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India, Pak sign accord on ballistic tests

ISLAMABAD, Oct 4: Taking a further step towards normalisation of ties, India and Pakistan on Monday signed two agreements on pre-notification of ballistic missile tests and establishment of a communication link between Coast Guard and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency.

The agreement on pre-notification of missile tests was signed by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and his Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Mohammad Khan.

The agreement entails that both countries provide each other advance notification of flight tests that it intends to undertake of any surface-to-surface ballistic missile.

An understanding in this regard was reached between the two countries at the third round of Nuclear CBM talks held on August 5-6 in New Delhi.
India had presented a draft on pre-notification of the tests during the first round of Expert Level talks on Nuclear CBMs in June 2004. During the second round of the talks held in December last year, detailed discussions were held on the draft agreement on the issue and positions were brought closer.

India has now handed over a draft MoU on measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons under the control of both countries. Director General, Coast Guard, Vice-Admiral A K Singh, and his Pakistani counterpart singed the agreement on establishment of communication link between Coast Guard and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency.

Car bombs in Iraq kill more than 110 people

BALAD (Iraq), Oct 1: Car bombs have killed more than 110 people, 25 of them children, in a surge of violence in Iraq ahead of an Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution.

One of the four car bombs ripped through a crowded market in the southern town of Hilla killing at least 12 people and wounding 47 on Friday, police and health officials said.

In the mainly Shi'ite town of Balad, north of Baghdad, the death toll from three huge car bombs on Thursday rose to 98 on Friday, hospital director Kassim Aboud said. Furious residents in Balad blamed the attacks on "foreign fighters", long accused by the U.S. military of infiltrating Iraq from Syria to carry out attacks across the country.

"What have those Jordanians and Palestinians and Saudis got to do with us? Shame on them!" Abu Waleed, a hotel owner in Balad who said seven people staying in his hotel died in the blasts, shouted angrily. "Why is this happening? This is a criminal act and the constitution is going to succeed in spite of them," he cried.

Outside a hospital a doctor, Dawoud Allam, posted lists of the dead and the 119 wounded on a wall. Of the dead, 25 were children under 15, while 14 could not be identified, he said. Crowds voiced their defiance by chanting: "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for the constitution".

Insurgents are waging a campaign of suicide bombings, shootings and assassinations to try to topple Iraq's U.S.-backed government. The constitution vote has raised sectarian tension between Iraq's Shi'ite majority and the Sunni Arab minority.

Five U.S. soldiers were also killed in one of the deadliest bombings on U.S. forces in weeks, near Ramadi, a bastion of the insurgency west of Baghdad, the U.S. army said on Thursday.

In Washington, the U.S. commander in Iraq told senators plans to cut troop numbers next year might be thwarted if violence continued through the referendum and an election due in December. The number of Iraqi troops able to operate without U.S. support had fallen to one battalion, he added. The government, dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds, has faced intensified attacks by the Sunni-led insurgency since elections in January.

Minority Sunnis have dominated Iraq for decades but have lost most of their influence since Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, was ousted in 2003. They fear that if the constitution is approved their marginalisation will be sealed.

The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has claimed responsibility for the wave of bombings. With the latest U.S. deaths, the total number of U.S. troops to have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003 rose to at least 1,929, with more than 13,000 wounded. The United States has 149,000 troops in Iraq, with about 20,000 from other countries, nearly half of them from Britain.

Large Indian team to attend Eurasian film festival

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: Indian film artists, led by Tabu and Vishal Bhardwaj, lead the big Indian presence at the seven-day Eurasian Film Festival in Almaty beginning Monday (September 26). A special screening of "Magbool" would take place on Tuesday. The film's director Vishal Bhardwaj and actress Tabu and other Indian delegates would later address a press conference.

The second screening of "Maqbool" would take place in the biggest cinema of Almaty "Alatau", which is in the heart of the city. In addition, the Kazakhstan Embassy in New Delhi is organizing a private meeting with the Chairman of the national company "Kazakhfilm" on the subject of the joint projects and collaboration to shoot Indian movies in scenic localities of Kazakhstan.

The film industry representatives and international stars from as many as 20 countries would participate in the festival. Some of the famed actors who would attend the festival include John Travolta, Jean Claude Van Dam, Roberto Benini, Catrine Denev, Ornella Mutti and Kim Ki Duk.
"Eurasia" is the largest international cultural event in Central Asia and it unites East and West by showcasing the best films of Europe, Asia and Commonwealth of Independent States.

The second International Film Festival, organized by the Kazakhstan Ministry of Culture, Information and Sports consists of different programs, including International Competition (2004-2005), Out-of-Competition Panorama, Kazakh Cinema Panorama (2003-2005), Central Asian Panorama (2003-2005) and two Retrospectives.

A number of famous actors from various countries already gave their consent to attend the Festival, including John Travolta, Jean Claude Van Dam, Roberto Benini, Catrine Denev, Ornella Mutti, Kim Ki Duk and others.

The opening film of the festival is multi-million dollar blockbuster "Nomads", an epic movie about the Kazakhs' brave struggle against foreign invaders in the middle Ages. Miramax Distribution Company bought the screening rights for the movie in English-speaking countries at the 58th Cannes Festival last month.

The company is currently spending US$ 1.5 million to translate the movie soundtrack into English and many more millions on promoting the movie in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

An international team of 500 people including directors, producers and actors from Kazakhstan, the United States and Europe created the 33 million dollar movie, the most expensive ever-shot in Kazakhstan. The movie would be shown in at least 500 movie theaters across the world.

India-UK to cooperate on civilian N-energy

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 9: Soon after getting support from the US on N-energy, the UK has decided to cooperate with India in civilian nuclear energy to help New Delhi meet its energy requirements.

The UK has also backed India’s candidature for permanent membership of the expanded UN Security Council even as the two countries on Thursday signed several MoUs and agreements.

Addressing a joint press conference at Hyderabad House here with Premier Tony Blair after holding “a very successful” bilateral summit in Udaipur, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed his deep appreciation for UK Government’s support for India’s bid for expanded Security Council.

Prime Minister Tony Blair reaffirmed his commitment to India’s candidature for permanent membership of the expanded UN Security Council on which I expressed our deep appreciation for his Government’s clear and long held position.

Dr Singh said the two countries have agreed to intensify cooperation on frontier areas of science and technology and the knowledge sector.

“Several MoUs and agreements have been finalized during this meeting. These include – cooperation in the area of hydrocarbons which is important for our overall energy policy; a new air services agreement; an agreement on co-production of films; an agreement on intellectual property rights.”

Dr Singh informed newsmen that the two countries have also agreed to cooperate in civilian nuclear energy. “The United Kingdom recognizes the need for a supportive international environment for meeting our pressing energy requirements. We have also agreed that our collective efforts to ensure energy security will be accorded priority.”

The Prime Minister said the relationship between the two countries was very special and one which contains exceptional potential. “Both Governments are determined to realize this potential to the advantage of our people and our bilateral relationship.”

He said “we welcome the fact that Joint Economic Commission has been created to systematically advance mutual trade and investment as a follow up to the direction given by the Joint Declaration last year. An Indo-British Joint Science and Innovation Council have been set up to explore new high technology areas of collaboration. A financial and economic dialogue at the level of Finance Ministers has also been launched.”

UK Minister for Trade and Industry Alan Johnson, and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on Thursday signed the air services agreement. The Agreement will enable both UK and Indian airlines to launch a major expansion of passenger services and open up new routes.

Mr Blair said "the UK-India Air Services Treaty will underpin the connectivity which business needs between markets."

Direct scheduled services between India and the UK are set to triple this year, making travel easier and cheaper and boosting tourism and business links between the two countries. Next year could see a further doubling in passenger services. Cargo services are unlimited.

The Agreement signed today replaces one dating from 1951 when aviation was in its infancy. As well as formalising the new traffic rights, the new Treaty inter alia provides guarantees on fair competition, introduces strict new provisions on safety and security, and removes unnecessary restrictions on pricing and a range of other operational matters.

The new Agreement will benefit airlines from both countries, as well as passengers, businesses, and ultimately regional and national economies.

The MoU on Oil and Gas was signed by UK Minister for Trade and Industry Alan Johnson and Special Secretary Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas M.S. Srinivasan. It would further strengthen India and UK's links in this sector, and lead to greater co-operation.

The MoU will also assist more UK and Indian oil and gas firms to develop indigenous oil and gas resources. The MoU is wide-ranging and encompasses areas such as training and safety management where the UK's strength is widely recognised.

The two Prime Ministers also condemned the menace of global terrorism saying it stemmed from "perverse ideology" irrespective of the religion of the perpetrators.

"Terrorism has no religion, terrorists have no religion and they are friends of no religion," Dr Singh said.

Blair described terrorists as "a minority who seek to destroy civilised values. It arises out of the evil ideology ... It comes from perversion of the true faith of Islam .... Whether terrorism is in India or Britain, it is always utterly destructive".

Asserting that Britain was dealing with "the most extreme fanatical teachings of this kind of perverted Islam", Blair said there should be no compromise on this global menace.

"Vast majority of Muslims abhor terrorism", he said pointing out that most of the people killed in the recent bomb blast in Egypt, or in Iraq or Afghanistan were Muslims.

Endorsing his views, Singh said a multi-faceted struggle should be launched against terrorism and ensure maximum cooperation in this regard.

Education, inter-faith dialogue and the culture of tolerance should be promoted, the Prime Minister said.

India, EU to block terror funding

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 7: In their joint fight against terrorism, India and the European Union have decided to work towards blocking access to terrorist financing and cooperate in the fight against money laundering.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his British counterpart Tony Blair reiterated this at a joint press conference after the India-EU Summit here on Wednesday. Responding to a question after the sixth Indo-EU Summit, Tony Blair said that terrorism constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security and reaffirmed his condemnation of all acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations as criminal and unjustifiable, irrespective of their motives.

Manmohan Singh said India and EU have decided to establish contacts between Counter Terrorism agencies and share and gather intelligence to defeat the terrorism.

India and the 25-member nation European Union took their strategic partnership to a new height by formally endorsing a Joint Action Plan (JAP), resolving to fight terrorism and working together to secure India's membership in the ITER nuclear fusion project. They also signed the Framework Agreement on cooperation in Galileo navigation project of Europe.

The action plan firmed up the India-EU partnership with both sides committing to strengthen dialogue and consultation mechanisms, deepen political dialogue and cooperation, bring together people and cultures, enhance economic policy dialogue and cooperation and develop trade and investment.

The action plan was agreed upon at a meeting here between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Tony Blair, in his capacity as EU president.

The European Union delegation also included Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Javier Solana, EU secretary general.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project to build a fusion reactor by pooling scientific and financial resources involves the US, European Union, Russia, South Korea, China, Japan and Switzerland.

The two sides also agreed to work closely to promote multilateralism and strengthen UN peacekeeping and peace building. An India-EU security dialogue on global and regional issues, disarmament and non-proliferation will also be established.

Dr Singh and Mr Blair said their talks were "extremely good and productive" and the "most important outcome was the Joint Action Plan (JAP) which provides for framework for fast evolving multi-faceted relations between India and the EU."

Dr Singh described the JAP as an "ambitious" document that will help the two sides realise full potential of their multi-faceted relations.
On the Indo-UK bilateral front, the Prime Minister said values made the two countries natural partners. "We share historic, close and most cordial relations with the UK," he said.

Dr Singh asked the EU to review its technology export control regime with regard to India keeping in view New Delhi's impeccable record on non-proliferation front. He hoped the EU would respond "positively" on this.

An India-EU Initiative on Clean Development and Climate Change, with the aim of promoting cleaner technologies and their use, has also been launched. "We will strengthen our collaboration in science and technology, especially by looking to co-sponsor collaborative research projects in areas such as genomics, nanotechnology and high-energy physics. In biotechnology we will cooperate in confronting the global challenges posed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria," said the declaration.

It has been decided to hold dialogues on migration and consular issues in the context of the opportunities and challenges flowing from the large-scale movement of people between India and the EU. "We will increase educational co-operation through the facilitation of academic exchanges, such as Erasmus Mundus, and through encouraging the development of EU studies in India and Indian studies in the EU," the declaration said.

The two sides agreed to conclude a framework agreement on India's participation in the Galileo satellite navigation system as was agreed upon at the last summit at The Hague last year.

The Galileo satellite positioning and navigation services system project is a joint initiative of the EU and the European Space Agency and is being positioned as a rival to the US Global Positioning System. Conceptualised in 1999, the Galileo programme is likely to cost 3.4 billion euro when it becomes operational in 2008. China and Israel have already signed for the project.

India seeks increased EU market access

NEW DELHI, Sept 7: India has sought greater access to European Markets and said that the EU's anti-dumping actions against Indian products were a major concern for New Delhi that felt they were neither rational nor fair.

"A disproportionately large number of products in textiles, electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, herbal remedies and steel sectors face such actions," Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath said at an India-EU business conference. Nath said Indian entrepreneurs were finding it increasingly difficult to penetrate markets in developed countries.

"Indian trade and industry circles feel that while India has liberalised and markets have been opened up offering new vistas to global trade and industry, reciprocal benefits have not flowed from the developed world to us." He said India's exports of marine products were hindered by restrictions and standards enforced in EU.

"Not all such standards are in conformity with the international ones and are often based on excessive precaution and perceived rather than real risk."

Iraq sets date for Saddam trial next month

BAGHDAD, Sept 4: Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president, would go on trial on October 19 on charges related to the repression of Shia in a central Iraqi town in 1982, an Iraqi government spokesman said on Sunday.

The spokesman was subsequently quoted as saying that Mr Hussein could be executed shortly after his trial - possibly raising objections from the Kurds and other groups anxious to see crimes against their communities brought to trial.

"In view of recent leaks to the press and in the absence of an official spokesman for the tribunal, I have been authorised to announce that the trial of Saddam Hussein will begin on October 19," Laith Kubba, the prime ministerial spokesman, told a news conference.

The deposed leader's co-defendants would include Barzan Ibrahim, his half-brother and then-chief of intelligence, Taha Yassin Ramadan, former vice-president, former top judge Awad Badar Al-Bandar, and four former local members of the ruling Ba'ath party, Mr Kubba said.

The trial will open four days after an October 15 referendum on >Iraq's newly drafted constitution, although Mr Kubba said there was no relation between the two dates.

The charges relate to the aftermath of a 1982 attempt to assassinate the former president in the predominantly Shia town of Dujail, after which Mr Hussein's followers are said to have embarked on a campaign of collective punishment against the town in which hundreds were executed.

The defendants could receive the recently reinstated death penalty for their role in the repression.

The Iraqi special tribunal in charge of trying former regime officials has divided the charges against Mr Hussein and his associates into a dozen cases covering specific places and periods of time.

Iraqi officials have indicated that the Dujail case would be among the first as the scale is relatively limited and the case less complex than larger-scale killings such as the 1987-88 Anfal campaign against the Kurds and the repression of the 1991 intifada.

Mr Kubba was quoted by AFP as saying the sentence "will be implemented immediately . . . He could be executed after the first round."

This raises a possible conflict of interest between Shia parties, many of which want quick justice, and Kurds, many of whom want a drawn-out process to publicise the extent of their persecution under the former regime. Many Kurds cite waves of persecution such as the Anfal campaign, in which they claim some 182,000 people were killed, as a key argument behind their demands for independence.

Mr Hussein's defence team is expected to contest the tribunal's competence to try a former head of state in a case likely to last about a month.

The news came as Iraqi hospital sources announced a third day of fighting in the north-western town of Tal Afar, an alleged transit route for insurgents near Syria.

Powerful handshake stirs Muslim world

ISLAMABAD, Sept 3: The extraordinary encounter in Istanbul between Khurshid Kasuri, the Pakistani foreign minister, and his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom, produced a handshake across two worlds that is likely to have a profound impact here and in other Muslim societies.

While covert contacts between Israel and Pakistan date back to the 1940s, the meeting Thursday in Istanbul was a stark illustration both of Israel's desire to open contacts with more Muslim countries and of Pakistan's strategy, under President Pervez Musharraf, of raising its global profile, above all with the United States.

Since abandoning the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Musharraf has made several decisions unpopular with extremists but welcomed by more moderate, liberal voices in Pakistan that might otherwise be more critical of this military leader's grip on civilian power.

Fighting Afghan extremists, moving toward better relations with India and now forging open ties with Israel are all bold policies. Indeed, hard-line clerics immediately declared Friday a day of protest in Islamabad and vowed to welcome Kasuri with black flags upon his return. Hard-line lawmakers walked out of Parliament in protest at the meeting.

But Talat Masood, a retired general in Islamabad, said Musharraf's strategy might pay off if it results in better ties with the United States, the West in general, and India and China.

"It is brilliant in the sense that you are disarming the hostility of all the sources that are trying to malign you, " he said.

Pakistan has castigated and condemned Israel ever since its inception in 1947, and has lent unwavering and vociferous support to the Palestinian cause. So firmly rooted is the opposition to Israel that a Pakistani passport states that the holder can travel to any country in the world except Israel.

"We have pretended as if Israel does not exist," said Ikram Sehgal, a defense analyst and editor of Defense Journal.

In the post-Sept. 11 world, with its altered strategic alliances and redefined international relations, Pakistan and Israel have reasons to forge better ties.

"Pakistan has realized that it has to transform its antagonistic foreign policy to a functional relationship," said Masood. "It is concerned about the strategic relations of Israel and India and wants to countervail it."

In addition, Musharraf surely recognizes that it is impossible to become a strong ally of the United States without opening a channel to Israel. He had already sparked controversy - and in a sense set the stage for the Istanbul meeting - by agreeing to address the American Jewish Congress during his visit to America in September.

For its part, Israel hailed the meeting of the two foreign ministers as "historic and a huge breakthrough." Masood, the retired general, noted that Israel "recognizes Pakistan as an important Muslim country because of its close ties with Muslim countries, both conservative and moderate. Friendly relations with Pakistan can open channels as it can act as a bridge" - perhaps even to Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In many ways, Islamic Pakistan and Jewish Israel resemble each other - despite Pakistan's political and economic instability. Both countries are based on ideology, with religion as the foundation of their nationhood. Although Israel does not state this openly, both have nuclear weapons. Both are security-driven. Both grapple with threats from neighbors who are reluctant or unwilling to accept them.

For a society that officially does not acknowledge Israel's existence, Pakistan conducts a political discourse riddled with mention of Israel, far beyond the traditional loyalty to Arab Muslim states and routine protests about Israeli policies.

Conspiracy theories thrive on Israeli ingredients. Branding opponents "Israeli spies or agents of the Jews" remains a potent staple of politics.

For Islamic extremists, there is little or no benefit in improving ties with Israel - or with the United States.

"We talk about being allies of the United States, but it is strengthening its ties with India. What benefit can we get by befriending Israel?" asked Syed Munawar Hasan, secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's most organized Islamic party. "A robber forcibly enters your house and after some time lets you sit on your own sofa in one corner. It is no reason to rejoice."

"Israel should completely withdraw from Palestine," he added. "Withdrawal from Gaza means nothing."

Many Pakistanis share the clerics' viewpoint. Decades of one mode of thinking, and even indoctrination, have imprinted an image on public consciousness that cannot be erased easily.

Israel, on the other hand, has been less inhibited in its desire to establish relations with Pakistan. Shimon Peres, the veteran Labor Party leader and now a deputy prime minister, told Jang, the most widely read Urdu newspaper, in January: "Israel and Pakistan should have direct, personal contact, publicly, without being ashamed of it."

Musharraf, who has trumpeted a theory of what he calls "enlightened moderation," appears to agree. He has long argued that shunning extremism will enable Muslims to press for meaningful approaches that would solve their grievances over Palestine and - closer to home - Kashmir.

"The most compelling reason to engage with the Jewish community is to arrest the diabolical trend of clash of civilizations that has gained momentum since 9/11," wrote Nasim Zehra, an Islamabad-based security analyst, in an op-ed column for The News, a leading Pakistani daily. "Pakistan is weighing in now, practically and intellectually, on the global scene as a crucial Muslim state."

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst based in Lahore, noted a practical aspect - the difficulty in procuring weapons from the United States because of strong anti-Pakistan lobbying by Jewish leaders. "Any weapons sales to Pakistan meets the strongest opposition by those U.S leaders who are pro-Israel," he said. Sehgal, in Karachi, noted that Israel had cooperated with China in avionics and that Pakistan could also benefit.

Sehgal is among those who hailed Musharraf's plan to speak to the American Jewish Congress. "It is perhaps the most important landmark in our history," he said.

But Rizvi took a more cautious tone. Diplomatic ties are unlikely in the near future. Officials from the two sides "will keep on meeting at neutral venues," Rizvi said, but normalization will be a slow and gradual process.

London bombings: Al-Qaeda takes credit

London, Sept 2: Claiming responsibility for the July 7 London blasts, Al-Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri has threatened new attacks against Western countries similar to those that rocked Britain.

"The lands and interests of the countries which took part in the aggression against Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan are targets for us," Zawahiri said in a videotape aired by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV last night.

The videotape in which Zawahiri hailed the London "conquest" as similar to that in Madrid last year and the United States in September 2001, also showed footage of one of the London suicide bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, who outlined the reasons for his action.

It was the first explicit claim of responsibility for the blasts, which claimed 56 lives, by the terrorist group headed by Osama bin Laden.

"I talk to you today about the blessed London battle which came as a slap to the face of the tyrannical, Crusader British arrogance," al Zawahri said. "It's a sip from the glass that the Muslims have been drinking from."

"This blessed battle has transferred like its glorious predecessors in New York, Washington, and Madrid the battle to the enemies' land, after many centuries of the battle being on our (Muslim) land and after (Western) troops have occupied our land in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine."

"Just as they made rivers of blood flow in our countries, we will make volcanos of anger erupt in their countries," the Osama bin Laden's right-hand man said.

"We warned you (before), but it seems you want us to make you taste death in all its horror," Zawahiri told "the people of the crusader alliance" led by US President George W Bush and Blair. "Taste some of what you made us taste," he said.

Zawahiri linked the London bombings to the spurning by European governments of a truce offer by bin Laden last year.

"Did the lion of Islam, the mujahed Sheikh Osama bin Laden, not offer you a truce so that you may depart from the land of Islam? But you... were led by arrogance to more crime and your (British) Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that these proposals 'deserve to be met with our contempt,'" Zawahiri said.

"So taste the result of the insolence of your governments."

In the al Zawahri tape, speaking with a Yorkshire accent, one of the London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, said he had forsaken "everything for what we believe" and went on to accuse Western civilians of being directly responsible for the terror attacks that befall them.

"Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate injustice against my people all over the world, and your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters," Sidique Khan said.

Iraqis mourn stampede victims

BAGHDAD, Sept 2: Thousands of people have attended funerals for some of the hundreds of Shia pilgrims killed in a stampede on a Baghdad bridge during a religious procession.

The mourning process took place on Thursday as criticism mounts against the Shia-led government for failing to prevent the tragedy.

The tragedy highlighted the risks of assembling such large crowds of people in one of the world's most dangerous and unstable countries.

"This is a result of the inadequate performance of the interior and defence ministers which has caused such a loss of life," said Baha al-Aaraji, a Shia lawmaker affiliated to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"They should be made to stand in front of the National Assembly and be questioned. If it is proven that they have failed to fulfill their responsibilities, they should be dismissed and stand trial," he said.

However, Shia political parties encourage huge turnouts at religious festivals to display the majority sect's power in the new Iraq.

But the huge crowds overtax the ability of police and security services to protect them.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, told state-run Iraqiya television that "the government should take measures for an honest investigation to determine how failures doubled the casualties."

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari and the ministers of defence and health visited a hospital where many of the victims were taken.

The prime minister, a Shia, said neighbouring countries including Jordan and Iran had offered to help treat the victims.

"We are ready to send abroad any patient who needs medical treatment there," he said.

The government has proclaimed a three-day period of mourning after the disaster, which appeared to have been sparked by a rumour that a bomber was among the more than one million people gathering at a Shia shrine in the capital.

A day after the disaster, hundreds of people were searching for their dead relatives at Baghdad hospitals.

Many of the bodies were strewn on the floor outside the hospital's morgue, which itself was packed with corpses.

Dozens of bodies were identified and taken away for burial by their relatives, medical workers said.

Over 800 killed in Baghdad stampede

Baghdad, Aug 31: At least 816 people were crushed to death or drowned on Wednesday in a stampede on a Baghdad bridge triggered by fears a suicide bomber was among vast crowds of Shi'ite pilgrims massed for a religious ceremony.

Iraq authorities said the tragedy, which unfolded after a deadly mortar attack on a Shi'ite shrine, was a "terrorist" act by toppled dictator Saddam Hussein's loyalists and Al-Qaeda frontman in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zaqrqawi.

A security official said 816 were killed and 323 injured in the crush of panicked pilgrims, adding: "We are still recovering bodies from the river."

Many of the victims of the deadliest incident in Iraq since the US-led invasion more than two years ago were women, children and elderly people, hospital officials said.

Most were trampled to death or fell from Al-Aaimmah bridge into the Tigris river as panic gripped thousands of pilgrims from an estimated one million attempting to make their way to the Kadhimiya mosque in the north of the city.

"There was a huge crowd on the bridge and what happened was that one terrorist spread a rumour that led to the stampede," Interior Minister Bayan Baker Solagh told state-owned Iraqia television.

"The terrorist pointed a finger at another person saying that he was carrying explosives... and that led to the panic."

The incident could further stoke tensions between the country's Shi'ite majority and the ousted Sunni elite which has provided the backbone to the raging insurgency, only days after divisions were revived over the writing of the country's post-Saddam constitution.

"It was Saddamists and Zarqawists who spread ruours on the bridge and that is why people panicked," national security advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie told the television.

A carpet of shoes belonging to the victims littered the bridge where waist-high concrete barriers designed to foil car bombers were stained with the blood of victims who had been crushed against them.

People injured lined the corridors of Baghdad's hospitals as they struggled to cope with the enormity of the disaster.

"The crowd started to panic and women and children were being trampled underfoot," said Abdul Walid, 54, lying dazed on a hospital floor. "My son was on my shoulders, I don't know where he is now -- everybody was suffocating to death so I eventually had to jump" off the bridge.

The stampede occurred after the Kadhimiya mosque -- the burial place of Shi'ite imam Mussa Kazim who died 12 centuries ago -- came under mortar fire, leaving at least seven dead and 37 wounded.

The US Military said its helicopters had fired on the rebels who carried out the mortar attack and Iraqi officials said seven of them were killed.

Officials said 25 people died of poisoning after eating or drinking products that had been deliberately contaminated.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, a member of the majority Shi'ite community, declared a three-day mourning period and went on television to appeal for national unity.

Health Minister Abdul Mutalib Mohammad Ali demanded the resignation of the interior and defence ministers whom he blamed for the tragedy.

Shi'ites, long repressed under Saddam, have been one of the main targets of the Sunni-led insurgency. In March last year more than 170 people were killed in almost simultaneous attacks in Karbala and Baghdad mosques as faithful Shi'ites marked a religious festival.

The tragedy came amid deep divisions in the country over Iraq's draft constitution, which is opposed by disgruntled Sunni Arabs who are now seeking alliances to defeat the charter in an October 15 referendum.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad hinted that the draft constitution, presented to parliament on Sunday after weeks of tortuous negotiations that failed to bring the Sunnis on board, was still an incomplete document.

"If Iraqis amongst themselves, in the assembly and of course from outside, decide to make some adjustments to the draft that was presented two or three days ago, it is entirely up to them," he told reporters.

"I believe that a final, final draft has not yet been -- or the edits have not been -- presented yet, so that is something that Iraqis will have to talk to each other and decide for themselves."

The Sunni leaders, who are mobilising the community to strike alliances across the sectarian divide, said they were opening talks with radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr, who has said he rejects any constitution drafted under the US-led occupation, enjoys widespread support among poor urban Shi'ites. His militia led one of Iraq's fiercest rebellions against US-led forces last year.

On Tuesday, the US military launched air strikes on suspected Al-Qaeda hideouts near the Syrian border, killing at least 56 people.

The military claimed strikes targeting the hideouts were thought to have killed Abu Islam, a reported Al-Qaeda operative, and several associates.

Afghanistan keen to become member of SAARC

Kabul: Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday said his country was keen to become a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

"Afghanistan is keen to become a member of SAARC and contribute to its progress as a grouping," he said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after extensive talks between the two leaders.

He said he had also raised with Dr Singh the issue of Afghanistan's entry into SAARC and had received a "positive response" from the Indian Prime Minister.

Karzai said he had also raised this issue earlier with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and his response also was positive.

SAARC brings together seven South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Besides Afghanistan, China has shown interest in becoming a member of the regional grouping. The next SAARC Summit is scheduled to be held place in Dhaka in November.

Abbas urges militants to hold their fire

GAZA CITY, Aug 26: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday denounced a deadly Israeli arrest raid that killed five Palestinians, calling it an intentional provocation aimed at undermining a six-month cease-fire, but he urged militant groups to hold their fire.

Militants vowed to renew attacks on Israel, a move that would undercut the good will that resulted from an Israeli pullout from 25 Jewish settlements in Gaza and part of the West Bank. Following Tuesday's completion of the most important stage of the pullout - evacuating settlers - violence flared in three places.

A rocket fired from Lebanon exploded in an Israeli village just across the border Thursday, causing some damage but no casualties. Late Wednesday, Israeli forces raided the Tulkarem refugee camp in the West Bank, killing five Palestinians, at least three of them armed. A few hours before that, a Palestinian stabbed two young Jewish men in the Old City of Jerusalem, killing one and seriously wounding the other.

Abbas blamed Israel for inciting the sudden escalation with its deadly raid in Tulkarem. "This murder intentionally aims at renewing the vicious cycle of violence," he said.

Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, responded that the Palestinians have failed to control militants. "We have transferred authority over this city of Tulkarem and the surrounding villages to the Palestinian Authority, and over a period of about three months, no action has been taken," Gissin said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the department was still trying to get a clear picture of what happened in Tulkarem but stressed, "Israel has a right to defend itself." "What is important is that - and especially at this time, where we have a withdrawal taking place in Gaza and the West Bank - that both sides refrain from actions that could inflame tensions that might exacerbate the situation and make the environment in which we do have the ability of trust and confidence more difficult," he added.

Since Abbas and Sharon declared a cease-fire in February, the number of violent incidents plunged. However, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have carried out attacks, claiming they were responding to Israeli violations.

Abbas salutes Israel president over Gaza exit

GAZA CITY, Aug 24: Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas telephoned Israeli President Moshe Katsav to offer his congratulations for the smooth completion of the operation to evict Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

The call to Katsav followed a similar conversation between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday after the last Jewish settlers were taken out of the territory after a 38-year occupation.

"President Abbas called President Katsav this morning and both confirmed the commitment of the two sides to the peace process and to a partnership of the peace porcess," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) told President Katsav that he was happy about the way disengagement had been implemented and its peaceful organisation," Erakat added. He said Abbas had told both Katsav and Sharon that he was ready to meet with them.

"Both of them (Katsav and Sharon) confirmed that they were ready to meet Abu Mazen as well without any formal date being finalised," Erakat added.
The phone call on Monday between Sharon and Abbas was the first time that the pair had spoken since an abortive summit in June

Australian govt, Islamic leaders agree to fight terror jointly

SYDNEY, Aug 24: The Australian government and 14 moderate Muslim leaders agreed on Tuesday to join forces in the fight against terror at a landmark summit that brought together Prime Minister John Howard and Islamic community leaders.

The meeting at Australia's Parliament House was called to discuss how to stamp out extremist preaching and keep the country safe from terror attacks in the aftermath of the deadly London terrorist bombings killed 52 rail and bus commuters on July 7. "Members of the Muslim faith and in particular its leaders have a responsibility to challenge and counteract those who seek to encourage the use of violence and terrorism in the name of Islam," a statement released after the meeting said.

"The government must support and encourage Islamic leaders to challenge and eradicate extremism," it added. Howard said the group unanimously agreed to reject and combat terrorism. "It's fair to say that there was unanimous commitment from everybody present as fellow Australians to do all we could to tackle the problem and the potential for difficulty arising from the terrorist threat within our community," Howard told reporters.

Bomb explosion, rockets hit Pakistani town

QUETTA (Pakistan), Aug 22: Two homemade bombs exploded in a tribal town in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province and in a separate attack four rockets were fired at a paramilitary post near the town on Monday but no one was hurt, police said.

The first explosion did slight damage to a clinic and shattered windows at several shops in the main bazaar in Kohlu, a town about 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Quetta, Baluchistan's capital, local police officer Mohammed Khan said.

About three hours later, a second bomb went off in a garbage bin in the same street in Kohlu, shattering shop windows but injuring no one, Khan said. On the outskirts of the town, assailants fired four rockets at the Frontier Constabulary post but they missed the target and landed in a field, Khan said.

The troops are in the area to keep the peace and guard government installations. Local tribesmen often resent the force's presence in their area.

Khan said four local Marri tribesmen have been arrested for a probe into Monday's bomb explosion. Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest but sparsely populated province, has been the scene of small-scale bombings and rocket attacks in recent years. Authorities blame local tribesmen for the violence.

Ethnic Baluch nationalist groups are blamed for attacks against the government in their bids to press demands for increase in royalty for resources extracted in Baluchistan and oppose plans for setting up new military garrisons in the impoverished province. The central government says it has initiated several development projects in Baluchistan, including building a new deep sea port, and the proposed new military bases will help improve security.

Israel completes evacuation of Gaza settler bloc

KATIF, (Gaza Strip), Aug 22: Israel completed the evacuation of its main settlement bloc in occupied Gaza on Sunday as settlers set aside confrontation in favor of prayer with troops sent to remove them.

Synagogues, bastions of resistance in settlements emptied last week, became gathering points for the peaceful departure of dozens of families from territory Israel captured 38 years ago and which Palestinians want for a state. Israeli troops cleared out the settlements of Atzmona, Katif and Slav on Sunday, the last remaining inhabited settlements in a sprawling cluster in southern Gaza known as Gush Katif.

"I can declare the Gush Katif bloc empty of residents," said Israeli police spokesman Avi Zelba. Troops also entered Elei Sinai and Nissanit in north Gaza to extract a few families who stayed past the August 16 deadline. The army was to go into the remote central enclave of Netzarim on Monday, finishing its shutdown of all 21 Gaza settlements.

It intends to remove two of 120 settlements in the West Bank later this week, wrapping up a limited "Disengagement Plan," but faces violent resistance there from radical Jewish newcomers. With Palestinian agreement, Israeli forces began demolishing housing in four of the vacant settlements but will leave intact public buildings such as schools and community centers.

About 95 percent of Gaza's 8,500 settlers have gone since mandatory evacuations began last Wednesday, an exit much faster and smoother than many had expected after months of escalating rightist protests against the planned pullout.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bills the pullout as "disengagement" from conflict with the Palestinians and U.S.-led mediators regard the move as a catalyst for reviving a Middle East peace process frozen since 2000. Addressing army evacuation squads at a camp on Sunday, Sharon said: "Truly, you have done something here that was unbearably difficult -- very difficult for the residents, difficult for you, but essential for the State of Israel."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decreed that his administration would take over all Gaza settlements once the Israelis left. The pullout would not be complete until military forces are out too, expected in about another month.

Pak may build up to 50-110 nuclear bombs by year-end: Study

WASHINGTON, Aug 20: Pakistan may produce enough weapons grade uranium by the year-end in an attempt to match India's nuclear capability, according to a leading US think tank. Pakistan, in a bid to gain parity with India, could produce "enough enriched uranium to manufacture 50 to 110 nuclear weapons" by the year-end, said the study by 'Carnegie Endowment for International Peace'.

It claimed that both countries possessed components to deploy a small number of nuclear weapons within a few days or weeks, with fighter-bomber aircraft being the most likely delivery vehicle, the media reports said. Pakistan's nuclear weapons were stored in components, with the fissile core separated from the non-nuclear explosives, the study said, adding it was not known where the fissile material and warheads were stored.

It also criticised US for signing the nuclear pact with India, saying, "President (George W) Bush thus accorded India a much sought after seat in the "responsible nuclear club." While admitting that the nuclear tests by India in 1998 raised its "visibility and clout" in the post-Cold War era, the study said the Bush administration had decided to downplay nuclear non-proliferation concerns so that it could renew defence ties and establish strategic relations with India.

Meanwhile, a separate study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) claimed that if the Indo-US nuclear accord was endorsed by Congress, the resulting cooperation would "contravene" the multilateral export control guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It alleged that such a deal could "prompt other suppliers like China to justify their supplying other states like Pakistan."

Palestinian leader promises better future

RAFAH, (Gaza Strip), Aug 20: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas promised freedom, jobs and homes for the people of Gaza once Israel completes its pullout. Hours before he spoke Friday at Gaza's abandoned airport, an Israeli bulldozer demolished the first Jewish settlement, clearing land for Palestinian development.

In the settlement of Gadid, Israeli troops expelled the last settlers holed up in a synagogue, crashing through a flaming barricade of cars, wooden planks and garbage bins. Then, Israel suspended evicting settlers for the Jewish Sabbath, having evacuated 87 percent of Gaza's settlers in just 2 1/2 days. All but four settlements were vacant.

Smiling and waving to a cheering crowd at the closed Gaza International Airport, Abbas said Israel's departure was bringing "historic days of joy" to the Palestinians.

In his first major speech since Israel began pulling out on Monday, he promised that the airport, whose runways were destroyed by Israel in fighting in 2000, would again become a gateway for Palestinians - though that will require Israel's blessing.

Abbas also pledged the Palestinian Authority would rebuild homes demolished by Israel during the past five years of conflict. He promised to reserve 5 percent of government jobs for the disabled, mainly war wounded. He told the crowd that Israel was quitting Gaza because of Palestinian "sacrifices" and "patience," and he promised the withdrawal would lead to further pullouts from the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The first demolition was at Kerem Atzmona, an illegal outpost within view of the Mediterranean. The massive shovel of a yellow excavator flattened about 20 homes with just a few blows to each. Cranes lifted bomb shelters - concrete boxes with thick metal doors - onto a flatbed truck to be hauled away and recycled.

In Gadid, the 17th of Gaza's 21 settlements to be evacuated, protesters set up a flaming barricade at the gate when the army arrived shortly after dawn. They hurled stones and paint-filled light bulbs toward the troops. A military bulldozer cleared the burning debris, and forces quickly fanned through the settlement. The last four settlements were expected to be emptied by Tuesday, allowing the military to turn its attention midweek to the northern West Bank, the heart of biblical Israel for religious Jews and where authorities expect even more impassioned resistance than in Gaza.

Since Wednesday when the forced evictions began, security forces detained nearly 950 protesters. On Friday, 245 were still in jail in the southern Israeli town of Beersheva, police said. Yet most of the operation was unexpectedly swift and smooth, amid scenes of pathos and despair as people were forced to abandon homes and farms they lived in for as long as 30 years.

350 blasts rock Bangladesh, one dead, 134 injured

DHAKA, Aug 17: At least one person was killed and 134 were injured Wednesday as some 350 near simultaneous bomb blasts ripped across Bangladesh, triggered by suspected Islamists.

Tension was high across Bangladesh after the blasts rocked market places, government buildings and court premises in 58 of the country's 64 districts between 10.45 a.m. and 11.30 a.m. The explosions in the capital Dhaka, the port city of Chittagong and other cities triggered panic in the Muslim majority country, Xinhua reported quoting private television channel NTV.

The blasts took place within hours of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's departure for China at about 9 a.m. 'The bombing was well planned. It was not an isolated incident,' Minister of State for Home Lutfuzzaman Babar told NTV.

He said a meeting of security personnel, including the armed forces, had been called. 'We are considering ways of handling the large-scale bombings.' Babar said 23 people had been arrested.

Copies of a leaflet produced by Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB), a banned fundamentalist organisation, were found at each blast site, giving the impression that the organisation might have a link to the blasts, Mizzima news agency reported. The leaflet, however, did not claim responsibility for the blasts and cautioned that tough action would be taken against the government for failing to establish an 'Islamic state' in Bangladesh.

'It is time to implement Islamic law in Bangladesh. There is no future with man-made law,' the leaflet said. The propaganda sheets also denounced US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, asking them to 'get out of Muslim countries'.

Powerful quake in Japan said to injure 59

SENDAI (Japan) Aug 16: A powerful earthquake shook northeastern Japan on Tuesday, triggering landslides, sending a shower of ceiling debris into a crowded indoor swimming pool and shaking skyscrapers as far away as Tokyo. At least 59 people were reportedly injured.

The 7.2-magnitude quake, centered about 50 miles off the coast of Miyagi state, knocked out power to about 17,000 homes, while high-speed train services in northern Japan were suspended and flights were temporarily grounded at Haneda airport in Tokyo, 185 miles to the south.

Part of roof of an indoor pool in the coastal city of Sendai fell, injuring 17 people, Miyagi police spokesman Kazunori Abe said. Elsewhere, others were hurt by falling rocks and tumbling roof tiles.

TV news footage showed a collapsed house outside Tokyo and landslides in the quake-hit area. A Chiba police spokesman said an 80-year-old woman was trapped but later rescued.

The quake struck at around 11:46 a.m. and was centered 12 miles below the ocean floor, Japan's Meteorological Agency said. Two 4-inch tsunami waves hit the nearby coast shortly after noon, and officials expected little damage from the waves, it said. The quake was followed by at least four aftershocks and additional quakes of up to magnitude 6 could follow.

Australia back in the market for migrants

SYDNEY, Aug 16: Australia on Tuesday launched its biggest overseas recruitment drive in 50 years to get the skilled workers needed to continue a world-beating 14 years of continuous growth that has driven unemployment to a 28-year low.

With employers to complaining about the scarcity of staff, a global job expo to find 20,000 new Australians will start next month with drives in Berlin, Amsterdam, London and Chennai. Next year, the roadshow will move to Bangkok, Seoul, Los Angeles and Manila. Anybody, anywhere, can apply - and the vacancies range from accountants to hairdressers, nurses to plumbers.

"We have a non-discriminatory immigration policy," Prime Minister John Howard said earlier this year, when announcing a 20,000-place increase that will take the target immigration intake to 140,000 this year. "We will take skilled people who fit the bill from anywhere in the world." Australia has its lowest unemployment rate since The Beatles were top of the pops. With only five per cent of the workforce without a job, economists reckon that full employment has been reached.

The birth rate is an average of 1.75 children for each woman of childbearing age. That is not enough to restock the workforce, prompting Canberra to look abroad to make up the numbers. The opposition Labour Party, which is tied closely to the unions, is wary of the overseas recruitment scheme, believing it is a scheme by the conservative government to drive down wages and prise open the job market.

Labour leader Kim Beazley urged the Government to address the problem by enticing Australia's one million expatriates to return home. "We should work much harder to capitalise on their links to trade investment and overseas cultures and perhaps encourage a few more to come home," he said.

Peter Hendy, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that recalling the Australian Diaspora was easier to say than do.

"People go overseas because they want to expand their life experiences and to expand their job experiences," Hendy said. "What you find is that one of the bars of them coming back to Australia is that they have to pay too high a tax rate. We need to reform the tax system to get them back." Population expert Graeme Hugo of Adelaide University warns that lifting immigration is not the answer. A better bet, he said, is to get those already in Australia back into work.

Another obstacle the Government faces is professional bodies that deny skilled migrants jobs that are commensurate with their qualifications. Former university professors end up driving taxis because their qualifications are not recognized. Australia's first big recruitment drive was after World War II, when more than one million, mostly British people, were given assisted passage to help them make new lives in Australia.

Mile long procession at Kadirgamar's funeral

COLOMBO, Aug 15: Sri Lanka on Monday bade a tearful farewell to its assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who took a tough stand against LTTE and was a votary of strong ties with India, in a state funeral at the Independence Square here.

A high-level Indian delegation including Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh were among delegations from 12 countries who attended the last rites of Kadirgamar whose mortal remains were consigned to flames as per Buddhist rites.

Brushing aside security concerns, President Chandrika Kumaratunga made an appearance at the Independence Square Park where the pyre of the slain leader, born a Tamil Christian, was lit by his sons Ajitha and Ragee amidst multi-faith prayers, capping a mile-long funeral procession when national flag draped Kadirgamar's body was taken in a hearse.

Mukherjee and Natwar Singh were seated next to Kumaratunga when the last rites were performed in the presence of cabinet ministers from six countries including Pakistan, Norway and Bangladesh and members of Kadirgamar's family.

Addressing the mourners, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse said September 11 in New York, July seven in London, brutal slaying of Rajiv Gandhi and Lankan President Premadasa and assassination of Kadirgamar in Colombo "were events of same magnitude in that they threatened the very fabric of civilized society".

"All countries of the East and the West, of developed and developing worlds must and surely will join together to wipe out terrorism and strengthen the norms and values of a democratic life", he said.

"The LTTE seeks to destroy the ground realities, their objective is to divide the country and destroy democratic way of life. We have no doubt that all countries of the civilized world will join, as much as we join them, in the common struggle against terrorism in every form and manifestation", said Rajapakse.

Sri Lanka declares emergency; India condemns Kardirgamar killing as 'heinous act'

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 13: Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency followingassassination of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. India has condemned the assassination of Kadirgamar as a "heinous act" and said he was a "long-standing friend of India".

"Unreservedly" condemning the murder, a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs hoped the "perpetrators of this terrorist crime" are brought to justice. He also reiterated India's support to the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and said New Delhi will extend its full support to "our friendly neighbour in its hour of need."

"We have every confidence that government and friendly people of Sri Lanka will rise to the challenge and defeat the forces which seek to undermine Sri Lanka's unity and political stability," said the spokesman.

The spokesman said India was sending a high-level delegation comprising of the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, and the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, to attend the funeral of Lakshman Kadirgamar and pay their last respects. The delegation will also include Foreign Secretary Shri Shyam Saran and other senior officials. "The delegation will leave for Sri Lanka on Monday morning," he added.

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said she was shocked and saddened by the assassination of Kadirgamar. This senseless murder was a vicious act of terror, which the United States strongly condemns. Those responsible must be brought to justice."

Recalling her meeting with Mr. Kadirgamar this June, Ms. Rice said: "He was a man of dignity, honor and integrity, who devoted his life to bringing peace to Sri Lanka. Together, we must honor his memory by re-dedicating ourselves to peace and ensuring that the Cease-Fire remains in force."

The Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister, Jan Petersen, described the assassination as "a gruesome deed, which is deeply tragic for Sri Lanka."

"I condemn this killing of a significant politician and a respected representative for his country," Mr. Petersen said.

Striking a note of caution that the "killing puts the peace process in Sri Lanka to a serious test," Mr. Petersen said: "It is now of great importance that both parties to the conflict do their utmost to fully fulfil their obligations according to the cease-fire agreement."

Lankan Foreign Minister Kadirgamar assassinated

COLOMBO, Aug 13: Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was shot dead by a terrorist sniper in Colombo on Friday night. A National Hospital official said that the minister was pronounced dead at 12.15 am on Saturday.

The minister was in his swimming pool between 10 pm and 11 pm on Friday when the sniper, a crackshot, got him. He was apparently hit in the head and chest. Kadirgamar was rushed to the National Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to no avail.

The incident took place at Kadirgamar's private residence in the high security Buller's Lane in the heart of Colombo. He was in the habit of swimming in his private swimming pool every evening before retiring.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga rushed to the hospital to see him. Air force Helicopters were hovering over Colombo as a security measure. Troops were out on the road. A few days ago two men were caught videoing his residence, police said.

Kadirgamar, a Jaffna Tamil, but a vigorous campaigner against the LTTE, has been high on the list of the LTTE's hit squads. He had got many countries in the West including the US to ban the LTTE in the 1990s.

If the LTTE had done the deed, as it widely thought to have, the assassination will put back the peace process completely. Kadirgamar was hated by the LTTE and the pro-LTTE Tamils, but loved by the Sinhala leaders and masses. Kadirgamar was an extremely popular man in India also. External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh had described him as one of the finest chairpersons of international conferences during his last visit to Colombo.

US fighter jet bombs Australia building

DARWIN (Australia), Aug 13: A US Marine Corps fighter jet dropped a bomb and damaged a building in an accident at a remote military range in northern Australia, the government said Friday.

The bomb, dropped by an F/A-18 Hornet, exploded near a control tower and damaged facilities at the Delamere Air Weapons Range in the Northern Territory on Wednesday, Australia's Defense Department said. No one was injured and no details were released on the extent of the damage.

Defense Minister Robert Hill said the mishap was under investigation by both Australian and American authorities. "We certainly regard it as a serious incident," Hill told reporters in the northern city of Darwin. Bombing exercises have ceased at the weapons range, some 80 miles south of the town of Katherine.

"Things like this will always happen; we hope not very frequently and we hope not any more dangerously," Prime Minister John Howard told Melbourne Radio 3AW. "But the idea that you can conduct any kind of military exercise without some kind of potential for mishap is unrealistic." The U.S. Marine contingent, which is based in Japan, was conducting an annual training exercise called Southern Frontier that involves 500 troops, 15 F/A-18 Hornets and two KC-130 Hercules aircraft. The U.S. Marine Corps said the ordnance was a 500 pound laser-guided bomb, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

UK to ease nuclear export controls to India

LONDON, Aug 12: Britain said on Thursday it would relax its controls on the export of civilian nuclear technology to India, which declared its nuclear power status in 1998.

London's foreign ministry said the policy change reflected India's improved relations with neighbouring nuclear power Pakistan and its growing commitment to international non-proliferation goals. India and Pakistan both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

"India is a key international partner in the UK's efforts to work towards a world safer from global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction," said a foreign office spokesman. We attach great importance to developing our strategic partnership and to stopping onward proliferation."

He said the decision to relax the controls was a result of a six-month policy review. Current controls, which also apply to Pakistan, have been in force since March 2002. Last month, the United States promised India full cooperation in developing its civilian nuclear power programme without demanding that it sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.

India agreed to identify and separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes, continue a moratorium on nuclear testing and place civilian nuclear facilities under the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The foreign ministry spokesman said Britain was in separate discussions with Pakistan on nuclear issues.


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