suspects identified as Pakistan's "Most Wanted Terrorists" in a poster campaign last year.

In the poster, he appeared in a photo as a dapper man with a short beard, wearing a Western suit and tie. The other suspects were all Pakistanis, linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim militant group believed tied to Al-Qaeda. Al-Libbi is not on the FBI's list of the globe's Most Wanted Terrorists.

One of the suspects, Amjad Hussain Farooqi, was killed in a shootout with security forces in southern Pakistan in September. Farooqi, a senior member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was accused of plotting the bombings against Musharraf with al-Libbi and of involvement in the kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002.

Pakistan has arrested hundreds of terror suspects, since Musharraf ended the country's support of the Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, and waged bloody operations against Al-Qaeda-linked militants along the Afghan border.

It has handed over about 700 Al-Qaeda suspects to the United States, including Mohammed, September 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh and Al-Qaeda senior operative Abu Zubaydah.

India, China establish strategic partnership for peace

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 11: In a landmark decision, India and China have decided to upgrade their ties to strategic level and have agreed to work out an early "package settlement" of the vexed boundary question by making "mutually acceptable adjustments" as Beijing categorically accepted Sikkim as part of India. Briefing newsmen on the outcome of the wide-ranging talks between the two Prime Ministers, the Foreign Secretary, Mr Shyam Saran, said the two countries made it clear that they were not rivals but partners. The two countries have also decided to establish a strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity, he added.

Soon after two hours of talks, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the visiting Chinese Premier, Mr Wen Jiabao signed a Joint Statement and witnessed the signing of 12 accords. The agreements included such diverse areas as civil aviation, finance, education, science and technology, tourism and cultural exchanges. The two sides also singed a protocol on modalities for implementation of confidence building measures in the military field along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and another on upgrading air links.

The agreement on political parameters and guiding principles for the settlement of the boundary question was signed by Special Representatives M K Narayanan, National Security Adviser and Senior Executive Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo. It said the two sides should in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding "make meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments" to their respective positions on the boundary question.

This is to arrive at a "package settlement" which is "final" covering all sectors of the India-China boundary, said the agreement which outlined 11 political parameters and guiding principles to resolve the vexed issue that has bedeviled bilateral ties for over four decades.

The two leaders, who are also known economists, agreed to boost bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2008. Last year, trade totaled $13.6 billion, with India recording a trade surplus of $1.75 billion. Declaring that differences on the boundary question should not be allowed to affect the overall development of bilateral ties, the two sides decided to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the issue through consultations on an "equal footing".

They agreed to take into account historical evidence, national sentiments, practical difficulties and reasonable concerns and sensitivities of both sides, and the actual state of border areas. After intensive negotiations, the two sides agreed that the boundary should be along "well-defined and easily identifiable" natural geographical features to be mutually agreed upon.

In reaching the boundary settlement, the two sides should safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas. The Joint Statement said both sides were convinced that an "early settlement of the boundary question will advance the basic interests of the two countries and should, therefore, be pursued as a strategic objective."

The two sides agreed to complete the process of exchanging maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the LAC to arrive at a "common understanding" as soon as possible. The two sides inked a protocol on modalities for the implementation of CBMs in the military field along the LAC under which they agreed to avoid holding large-scale military exercises involving more than one Division (approximately 15,000 troops) in close proximity to the LAC.

Dr Singh and Mr Wen, who held an hour-long restricted-level meeting before going in for delegation-level parleys, warmly shook hands after signing the joint statement.

Going by their assurance that Sikkim was no longer an issue between China and India, the joint statement said both sides reviewed with satisfaction the implementation of the memorandum on border trade through the Nathula Pass between the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China and "Sikkim State of the Republic of India". On it part, India reiterated that it recognised TAR as part of China's territory and that it would not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China activities on its soil.

China favours UNSC seat for India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 11: In a slight shift in its position, China has said it would be pleased to see India become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Chinese Premier, Mr Wen Jiabao, conveyed this to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, during their meeting here today, according to Mr Shyam Saran, Foreign Secretay.

The Chinese side said "India is an important developing country and is having increasingly important influence in the international arena" as New Delhi affirmed its claim for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council. Both agreed that UN reforms should be "comprehensive and multifaceted" with emphasis on increased representation of developing countries. China said it attached "great importance" to the status of India in international affairs and "understands and supports" New Delhi's aspirations to pay an active role in the UN.

Charles, Camilla wed

WINDSOR (England), April 10: Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were married Saturday in a modest civil ceremony at the 17th century Guildhall, and the second marriage for each was blessed by the Church of England as the royals knelt before Archbishop of Canterbury in a majestic ceremony beneath the soaring arches of the Gothic St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The wedding capped a decades-long love affair that endured the prince's first marriage to Princess Diana and constant tabloid scrutiny. Charles and Camilla confessed "manifold sins and wickedness" - words from the Book of Common Prayer, as Archbishop Rowan Williams blessed their union. They pledged to be faithful in their marriage, then walked from the cathedral to greet the huge crowd assembled behind police barriers on the manicured grounds of the ancient fortress, first associated with William the Conqueror, who invaded from France in 1066.

Charles and Camilla left in a black Rolls-Royce for a reception where they were greeted the 800 guests, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and the bride's ex-husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, in the castle's State Apartments. The wedding cake was a single-layered organic fruit cake decorated with roses, thistles and daffodils - a nod to the groom's passion for organic farming. A sword that belonged to King George V, Charles' great-grandfather, was used as a cake knife.

The couple then set off for a honeymoon in a cozy Scottish hunting lodge that once belonged to the prince's grandmother. The car that sped them away had red and blue balloons attached and "Just Married" written on the back window.

Charles's mother and father, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, joined a Who's Who of Britain, representatives of governments and members of royal houses for the blessing ceremony, where women guests wore a dazzling array of hats, feathers much in favor.

After the town hall nuptials, not attended by the queen to honor the couple's desire to keep it "low key," Charles and Camilla emerged arm-in-arm to the cheers of onlookers and a jazz band playing, "Congratulations." They waved to the cheering crowd, but there was no public kiss or embrace.
Camilla now takes on Diana's previous status as Princess of Wales, although she plans to defer to public sentiment by avoiding the title and will instead be known as the Duchess of Cornwall.

When Charles takes the throne, Camilla legally will be queen, but she wishes to be known as Princess Consort - a bow to opinion polls that show 70 percent of the population opposed to Queen Camilla. Fewer than 30 guests attended the civil ceremony, and they included Charles' sons, William and Harry. Many among the group were moved from site to site in rented buses.

China favours bigger role for India at UN

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, April 2: The Chinese Ambassador, Mr Sun Yuxi, has said that Beijing favours a "bigger and better role" for New Delhi in the United Nations. However, he stopped short or explicitly supporting India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Speaking with this correspondent to announce the visit of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India, Mr Sun said Beijing fully supported reforms in the United Nations. These reforms must reflect the present day world order through which the UN should be able to meet the new challenges.

"The new representation should be more balanced in which the developing countries must have a better say," he said and added "India as a developing country must play a bigger role in the UN as well as in the Security Council."

Responding to a question whether China supported India's candidature for a permanent seat in the Security Council, Mr Sun the report of the high-powered committee on UN reforms was being hotly debated at this juncture. "This is very sensitive issue. We don't want to make any specific remarks (on India's candidature for a permanent seat)," he said.

Responding to questions on boundary dispute between the two countries, the Ambassador said this issue was being dealt at the highest level. However, he stated that Arunachal Pradesh was a "disputed area" between the two countries. Mr Sun said the question of Sikkim and Tibet has been resolved between the two countries. "China recognizes Sikkim as part of India. Similarly, New Delhi has said that Tibet is a part of China."

He said the Special Representatives of the two nations on the boundary dispute - National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo - could meet during the Chinese Premier's visit to New Delhi or ahead of that. "We are trying to work out a meeting between the two Special Representatives in New Delhi." However, the Ambassador said the two countries were determined not to allow their relations in other fields to suffer due to the boundary dispute that was an historical legacy.

He said the efforts of the two countries would be to maintain peace and tranquility along their border while developing border trade and promote cultural exchanges. "The border between us should act as a bridge for trade." Mr Sun said the demarcation of maps between the two countries would still take some more time. "There will be political parameters and guiding principles to be settled during the coming days," he added.

The Ambassador informed that the Chinese Prime Minister would arrive here on a four-day visit beginning April 9. Shortly after his arrival, the Premier would go to Bangalore where he would visit the offices of Tata Consultancy, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Huwai, a Chinese company.

Mr Wen Jiabao would be accompanied by a large delegation of 100 people, including seven Ministers and several businessmen. During the path-breaking visit, the two sides are expected to sign nearly a dozen agreements in political, economic, cultural and aviation fields. The Ambassador said the bilateral trade between the two countries has reached US $ 13.6 billion and "we propose to enhance it further." China has proposed a Free Trade Area between the two countries, which would be the largest such zone in the world as and when it took shape, he added.

Pakistan admits Khan gave nuclear material to Iran

ISLAMABAD, March 10: A rogue nuclear scientist who is at the heart of an international nuclear black market investigation gave centrifuges to Iran, but Pakistan's Government knew nothing about the transfer, the information minister said on Thursday. It is the first time that the Pakistani Government has acknowledged that Abdul Qadeer Khan actually gave material to Iran, though they have admitted in the past that his group sold technology and blueprints to several countries.

"Dr Abdul Qadeer gave some centrifuges to Iran," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said. "He helped Iran in his personal capacity, and the Pakistan Government had nothing to do with it." Ahmed originally made the remarks at a seminar in Islamabad organised by a local newspaper group, in which he stuck by Pakistan's insistence that despite his crimes, Khan would never be handed over to a third country for prosecution.

Ahmed said that Islamabad is fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world's nuclear watchdog. Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's own nuclear program, confessed last year that he sold nuclear technology to Iran - Pakistan's Southwestern neighbour - as well as North Korea and Libya. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pardoned the disgraced scientist and allowed him to keep the riches he allegedly earned from the trade.

However, the scientist remains restricted to his home in an upscale neighbourhood of Islamabad. The Government has steadfastly denied any official involvement in the proliferation.

India again express concern to Nepal

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 7: India on Monday firmly conveyed its disappointment to Nepal on the measures taken by the king that have served to only deepen the crisis facing the Himalayan Kingdom. In a meeting with the visiting Nepali Foreign Minister, Mr Ramesh Nath Pandey, the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, pointed out that it was not only India, but also several other friends of Nepal, which had expressed grave concern over these measures, which could endanger the institution of monarchy itself.

The events since February, 2005 had only served to demonstrate that not only had the security situation in Nepal not improved, but that the country was now facing a deteriorating economic situation as well. This was likely to be further worsened by decisions of some donor countries to suspend aid to Nepal.

Against this background, Mr Natwar Singh conveyed that it would be in the interest of Nepal and its people, for the King and the political parties to join together on a national platform to unitedly deal with the multiple challenges facing Nepal, including the threat from Maoist insurgency.
"It was important for the King to take an early initiative in this regard," added Mr Singh.

The visiting Minister, who returns to Kathmandu on March 9, said he would convey India's views to the King and to His Majesty's Government of Nepal.

Mr Natwar Singh also took the opportunity to express India's concern over the continuing blacking out of several Indian TV news channels by Nepal and also the difficulties being faced by Indian joint ventures in the country. He underlined the importance of lifting restrictions on Indian entities in Nepal at the earliest in the interest of India-Nepal friendship.

On the question of military supplies, the Indian Minister conveyed that the matter remained under constant review by the Indian side.
On his arrival in Delhi on Monday, Mr Ranjit Rae, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, received the Nepalese Foreign Minister. Mr. Madhu Raman Acharya, Nepal's Foreign Secretary, accompanies Mr. Pandey.
The External Affairs Minister received Mr. Pandey shortly after noon today and also hosted a lunch in his honour at Hyderabad House.

During his meeting with the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Pandey explained the reasons why His Majesty, the King of Nepal, had taken steps to dismiss the multiparty Government, declare emergency, detain political party leaders and impose censorship on the press.
He conveyed the King's assurance that steps are being taken to relax some of these measures in the near future. He also conveyed the King's commitment to restoring multiparty democracy at the earliest.

CIA searching for Bin Laden in Pakistan: Report

NEW DELHI, Feb 27: In an embarrassing move for Islamabad, a US congressional report has said that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents and other American personnel are in Pakistan looking for Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. These agents are based in Pakistan as "civilian contractors", the Dawn newspaper reported from Washington, quoting the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which advises Congress and writes policy briefs for US lawmakers.

The report points out that both Osama bin Laden and Al Zawahiri escaped the December 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and, "according to most assessments, fled into Pakistan, where they have continued to elude capture by Pakistani forces and agents."

The report notes that a March 2004 Pakistan forces' offensive against suspected terrorist hideouts in the South Waziristan region, failed to find these two or other major Al Qaeda figures.

In December 2004, the report says, President Pervez Musharraf also acknowledged that the "trail has gone cold," a characterization generally backed by US observers. Although Osama and Zawahiri remain at large, US officials say that much progress has been made against Al Qaeda, but that more remains to be done.

The CRS report quotes former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet as telling a congressional hearing last year that "the Al Qaeda leadership structure we charted after September 11 is seriously damaged, but the group remains as committed as ever to attacking the US homeland... But do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting Al Qaeda is defeated. It is not."

The CRS says that the Bush administration points to the capture or killing of senior Al Qaeda leaders as evidence of progress against Al Qaeda, adding that some key Al Qaeda operatives were arrested in Pakistan by Pakistani law-enforcement agencies.

Of the top 37 top Al Qaeda operatives identified by US agencies after September 11, 2001, 15 have been killed or captured. The most notable among them include: number three leader Mohammad Atef (killed in Afghanistan by US Predator); Sept 11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (arrested by Pakistan); key recruiter and planner Abu Zubaydah (arrested by Pakistan); Southeast Asian affiliate operational leader Hanbali (Riduan Isammudin), a key operative of Jemaah Islamiyah (arrested in Thailand); Sept 11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh (arrested by Pakistan); and Abdul Ali al-Harithi, key plotter in Yemen (killed by US Predator in Yemen).

In the aggregate, since the September 11 attacks, about 3,000 suspected Al Qaeda members have been detained or arrested by about 90 countries, of which 650 are under US control.

According to the CRS, US officials have repeatedly denied that during the Afghan war the United States directly supported those volunteers who came to Afghanistan for fighting the Soviets but the report notes that the United States did covertly finance these Mujahideen factions. From 1981 to 1991, the United States provided about $3 billion to them to facilitate their jihad in Afghanistan.

During this period, neither Osama nor his associates were known to have openly advocated, undertaken, or planned any direct attacks against the United States, although they all were critical of US support for Israel in the Middle East.

The report quotes US officials as saying that Al Qaeda cells and associates have been located in over 70 countries. Among the groups identified as members of the Al Qaeda coalition after the 9/11, virtually all are still active today.

These include the Islamic Group and Al Jihad (Egypt), the Armed Islamic Group and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (Algeria), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Jemaah Islamiyah (Indonesia), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Libyan opposition) and Harakat-ul-Mujahedin (Pakistan, Kashmiri).

Pakistani army ordered to fire at 'intruding' US troops

ISLAMABAD, Feb 22: In what is seen as the first signal of Pakistan's assertion against US policies in its area, Islamabad has ordered the army to shoot at US troops if they intrude into the country from Afghanistan without authorisation. "Pakistan has issued new rules of engagement permitting its army to fire at US forces that cross the border from Afghanistan without coordinating first," the Daily Times newspaper said Tuesday in a report from Washington.

The report is based on a "deep background" column in the magazine American Conservative by former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, who is now an international security consultant and writer on intelligence matters. "President Musharraf has been receiving angry reports from his military that US forces have been engaging in hot pursuit across the border in violation of bilateral agreements," the article said.

The Pakistan president is also said to be unhappy about the recent abrupt withdrawal of Predators and other surveillance resources from Pakistan for transfer to Iraq for use against Iran, the report said. Quoting high-level Pakistani sources, it said Musharraf and his army chiefs "expended a great deal of political capital" in their support of the Al-Qaeda hunt, clashing frequently with hostile tribesmen along the border.

"The US Central Command's January announcement that the drones and other supporting surveillance technologies that were being used against Al-Qaeda would be withdrawn to support 'elections in Iraq' was an unpleasant surprise, particularly when 'in Iraq' turned out to be a euphemism for 'against Iran'," it added.

The drones have not yet been returned and many operations in the border areas are reported to be on hold, the report said. "Musharraf has had a difficult time explaining to his own supporters in the military, and to the Pakistani public, why he continues to be so supportive of US policies in the region," it said.

Israel frees 500 Palestinian prisoners

JERUSALEM, Feb 21: Israel freed 500 Palestinian prisoners in a good-will gesture Monday, a day after the government gave final approval to a pullout from Gaza and a revised route of the West Bank separation barrier that would encompass at least 6 percent of land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state. With the historic Cabinet vote, Israel began charting its final borders, bypassing negotiations and angering the Palestinians. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the decision to leave Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank was the hardest he ever made but would ensure a better future for Israel.

Sharon also signed an order saying Israeli civilians would have to leave the areas slated for evacuation by July 20. Those remaining would be removed by force over a period of two months. Settler leaders have pledged not to leave voluntarily, and security officials are bracing for violent confrontations.

In the West Bank, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won the backing of his Fatah movement for a new 24-member Cabinet after a stormy debate, clearing the way for approval of the new ministers by parliament later Monday.

The release of Palestinian prisoners was one of the gestures Sharon agreed to at his summit with Abbas earlier this month in Egypt. Convoys of buses carrying shackled inmates left Israel's desert prison camp of Ketziot around dawn Monday, dropping prisoners off at the edges of the West Bank and Gaza Strip just before noon, military officials said. They were greeted by cheering crowds of relatives, who reached out to touch and hug them.

Suhail Abu Madala, 35, spent four years in prison and had three more years to serve when he was set free Monday. "I cannot believe that I'm smelling the air of freedom, that I will see my family," Abu Madala said, choking back tears after being reunited with brothers and sisters and his 12-year-old son, Mohammed. "Nothing can describe my joy and my feelings.

"But I left behind me brothers in jail who need to be released," added Abu Madala, who had worked as a policeman before his arrest in the West Bank. "If were are talking about a new era, prisoners should be freed. We hope that peace will prevail between the two nations. Those freed had not been involved in attacks on Israelis.
Israel has promised to release 400 more prisoners within the next three months. A joint Israeli-Palestinian ministerial committee will decide which prisoners will be released in the second round. Israel is resisting Palestinian demands to free those serving long terms, including for attacks on Israelis.

With Sunday's Cabinet vote, an Israeli government agreed for the first time since capturing the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war to dismantle some of the dozens of Jewish settlements it has built there. However, in approving the route of the West Bank barrier, Israel acted unilaterally on what was to be a key issue in peace talks with the Palestinians, and signaled it will keep a chunk of prime West Bank land close to Jerusalem, including two large settlement blocs, Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion.

Several Cabinet ministers acknowledged that while the barrier was ostensibly built as a security shield, its route would help determine Israel's final borders with a Palestinian state. Sharon has said he wants to keep large West Bank settlement blocs in any future peace deal with the Palestinians. Abbas has demanded that construction of the barrier be stopped.

Sharon, a former settler patron and the key proponent of Jewish settlement expansion during most of his political career, said leaving Gaza and parts of the West Bank was difficult. "In all my years of service I have faced hundreds, if not thousands of decisions, some of them matters of life or death, but the decision on the disengagement plan was for me the hardest of all," he said late Sunday.

The Gaza withdrawal passed 17-5. The Cabinet must still approve each of four evacuation stages, but even opponents said those votes are just a formality.
Even so, Jewish settler leaders said they have not given up. Pinchas Wallerstein, one of the leaders of the council of Jewish settlements, called on supporters to begin "an aggressive and strong struggle" but not engage in violence.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri called the planned Israeli pullout "a result of the heroic resistance of our people." The vote for the barrier route was almost unanimous. Several Cabinet ministers acknowledged that the barrier has implications far beyond the original security concept. "The route of the fence is significant in terms of future negotiations over Israel's borders," said minister Tzipi Livni.

India raises Plan assistance to Rs 710 cr for Bhutan

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 28: The visit of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, was a new milestone in the close and friendly relations between India and Bhutan and greatly contributed in further enhancing the mutual understanding, trust and friendship between the governments, leaders and peoples of the two countries.

A joint statement on the conclusion of the King's six-day visit, the two sides recognised the many years of successful economic cooperation and agreed to further strengthen this mutually beneficial partnership. Bhutan expressed appreciation for the invaluable and substantial assistance that the India continues to provide towards Bhutan's all round development.

India on its part reiterated its commitment to assist the Royal Government of Bhutan in its socio-economic development programmes in general and to the 9th Five Year Plan in particular. During the King's visit, the programme grant component of India's overall assistance for Bhutan's Ninth Five Year Plan (2002-07) was also finalised. India has agreed to enhance this component of assistance from Rs 430 crores to Rs 710 crores during the Ninth Plan.

During the King's visit, the two sides signed three Memoranda of Understanding that covered power, railways and agriculture and allied sectors. The first MoU called for preparation of detailed project reports for Punatshangchhu (Stage-II) and Mangdechhu hydropower projects. The second sought establishment of railway links between bordering towns of India and Bhutan and the third MOU was for cooperation in the field of Agriculture and allied sectors.

The Bhutan King arrived at the invitation of the President, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and was the Chief Guest for the Republic Day. His Royal Highness Chhoetse Penlop Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Crown Prince of Bhutan, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and senior officials of the Royal Government of Bhutan accompanied His Majesty the King.

During his stay in New Delhi, the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck held talks with the President, who also hosted a State banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Vice President, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Minister of External Affairs, Mr Natwar Singh, the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the Home Minister, Mr Shivraj Patil, the Power Minister, Mr P.M. Sayeed, and other senior government officials and political leaders held separate talks with the King.

The two sides had a cordial exchange of views and discussions on bilateral relations and economic cooperation as well as regional and international issues. They recalled the strong historical ties of friendship and understanding between the two countries. Both sides noted with satisfaction the excellent state of friendly relations and cooperation, and expressed their firm commitment to further strengthen these exemplary relations.

India lauded and expressed its appreciation for the successful operation launched under the leadership of the King by the Royal Government and people of Bhutan in removing the Indian insurgent groups from its soil.

The two Governments reiterated their full support and cooperation in addressing cross border concerns to improve border management and security and with a view to facilitating smooth trade and commerce between the two countries.

His Majesty expressed the deep appreciation of the Royal Government to the Government of India for the security protection to facilitate the movement of Bhutanese vehicles and passengers through neighbouring States of West Bengal and Assam in India.

India, Bhutan sign landmark accord on rail link

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 25: Taking bilateral relations to new heights, India and Bhutan have signed a landmark accord for establishing rail links between bordering towns and agreed to step up cooperation in agriculture and power sectors. Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), inked in the presence of the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and visiting the Bhutan King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the two sides have agreed to conduct feasibility studies for extension of Indian railway network from West Bengal and Assam to the nearest border towns of Bhutan.

This comes as part of the overall strategy of upgrading border infrastructure and connectivity with Bhutan. It will examine links between Hasimara (West Bengal) and Phuentsholing (about 18 km and bifurcation to Pasakha, 70-km stretch between Kokrajhar (Assam) and Gelephu, 40-km distance between Pathsala (Assam) and Nanglam, Rangla (Assam) and Samdrupjongkhar via Darranga (about 60 km) and Banarhat (West Bengal) and Samtse (about 16 km).

The Minister of State for Railways, Mr Naranbhai J Rathwa, and the Bhutanese Foreign Minister, Mr Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, signed the MOU.
The Bhutan King said that the step will have a "positive impact" on the economic relations of the two countries. The King, who is the Chief Guest at tomorrow's Republic Day celebrations, said the agreements would go a long way in furthering the close relations between the two countries.
The King, who arrived here on Monday, was accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan this morning.

Later, he held wide-ranging discussions with the Prime Minister on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest. He appreciated India's quick response towards other SAARC countries Sri Lanka and Maldives in the wake of tsunami tragedy. "I, on behalf of SAARC countries, express deep appreciation and gratitude for India's generous assistance to Sri Lanka and Maldives," he said. "We were impressed in Bhutan to see the Government and people of India get together to deal with tsunami," he said.

The Power Minister, Mr P M Sayeed, and the Bhutanese Foreign Minister singed another MOU on preparation of detailed project reports for the Punatsangchhu (Stage II) and Mangdechhu Hydro-Electric projects in Bhutan. Cooperation in the power sector is one of the hallmarks of India's mutually beneficial relationship with Bhutan. While 336 MW Chukha roject and 60 MW Kurichu project have been completed, the 1020 MW Tala project is expected to be completed in early 2006. A detailed project report is being undertaken for the 1000 MW Punatsanghchhu I project.

New Delhi is of the view that cooperation in this sector represents a 'win-win' situation for both countries. Bhutan receives a steady stream of revenue and India obtains cheap, clean energy to meet the growing requirements of its economy. The Punatsangchhu II and Mangdechhu projects are together estimated to generate power of about 1500 MW.

The Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) would be conducted by Indian Government agencies to be identified after mutual consultation between the two Governments. The DPRs are expected to take two years for completion. The Indian Government under its project-tied assistance to the Ninth Five Year Plan of Bhutan will finance both on a grant basis.

The two sides also signed a MoU on cooperation in the field of agriculture and allied sectors. Inked by the Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, and the Bhutanese Foreign Minister, it provides the framework of institutional cooperation in agriculture and allied sectors. While the focus areas would be livestock health and development and strengthening of agriculture marketing systems in Bhutan, the MoU also includes human resources development by offering training facilities in India to Bhutanese personnel and exchange of experts and farmers at the grassroots level.

The External Affairs Ministry under Government assistance to Bhutan's Five Year Plans will fund the projects under this MoU. A senior Bhutanese official said the King's visit was an "important milestone" in further promoting the goodwill, understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.

He said Bhutan and India enjoy close ties of friendship and cooperation at all levels and in every sphere. New Delhi has been appreciative of Bhutan's action in flushing out Indian insurgent groups that had established camps in that country.

Bhutan King arrives on four-day visit

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 24: Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuk arrived here on Monday to a warm welcome. The Minister of State for Defence and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr BK Handique, the Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, Mr Rajiv Sikri, and senior officials warmly received the King at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

The inclement weather and heavy snowfall in Thimpu had resulted in the Bhutan King, who was slated to reach New Delhi on Sunday, deferring his visit by a day.

The King will be the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations. During his stay, the King would call on the President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, and also have meetings with the Vice President, Mr Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the Home Minister, Mr Shivraj Patil, and the Power Minister, Mr P M Sayeed. The UPA Chairperson, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the leader of Opposition, Mr LK Advani, and the former Prime Minister, Mr IK Gujral will also meet the visiting dignitary.

Soon after arrival, the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, called on the King of Bhutan and welcomed him on this visit and on being the Chief Guest. A spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs said the Minister expressed great satisfaction with the state of our bilateral cooperation, which he said had brought immense benefits to our two countries.

Mr Singh thanked Bhutan for the exemplary action to flush out Indian insurgent groups that had established camps in southern and eastern Bhutan. It was agreed that cooperation on security issues would be further strengthened. The spokesman said the King thanked India for the support and assistance for Bhutan's development programmes.

The Minister reiterated India's commitment to support Bhutan's Ninth Plan and the projects in diverse sectors, including education, culture, agriculture, telecom, infrastructure, including roads, among others. Mr Natwar Singh said that cooperation in the hydropower sector represents a win-win situation for both countries and is one of the main pillars of India-Bhutan partnership. He expressed the commitment of the Government to further strengthen cooperation in this area on a long term and sustainable basis.

It may be mentioned that inclement weather and heavy snowfall in Thimpu had resulted in the Bhutan King, who was slated to reach New Delhi on Sunday, deferring his visit by a day. The Minister of State for Defence and Parliamentary Affairs, Mr BK Handique, the Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, Mr Rajiv Sikri, and senior officials warmly received the King at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

China, India favour multipolar world

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 24: India and China have agreed to broaden their budding friendship through a new security and foreign policy dialogue they launched on Monday and said this had boosted trust between the two sides. The talks between the Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Mr Wu Dawei, are the first in a series that will focus on regional and global security issues and growing economic cooperation.

"The launching of this new dialogue mechanism between the two countries is significant in that it indicates their readiness to look at the bilateral relationship in a long-term and strategic perspective," said Mr Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs. Mr Sarna said that there was a broad convergence of views on regional and global issues. The talks had further increased mutual trust and understanding, he added. The discussions between the two lasted nearly five hours.

Among the important international and regional issues discussed were the issues of globalisation, democratisation of international relations, UN reforms, non-proliferation, terrorism and situation in the Korean Peninsula. Regional cooperation was also discussed, he added. Mr Sarna said both sides agreed that the current international situation characterised by globalisation presented an opportunity as well as posed a challenge. They emphasised the need for making international relations democratic in order to face this challenge.

Both sides agreed that the trend towards multi-polarity was conducive to international peace and should be encouraged. The importance of reforming international institutions, including the UN, was underlined. On the UNSC reforms, the Chinese side conveyed their understanding for India's candidature for the permanent membership and indicated their support for India playing a more important role in the international affairs, including in the UN.

The two countries shared the view that terrorism, in particular the possibility of weapons of mass destruction and sensitive technologies falling in the hands of terrorists, presented a grave threat and recognised the importance of international cooperation in meeting this threat. They also agreed that these dangers could not be tackled unilaterally.

Both sides noted with satisfaction that recent trends in the bilateral relations had been positive. Trade was growing rapidly and as per the preliminary figures for the year 2004, the annual trade volume had crossed US$ 13 billion. Exchanges and interaction in diverse areas were also continuing.

In this background, the spokesman said both sides reiterated their desire to improve the relationship at all levels and in all areas while addressing the outstanding differences, including the boundary question, in a fair, reasonable and mutually satisfactory manner.

The spokesman said "There was broad convergence on views on these issues. Both sides also briefed each other on their respective foreign and security policies." The two sides held "substantive" discussions on bilateral ties, including in particular on preparations for the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, "later this year".

"The two sides agreed to closely work together to ensure a substantive outcome of the visit, which is expected to mark a new phase in the relationship between the two countries," he said. It was agreed that discussions between the two Foreign Ministries would continue to prepare for the visit.

Describing the launching of the new dialogue mechanism as "significant", he said "in that it indicates their readiness to look at the bilateral relationship in a long-term and strategic perspective". The two sides agreed to hold the next round of the strategic dialogue in China on mutually agreed dates.

Asked whether issues relating to nuclear doctrine and the Iraq situation came up during the parleys, he indicated that he would not like to go beyond what has been agreed by the two sides on what has to be communicated to the media.

In the evening, Mr Wu called on the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, and informed him of the outcome of the discussions. During this warm and cordial meeting, the spokesman said the present state of bilateral relations was reviewed and assessed highly as well as future directions were discussed.

Mr Natwar Singh said that India was looking forward to visit of Premier Wen Jiabao, which would be a major event in our bilateral relations and lead to substantive results. During the call on the Minister, the celebrations for the 55th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China, which are to begin on April 1, 2005 were also discussed.

On whether the strategic dialogue would be an annual affair, Mr Sarna said no decision in this respect has been taken. On whether Pakistan cropped up during the talks, he said "Our bilateral relationship with China is very strong. We have a fair amount to discuss on a bilateral level."

'Indian PM one of the greatest Finance Ministers'

NEW DELHI, Jan 18: Describing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as "one of the greatest Finance Ministers", his visiting Canadian counterpart Paul Martin, today recalled his outstanding contribution to the recovery of crisis-ridden Indian economy in the early 90s. "We were Ministers of Finance during the same period. Prime Minister (Singh) was one of the greatest Finance Ministers," Martin said at a joint press conference with Singh.

Lauding the giant strides made by India on the economic front, Martin said the credit for this "should in no small measure go to Singh". The Canadian Premier, who is accompanied by Ujjal Dosanjh and a delegation of MPs with Indian origin, among them two Sikhs, said the fourth largest language in Canada was Punjabi and he too had some knowledge of it.

Singh describes Martin as "an old friend and valued colleague." Martin's invitation to Singh to visit Canada was accepted by the Indian leader. Dates for the visit would be worked out through diplomatic.

Five envoys present credentials

NEW DELHI, Jan 18: Five envoys presented their credentials to the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan here on Tuesday.

The envoys who presented their credentials were: Mr. Vyacheslav Ivanovich Trubnikov, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, Mr. Ernesto Carlos Alvarez, the Ambassador of Argentina, Mr. John McCarthy AO, the High Commissioner of Australia, Mr. Rogelio Granguillhome Morfin, the Ambassador of Mexico and Mr. Sun Yuxi, the Ambassador of the People's Republic of China.

The credential presentation ceremony was attended by the senior members of the missions, senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and Rashtrapati Bhavan.

India criticises Pak for going to WB on Baglihar

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Jan 18: India has said that Pakistan's decision to refer the Baglihar hydro power project to the World Bank was not justified and appealed to Islamabad to have further talks on the subject to resolve the differences. Responding to a question, a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Navtej Sarna, said "our view is that there had been detailed discussions between the Water Secretaries of the two countries recently and there was some convergence of views …. We believe more technical-level talks could lead to further convergence."

Mr Sarna said "we do not believe that the refence to the World Bank is justified," he said. It may be mentioned that Pakistan on Tuesday decided to seek World Bank arbitration to resolve its dispute with India over the Baglihar hydropower project being built on River Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The decision to go to World Bank has been taken at a high level meeting this morning presided over by Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz," Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said. Pakistan is formally approaching the World Bank invoking Article 9 (2)(A) of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty to appoint a neutral expert to arbitrate over the Baglihar dispute.

Khan said Pakistan has decided to approach the World Bank formally on Tuesday after 'exhausting' all bilateral avenues with India. "We have held talks under the Indus Water Commission, water secretaries level and at the foreign secretaries level. Since India failed to accede to Pakistan's demand to stop work at the project, Pakistan has decided to approach the World Bank for arbitration," he said.

Khan said according to reports India was pressing ahead with the construction of what he termed 'a dam'. "Under these circumstances, Pakistan was left with no option but to go to World Bank," he said.

Former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang dead

BEIJING, Jan 17: Former Chinese Communist Party chief, Zhao Ziyang died of illness in a local hospital on Monday, the state media reported. He was 85. "Comrade Zhao had long suffered from multiple diseases affecting his respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and had been hospitalised for medical treatment for several times," the official Xinhua news agency reported in a brief report.

Zhao's condition worsened recently, and he passed away on Monday after failing to respond to all emergency treatment, it said. Zhao had been place under house arrest for opposing Chinese army crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square here in 1989. Zhao had been confined to his courtyard home in the Chinese capital for over 15 years, but current leaders remain nervous about the residual influence of modern China's icon of reform, fearing his death could trigger widespread social unrest.

Zhao was last seen in public on May 19, 1989, when he tearfully pleaded with student protesters to leave Tiananmen Square, close to the Chinese parliament building. The then Chinese government declared martial law the next day and the People's Liberation Army crushed the pro-democracy movement with tanks and other heavy weapons on June 3-4, causing many casualties. The Chinese government on Sunday said that the physical health of Zhao, has become "stable" after treatment.

Canada PM's visit to boost trade ties with India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 17: The visit of the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr Paul Martin, who arrived here on Monday evening, is expected to boost trade and economic ties between the two countries. Mr Martin, accompanied by his spouse, arrived here at the invitation of his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh. The Canadian Prime Minister would be accompanied by an official delegation.

On January 18, the visiting dignitary would hold talks with Dr Manmohan Singh and call on the President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. The Prime Minister will host a lunch in honour of the visiting dignitary. The two leaders would discuss trade promotion as outlined in the 'Partners in the 21st Century' declaration issued jointly by Jean Chretien and Vajpayee in New Delhi in November 2003. The External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, will be calling on the Canadian Prime Minister.

The Tsunami disaster in South Asia has altered the focus of the upcoming visit of Canadian Prime Minister. As per his earlier schedule, he was travel to China, Japan and India. Now the tsumani-hit Sri Lanka and Thailand have also been included in the itinerary. For paucity of time, Amritsar, Agra and Mumbai have been deleted from the itinerary.

The prime minister and his entourage leave for Thailand on Saturday. "We will visit on the ravaged areas of Phuket on January 16 and then leave for Sri Lanka where we will visit the disaster-hit areas on January 17, and then leave for New Delhi in the evening," according to Opposition leader Deepak Obhrai who is the Conservative Party's representative accompanying the Prime Minister through his entire trip from January 15 to January 23.

In view of the recent tsunami disaster, a briefing on Indian disaster response efforts would also be provided to the visiting Premier. A spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Navtej Sarna, said Canada was an important G-8 nation with which India had a tradition of strong relations. "Both are members of the Commonwealth and the ARF. The two nations, both federal in their polity, share values of pluralism and democracy. The presence of a large Indian community in Canada has given this relationship a special character," he said.

Mr Sarna said relations between India and Canada have been growing steadily in recent years. Prime Minister Jean Chretien visited India in October 2003. India is engaging Canada across a broad agenda, covering global issues, investment and trade, science and technology, environment and academic exchanges.

He said bilateral trade between India and Canada was C$ 2155 million last year. India runs an export surplus and its main export commodities are textiles and garments, iron and steel, organic chemicals, cotton and jewellery. Indian imports from Canada are mainly wood pulp and newsprint, minerals, vegetable oils and precision equipment. Both countries have started investing in each other and leading Indian IT companies have established a presence in Canada.

The spokesman said "Canada has been actively supporting Indian projects in environmental management and sustainable development. India is looking forward to greater flows of environment friendly technology from that country." He said "there are on-going discussions on furthering science and technology cooperation and the Prime Minister's visit is expected to give a boost to these efforts. Cooperation in developing tsunami warning systems is also likely to come up for discussion. The two countries also work together in the Health sector and ICMR has just signed an MOU on research in lifestyle diseases with its Canadian counterpart."

The Indian community in Canada has made enormous progress in the last generation. Recognising their role as a bridge between the two countries, New Delhi would like to foster greater contacts with them and promote exchanges relevant to their heritage. It is expected that the two countries would discuss visa and consular services.

The opening of the consulate general in Chandigarh in 2003 and the upgrading of the consulate in Mumbai to consulate general are indication of Canada's growing interest in the emerging economic power in the world.

Of course, one cannot ignore the fact that India is the second biggest source of immigration for Canada. Last year, about 25,000 Indians made Canada their home. Today, the million-strong Indo-Canadian community wields considerable political weight in this country of 32 million.

Business circles in Toronto were pinning high hopes on Paul Martin's visit to India. In fact, just after the new UPA Government took over in May, Mr Martin had despatched Mr Herb Dhaliwal, a former natural resources minister and an Indo-Canadian, to India to meet with the new Indian prime minister to stress the importance Canada attached to India which is its largest trading partner in South Asia.

Keeping in view the recently released Goldman Sachs report "The Path to 2050" which says that by 2020 India's growth rate will be faster than China's, corporate Canada is looking towards India.

However, Mr Deepak Obhrai, who is three-time MP for Calgary East and Opposition Critic for International Trade - Emerging Markets, says this visit is a timely opportunity for "Canada to enhance its relationship with emerging markets such as India and China. Canada is and always has been a trading nation. Improving our access to two of the world's largest markets is an extremely important priority for Canada so I'm looking forward to a successful trip."

Canada had imposed sanctions and called back its high commissioner after India exploded nuclear devices in May 1998. However, since their re-engagement, the trade ties between the two nations have grown tremendously.

All major Indian software companies have offices across Canada. India's FDI in Canada has risen sharply to $62m, while the Canadian FDI in India stands at $184m. Last year, Canada exported goods worth $764 million to India, while its imports from India stood at $1.42 billion. Canada is a world leader in animation, CNG, natural resources, transportation, automobiles and power. India stands to benefit immensely from closer cooperation with this North American country.

'Harry The Nazi' creates uproar

LONDON, Jan 13: Britain's Prince Harry apologized on Wednesday after a picture of him dressed up as a Nazi soldier was splashed across the front page of a mass-circulation newspaper. The pictures in The Sun newspaper triggered outrage, especially from the Jewish community which pointed out that they appear as the royal family prepares to lead commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust.

Thursday's edition of The Sun features Harry, 20, the younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, attending a fancy dress party wearing a khaki uniform with an armband emblazoned with a swastika, emblem of the German WWII Nazi Party. Harry, third in line to the British throne after his father and his elder brother William, was pictured wearing the costume as he held a cigarette and drink during a birthday party for a friend last Saturday, The Sun said.

"Harry The Nazi," according to the headline of the newspaper story, which also included an apology from Prince Harry. When contacted, a spokeswoman for the royal family read a similar statement of apology. "I am very sorry if I caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize," Prince Harry said.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed the apology. "We're gratified that the prince has apologized. The incident was in bad taste, especially in the runup to the Holocaust memorial day, which the royal family will play a leading role in commemorating," it said. Holocaust memorial day is marked on January 27, the day in 1945 when the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Nazi World War II concentration camps.

In another embarrassment for the royal family on Thursday, Harry's granmother, Queen Elizabeth II, was reported to have said that Paris, not London, will win the five-way contest to stage the 2012 Olympic Games, citing a lack of public support as a major weakness of the British capital city's bid.

Myanmar, Bangla, India agree on gas pipeline

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Jan 13: A new chapter in the geopolitics of South Asia opened on Thursday when the energy ministers of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed that Yangon would export natural gas to New Delhi by a pipeline through Bangladesh.

"The governments of Bangaldesh and India reserve the right to access the pipeline as and when required, including injecting and siphoning off their own natural gas; details in this regard will be worked out on the basis of commercial agreements," according to a joint statement issued after the meeting of the three Ministers in Yangon.

The joint statement was issued after a tripartite meeting between Myanmar Energy Minister Brig Gen Lun Thi, Bangladesh's Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources A K H Mosharraf Hossain, and Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar. "The route of the pipeline may be determined by mutual agreement of the three governments with a view to ensuring adequate access, maximum security and optimal economic utilisation," the statement, released here, said.

The pipeline was one of several options being considered by India to bring gas reserves at Shwe field in Block A-1 in offshore Myanmar, as well as volumes that are expected to be discovered in its adjacent block A-3. ONGC Videsh has 20 percent stake and GAIL has 10 percent in both the blocks where South Korea's Daewoo is the operator.

Bangladesh will earn about 125 million dollars annually as transit fee of the pipeline, which would run through Arakan (Rakhine) state in Myanmar, the Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura before crossing Bangladesh to Kolkata. The one billion dollar 290-km gas trunkline would be "operated by an international consortium," the statement said.

Abbas elected Palestinian President

RAMALLAH (West Bank), Jan 10: Mahmoud Abbas was elected Palestinian Authority president by a landslide, results showed Monday, giving the pragmatist a mandate to resume peace talks with Israel - but also leaving him with the tough task of reining in powerful armed groups.

Israeli leaders welcomed Abbas' victory, but said they will watch closely how hard he tries to subdue militants. Abbas could easily lose his political capital over a major bombing or shooting attack, and while most militant groups signaled they are willing to give him a chance, not all have signed on to a truce with Israel.

Bhutan donates Rs 100 m towards PM's relief fund

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Jan 4: Bhutan Government has made a token contribution of Rs. 100 million to the Prime Minister's relief fund for relief efforts for the Tsunami victims in India. His Majesty the King has sent condolence messages to the President, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the President of the Indian National Congress, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, which conveyed the heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families who lost their loved ones and the grief and personal loss they have suffered.

On December 28 in the Capital Thimphu, His Majesty the King, members of the royal family, all Cabinet Ministers, senior government officials, people's representatives and the Indian Community in Bhutan gathered at Tashichhodzong and offered a special prayer and lighted thousand butter lamps for the victims of the devastating tidal waves that hit the coastal areas of India as well as other parts of South and Southeast Asia particularly in Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

The Central Monk Body offered a special prayer that was attended by the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet and senior government officials, visiting Indian parliamentary delegation and officials of the Indian Embassy in Thimphu.

His Majesty also spoke to the leaders of the countries affected and conveyed Bhutan's deep anguish and concern over the tragic disaster caused by the tsunami. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Bhutan have sent messages of condolences to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of India as well as Sri Lanka and the Maldives.


India relaxes visa regime for Pak nationals

India, Malaysia sign agreements to boost ties

Malaysian PM arrives on Sunday on 5-day visit to India
Egypt, Israel sign trade accord 25 years after peace treaty
No Indian to go to Iraq for polls
India, Israel set up Joint Study Group to boost trade ties
India, Israel review bilateral ties
India-China decide to set up a JSC
Arafat Buried in Chaotic Scenes in West Bank
Osama may sneak into India: FBI official
Indian spy planes picked Osama near NE Pak
China supports India's claim to UN SC seat





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