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India seeks expansion of nuclear ties with Russia

NEW DELHI, March 17: "Desperately short" of hydrocarbon resources, India on Friday sought expansion of civil nuclear cooperation with Russia and talked about the possibility of involving Moscow in the India-Iran gas pipeline project.

India has also thanked Russia for its decision to supply urgently-needed 60 metric tonnes of uranium to the Tarapur Atomic Plant Station (TAPS). After about two-hour long talks with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Fradkov, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India envisioned a "substantial increase" in the share of nuclear energy in its overall energy mix and that he appreciated Moscow's decision to supply uranium to the Tarapur nuclear plant.

Addressing a joint press conference, Singh and Fradkov said the two countries had set up a Joint Study Group to enhance cooperation in trade and investment with an aim of raising the bilateral trade volume to US $10 billion by 2010.

They also agreed to soon conclude an agreement allowing investment of funds from the Rupee-Rouble debt account in India. The two countries signed various agreements, including two related to implementation of cooperation in respect of the Global Satellite Navigation System (GLONASS).

"I am confident that both countries will utilise opportunities to expand our partnership in civil nuclear energy cooperation," Singh said. "I would like to convey our warm appreciation to the Russian government for responding positively to meet the requirements for nuclear fuel supplies to Tarapur I and II," Singh said.

36 dead after bomb blast in Baghdad market

BAGHDAD, March 2: A bomb ripped through a vegetable market in a Shiite section of Baghdad and a leading Sunni politician escaped an attack on his convoy Thursday as at least 36 people were killed in unrelenting violence pushing Iraq towards civil war.

An aide to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, meanwhile, lashed out at Sunni, Kurdish and secular political leaders who have mounted a campaign to deny him another term, saying the Shiite United Iraqi alliance will not change its candidate.

Al-Jaafari canceled a meeting Thursday with top political leaders after they launched their bid to unseat him, raising a new hurdle in U.S.-backed talks on an inclusive government, which already broke down last week when Sunni parties pulled out to protest attacks on Sunni mosques triggered by the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in the central city of Samarra. Hundreds were killed in the sectarian fury that followed.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, a leader of the Sunni's largest parliamentary bloc, escaped the assassination attempt Thursday because he already had sped away from the scene in another vehicle in his convoy after the car in which he had been riding got a flat tire. Gunmen opened fire on the disabled car, killing one of al-Dulaimi's bodyguards and wounding five others. The politician said he was not aware of the attack until he reached his office.

The attack occurred a day after it was revealed that al-Dulaimi - one of Iraq's most prominent moderate Sunnis - had joined with key Kurdish and secular politicians in a coalition that agreed to ask the main Shiite bloc to withdraw al-Jaafari's nomination for prime minister and put forward another candidate. Officials of all three groups confirmed the plan but spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Al-Jaafari adviser Haider al-Ibadi accused the prime minister's critics of trying to delay the formation of a new government, telling The Associated Press: "There are some elements who have personal differences with al-Jaafari."

The decision also drew sharp opposition from the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose support enabled al-Jaafari to win the nomination over Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi by a single vote in a Feb. 12 caucus of Shiites who dominate the new parliament. An official close to al-Sadr described the attempt to remove al-Jaafari as a "flagrant interference."

"We will not abandon al-Jaafari and this is the right of the people who voted. None of the politicians can impose their will on the people," the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the political flap.

Multiple bombings in Baghdad kill 56

BAGHDAD, Feb 28: A series of suicide attacks, car bombs and mortar barrages rocked Baghad on Tuesday, killing at least 56 people and wounding scores as Iraq teetered on the brink of sectarian civil war.

President Bush decried the violence and said Iraqis must choose between "chaos or unity." Iraqis have suffered through days of reprisal killings and attacks on Sunni mosques since bombers blew apart the gold dome of the revered Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra on Wednesday. The Iraqi Cabinet said at least 379 people had been killed and 458 wounded in reprisal attacks.

In the latest attacks, two explosions hit Shiite targets in northern Baghdad after sundown, killing at least 15 people and wounding 72. Police officials said either a car bomb or a mortar hit the Abdel Hadi Chalabi mosque in the Hurriyah neighborhood, killing 14 people and wounding 62. Mortar fire at the Imam Kadhim shrine in the Kazimiyah neighborhood on the opposite side of the Tigris River killed one and wounded 10. A Sunni mosque in the Hurriyah neighborhood had been bombed before dawn Tuesday.

The Tuesday night attacks were clearly a continuation of sectarian violence that erupted in the country after a Shiite shrine was bombed in the predominantly Sunni city of Samarra on Wednesday. Earlier, five bomb attacks rattled the capital, killing at least 41 and wounding scores.

In Washington, Bush sidestepped a question about whether the surge in sectarian violence would affect his administration's hopes to begin withdrawing U.S. troops. "Obviously there are some who are trying to sow the seeds of sectarian violence," Bush said. "And now, the people of Iraq and their leaders must make a choice. The choice is chaos or unity, the choice is a free society, or a society dictated by evil people who would kill innocents."

Separately, Vice President Dick Cheney challenged administration critics during a speech at an American Legion convention. "Here in Washington, if any believe Americans should suddenly withdraw from Iraq and stop fighting al-Qaida in the very place they have gathered, let them say so clearly," Cheney said. "If any believe that Americans should break our word and abandon our Iraqi allies, let them make it known."

Anand lauds Kalam's Pan African e-network initiative

NEW DELHI, Feb 10: Addressing a gathering of all African diplomatic Heads of Mission in New Delhi, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma today drew special attention to President APJ Abdul Kalam's initiative to establish a Pan African e-network, which would help African countries in bridging the digital divide.

Highlighting the assistance provided to a number of countries in Africa under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) and aid to Africa Programmes, Sharma emphasized on the need to develop a regular India-African Union dialogue and to create an appropriate institutional structure for it. Ambassadors, High Commissioners and other senior representatives of all major countries attended the lunch.

Thanking the Minister for his initiative to host this interaction with African diplomats so soon after assumption of office, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohammad, Ambassador of Sudan and Dean of African diplomats acknowledged Sharma's unflinching commitment to Africa. The UPA Government, he said, deserved compliments for this brilliant appointment, which had sent an extremely positive signal to Africa about the importance that India attached to its ties with the continent.

"Africa was genuinely appreciative of all the help that it had received from India during its struggle against colonialism. It was also grateful for India's multifaceted assistance to Africa's economic development," Abdalmahmood said, adding that Kalam's Pan African e-network Project would emerge as a major new landmark since this was the first time that any country had attempted to reach out to all countries in the African continent through a single initiative.

He emphasized that this project could have an enormous impact on Africa's efforts to bridge the digital divide in the critical areas of education and healthcare. He also applauded the important role being played by Lines of Credit extended by India to Sudan and to a number of other countries in Africa to enable them to bridge the financial gap for important projects.

Iran tells nuke agency to remove cameras

VIENNA, Feb 7: Iran has told the International Atomic Energy Agency to remove surveillance cameras and agency seals from sites and nuclear equipment by the end of next week in response to referral to the UN Security Council, according to agency reports. Iran's demands came two days after the IAEA reported Tehran to the council over its disputed atomic program.

In a confidential report to the IAEA's 35-member board on Monday, agency head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran also announced a sharp reduction in the number and kind of IAEA inspections, effective immediately. Iranian officials had repeatedly warned they would stop honoring the so-called "Additional Protocol" to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - an agreement giving IAEA inspectors greater authority - if the IAEA board referred their country to the council.

A diplomat close to the Vienna-based IAEA said that Iran had also moved forward on another threat - formally setting a date for resuming full-scale work on its uranium enrichment program. Iran says it wants to make fuel through enrichment, but the activity can also generate the nuclear core of warheads. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was confidential, refused to divulge the date.

Robert G. Joseph, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, said Monday that Iran used negotiations with the European Union to play for time and develop its capabilities.

"I would say that Iran does have the capability to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them," he said in a response to a question. In Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Secretary-General Kofi Anan said he was still hopeful that Iran will take confidence-building measures with the IAEA.

"It's not the end of the road," Annan said of the Security Council referral. "I hope that in between, Iran will take steps that will help create an environment and confidence-building measures that will bring the partners back to the negotiating table."

In his brief report, ElBaradei cited E. Khalilipour, vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying: "From the date of this letter, all voluntarily suspended non-legally binding measures including the provisions of the Additional Protocol and even beyond that will be suspended."

Calling on the agency to sharply reduce the number of inspectors in Iran, Khalilipour added: "the entire Agency's containment and surveillance measures which were in place beyond the normal Agency safeguards measures should be removed by mid-February 2006."

Earlier, Russia's foreign minister warned against threatening Iran after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reportedly agreed with an interviewer at the German daily newspaper Handelsblatt that all options, including military response, remained on the table.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for talks to continue with Tehran, adding: "I think that at the current stage, it is important not to make guesses about what will happen and even more important not to make threats."

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the Security Council to impose strict sanctions on Iran if it fails to comply with U.N. resolutions and arms agreements and warned that inaction would greatly increase the chances of military conflict. He nonetheless stressed that the United States favors a diplomatic solution. "Diplomatic and economic confrontations are preferable to military ones," Lugar said. But he cautioned that "in the field of nonproliferation, decisions delayed over the course of months and years may be as harmful as no decisions at all."

The Additional Protocol was signed by Iranian officials in 2003 as pressure intensified on Tehran to cooperate with IAEA inspectors probing more than 18 years of clandestine nuclear activities. The protocol gives the agency inspecting powers beyond normal, allowing for inspections on short notice of areas and programs suspected of being misused for weapons activity.

North Korea - the world's other major proliferation concern - quit the Nonproliferation Treaty in January 2003, just a few months before U.S. officials announced that Pyongyang had told them it had nuclear weapons and may test, export or use them depending on U.S. actions.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said they will continue honoring the Nonproliferation Treaty. Still, the agreements linked to that treaty are insufficient for agency inspectors trying to establish whether Iran has had a secret nuclear arms program.

Unless Iran relents, the move to curtail voluntary cooperation means that ElBaradei will be stymied in trying to close the Iran nuclear file by March. And that could backfire on Tehran.

Russia and China agreed to Security Council referral on condition that the council take no action until March, when the IAEA board next meets. But if ElBaradei reports to that March 6 meeting that he was unable to make progress in establishing whether Iran constitutes a nuclear threat, the council will likely start to pressure Iran, launching a process that could end in sanctions .

IAEA refers Iran to UNSC

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI/ VIENNA, Feb 5: India has voted in favour of a resolution, moved at the UN nuclear watchdog agency reporting Iran to the UN Security Council, which expressed concern that Tehran's nuclear programme may not be ‘exclusively for peaceful purposes’.

Supported by India and 26 other countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Iran to the UN Security Council. The 35-nation IAEA Board's decision sets the stage for future action by the top U.N. body that could include economic and political sanctions. Still, any such moves were weeks if not months away, with two permanent council members, Russia and China, agreeing to referral only on condition that no council action be taken until at least March.

A European resolution backed by the United States calling for referral was backed by 27 nations, including India, whose stance on referral was unclear until the vote, at the meeting. Only three nations - Cuba, Syria and Venezuela - voted against. Five others - Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa abstained.

The resolution links the decision to ask for Tehran's referral to the country's breaches of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and lack of confidence that it is not trying to make weapons. The resolution expresses ``serious concerns about Iran's nuclear programme.'' It recalls ``Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations'' to the nonproliferation treaty. And it expresses ``the absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.''

It requests IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to ``report to the Security Council'' steps Iran needs to take to dispel suspicions about its nuclear ambitions. Agreement on the final wording of the text was achieved only overnight, just hours before the meeting convened, after Washington compromised on a dispute with Egypt over linking fears about Tehran's atomic programme to a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction an indirect reference to Israel.

India described the decision as "well-balanced". A spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry said "We call upon Iran to respond positively to requests from the IAEA board to restore the confidence-building measures... and continue to cooperate with the IAEA in resolving any outstanding issues." Defending the vote, he said, it shouldn't impinge on 'friendly' relations with Iran, stressing that India had worked to secure yet another breather for Iran.

India's vote was closely watched in Washington. Analysts say it should ease passage of any forthcoming legislation on a US-India nuclear pact through an Iran-phobic US Congress. The spokesman said the resolution has won six weeks for Iran, before a March 6 IAEA meeting, "for diplomatic efforts to continue and to get negotiations between the EU-3 and Iran back on track".

It also provides an opportunity for Iran to consider anew the Russian proposal for a joint venture with Iran for uranium enrichment. However, in the build-up to the vote, Iran's top nuclear negotiator had spurned the offer for fuel enrichment in Russia as redundant.

Over 1,000 on Egyptian ferry feared dead

SAFAGA (Egypt), Feb 4: An aging ferry sank in the choppy waters of the Red Sea on Friday with more than 1,400 people on board, mainly Egyptian workers returning from Saudi Arabia. Most were feared lost, but at least 324 apparently made it to safety.

Passengers said fire broke out on board the ship early in its trip. Transportation Minister Mohammed Lutfy Mansour told reporters early Saturday that the fire was "small" and that investigators were working to determine whether it was linked to the sinking. He said there was no explosion on the vessel.

At the Egyptian port of Hurghada, nearly 140 survivors arrived early Saturday — the first significant group to come to shore. They walked off the ship down a ramp, some of them barefoot and shivering, wrapped in blankets, and immediately boarded buses to take them to the hospital. Many said the fire began between 90 minutes and 2 1/2 hours after the ship's departure, but that it kept going and the fire burned for hours.

"The fire happened about an hour or 90 minutes into the trip, but they decided to keep going. It's negligence," one survivor, Nabil Zikry, said before he was moved along by police, who tried to keep the survivors from talking to journalists. Ahmed Elew, an Egyptian in his 20s, said he reported the fire to the ship's crew and they told him to help with the water hoses to put it out. At one point there was an explosion, he said.

When the ship began sinking, Elew said he jumped into the water and swam for several hours. He said he saw one overloaded lifeboat overturn. He eventually got into another lifeboat. "Around me people were dying and sinking," he said. "Who is responsible for this?" he asked. "Somebody did not do their job right."

Several of the survivors shouted their anger that the rescue had taken so long. "They left us in the water for 24 hours. A helicopter came above us and circled, we would signal and they ignored us," one man shouted. "Our lives are the cheapest in the world," another said.

A spokesman for President Hosni Mubarak said the ferry did not have enough lifeboats, and questions were raised about the safety of the 35-year-old, refitted ship that was weighed down with 220 cars as well as the passengers. "It's a roll-on, roll-off ferry, and there is big question mark over the stability of this kind of ship," said David Osler of the London shipping paper Lloyds List. "It would only take a bit of water to get on board this ship and it would be all over. ... The percentage of this type of ferry involved in this type of disaster is huge."

Weather may also have been a factor. There were high winds and a sandstorm overnight on Saudi Arabia's west coast. Officials said more than 185 bodies were recovered while hundreds remained missing in the dark, chilly sea nearly 24 hours after the ship went down. One lifeboat was spotted from a helicopter during the day bobbing in the waves with what appeared to be a dozen or more passengers.

Rescue efforts appeared confused. Egyptian officials initially turned down a British offer to divert a warship to the scene and a U.S. offer to send a P3-Orion maritime naval patrol aircraft to the area. Then Egypt reversed itself and asked for both — then finally decided to call off the British ship, deciding it was too far away to help, said Lt. Cdr. Charlie Brown of the U.S. 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain. In the end, the U.S. craft — which has the capability to search underwater from the air — was sent, but the British ship was not, he said.

Four Egyptian rescue ships reached the scene Friday afternoon, about 10 hours after the ferry likely went down some 57 miles off the Egyptian port of Hurghada. Any survivors still in the Red Sea could go into shock in the waters, which average in the upper 60s in February and are up to 3,000 feet deep.

The ship, "Al-Salaam Boccaccio 98," which was also carrying about 220 vehicles, left Thursday at 7:30 p.m. from the Saudi port of Dubah on a 120-mile trip to the Egyptian port of Safaga, south of Hurghada. It had been scheduled to arrive at Safaga at 3 a.m. The vessel went down between midnight and 2 a.m., when authorities lost contact with it. No distress signal was received. About 1,400 passengers, along with a crew of 98, were on board, said Awad.

The passengers included about 1,200 Egyptians, as well as 99 Saudis, three Syrians, two Sudanese, and a Canadian, officials said. It was not clear where the other passengers were from. Some of them were probably Muslim pilgrims who had overstayed their visas after last month's hajj pilgrimage to work in the kingdom. The agent for the ship in Saudi Arabia, Farid al-Douadi, said the vessel had the capacity for 2,500 passengers. The cause of the sinking was not immediately known, but there were high winds and a sandstorm overnight on Saudi Arabia's west coast.

Security Council to review Iran nuke case

LONDON, Jan 31: The United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council agreed Tuesday that Iran should be hauled before that powerful body over its disputed nuclear program.

China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the U.N. nuclear watchdog to transfer the Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other harsh action.

Foreign ministers from those nations, plus the United States, Britain and France, also said the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case, after a formal report on Tehran's activities from the watchdog agency.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and other foreign ministers discussed Iran at a private dinner at the home of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. After the four-hour meeting, which spilled over into the early hours Tuesday, a joint statement called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to report the Iran case when it meets in Vienna on Thursday.

Foreign ministers from Germany and the European Union also attended the dinner and agreed to what amounted to a compromise - take the case to the Security Council but allow a short breather before the council must undertake what could be a divisive debate.

The group agreed that the IAEA "should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran, and should also report to the Security Council all IAEA reports as resolutions as adopted relating to this issue," a statement from the group said.

The IAEA has already found Iran in violation of nuclear obligations and issued a stern warning to Tehran in September. Thursday's vote would be the next step, one long sought by the United States.

Iran insists its nuclear program is intended only to produce electricity. The United States and some allies say Iran is hiding ambitions to build a nuclear bomb, but the Security Council members have been divided aout how strong a line to take.

It is still not clear how Russia and China would vote if the questions of sanctions came before the Security Council. It is also not clear that the United States will win the broad international consensus it seeks when the IAEA votes

Pak under Musharraf a 'failed' democracy: Nawaz Sharif

LONDON, Jan 30: Describing Pakistan under President Pervez Musharraf as a "failed democracy" being ruled by a few guard than its people, exiled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accused the General of mortifying the nation's name with in the global community.

During a hurriedly called press conference after arrival at Heathrow airport in London on Sunday, Sharif held that General Musharraf had degraded Pakistan's name in the world. Asserting that Pakistan under Musharraf was a failed democracy, Sharif said he has to "decide today whether Pakistan is going to be ruled by its people or by a few guards."

Sharif condemned the 13th January US air-strike that killed at least 13 civilians along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier, where al-Qaeda terror network's chief Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are thought to be hiding.

It was Sharif's first trip to UK since he went into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000. He is visiting his twenty eight year old ailing son Hassan, who is being treated for an undisclosed illness.

Musharraf had ousted Sharif in a military coup in 1999 and sent him to jail. Sharif was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000. The former PM refused to talk about his exile in Saudi Arabia and the corruption and terrorism charges brought against him in his country. He also said his party, Pakistan Muslim League, would not cooperate with Musharraf.

Hamas election victory shocks world

RAMALLAH, Jan 27: Islamic militant Hamas' landslide victory in Palestinian elections unnerved the world Thursday, darkening prospects for Mideast peace and ending four decades of rule by the Fatah Party.

The parliamentary victory stunned even Hamas leaders, who mounted a well-organized campaign but have no experience in government. They offered to share power with President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah chief, who said he may go around the new government to talk peace with Israel.

Underscoring the tensions between the secular Fatah and fundamentalist Hamas, some 3,000 supporters of the militant group marched through Ramallah and raised their party's green flag over the Palestinian parliament. Fatah supporters tried to lower the banner. The two sides fought for about 30 minutes, throwing stones and breaking windows in the building. Abbas, who was elected last year to a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority, has yet to decide how closely to work with a group that built its clout through suicide bombings. But his Fatah Party decided not to join a Hamas government, Fatah legislator Saab Erekat said. "We will be a loyal opposition and rebuild the party," Erekat said after meeting with Abbas.

Hamas won a clear majority in Wednesday's vote, capturing 76 of the 132 seats in parliament, according to official, near-complete results released Thursday. The results of the popular vote were not announced. Four independent candidates backed by Hamas also won seats. Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian political life since the 1960s but alienated voters because of rampant corruption, got 43 seats. The remaining went to smaller parties. Palestinians across the Gaza Strip and West Bank greeted the election results with joy, setting off fireworks and firing rifles in the air.

But leaders across the world demanded that Hamas, which is branded a terror group by the U.S. and European Union, renounce violence and recognize Israel. "If your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace, and we're interested in peace," President Bush said in Washington.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas members, and senior Cabinet officials held an emergency meeting to discuss the repercussions of the vote. Acting Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asked the EU not to deal with a "terror government."

Hamas leaders immediately took to the international - and even Israeli - airwaves to send out a moderate message. "Don't be afraid," Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, told the BBC.
Mahmoud Zahar, another Hamas leader, said the group would extend its year-old truce if Israel reciprocates. "If not, then I think we will have no option but to protect our people and our land," he said.

At a victory news conference late Thursday, however, Haniyeh said Hamas will "complete the liberation of other parts of Palestine." He did not say which territories he was referring to or how he would go about it. Hamas has largely adhered to the cease-fire declared last February, while a smaller militant group, Islamic Jihad, carried out six suicide bombings against Israelis during that period.

Abbas said he remained committed to peace talks and suggested they be conducted through the Palestine Liberation Organisation rather than the Palestinian Authority. That could help him sidestep a Hamas-run government in peace talks. "I am committed to implementing the program on which you elected me a year ago," he said in a televised speech. "It is a program based on negotiations and peaceful settlement with Israel."

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his Cabinet resigned to make room for a Hamas-led government. The Islamic group quickly reached out to Abbas to try to work out a partnership, Haniyeh said, adding that he did not expect the Palestinian leader to resign.

Hamas leaders had said before the vote they would be content to be a junior partner in the next government. The group campaigned mainly on cleaning up the Palestinian Authority - downplaying the conflict with Israel - and Zahar said Thursday that Hamas planned to overhaul the government. "We are going to change every aspect, as regards the economy, as regards industry, as regards agriculture, as regards social aid, as regards health, administration, education," he said.

Some experts believed the Hamas victory would force it to moderate. Others feared it would embolden the group to remake Palestinian life in keeping with its strict interpretation of Islam.
"We don't want the Palestinian people and cause to be isolated. We don't want a theocracy," said independent lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi. "Hamas promises reform, sure they will do that, I would like to see reform. But what worries me is things like legislation on education, culture, social welfare, the ramifications for peace in the future."

Hamas' victory was cheered in the Arab world, though many said they feared the group would become even more radical under pressure from its hard-line backers, Syria and Iran.

The rise of Hamas was certain to be a key issue in Israel's March 28 election. "Today, Hamastan was formed, a representative of Iran and in the image of the Taliban," said Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party. Labor Party politician Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, said Israel might have to change the route of its West Bank security barrier because of the Hamas victory.

Hamas' victory virtually ruled out a resumption of stalled peace efforts, and could push Israel to take further unilateral moves to set its permanent borders, following last year's Gaza pullout.
It also could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign donations to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Speaking at a news conference, Bush did not directly answer a question about the fate of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, though he suggested Hamas' victory could have an impact. "I made it very clear that the United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally Israel, and that people must renounce that part of their platform," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to meet in London on Monday with U.N., Russian and European leaders as the so-called "Quartet" of would-be international peacemakers evaluates the results and tries to decide how to proceed.

"The Quartet reiterates its view that there is a fundamental contradiction between armed group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "A two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm, as outlined in the 'road map.'"

It will be almost impossible for Israel and the Palestinians to sever ties completely. Much of their infrastructure, including water and electricity networks, is intertwined, and the vast majority of Palestinian imports pass through Israeli-controlled borders. Hamas ministers would also need Israeli permission to travel between the West Bank and Gaza

345 killed in Hajj stampede

MINA (Saudi Arabia), Jan 12: Thousands of Muslim pilgrims rushing to complete a symbolic stoning ritual during the hajj tripped over luggage Thursday, causing a crush in which at least 345 people were killed, the Interior Ministry said.

The stampede occurred as tens of thousands of pilgrims headed toward al-Jamarat, a series of three pillars representing the devil that the faithful pelt with stones to purge themselves of sin. Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said 345 people were killed. More than 1,000 people were injured, said Dr. Abbasi with the Saudi Red Crescent.

Footage from the scene showed lines of bodies laid out on stretchers on the pavement and covered with sheets. Ahmed Mustafa, an Egyptian pilgrim, said he saw bodies taken away in refrigerator trucks. An Egyptian pilgrim, Suad Abu Hamada, heard screaming and "saw people jumping over each other. She said "The bodies were piled up. I couldn't count them, they were too many."

The site is a notorious bottleneck for the massive crowds that attend the annual hajj pilgrimage and has seen deadly stampedes in the past, including one in 1990 that killed 1,426 people and another in February 2004 that killed 244. The latest crush came despite Saudi attempts to ease the flow of traffic around al-Jamarat. This year's hajj was marred by the Jan. 5 collapse of a building being used as a pilgrims' hotel that killed 76 people in Mecca.

The stampede happened as pilgrims were rushing to complete the last of three days of the stoning ritual before sunset, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, said. Some of the pilgrims began to trip over dropped luggage, causing a large pileup, he said. Many pilgrims carry their personal effects with them as they move between the various stages of the hajj.

Al-Turki said 345 people were killed. State-run Saudi television Al-Ekhbariyah reported that most of the victims were from South Asia. The pillars are located on a large pedestrian bridge, the width of an eight-lane highway over the desert plain of Mina outside the holy city of Mecca. Four ramps lead up the bridge to give pilgrims access to the site, and the stampede occurred at the base of one ramp.

Mina General Hospital, a small facility several hundred yards from the site, was filled with injured, and some victims were sent to hospitals in Mecca and Riyadh, said Ismail Abdul-Zaher, a doctor at the hospital. Ambulances and police cars streamed into the area, and security forces tried to move pilgrims away from part of the site, though thousands continued with the ritual.

The stampede took place despite Saudi efforts to improve traffic at the site, where all 2.5 million pilgrims participating in the annual hajj move from pillar to pillar to throw their stones, then exit.

Saudi authorities replaced the small round pillars with short walls to allow more people to throw their stones without jostling for position. They also recently widened the bridge, built extra ramps and increased the time pilgrims can carry out the rite — which on the second and final days traditionally takes place from midday until sunset.

Shiite Muslim clerics have issued religious edicts allowing pilgrims to start the ritual in the morning, and many Shiites from Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Lebanon and Pakistan took advantage to go early in the day. "This is much better. We are now done with the stoning before the crowd gets larger," an Iranian pilgrim, Azghar Meshadi, said hours before the stampede.

But Saudi Arabia's Sunni Muslim clerics, who follow the fundamentalist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, encouraged pilgrims to stick to the midday rule.

The stoning ritual is one of the last events of the hajj pilgrimage to Islam's holiest sites, which able-bodied Muslims with the financial means are required by their faith to do at least once.

Many pilgrims had already finished the stoning ritual Thursday and had gone back to Mecca to carry out a farewell circuit around the Kaaba, the black stone cube that Muslims face when they do their daily prayers.

Sharon still improving, doctors stunned by recovery

TEL AVIV, Jan 12: Ariel Sharon's chief surgeon said the Israeli leader had appeared aware of his younger son at his bedside on Wednesday, and expressed astonishment at his powers of recovery after a massive stroke.

The 77-year-old prime minister, whose fate is crucial to Israel and the wider West Asia, remains in intensive care but doctors said they had been able to all but stop the drugs that had been keeping him in an artificial coma. His chief surgeon Felix Umansky told a news-agency it could take months to assess the full extent of the damage Sharon has suffered.

But his progress so far had defied all expectations, Umansky said, amid suggestions by some of the prime minister's allies that he could even lead his new Kadima party at a March general election.

The growing hopes that Sharon would win his fight for life prompted Israeli politicians to abandon the uneasy truce they had observed out of respect for the stricken premier.

The right-wing Likud which Sharon quit last year announced it was pulling its remaining ministers out of the caretaker government while the centre-left Labour party declared its election campaign up and running. Umansky said Sharon was already moving "his four limbs" and showing stronger responses to stimulation.

"He is a very strong person. If someone had told me this was going to happen a week ago, I wouldn't have believed it," he told a news-agency. Later he said the prime minister had even appeared to respond to words of encouragement from his younger son Gilad.

130 dead in series of attacks in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Jan 5: Suicide bombers targeted Shiite pilgrims in the south and police recruits in central Iraq, and a roadside bomb killed five U.S. soldiers, bringing Thursday's death toll to at least 130 people in a series of attacks as politicians tried to form a coalition government.

The two-day toll from insurgent attacks rose to 183, reflecting a dramatic upsurge in bloodshed following the December 15 parliamentary elections. Some leading Sunni politicians accuse the Shiite-led government of condoning fraud in the voting.

Iraq's prime minister denounced the violence as an attempt to derail the political process at a time when progress was being made toward including the Sunnis in a new, broad-based government and thereby weakening the Sunni-led insurgency.

But Iraq's largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, blamed the violence on Sunni Arab groups that fared poorly in the elections. SCIRI warned that Shiite patience was wearing thin, and it accused the US-led coalition forces of restraining the Iraqi army and its police forces.

Thursday's death toll — the largest single-day total since September 14, when 112 died, and one of the bloodiest days in the three-year insurgency — included the death of five American soldiers killed by a roadside bomb while patrolling the Baghdad area, the U.S. military said.

Earlier, Iraqi police Capt. Rahim Slaho said the U.S. convoy was heading for the Shiite holy city of Karbala when it was attacked 15 miles south of the city, and five soldiers were killed. At least 2,188 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.

A suicide blast near the Imam Hussein shrine in central Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, killed 63 people and injured 120, Karbala police spokesman Rahman Meshawi said. The bomber appeared to have blown himself up about 30 yards from the shrine in a busy pedestrian area surrounded by shops.

In Ramadi, a U.S. spokesman said dozens were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a line of about 1,000 police recruits. Marine Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool initially put the death toll at about 30, but Mohammed al-Ani, a doctor at Ramadi General Hospital, later said 56 people were killed and 60 injured. The attack took place at a police screening center in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 70 miles west of Baghdad. Pool said recruits later got back in line to continue the screening process.

In other violence Thursday, a suicide car bomb killed three Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Thamir al-Gharawi said, and gunmen killed three people in separate incidents, police said, raising Thursday's death toll to 110.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that the "horrendous crime" was the latest in a series of increasingly violent attacks after the December 15 elections, and he called on Iraqis not to undermine the democratic process.

Final results from the elections should be released within two weeks, and they are expected to show the United Iraqi Alliance winning about 130 of parliament's 275 seats. That figure is well short of the 184 needed to form a government.

India concern over Balochistan violence

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI/ ISLAMABAD, Dec 27: India has expressed concern over the spiralling violence in Balochistan and the heavy military action, including the use of helicopter gunships and jet fighters by the Government of Pakistan to quell it.

A spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs Ministry said "We hope that the Government of Pakistan will exercise restraint and take recourse to peaceful discussions to address the grievances of the people of Balochistan."

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Opposition parties in the Senate have called for an immediate end to the crackdown in Balochistan and the start of a dialogue with Baloch leaders on the second day of an uproarious debate on the troubled province, according to a report from Islamabad.

With a few exceptions from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, most speakers on Monday, which was marked by heated exchanges, blamed a perceived long-standing sense of deprivation in Balochistan for the present law and order situation.

Several senators drew comparisons between the present use of force in Balochistan and the events in former East Pakistan that led to the 1971 secession and accused the government of failing to learn a lesson from history.

There was a pandemonium when PML's chief whip Kamil Ali Agha and Sanaullah Baloch of the Balochistan National Party (Mengal) exchanged hot and some abusive words, provoking shouting and protests from both sides.

The situation calmed down after opposition leader Raza Rabbani offered regrets from his side and PML Senator Mohammad Akram, who was presiding over the house after chairman Mohammedmian Soomro left the chamber, expunged objectionable remarks from both sides from the record of the proceedings.

Mohammad Aslam Buledi of the Balochistan National Movement accused security agencies of resorting to carpet bombing by air force jets and using gunship helicopters and poison gas in the present operations in the Kohlu district and warned the government that it would be responsible for the consequences.

Dr Safdar Abbasi of the People's Party Parliamentarians (PPP) accused President Pervez Musharraf of creating inter-provincial disharmony contrary to his pledge to promote the same and plunging the country into such a dangerous situation the likes of which the country had not seen under any ruler after former president Gen Yahya Khan.

But PML Senators Ayaz Khan Mandokhel and Ms Pari Gul Agha praised the policies of President Musharraf, crediting him with what they called unprecedented development work in Balochistan and defended the crackdown launched after some elements fired rockets at Kohlu when the president was on a visit there on Dec 14 and hit a helicopter with machinegun fire the next day wounding the inspector-general of the Frontier Corps and his deputy.

Prof Ghafoor Ahmed of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal called for an end to the use of force, engaging Baloch leaders in a "meaningful dialogue" and allowing genuine provincial autonomy to Balochistan.

Mohammad Abbas Komaili of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a ruling coalition partner, said the present operation in Balochistan should be ended, violence should stop from both sides and dialogue should be held with "genuine leadership" in the province.

PML-N's parliamentary leader Ishaq Dar said the use of force would not succeed, adding it had failed in the former East Pakistan and called for the implementation of the report of a parliamentary committee on Balochistan and announcement of the National Finance Commission award to improve the situation.

Large blast heard in Iraq as polls open

BAGHDAD, Dec 15: Polling stations opened around Iraq Thursday to allow Iraqis to vote in a historic parliamentary election that the U.S. hopes will build democracy and lay the groundwork for American troops.

A large explosion was head in downtown Baghdad within minutes of the polls opening and sirens could be heard inside the heavily fortified Green Zone where the Iraqi government and the U.S. and British embassies are located. Police said the explosion apparently was caused by a mortar landing near the Green Zone.

Racial riots hit Sydney, 31 injured

SYDNEY, Dec 12: Racially motivated rioting hit Sydney beachside suburbs, after thousands of white youths attacked police and people of Middle Eastern appearance at the Cronulla beach.

The police arrested 28 people in hours of street battles that left 31 people injured last night, the New South Wales police said in a statement. One man was hospitalised after being stabbed in the back.

The confrontations began after 5,000 white youths, many of them drunk, fought with the police, attacked people of Arab appearance and assaulted a pair of ambulance officers.

The violence was a reaction to reports that youths of Lebanese ancestry were responsible for an attack on two of the beach's lifeguards last weekend.

One white teenager had the words "We grew here, you flew here" painted on his back. On the beach, someone had written "100 per cent Aussie pride" in the sand.

Television images of the brawls sparked a string of retaliations in nearby suburbs, with people of Arab descent smashing 40 cars with sticks and baseball bats.

Suicide bomber kills 32 on bus in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Dec 9: A suicide bomber detonated explosives Thursday inside a packed bus bound for a southern Shiite city, killing 32 people and wounding 44, police said. The blast pushed the three-day death toll from suicide attacks in the capital to at least 75.

Meanwhile, a statement posted on the Internet in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to have killed an American hostage. The statement did not name him or provide photos, but the group earlier identified its captive as Ronald Alan Schulz and threatened to kill him unless all prisoners in Iraq were released.

The suicide attack occurred as the bus was pulling away from east Baghdad's Nadhaa station bound for Nasiriyah, 200 miles to the south. A man carrying a bag suddenly jumped on the vehicle through the open door, apparently waiting until the last moment to board to avoid security checks.

He was challenged by the conductor but insisted on taking a seat, police Lt. Wisam Hakim said.

"He sat in the middle of the bus and then the explosion took place," Hakim said.
Police Lt. Ali Mitaab said 32 people were killed and 44 wounded. Most of those killed were on the bus, which was gutted by flames, but several people around a food stall also died, police said.

Officials at the scene said the death toll was especially high because the blast triggered secondary explosions in gas cylinders at the stall.

Several other explosions rumbled through the heart of the capital Thursday morning, including one that struck an American convoy killing a U.S. soldier, the military said. The U.S. command also said that a Marine was killed the day before in a bombing in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The bus attack occurred two days after a pair of suicide attackers wearing explosives belts killed 43 people and wounded more than 70 at Baghdad's police training academy. Most of those dead in the academy and on the bus were believed to be Shiite Muslims. Most of the insurgents are Sunnis.

The station, the main departure point for buses heading to the Shiite south, was the scene in August of a horrific triple car bombing that killed at least 43 people and wounded 89.

At least 1,819 Iraqis have been killed in suicide attacks since the new government took office on April 28. During that period, at least 4,676 Iraqis were killed in war-related violence, including suicide attacks.

The latest attacks broke a relative lull in suicide missions in the capital, a respite that US authorities had attributed to military operations against al-Qaida-led insurgents west of Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi officials had predicted a surge in insurgent attacks ahead of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. U.S. officials hope a large turnout, especially among Sunni Arabs, will help take the steam out of the insurgency and set the stage for a drawdown of American forces next year.

'15 top Pakistani leaders have links with Osama'

NEW DELHI, Dec 9: At least 15 members in the senate, national and state assemblies of Pakistan have not only met Osama bin Laden, but had a close relationship with him.

No Indian propaganda this. Mohammed Amir Rana, a journalist with Pakistani newspaper 'The Friday Times' has made this and several other startling revelations in his new book "Seeds of Terrorism".

Rana quotes the example of Maulana Samiul Haq of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) who is supposed to have sworn allegiance on the hands of Osama along with Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

The author digs deep into the origins, assesses the strengths and importantly trails the sources of funding of the jihadi movement in his latest book, which was launched here by Jaipal Reddy, Union Minister for Urban Development and Culture. ,The book is a sequel to 'Gateway to Terrorism' released in 2003 that looked at the origin of Taliban, Lashkar and Jaish-e-Muhammad among a host of other organizations who are headquartered in Pakistan.

Claims made by the Pakistani in the book would make it more difficult for Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf to defend himself and deny Pakistan's hand in beefing up of Laskhar-e-Tayyaba squads in northern Kashmir and activation of new Laskhar cells in Jammu that has triggered new terror in the state.

More than 100 cadres have crossed the Line of Control since the October 8 earthquake. But whenever India has shown evidence on infiltration and successive violence, Pakistan has always denied it. Now, one of its own citizens has made an expose on the terror arteries that run through the length and breadth of the country.

The author was not present at the Delhi launch of his book. "Rana couldn't make it to the book launch in Delhi for obvious reasons", said a spokesperson of the publishers. The obvious reasons - denial of visa to India.

Retired Gen. R.C. Chopra, former military Intelligence chief, who was present at the launch said: "This is a great development. Here is a book by a Pakistani who has written on terrorism and is being launched in New Delhi. There should be more developments like this".

The General said that the whole world knows that the fount of terrorism is in Pakistan and added that India and Pakistan should jointly fight terrorism at their level.

Amir Rana shocked his readers with his first book in 2003 when he said Pakistan was the gateway to terrorism. He says: "The rugged terrain of the Hindukush (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Occupied Kashmir) has been the stage of a heinous plot-a plot between Islamic jihadis, Pakistani Intelligence and limitless American interests."

In the book Amir Rana makes some very interesting remarks based on extensive interviews, intensive research and his ability to "infiltrate" into every dreaded terrorist organization that operates inside Pakistan.

"It is possible that jihadi organizations are infiltrated by RAW agents. However, a Jaish-e Muhammad recruit from Muzaffarabad says that when a mujahid shifts loyalty to another organization or opposes the decision of the leadership he is promptly accused of being a RAW agent, " the author says.

'Seeds of Terrorism' deals extensively with incidents and events in Pakistan after the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, describes the difficulties faced by Musharraf's government when he tried to curb the activities of hundreds of jihadi groups.

Rana records the divisions that emerged in Pakistan's political and military hierarchy. He also lays bare the conflict of interest in the mujahideen.

Speaking about the book, former Indian Ambassador KP Fabian said, "Terrorism has generated a cottage industry across the globe. "Seeds of terrorism" does not feed into this industry, rather is a valuable contribution to the debate on terrorism and understand its pathology and morphology."

Amir Rana's book comes in the wake of one of Laskhar's top operative Shabbir Bukhari's recent narrative that gives an inside story of the structure, organization, the recruiting rationale and most importantly the stealthy intelligence in which these operatives work and weave their network both underground and overground.

"While hard core evidences of rising infiltration and terrorists' handiwork in perpetrating violence in Jammu & Kashmir are available, it will be quite difficult for Musharraf to convince Manmohan Singh and of course Goerge Bush that he is serious in working out a solution. He has to shed his defiant posture.

It will need some radical measures and hard thinking from the Pakistan President to make this period of détente bear fruit", says Ashutosh Mishra, an expert on Pakistan Affairs and a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), the country's strategic think tank

Indonesia confirms 12th human case of bird flu

JAKARTA, Nov 27: A 16-year-old Indonesian boy has tested positive for the H5N1 avian flu virus, making him the 12th confirmed case among humans in the country, a health official said on Saturday.

"We have received a laboratory test from Hong Kong and the results were positive," said Hariadi Wibisono, a senior official at the Health Ministry, adding the patient was being treated at a hospital in Bandung in West Java province. Indonesia has had seven confirmed deaths from bird flu and now five cases where sufferers have survived.

Sunni leader and sons killed

BAGHDAD, Nov 24: Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms shot dead an aging Sunni tribal leader and three of his sons in their beds on Wednesday, relatives said, in the latest attack to highlight Iraq's deep sectarian rifts ahead of a December poll.

A Defense Ministry official denied Iraqi troops carried out the pre-dawn slayings in the Hurriya district of Baghdad and said the killers instead must have been terrorists in disguise. "Iraqi army uniforms litter the streets and any terrorist can kill and tarnish our image, killing two birds with one stone," the official said.

The Hurriya attack follows the discovery last week of more than 170 malnourished and beaten prisoners, many of them Sunni Arabs, locked in a bunker belonging to the Shi'ite-dominated Interior Ministry. Together, the incidents have ratcheted up fears Iraq is heading for civil war.

An Interior Ministry official said 40 men wearing army uniforms had come to the victims' house in the night. Relatives said Kathim Sirheed Ali, the 70-year-old head of the Batta tribe, and his three sons were shot as they were sleeping. One victim was holding his daughter. "The gunmen told the girl to move then shot the father," said a relative.

Television footage showed the men lying dead in their bedding with bullet casings littering the floor. Wailing women in black veils stood by the bodies.
Sunni Muslim leaders accuse the Interior Ministry of sanctioning death squads run by Shi'ite Muslim militias which attack Sunnis. The government denies the claims.

Thair Kathim Sirheed said soldiers had killed his father and three brothers, two of whom had worked as policemen. "I am going to get rid of my police badge. From now on I will be a terrorist," said Sirheed.

With nerves already raw from a long and bloody insurgency, the attack highlighted the depth of sectarian divisions as Iraq prepares for parliamentary elections on December 15. Iraq's Shi-ite and Kurdish-led government and its U.S. backers say they are determined to stage a secure and fair election but an upsurge in violence suggests Sunni and foreign insurgents are equally determined to disrupt the poll.

Thousands of Iraqis have died in the insurgency, with more than 160 killed in a bloody wave of suicide attacks on Shi'ite targets which began late last week. U.S. and Iraqi forces in turn have killed more than 700 suspected insurgents in less than two months during operations in western Iraq which the U.S. military described on Wednesday as "very successful."

Suicide bomber in Iraq kills 21

BAGHDAD, Nov 23: A suicide car bomber killed 21 people in northern Iraq on Tuesday after insurgents lured police to the scene by shooting an officer, officials said. A mortar shell fired at a U.S. ceremony sent the U.S. ambassador and the top American commander scurrying for cover.

The suicide bomber struck on a busy commercial street in Kirkuk, a mixed Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman city in an oil-producing region 180 miles north of Baghdad. About half the dead were police who rushed to the scene after gunmen killed a fellow officer. In addition to the 21 dead, another 24 people were wounded, according to police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qader.

The attack was the latest in a wave of spectacular suicide operations which have killed more than 160 civilians since Friday, most of them Shiites.
American military casualty tolls have also been on the rise. In the latest reports, the U.S. command said a soldier was killed Monday by a roadside bomb near Habaniyah, 50 miles west of Baghdad.

Two other soldiers from Task Force Freedom were killed Saturday by small arms fire while on patrol in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a U.S. statement said. Those deaths raised the number of U.S. service members who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003 to at least 2,096.

American officials sought to downplay the mortar attack on a U.S. ceremony transferring one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Tikrit to Iraqi control. The officials said the lone shell failed to explode and did not interfere with the handover. "This was an ineffectual attempt to stop the progress that goes on every day in Iraq," said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. command in Baghdad.

However, Arabic satellite television stations aired footage showing an American colonel ducking for cover as the shell whistled overhead. Fearing more were on the way, U.S. security hustled U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, into the palace while American infantrymen and an Apache attack helicopter searched for the source of fire. The ceremony resumed a few minutes later.

49 die in Iraq blasts; Bombs kill 5 GIs

BAGHDAD, Nov 21: A suicide bomber detonated his car in a crowd of Shiite mourners north of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 36 people and raising the death toll in two days of attacks against Shiites to more than 120. Five American soldiers died in roadside bombings.

Earlier Saturday, a car bomb exploded in a crowd of shoppers at an outdoor market in a mostly Shiite neighborhood on the southeast edge of Baghdad, killing 13 people and wounding about 20 others, police reported. Witnesses said they saw a man park the car and walk away shortly before the blast.

In the north, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided a suspected al-Qaida hideout in Mosul and at least seven insurgents died - three committing suicide to avoid capture, Iraqi authorities said. Four Iraqi policemen also were killed and 11 U.S. troops wounded, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.

The second suicide car bomb exploded late in the afternoon as mourners offered condolences to Raad Majid, head of the municipal council in the village of Abu Saida, over the death of his uncle. Abu Saida is near Baqouba, a religiously mixed city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Police said about 50 people were injured. On October 29, a bomb hidden in a truck loaded with dates exploded in another Shiite community in the same area, killing 30 people.

Since Friday, at least 125 Iraqi civilians have been killed in bombings and suicide attacks. They include 76 people who died in near-simultaneous suicide bombings at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin along the Iranian border. Four people have been arrested, including one believed to have been planning another suicide attack, a security officer in Khanaqin said.

Britain beckons Indian solicitors

NEW DELHI, Nov 20: At a time when the Bar Council of India is opposing the entry of foreign lawyers tooth and nail, Britain has opened up opportunities for Indian lawyers willing to practise in that country, especially in the corporate sector.

As a first step, an Indian lawyer aspiring to become a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales no longer has to travel to that country to take the eligibility exam-- Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test-- as centres are being launched in New Delhi and Mumbai from April next year.

"Indian lawyers are welcome in UK. We are taking steps to increase the accessibility of Indian lawyers to English courts. This is one such step," British High Commissioner Sir Michael Arthur said launching the QLTT in India. He said the "positive development" demonstrates the "growing practical cooperation" between India and the UK, not just in the legal sector but in so many areas.

Without passing the QLTT, an Indian lawyer could practise only Indian law in England, but would not be able to do activities reserved for solicitors like conveyancing, applications for probates and litigation. The tests will be conducted twice a year for a fee of 275 pounds (approximately Rs 22,000).

Urging Indian lawyers to "grab the opportunity", Director of UK-based Central Law Training (CLT) Paul W Whitehouse said by passing the QLTT, Indian lawyers would be able to offer more comprehensive services to their clients and benefit from an increase in referrals to their firms. "This should increase the confidence of overseas firms investing in India, as they will be doing business with more Indian lawyers with additional qualifications.

Nick Olley, Director of the College of Law in Wales, says at present Indians comprise only a negligible number of the 5,000 who get solicitor certificates issued in the UK but now it is expected to increase substantially with the centres being launched in India. Though the tests are being launched in Delhi and Mumbai, he said more centres will be started when there is sufficient demand.

On the eligibility to appear for the tests, he said Indians who want to become solicitors in India need to be registered by the Bar Council of India and need a minimum two years experience in courts. The test is divided into four heads namely Property (covering conveyancing and wills, probate and administration), litigation, professional conduct and accounts and principles of common law.

"With the increasing globalisation of legal firms, today's lawyers often find that being qualified across several jurisdictions enhances both their own practice and their international marketability," said Daniel Shepherd, trade policy adviser in the British High Commission.
The tests are being conducted in India by UK-based Fulbright Legal Education, Central Law Training, UK college of Law and British Council

Bird flu strikes China, one dead

BEIJING, Nov 18: Indonesia on Thursday confirmed bird flu has killed two more people, a day after China reported its first human cases, including at least one death - both menacing signs that the virus is spreading faster as the winter flu months near.

Tests sent to a Hong Kong laboratory came back positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus for a 20-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl who both died last week, WHO spokeswoman Sari Setiogi said in Jakarta. Indonesian health official Hariadi Wibisono also confirmed the results.

The announcement comes a day after China's health ministry confirmed the virus killed a poultry worker and sickened a nine-year-old boy who later recovered in central Hunan province, the official Xinhua news agency said. The boy's 12-year-old sister, who also died, was recorded as a suspected case.

Earlier reports had China confirming three cases of humans with bird flu, but the WHO said only two of the people met its definition for avian influenza cases, because confirmatory testing was never done on one of the victims who died. China later amended its toll to agree with the WHO assessment.

The WHO on Thursday ruled out human-to-human transmission in the Chinese cases, saying they were traced to contact with infected birds. China raced to vaccinate billions of poultry as it ratcheted up a massive nationwide campaign to try to contain the virus in the world's most populous nation.

"This is a psychologically telling moment for a country that has never had bird flu cases in the past in humans," Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing, said on Wednesday. "This will drive home to citizens across the country that this can happen in our own backyards." Officials had warned a human infection in China was inevitable after the country suffered 11 outbreaks in poultry over the past month, which prompted authorities to destroy millions of birds.

Musharraf not doing enough, says 9/11 Panel update

WASHINGTON, Nov 16: A day after Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's boast about breaking the back of terrorism, a follow-up report on the 9/11 commission's recommendations has nailed the claim, asserting that Pakistan continues to be "a sanctuary and training ground for terrorists".

The 9/11 Public Discourse Project, a bipartisan group drawn up of members of the now-disbanded 9/11 commission, wants Washington to pressure on Islamabad to do more to crush terrorism both within Pakistan and in Kashmir. "Terrorists from Pakistan carry out operations in Kashmir," it said noting: "Musharraf does not appear to have lived up to his promises to regulate the madrassas properly or close down all those that are known to have links to extremist groups."

The report was emphatic that Islamabad should act forcefully to close Taliban-linked madrassas, shut down terrorist camps and prevent Taliban forces from operating across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The panel's report on Monday came after Musharraf's claim in an interview to CNN on Sunday that terrorists were now on the run following his rigorous measures. "We have broken most of the gangs, the terrorist organisations. So they are on the run in the cities; they are almost neutralised. I think we are succeeding in the mountains also," he had said.

While the panel conceded that Musharraf "has made real efforts to take on the threat from extremism", vice-chairman Lee Hamilton stressed: "Yet we are disappointed that he has not done more. Pakistan remains a sanctuary for terrorists." On the US's $ 3 billion aid package to Pakistan, the panel felt there is still little movement beyond security assistance.

Bomb blast at KFC outlet in Pak kills 6

KARACHI, Nov 15: At least six people were killed and several were wounded in a blast outside an outlet of a US fast food chain in Karachi, rescue workers said on Tuesday.

"We have shifted six bodies from KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) to hospital on our ambulances," Muhammad Sabri, a senior official at Edhi Welfare Trust rescue group, said

Salem says ISI plotted 1993 Mumbai blasts

NEW DELHI, Nov 14: The don, Abu Salem has reportedly confessed to his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts and has detailed the extent of Pakistani involvement.

CBI sources said that Salem had given them details - specific dates and locations - of the meetings between Dawood Ibrahim and Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) men. He claimed that he did not play a major role in the blasts.

Investigators of the 1993 blasts that killed 257 people and injured 713 know Salem wasn't big enough in the gang then to have a played a major role. It's more a question of how much he knows, than of what he did. He has told the interrogators that Dawood was asked by the ISI - and not the other way around - to plan the bombings to avenge the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.

The first of the meetings happened in January. This was followed by a string of meetings - most of them in Dubai. The CBI now has the names of the ISI agents who were in touch with Dawood. The other significant detail of the bombings given by Salem is that Dawood received active help from officials of some Gulf countries.

CBI's special taskforce DIG O.P. Chatwal said Salem was "fairly cooperative". He added, "We've till now focused on the 1993 blasts." Salem's O.A. Siddique denied hsi client has confessed anything. "I would like to know who in the CBI is giving out such stories," he said.


Castro turns 79 on the job, no plans to retire
Indian visa applicants to Canada can check status via SMS
Purported al-Qaida video threatens troops
India, Pak reach agreement over missile tests
Trapped Russian submariners rescued
Former British Foreign Secretary Cook dies
Qaeda's Zawahri warns Britain, US of more attacks
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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