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Pakistan not to ban Jamaat-ud-Dawa

ISLAMABAD, Dec 15: The Pakistan government has decided not to dismantle the vast infrastructure of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, despite the UN Security Councils ban on the outfit in the wake of last months terrorist strike on Mumbai.

The Security Council had on December 10 imposed sanctions on the Jamaat and branded four of its top commanders terrorists, including JuD chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and LeT operations commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks.

This forced Islamabad to crack down on the Jamaat. Saeed was placed under house arrest and the JuDs offices were sealed and bank accounts frozen. But all this appears to have been an eyewash as the interior ministry has told all four provincial governments not to take any action against any of the Jamaat’s 500 seminaries and Dawa model schools — often described by the Western media as training camps and indoctrination centres.

Pakistan's Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed in Paris that Jamaat-run seminaries and schools would continue to function as usual, claiming that there was no evidence to suggest that the outfit was promoting extremism or violence there.

Mumbai terror mastermind Lashkar senior commander arrested

ISLAMABAD, Dec 9: Senior Lashker-e-Taiba(LeT) commander and suspected Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhwi has been arrested in a crackdown by Pakistani security forces in PoK, as the Army launched an operation against banned militant groups.

Besides Lakhwi, over 20 members of the LeT and its front organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawah were also arrested during a raid by army troops on Monday on a militant camp in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir(PoK), the Dawn newspaper and other sources said. Some TV channels put the number of arrested militants at 15.

Sources as well as media reports said Lakhwi, described as a top operations commander of LeT, was among the arrested.

The whereabouts of the arrested militants could not be immediately ascertained.

The security forces sealed a large LeT complex and a madrassa affiliated to the organisation following the operation in Shawai Nullah, five kilometres northwest of PoK capital Muzaffarabad.

The Pakistan government and military maintained silence on the crackdown throughout the day and a brief statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations on Monday night confirmed that an operation by law enforcement agencies was underway against outlawed militant groups.

"This is an intelligence-led operation against banned militant outfits and organizations. There have been arrests and investigations are on. Further details will be available on completion of preliminary inquiries," said the statement, which did not name the arrested persons.

The arrests took place as international pressure mounted on Pakistan to take action against the banned LeT, seen as the prime suspect in the deadly Mumbai siege.

Pak imposes restrictions on Masood Azhar: report

ISLAMABAD, Dec 9: Pakistani authorities have reportedly imposed restrictions on the movement of Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Maulana Masood Azhar and confined him to his home despite turning down India's demand for handing him over.

Azhar, who was freed by Indian authorities along with two other terrorists in exchange for passengers of an Indian Airlines flight hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in 1999, has been confined to his multi-storey building in Model Town area of Bahawalpur, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The report quoted official sources as saying that Azhar's activities had been restricted in the wake of India's demand to hand him over along with criminals Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon.

There was no official word on whether Azhar had been restricted to his home. The Pakistan Army on Monday confirmed it had launched an operation against banned militant groups.

The Pakistan government on Monday turned down India's demand to hand over Azhar, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. The demand had been made in a demarche handed over by India in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Azhar's movements have been restricted in the past too when India had demanded his handing over. There have been reports in recent months that Azhar and the Jaish had stepped up activities, including the raising of funds and organising large rallies, in the Bahawalpur area.

Next EU presidency wants to boost ties with Israel

BRUSSELS, Dec 9: The Czech government says it wants to boost the European Union's ties with Israel once it assumes the bloc's presidency in January.

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg says Prague will ask the EU's 27 countries to agree to stepping up ties with Israel.

The Palestinians oppose any EU effort to widen relations with Israel in political, economic, scientific, security, health and other spheres. They say Israel should do more to ease the humanitarian crisis in their areas.

Schwarzenberg says increasing relations would ``not only in the interest of Israel but also very much in the interest of the Palestinian people.''

The Czechs hold the EU presidency in the first half of 2009.

Mumbai terror suspect’s Pakistan link 'confirmed'

LONDON, Dec 8: Contradicting Pakistani denials that its nationals were involved in the Mumbai terror attacks, The Observer reported on Sunday that it had established that Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab,’ the lone surviving suspect, came from a village called Faridkot in the Okara district of Pakistan. The story indicated that the terrorist’s correct name is Mohammed Ajmal Amir, son of Mohammed Amir Iman.

The British newspaper said its investigation had confirmed that Ajmal had lived in the village but had been away for about four years, returning once a year to meet his family. In what it described as a “crucial a piece of evidence” about Ajmal’s native origins, it said names of his father, Mohammed Amir, and mother, Noor, appeared on the village’s electoral list along with their identity card numbers 3530121767339 and 3530157035058 respectively.

“That seems to be the last piece of the jigsaw. A man called Amir and his wife, Noor, do live in Faridkot, official records show. They have a son called Ajmal,” it concluded.

Villagers reportedly told The Observer’s correspondent, Saeed Shah, that Ajmal’s parents had lived in Faridkot for “some 20 years” but were “mysteriously spirited away” a few days ago. At their address, a man who identified himself as Sultan said he was father-in-law of Mohammed Amir. A local farmer, Noor Ahmed, said he knew Ajmal’s father.

“Amir had a stall he pushed around. He was a meek man, he wasn’t particularly religious. He just made ends meet and didn’t quarrel with anyone,” he said.

Local residents are apparently under pressure not to talk to outsiders but one villager, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, revealed that “we’ve all known from the first day [of the news of the terrorist attack] that it was him, Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab’.”

“His mother started crying when she saw his picture on the television,” he said.

According to him, Ajmal used to go to Lahore for work as a labourer and had been away for four years.

“When he came back once a year, he would say things like, ‘We’re going to free Kashmir’,” the informant added.

Faridkot and another adjoining village, Tara Singh, he said,were a “recruitment hotbed” for the Laskhar-e-Taiba, which is accused of being behind the Mumbai attacks.

Signing of nuclear deal to dominate Medvedev visit

NEW DELHI, Dec 4: The signing of a civil nuclear agreement was set to dominate Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's maiden visit to India starting Friday. But in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks, the spotlight had turned on counter-terror cooperation.

Medvedev, who arrived here on Thursday evening, on a two-day visit, is the first foreign head of state to visit India after the brazen terror strikes killed 172 people, including 22 foreigners.

He will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today on a wide spectrum of bilateral, regional and global issues, including civil nuclear cooperation, counter-terrorism and the intensification of economic, energy and defence ties between the two strategic partners who have enjoyed strain-free ties for decades.

A pact on civil nuclear cooperation, which envisages Russia building four additional reactors at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, will be signed during the visit.

Russia is offering a new power plant AES-2006, which incorporates a third generation VVER-1200 reactor of 1170 MW. This is an advanced version of the VVER-1000 being installed a Koodankulam. The new reactor will operate at higher thermal power of 3200 MWt with a longer life span of 50 years.

The sources said it can withstand an earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale and a direct hit from a fighter aircraft. All reactors will be supplied with lifetime guarantee of fuel. Russia has claimed substantial current experience in such projects. Its ongoing projects include building of five reactors at home and seven abroad.

Russia is building the first and second power units for the Koodankulam nuclear power plant. The proposed agreement envisages the construction of at least four more nuclear power plants. Thus Russia will become the first country with which cooperation in concrete terms has materialised after India was accepted in the international civil nuclear community.

A wide-ranging protocol on cooperation in trade, economic, scientific, technological and cultural sectors is also expected to be signed.

Singh will thank Russia for its unflinching support in ending India's nuclear isolation at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), sources said. The nuclear pact was initialled early this year but had to wait for the formal signing for the green signal from the IAEA and NSG.

With the Mumbai terror attacks underlining the danger of global terrorism, India and Russia are also set to intensify their cooperation in combating this threat to peace and security in the region.

Russia has viewed with concern the rise of radicalism and extremism in Central Asia and former Soviet provinces. It is likely to bring some concrete counter-terrorism proposals on the table today, the sources said.

Apart from this, both sides are attempting to stitch some defence deals with representatives of Tactical Rocket Systems engaged with Defence Ministry officials.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited officials are also discussing the possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding with Sukhoi on developing and producing a slightly larger short distance civilian aircraft than the regional jet developed by the Russian company.

Apart from Dr. Singh and Mr. Medvedev issuing a joint declaration after their summit meeting on Friday, a host of agreements and statements of intent have been lined up.

These include a political declaration, a list of priorities for enhancing the strategic partnership next year and four memoranda of understanding between Roscosmos and Indian Space Research Organisation, stock market regulators, customs training institutes and agencies for probing financial transactions, respectively. They will also sign an agreement on tourism for 2009-10.

Tibetans: No more talking to China

CHANDIGARH, Nov 23: A special general meeting of Tibet’s top political and religious leaders has elected to break off the already stalled dialogue process with the Chinese government unless Beijing is prepared to "respond positively" to the Dalai Lama’s proposals for "genuine autonomy".

The decision to end the dialogue was the unanimous view of nearly 600 delegates, representing the global Tibetan diaspora, who have deliberated on the future course of the Tibetan movement over the past week in Mcleodganj (Himachal Pradesh), the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The deputy speaker of the parliament-in-exile, Dolma Gyari, said, "We will not send envoys for further contacts with China." She added that if the Chinese stance remains unaltered Tibetans would have no option but to press for "complete independence and self-determination".

However, the unanimous voice of the meeting is at best "recommendatory" and must be referred to the Dalai Lama, who will ultimately determine future policy, said Karma Cheophel, speaker of the parliament-in-exile.

Significantly, also endorsing the Dalai Lama’s "middle path" policy, which specifies efforts to win genuine autonomy under the Chinese Constitution, the delegates have acknowledged that the campaign must always remain "non-violent."

Evidently designed to re-emphasise the Dalai Lama as the unquestioned leader of all Tibetan people, the meeting made a fervent appeal asking him to abandon any thoughts of stepping down. "We cannot imagine him in retirement. He must lead Tibet," Cheophel declared.

Bangladesh election deferred: EC

DHAKA, Nov 23: The parliamentary elections in Bangladesh that was set for 18th December has been postponed after the party of former premier Khaleda Zia threatened to boycott the polls, which would have returned democracy to the country.

"The elections won't be held on December 18 . . . the new polling date is likely to fall between December 27 and 29," Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda said in Dhaka after talks with a delegation of Zias archrival Sheikh Hasina's Awami League.

He added that the commission would announce the new election date on Sunday.

Emergency-ruled Bangladesh election commission said the delay in the polls was decided after as Zias Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) agreed to join the elections provided the date was deferred by 10 days.

Hudas comments came a day after the commission said it contemplated rescheduling the general elections after talks with all "stakeholders" in view of the BNP-led four party alliance's demands.

Egyptian President arrives in New Delhi

NEW DELHI, Nov 16: The President of Egypt, Mohammad Hosni Mubarak, has arrived in New Delhi for a four-day state visit to India.

He is accompanied by high-level delegation including several ministers, senior officials and business persons.

This is President Mubarak's first visit after a gap of 25 years. The two countries are expected to sign the extradition treaty besides others agreements and MOUs to further boost their bilateral ties during the visit.

Apart from talks with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian leaders on Tuesday, President Mubarak will be presented the Jawahar Lal Nehru Award for International Understanding which was conferred on him for the year 1995.

He will be given ceremonial welcome on Tuesday morning. On Monday, President Mubarak will address the Indo Egyptian Business Forum.

17 killed, 14 hurt in Damascus blast

Damascus, Sept 27: A car bomb on a crowded residential street in the Syrian capital of Damascus killed 17 people and injured 14 others on Saturday, Syrian television reported. A car packed with 200 kg of explosives blew up on Mahlak Street, located in a southern neighbourhood of the capital near the junction to the international airport, TV reported.

Anti-terror units were investigating, it said. Syrian interior minister Bassam Abdul-Majid called the bombing a "terrorist act" and said all of the victims were civilians. But he declined to say who was behind the blast.

"We cannot accuse any party. There are ongoing investigations that will lead us to those who carried it out," Mr Abdul-Majid told state TV. Such bombings are rare in Syria where the regime of President Bashar Assad uses heavy-handed tactics to crack down against dissent and instability. But over the year 2007, the country has witnessed two major assassinations. Several explosions blamed on Sunni Muslim militants opposed to Syria’s secular government have also taken place over the last few years.

Saturday’s bombing was by far the largest and tested weaknesses of the government’s traditionally tight security grip. It shattered apartment building and car windows and twisted the roof of one car, according to footage aired on Syrian TV.

The explosion occurred at the intersection leading to Saydah Zeinab, a holy shrine for Shia Muslims that is frequently visited by Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims about five miles (8 km) away. An intelligence building is also located in the area, but cars are not normally allowed to park nearby and it was not clear how close the bombing was to the building.

Suicide bomber destroys Pakistan Marriot, kills 60

ISLAMABAD, Sept 20: A suicide car bomber attacked the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Saturday, killing at least 60 people and turning the hotel into an inferno, police said.
In what is being described as Pakistan’s worst suicide bomb attack, a truck carrying over 1,000 kilograms of explosives rammed into the main lobby of one of the hotel.

The attack took place at around 7.55 pm when almost 300 guests were engaged in Iftaar within the hotel’s main restaurant on the ground floor.

The explosion created a crater 25 ft deep and 30 ft wide, totally destroyed the road in front of the building and sparked a fire that engulfed about two-thirds of the 290-room hotel.

Rescuers ferried a stream of bloodied bodies from the gutted structure, which was in danger of collapsing.

Police sought in vain to shoo away bystanders and reporters for fear of gas leaks that might trigger more blasts.
The owner of the hotel said the vehicle carrying the bomb was stopped at the front barrier and was being checked by guards after a bomb-sniffing dog raised the alarm.

“The guard dog alerted them and when they started searching the vehicle the man blew himself up,” the owner, Sadruddin Hashwani, told reporters outside the hotel.

Emergency was declared in all local hospitals and de-facto interior minister, Rehman Malik, said that the government had received warnings of a suicide attack two days back. Security in the federal capital was on high alert owing to the joint session of parliament, which was held earlier in the day nearly a kilometre away from the hotel at the Parliament House.

Local journalist Imtiaz Gul who was inside the hotel at the time of the blast said that there were a series of blasts in quick succession and then the sound was so loud that he temporarily lost his hearing. “I was having Iftaar with a couple of friends when the blast occurred. Thank God, we were in the rear area of the hotel where the full impact of the blast did not reach.”

The Marriott is a favourite place for foreigners as well as Pakistani politicians and business people to stay and socialise, despite repeated militant attacks. It served as the de facto back office for the international media during the 2001 war against the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Dozens of cars outside the hotel were destroyed and windows were shattered in buildings hundreds of metres away.

Al Qaeda-linked militants based in hideouts in the Afghan border have launched a bloody campaign of bomb attacks in retaliation for offensives by the security forces.

'100 women raped daily in Karachi'

KARACHI: If a Karachi police surgeon is to be believed, on an average 100 rapes take place in the port city of Karachi alone, and mostly working women are the victims.

He said because of the "lengthy medical process and delayed justice system in Pakistan", only 0.5% of rape cases are reported to the police.

"On average, 100 women are raped every 24 hours in Karachi city alone, and a majority of them are working women. I am saying with full authority that such a large number of rape cases happen in the city. But very few rape survivors have the courage to come forward in search of justice," Additional Police Surgeon Zulfiqar Siyal said on Monday.

He added that a majority of the victims working as domestic help.

India won’t wait for 123 to sign deals with France, Russia

NEW DELHI, Sept 14: Despite Washington’s expectation that India will wait for Congressional approval of the ‘123 agreement’ on bilateral nuclear cooperation before concluding deals with other suppliers, the government has decided to sign a landmark nuclear framework agreement with France during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Paris later this month.

Following last week’s waiver for India from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Bush administration is now trying to complete the U.S. domestic approval process for the 123 by September 26, when Congress formally adjourns, so that the issue does not require the convening of a special ‘lame duck’ session in December.

But regardless of the fate of the 123, India appears finally to have made up its mind to clinch its deals with France and Russia on a priority basis.

“We will go ahead and sign with the French in Paris this month and with the Russians when [President] Medvedev comes to Delhi on December 4,” said an official source on condition of anonymity.

The NSG had opened the door and India intended to go through it. Confirming that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had asked India to wait till the 123 was passed so that American companies were not disadvantaged, the sources said India had made no commitment to the U.S.

“We have never said we will wait,” the source said, noting that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had immediately clarified this issue when his remarks earlier in the week were taken as suggesting otherwise.

“As for disadvantaging U.S. firms, the question does not arise because we are talking of a free market and competition,” the source added.

Hitting out at U.S. attempts to revise key provisions of the 123 agreement, the sources said that if President Bush and the State Department did not believe the text’s provisions were legally binding, “why did they put us through seven months of negotiations?”

India, the source said, was now waiting to see how the U.S. domestic process got completed. “Let him complete his internal process and then come to us. [But] if the 123 comes with changes or conditions, we’ll see [our options].”

Asked whether India might even refuse to sign the agreement if it came with riders that negated its key provisions, the source said, “Let us see. Until we actually sign, nothing is over.”

Washington’s approach, the sources stressed, was making it harder and harder for India to buy American material as and when the 123 was approved. “I think his own companies will now have to deal with him,” the source added.

India, he said, had taken up with the U.S. the contents of Mr. Bush’s September 10 letter to Congress as well as the State Department’s controversial replies to a set of questions raised by the House Foreign Relations Committee on the 123 agreement.

NSG nod for India

VIENNA, Sept 6: Delegates at 45-nation talks say they have approved a contentious U.S. plan to sell peaceful nuclear material technology to India.

The officials said the talks in Vienna have overcome misgivings expressed by Austria, Ireland and New Zealand. One delegate said Saturday's session produced ``a total consensus'' on the deal, which would reverse more than three decades of U.S. policy toward India.

India has tested atomic weapons and refused to sign international nonproliferation treaties.

Zardari wins Pak presidential polls

ISLAMABAD, Sept 6: Pakistan People's Party candidate Asif Ali Zardari has won the Pakistan presidential polls.

Earlier today, lawmakers began casting votes in the Pakistan presidential polls, a race where the favourite was the scandal-tainted pro-US widower of slain ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

After elections, Asif Ali Zardari, the head of Pakistan's main ruling party, is set to become one of the most powerful civilian leaders in Pakistan's 61-year history. He marshaled a coalition that, using the threat of impeachment, forced longtime US ally Pervez Musharraf to quit last month as head of state.

The presidential election comes at a sensitive time for the nuclear-armed, Muslim-majority nation of 160 million. Pakistan's economy is crumbling and it faces rising violence by militants. The latter is a major concern of the US, which wants Pakistan to eradicate militant havens on its side of the border with Afghanistan. A deadly American-led ground attack in Pakistani territory on Wednesday sparked outrage and embarrassed Zardari's party.

Zardari faces off against Mushahid Hussain, a senator from the pro-Musharraf party routed in February and Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, a former judge put forward by the opposition party of another ex-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Large numbers of security forces guarded the Parliament building on Saturday.

Like his late wife, Zardari is generally considered a pro-West liberal, and he is not expected to change Pakistan's commitment as an ally in the US war on terrorism despite the recent raid and suspected US missile strikes along the border.

Zardari and senior party lieutenants have matched Musharraf's tough line against terrorism, insisting the battle against Islamic militants is Pakistan's war. But while that plays well in Washington, the test will be how much clout Zardari wields over the military, whose stop-start battles with militants have failed to halt the rising strength of the Taliban.

Zardari and his party also have promised to trim the powers of the presidency enhanced by constitutional changes under Musharraf to bring it more in balance with the parliament and the prime minister.

The president can dissolve parliament and appoint army chiefs, and chairs the joint civilian-military committee that controls Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

A horse-loving aristocrat who has spent more years in prison than in politics, Zardari has impressed and surprised many with his ability to concentrate power since his wife was killed in a December and he inherited the leadership of her party.

Until his arranged marriage to Bhutto in 1987, Zardari was the unremarkable son of a landowning businessman and tribal chief from the southern province of Sindh.

Like many of this Muslim country's elite, he attended Christian missionary schools and a top boarding school on the banks of the Indus River near Hyderabad. He has claimed to hold a bachelor's degree from a business school in London, but his party has been unable to produce a certificate or establish what he studied. Zardari was quickly accused of meddling in the affairs of Bhutto's party and sidelining party stalwarts in favor of cronies. He served as minister for the environment and investment in the second of her two governments, each of which was dismissed before the end of its term for corruption and misrule.

Foes and many ordinary Pakistanis still refer to him as Mr. 10 Percent, because of allegations that he pocketed commissions on government contracts for everything from a license to import gold to the purchase of 8,000 Polish tractors.

Zardari endured about 11 years in jail in two spells as well as marathon court proceedings. But he was never convicted at home or in corruption and money-laundering investigations in Britain, Spain and Switzerland.

Zardari insists the cases were politically motivated attempts first by archrival Sharif, later by Musharraf and the military-dominated establishment he represented to demonize his wife and prevent her return from self-imposed exile in Dubai and London.

When she did return home in October, it was under an ill-fated power-sharing deal with Musharraf, who ordered an amnesty covering all corruption cases pending from Bhutto's terms of office. Zardari did not initially follow her home. He spent much of the time after his release from jail in 2004 in New York and reportedly received treatment for ailments including heart and back problems that his aides attributed to his prolonged incarceration.

In a court case in London, his lawyers even argued he had suffered stress-induced mental illness though supporters insist he has made a full recovery and is fit to be president. Having rushed home to bury Bhutto, Zardari revealed his political steel in taking the reins of her party and leading it to victory in February parliamentary elections.

By outmaneuvering Sharif, who last month quit the ruling coalition after accusing Zardari of duplicity, Zardari showed a shrewdness that has impressed many, and some are willing to wait and see whether he can stabilize Pakistan and whether he has learned from any sins in his past.

Consensus eludes India at NSG

VIENNA, Sept 4: The US on Thursday said "steady progress" was being made to rope in NSG members to end India's nuclear isolation as some countries insisted on inclusion of a specific commitment in the draft waiver for stopping nuclear cooperation if New Delhi conducts an atomic test.

Raising their concerns at the two-day Nuclear Suppliers Group's meeting here, some countries felt India could use the NSG exemption to further its military nuclear programme with suggestions being made for changes even in the revised draft waiver placed by the US before the 45-nation cartel.

A number of countries like New Zealand, Austria, Norway, Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland were not satisfied with the present draft even as the US pushed for a consensus by projecting the waiver as a "historic opportunity" to bring the largest democracy and one of the biggest economies into the global nuclear mainstream.

The first day of the crucial meeting saw skeptic countries demand a commitment in the draft that nuclear cooperation will end if India conducts a nuclear test and favoured denial of enrichment and reprocessing rights to New Delhi.

"The US believes firmly that the steps we are considering for India will strengthen non-proliferation and help to welcome one of the world's largest economies and biggest democracies more fully into the global fold," American Under Secretary of State William Burns told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

"I believe we are making steady progress in this process and we will continue to make progress," he said.

The US official described the discussions as "constructive and clearly aimed at reaching an early consensus."

A number of countries raised "important questions that need to be addressed," Burns said.

Underlining that there was a "historic opportunity" to end India's three decades of isolation in the nuclear field, he said "that opportunity warrants extraordinary efforts we are making."

He said the US is determined to continue to do "all we can by working with NSG partners and India to realise that opportunity."

Two sessions of the meeting were held today with a big four-hour break during which the diplomats are believed to have consulted their respective governments over the draft.

The revised draft was prepared by the US in consultation with India after at least 15 countries sought amendments in the original text during the last NSG meeting on August 21-22.

"There are concerns about (nuclear) testing," said a European diplomat who attended the first day of the two-day meeting.

"The reprocessing facility is not available to even some countries which have signed the nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty then why should the exemption be made for India which is not a signatory to the NPT. Such are the questions," the diplomat said requesting anonymity.

Another diplomat, who also did not wish to be identified, said changes were required to be made in the present draft to meet concerns of the countries.

India cannot go beyond its commitment to Parliament: Pranab

NEW DELHI, Sept 4: Amid uncertainty over India getting NSG waiver for nuclear commerce, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has made it clear that Government cannot go "beyond" its commitment to Parliament on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

As tough negotiations were held in Vienna at the meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on Thursday to consider waiver for India, the minister was unwilling to prognosticate on the outcome which is expected to be known on Friday.

"There is no room for speculation," he told All India Radio adding Government will have to wait for the outcome.

"We cannot go beyond our commitment to Parliament, commitment made by the Prime Minister and commitment made by ourselves. Therefore, whatever we have committed to it, it will have to achieved within that," he said.

His comments come close on the heels of the controversial disclosures of the US position on the nuclear deal which gave ammunition to the BJP and the Left to attack the Government.

The minister said Government has seen the US draft for which amendments were sought. "The draft if it is agreed by the NSG is OK (for us)," he said.

Sonia justifies Nuke deal, says Nuke power crucial for development

CHENNAI, Sept 4: Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday justified the Indo-US nuclear deal, saying nuclear power was crucial for the country's development even as Opposition parties targeted the UPA Government over US disclosures on the controversial pact.

"It is imperative for the country to have nuclear power for its development," Sonia told a rally in this town, located in Western Tamil Nadu.

"We are a big country, with over 100 crore people. We need energy. We believe that nuclear power is crucial. More the power, quicker the development," she said.

This power could be sufficiently supplied to both households and industries as well as farmers, she said.

Referring to the construction of two nuclear reactors at Koodankulam in Tirunelveli district, she said Tamil Nadu will start receiving power from the plant soon.

44 militants, four civilians killed in Pak

ISLAMABAD, Sept 4: At least 44 militants were killed on Thursday by Pakistani troops as part of a major offensive against the Taliban in the country's restive northwestern region, where four civilians also died in shelling allegedly carried out by security forces.

Sixteen militants, including some top Taliban commanders, were killed and 20 more injured in Kuza Bandai area of the troubled Swat valley, military officials were quoted by TV channels as saying.

Earlier in the day, eight militants, including two commanders, were killed in clashes with the security forces in the same area.

Another 20 militants were killed during a heavy exchange of fire with paramilitary personnel in the troubled Darra Adam Khel region of NWFP early this morning, said a statement from the Frontier Corps.

Militants fired rockets on a security check post near Tor Ghundai, injuring two security personnel. The rockets were fired from the nearby Bajaur tribal region.

Militants also fired several rockets at a security forces camp in Khar, the headquarters of Bajaur Agency. Three security personnel were injured in the incident.

Four civilians also died in shelling carried out by the security forces before they launched an offensive at Kuza Bandai in Swat, the reports said.

Yesterday, security forces had killed 30 militants and injured 35 more in Swat, where the army launched a major drive against Taliban fighters led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah.

Chinese foreign minister arrives in India on Sunday

NEW DELHI, Sept 3: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will undertake a three-day visit to New Delhi beginning Sunday during which he would discuss ways to further strengthen strategic relations with India.

In his maiden visit after becoming Foreign Minister, Yang will meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the two leaders will seek to take forward the bilateral ties and take steps to enhance mutual trust.

The visiting minister will also call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after holding delegation level talks with Mukherjee.

Yang will also travel to Kolkata where he is scheduled to inaugurate the Consulate General office.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said the political and mutual trust between the two countries has deepened since Singh's successful visit to Beijing in January this year.

China is committed to further developing "strategic partnership" with India as well as maintaining good neighbourly and friendly relations, she said.

A Chinese Embassy statement said in recent years, Sino-Indian relations have maintained a good momentum of development.

During Singh's visit, the two countries signed a document enumerating A Shared Vision for the 21st Century of China and India, which is considered as a significant step forward in bilateral relations.

Thai premier declares emergency in capital

BANGKOK, Sept 3: Thailand's Prime Minister declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in Bangkok, calling it the "softest means available" for restoring order after overnight clashes between government opponents and supporters left one person dead and 43 injured.

Under the sweeping powers that give the military the right to restore order, all public gatherings of more than five people are banned and the media is barred from reporting news that "causes panic".

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej gave no timeframe for how long the decree would stay in effect but said it would be over "moderately quickly".

"I did it to solve the problems of the country," Samak said in a televised news conference at a military headquarters in Bangkok.

"Because the situation turned out this way, I had no other choice."

Army Commander General Anupong Paochinda called a separate news conference in which he repeatedly stressed that the army's goal was to avoid violence.

The overnight violence heightened a national crisis that started a week ago when opponents of Samak occupied the grounds of his office and refused to move until he resigned.

Shortly after Samak spoke, a new crisis confronted his government.

The Election Commission recommended that his People's Power Party be disbanded for electoral fraud committed during December elections.

The commission forwarded its findings to the Attorney General's Office to decide whether to submit the case to the Constitutional Court for a final ruling, a process that could take months.

Samak and other top party leaders would be banned from politics for five years if the ruling is upheld.

Nawaz dumps Zardari, names own Prez nominee

ISLAMABAD, Aug 26: Pakistan’s five-month-old ruling coalition suffered a major blow on Monday as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif withdrew support for the PPP-led government and named a jurist to contest against PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential elections.

Sharif’s move was provoked by Zardari’s disregard of the promises he made for restoring judges dismissed by Pervez Musharraf last year.

The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) pull-out poses no imminent threat to the Yusuf Raza Gilani regime that has a simple majority in the 342-strong National Assembly after counting the Muttahida Quami Movement’s (MQM) 25 legislators.

The MQM shares power with the PPP in Sindh. Its exiled leader Altaf Hussain was the first to propose Zardari’s name for the presidency. Conscious of his erstwhile partner’s legislative base, Sharif said his party wouldn’t engage in any toppling game and play the role of a “constructive” Opposition.

“We were forced to take this unfortunate step,” the PML leader remarked, sharing details with the media of his written agreements with Zardari for bringing back the 60-odd judges Musharraf “sacked and placed under house arrest with their families.” Of these, thirteen belonged to the Supreme Court, including then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, now an iconic figure in the legal fraternity’s movement for the judiciary’s independence.

The PML-PPP split is likely to fuel the self-propelled lawyers’ stir — the next phase of which is planned for August 26 when the black-coats will take to the streets across Pakistan.

Sharif said he walked out of the coalition for the very reasons that made him join hands with the PPP to fight the dictator — restoration of democracy, the constitution and the rule of law. “No coalition can be run without trust and on broken promises,” he said, waiving before a battery of cameramen the August 9 signed agreement in which Zardari promised to restore the judges within 24 hours of Musharraf’s impeachment or resignation that came about on August 18.

For his part, the PPP leader — who sought more time for delivering on his assurances — has argued that no political accord could be treated as unalterable like the Holy Quran or the Hadith (the Prophet’s sayings).

Observers here felt his stance, regardless of the unmentionable compulsions emanating from external forces, could hurt the PPP’s popular base in an essentially feudal society where “a word given, is a word kept.”

That Sharif wasn’t about to let the judges issue die down was obvious from his presidential challenge to Zardari — former Supreme Court Chief Justice Saeeduzzam Siddiqui who resigned rather than take dictation from Musharraf within a year of the latter’s 1999 military takeover.

The other Muslim League faction — PML-Q’s candidature of journalist-politician Mushahid Hussain has made the presidential contest triangular. But not tougher for Zardari.

Taliban suicide bomber targets Pak hospital, 25 killed

ISLAMABAD, Aug 19: At least 25 people were killed and 50 injured on Tuesday when a Taliban bomber blew himself up at a hospital in the troubled northwest Pakistan, posing a fresh challenge to the government grappling with extremist threats.

The suicide attack came a day after Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally on the war against terrorism, stepped down as President, sparking concerns about the country's role in fighting the menace.

The bomber detonated his explosives inside the emergency ward of the district headquarters hospital in Dera Ismail Khan town in North West Frontier Province, local officials told TV channels.

Police officials said they had found the head and parts of the body of the suicide bomber.

District Coordination Officer Mohsin Shah said 20 people had died while Geo News channels put the death toll at 25.

Two police constables were among the dead while a senior police official, several policemen and journalists were among the injured.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation to the military offensive against militants in a nearby tribal region bordering Afghanistan that have killed hundreds.

Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar warned that more such attacks would be carried out if the government did stop operations against militants in Bajaur tribal agency.

Tbilisi civilian airport hit in Russian air strike

TBILISI, Aug 11: A bomb dropped by a Russian plane exploded near Tbilisi's main civilian airport on Sunday before the scheduled arrival of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to mediate an end to Georgia's conflict with Russia.

Eyewitnesses saw smoke rising from near the runway at Tbilisi international airport. An Interior Ministry spokesman said the air strike appeared to have been aimed at the nearby military airport and an aviation construction plant.

"It turns out they hit both military and civilian airports," ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told Reuters.

Kouchner was due to arrive later to meet Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. He is expected to fly to Moscow on Monday.

The air strike occurred hours after Georgia said it had pulled out of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway South Ossetia, where Georgian and Russian forces have been engaged in heavy fighting for three days.

Russian planes have carried out raids against mainly military targets in Georgia this week. The military airport was also struck early on Sunday.

In northern Georgia, eyewitnesses reported hearing 15 loud explosions near Tskhinvali. Georgia said earlier it had ceased all military activity.

Georgian officials have given conflicting information on whether Georgia has withdrawn its forces from South Ossetia completely or pulled them back to their previous positions in Georgian-populated villages south and west of Tskhinvali.

Aide says Musharraf will not quit as battle looms

ISLAMABAD, Aug 11: President Pervez Musharraf will not resign, despite mounting calls that he step aside to spare Pakistan the trauma of a bitter impeachment process, the embattled leader's spokesman said Sunday.

Rashid Qureshi spoke on the same day senior officials in Pakistan's ruling coalition met to prepare a list of impeachment charges to be brought against Musharraf, including accusations that he violated the country's constitution.

"People who are saying President Musharraf will resign — they are either lying or they simply don't know his nature," Qureshi said. "President Musharraf is a man of character and no one can point a finger at him. He has a clean track record."

Qureshi declined to say what course of action the president would take.

Starting Monday, provincial assemblies in Pakistan are expected to pass resolutions demanding that Musharraf seek a vote of confidence from Parliament.

The lower house of Parliament is also set to convene Monday in anticipation of impeachment proceedings, though Law Minister Farooq Naek said it could be a few days before a draft of the impeachment motion is completed.

Musharraf dominated Pakistan for eight years after taking power in a 1999 coup, but has been largely sidelined since his foes won February parliamentary elections.

The former army chief, a longtime ally of the U.S. in its war on terror who last year imposed a state of emergency and fired dozens of judges to avoid legal challenges to his rule, has resisted calls to resign.

Naek said the charge sheet will detail ways that Musharraf violated the constitution and "the gross misconduct that the president has done."

"I think for full restoration of the constitution, and for the survival of this nation and for democracy in this country, it is very necessary that Gen. Musharraf resigns himself, otherwise the impeachment will start," Naek said in remarks broadcast by Geo TV.

Although Musharraf's allies have urged him to fight impeachment, they have advised him against using his authority to dismiss Parliament and the prime minister.

Such moves would be enormously contentious and require support from the army, which has indicated it wants to stay out of politics.

A resolution to initiate impeachment proceedings requires the signatures of half the lawmakers in either the lower house of Parliament — the National Assembly — or upper house — the Senate. The president would have the right to defend himself against the charges.

Stripping Musharraf of the presidency would then require a two-thirds majority vote of all lawmakers in a joint session of the National Assembly and Senate.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman told reporters Sunday that the coalition had enough support — including from some lawmakers in parties considered pro-Musharraf — to remove the president. But Musharraf allies dispute that, and analysts have said it could be close.

Ishaq Dar, a lawmaker who attended Sunday's meeting, also urged Musharraf to resign.

"The numbers are there — that is written on the wall. It is better that he should say goodbye and leave," Dar told reporters.

IAEA approves safeguards pact, Indo-US nuke deal moves forward

VIENNA, Aug 1: The India-specific safeguards agreement was approved by the Board of Governors of the IAEA by consensus in a key step to implement the Indo-US atomic deal and bringing India closer to ending nuclear isolation.

The agreement that will open India's 14 of the 22 existing and future nuclear reactors for inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog got the green signal from the 35-member Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) after a three-hour meeting.

With the landmark nuclear deal having passing the first international test, India still needs a waiver from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for resumption of nuclear trade and approval by the US Congress before the deal can come into force.

In the first reaction from the Indian government, Science and Technology minister Kapil Sibal voiced optimism that New Delhi will get a "clean and unconditional" exemption at the NSG which is likely to meet around August 21 in Vienna.

With India and the US on an overdrive to fast track the deal, the nuke accord may come before the US Congress for ratification sometime next month once the NSG clearance is obtained.

After its meeting, the Board of governors authorised IAEA Director General Muhammed ElBaradei to conclude with the Indian government and subsequently implement the India-specific safeguards pact.

Sources said it was a smooth passage for the safeguards pact at the Board meeting after ElBaradei gave enough indications that the pact will sail through when he said the accord conformed to "all the legal requirements" of his agency and that talks had begun on a system of extended inspections.

India's journey to the IAEA to get the approval of the safeguards pact was marked by a lot of bad blood between the UPA government and its outside supporters Left which ultimately led the communist parties to withdraw support over the nuke deal last month.

The government, which staked its survival over the nuke deal, moved full throttle in approaching the IAEA on July 9 to push the stalled deal forward, a day after the Left withdrew support to the Manmohan Singh government.

Tabling the safeguards text at the start of the meeting, ElBaradei said, "These are not comprehensive or full-scope safeguards(unlike with NPT member states)... But it (agreement) satisfies India's needs while maintaining all the Agency's legal requirements."

ElBaradei's remarks gave a boost to the prospects for the Indo-US nuclear deal and the 27-member European Union too threw its weight behind the safeguards pact that set the stage for its approval.

The US described the approval of India-specific safeguards agreement as a key step in the implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal and vowed to "vigorously" obtain an India-specific exception in the NSG and clearance from the US Congress.

"The approval today of India-specific safeguards agreement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors is a key step towards implementation of the US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation initiative.

"We will work vigorously with India to obtain an India-specific exception in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the final US Congressional approval," US Ambassador to India David C Mulford said in a statement in New Delhi.

Mulford gave his reaction from the US where he has gone on a short break.

In a strong backing for the safeguards pact, ElBaradei said the agreement's "umbrella" nature provides a more efficient mechanism for ensuring that safeguards requirements can be met.

"It is an 'umbrella agreement', which provides for any facility notified by India to the agency in the future to become subject to safeguards," he said.

Touching upon an area of concern, he said India and the IAEA have already begun discussions on an Additional Protocol, which will be specific to the country--a system of shortnotice, wider-ranging inspections.

India pressing for modifications in NSG draft prepared by US

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: India is not satisfied with the draft prepared by the US for consideration of the NSG and is pressing for modifications in it, seeking "clean" and "unconditional" waiver from the 45-nation grouping.

Suggesting that the draft prepared by the US contained some conditionalities, officials accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Colombo for the SAARC Summit said India could not accept any conditions put by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

India maintains that if any country has any non-proliferation concerns with regard to its case, these should not be reflected in the NSG waiver.

The officials noted that several members of the NSG had no issues with India being given the exemption and if any country has some apprehensions, those could be addressed bilaterally with them instead of NSG being involved.

"Individual countries can raise their doubts when we go for bilateral agreements with them after getting the NSG waiver and we will discuss those with them," the officials said.

The comments assume significance as India's case is expected to be taken up by the NSG later this month, after the IAEA Board of Governors' approves the India-specific Safeguards Agreement.

The NSG waiver by consensus is essential for India to have cooperation with the international community. "We want to sort out the issue (with the US) before the NSG takes up the matter," an officials said.

The officials conceded that not all members of the NSG were on board and said efforts are being made to bring them around.

In this regard, some ministers and senior officials are traveling to various countries to convince them and allay their apprehensions, if any.

India is sure of support from many countries, particularly Russia, France and UK but some countries like Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands, have reservations with regard to India being granted the waiver to do nuclear commerce with the international community as it is not a signatory to the NPT.

Some countries have not yet spelt out their position with regard to the issue, making India keep its fingers crossed.

The NSG works by consensus and even if one of the 45 countries voices reservation, India would not get the waiver.

New Delhi contends that the Safeguards Agreement reached with IAEA covers 90 per cent of non-proliferation issues that any country could be concerned at.

Efforts are being made to allay apprehensions on account of the remaining 10 per cent, the official said.

"We are telling them that they need not worry on account of India as it is committed to universal non-proliferation," the official said.

The officials also made it clear that India will not approach the international community for civil nuclear commerce till the US Congress clears the 123 agreement.

"Technically, we can approach countries for cooperation in the civil nuclear field after NSG grants waiver, but we will wait till the US Congress votes on the 123 agreement as it was the US which triggered such an initiative," they said.

Historic day for country: Cong

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: The Congress has hailed as "historic" the IAEA's endorsement of the India-specific safeguards agreement and expressed confidence that India would succeed in obtaining the approval of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in the run up to the operationalization of Indo-US nuclear deal.

"It is a welcome step. It is a historic day for the country. It is a success of our diplomacy and our political leadership which successfully negotiated with the IAEA," party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said in New Delhi on Friday.

He said there were certain objections from countries like Pakistan.

He said since 26 countries which are members of the IAEA are also members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, "this will help us a lot".

"We will be successful in arriving at an agreement with the NSG and also in remaining steps", he added.

Rahul Gandhi in Dhaka on five-day visit

Rahul GandhiDHAKA, Aug 1: Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi arrived in Dhaka on Friday on a five-day visit to get a first-hand knowledge of rural development projects being run by the Grameen Bank of Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.

The 38-year-old general secretary of India's ruling Indian National Congress was received at the Zia International Airport by Grameen Bank chief Yunus and Indian High Commission officials amid tight security.

Officials said Rahul was in Bangladesh on a "private visit" to get a first-hand experience of rural development projects being run by Grameen Bank and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), one of the world's largest NGO.

BRAC and Grameen Bank officials said the Indian leader would visit their projects in suburban Gazipur and Singair but declined to elaborate.

"Highest emphasis was laid on the security of the visiting Indian leader while he wanted a normal protocol since it is a private visit," said a diplomatic source.

"He will mainly visit the projects undertaken by BRAC and Grameen Bank," a foreign ministry official earlier said.

Sources close to Rahul said he would try to see if the Grameen Bank and BRAC projects could be replicated in India.

Rahul's visit comes amid media speculations about the timing of the tour as diplomatic sources earlier had hinted that Dhaka would have preferred that he delay the tour for few days until the return of Bangladesh interim government chief Fakhruddin Ahmed from the SAARC summit in the Sri Lankan capital on 4th August.

The young parliamentarian met Yunus in Delhi in March last year and has already started some micro-finance and women-empowerment projects in his poverty-stricken Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

WTO talks collapse; India disappointed

GENEVA, July 29: Amidst tense moments, the nine-day WTO talks collapsed on Tuesday as India and China refused to come under the US pressure to yield on the issue of giving safeguards to farmers against surge in imports.

"There is no use beating about the bush. This meeting has collapsed," WTO chief Pascal Lamy said.

While India and China, the two fastest growing economies in the world, insisted on sufficient protection for their vulnerable farmers, the US -facing an economic downturn was not ready for a deal.

Commerce and Industries Minister Kamal Nath expressed dissatisfaction over the collapse of the talks.

"I feel disappointed that this has to be the end result. We have been running the miles for the last three years.

"It is unfortunate that in a development round we could not move because of the issue of livelihood security. G 33 and the developing countries are concerned about the issues which affect the poor and subsistence farmers," he told reporters before going to the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) meeting.

"My confidence in the institution of WTO remains intact. All work that has been put in will remain intact and we will take this up and move forward," he said.

The blame game started on expected lines. The US blamed India and China for creating hurdles in the ongoing WTO talks here and said Doha trade talks have been thrown into the "gravest jeopardy" by these two countries which are not willing to open their markets for more imports.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said, "it is unbelievable that we failed on one issue. It is not that the issue is not important for some countries but we could have taken up other issues also this was a collective failure and we should change the players in the team."

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said that talks were a "collective failure".

"It is a real set back for the global economy at a time when we were expecting some good news. Negotiations have been long and complex but they were always at the risk," he said.

United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab said: "We thought we had a deal on Friday and we were very optimistic. US is not prepared to give up on the multilateral system."

"US continues to extend its support to the WTO and we will stand by our offers. We hope to find ourselves in a negotiating setting and there will be more ambition on the table," she said.

Analysts said the Doha Round for opening the world trade, launched in 2001, faces uncertain future at a time when the global economy wanted a desperate push from a liberalised trade.

This is for the second time that the Ministerial, though known as mini-Ministerial has collapsed. A full-scale Ministerial Meeting ended in a deadlock in 2003 when talks broke down on the last day at Cancun in Mexico.

India pitches for adoption of convention against terror

TEHRAN, July 29: Describing terrorism as "one of the most serious threats" to global peace, India on Tuesday made a strong pitch for early adoption of a convention mooted by it over a decade ago to tackle the menace, days after its two key cities were rocked by serial blasts which left more than 50 people dead.

"I would particularly underline the need for concerted efforts by all of us to work towards early finalisation and adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, a draft for which was presented by India at the United Nations as far back as 1996," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said at the 15th Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) here.

He said if "we did not send a strong message that our movement stands resolutely for international cooperation in bringing the perpetrators, organisers financiers and sponsors of all acts of terrorism to justice."

"An act of terrorism anywhere is a threat to peace and stability everywhere," he said.

Mukherjee termed terrorism as "one of the most serious" threats to global peace and said it "negates the fundamental principles of justice" and can have no justification.

Referring to the recent serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmadabad and the terror attack at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, he said the terrorists' intention, quite clearly, is to rupture India's resilient social fabric. "But India's resolve and capacities are strong enough and can withstand all these terrorists can do."

Dismissing terrorists' claim to act on behalf of religion, Mukherjee said "in truth they have no religion, because the essence of religions is peace and universal brotherhood, and not violence and the violation of human rights."

He pointed out that the NAM has been successful when the member nations have shown unity, commitment and perseverance. "The history of our movement is a testimony to that. With unity and commitment, there is no doubt that we will achieve our goals and objectives."

Recalling that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation in all its aspects has been a long standing priority of NAM, Mukherjee said that India shares the belief of its friends in NAM that all states should commit to early negotiations on the complete and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

At the same time, he made it clear that India firmly believes that all states have the right to develop peaceful uses of nuclear technology in accordance with their obligations.

Mukherjee said NAM has a vital role to play when the world is undergoing rapid transformation as the Movement provides an independent point of view on international issues and functions as a platform from which its members collectively address key issues of common concern.

The NAM needs to overcome the social and economic difficulties arising out of the simultaneous impact of crises in food, fuel and finances as well as threats to its political and security systems.

"These and other challenges facing the international community make it more imperative than ever before that our Movement collectively projects the central and universal values that bind us and focusses on issues that unite us," the minister said.

Mukherjee said: "We must focus on matters that concern the lives of our people, particularly the poorest among them.

"In this context, our energies should be devoted to sustainable development, the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease; environment protection; energy security; social justice; fighting pandemics such as HIV/AIDS; disaster management; and the long overdue reform of international institutions, including the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions."

Earlier in his inaugural address, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamedinejad said Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Asia were in the grip of a "flame of war" which had made lives of the people of the region "bitter and painful"

He claimed that the UN has failed to implement its own efforts at nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament contending that international treaties do not have mechanisms to check nuclear proliferation by permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Ahmadinejad said that the world was entering a 'new phase' in which NAM could turn into an alternative to the United Nations Security Council.

"NAM could now, more than ever, play a significant role in this new phase and settle global differences, block discrimination, create justice and eventually become flag-holder of world peace," he said.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama expressed concern over the spread of the scourge of terrorism to parts of the world. "Collective action is vital," he said pointing out that terrorism was no longer confined to one soil and emanates at "unexpected locations."

"I urge all members that this is a threat we all have to address at this important summit," Bogollagama said.

'High security' as Sri Lanka hosts SAARC meet

COLOMBO, July 28: Sri Lanka is ramping up security in its already tightly-guarded capital to unprecedented levels as it prepares to host regional leaders for a major summit amid an escalating war on the Tamil Tigers.

Businesses in Colombo's financial centre have been ordered to shut, key roads will be closed, and 19,000 police will pour into a city of 650,000 people already saturated with soldiers.

Hotels have even been ordered to close to outsiders, despite the Tamil Tiger rebels announcing a unilateral truce for the duration of the summit starting 2nd August.

"Good security is not good enough, it must be ultimate security," Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollegama said of the tight arrangements for the visiting seven South Asian leaders and the host, President Mahinda Rajapakse.

More than two thirds of the nearly USD 28 million budget for hosting the 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will go to the national police, Bogollegama said.

Despite the unprecedented measures, some participants are also making their own security arrangements.

New Delhi is sending war ships to anchor off Sri Lanka's coast to evacuate its delegates in case Tamil Tiger air raids force the closure of Colombo's main airport and leave leaders stranded.

Sri Lankan authorities have in the past shut the airport and the island's air space when Tamil Tiger rebels used light aircraft to carry out bombing missions over Colombo.

Indian premier Manmohan Singh will bring thousands of his own security personnel, helicopters and bullet-proof cars, diplomats said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani are also expected to bring larger than usual security contingents for the two-day summit.

Anand Sharma discusses N-deal with Rice twice

Anand SharmaSINGAPORE, July 24: The US has lauded India's "deep resolve" to go ahead with their nuclear deal as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma twice to discuss the "next steps" for finalising the pact.

External Affairs Ministry sources said Rice and Sharma had a meeting today on "issues related to concluding the historic deal" within hours after they first met last night.

"Both the leaders discussed the next steps for finalising the deal," the sources told the news agency.

The two leaders also met last night on the sidelines of ASEAN ministerial meet here and talked on the "entire gamut of issues" relating to the civilian nuclear deal.

Condoleezza RiceThey had a "very good" meeting during which Rice appreciated India's "deep resolve to go ahead with the historic nuclear deal", sources said after the first round of talks.

The deliberations reflecting the urgency India and the US were attaching to the nuclear pact assume significance as the IAEA Board of Governors meetS on 1st August to consider the agreement for approval.

Sharma also held discussions on India's civil nuclear energy programme and sought support of member countries of the IAEA Board of Governors and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Sharma is leading an Indian delegation here in connection with the East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers' Meeting, ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting and the 15th ASEAN Regional Forum.

The Minister also had bilateral meetings with Foreign Ministers or heads of delegations of Singapore, Australia, Canada, Russia, Japan, South Korea, China, Philippines, France, Malaysia, Canada and Thailand. The meetings covered a wide range of issues of shared interest.

During the ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting attended by Sharma, the regional grouping said they welcomed the Indo-US agreement which would ensure energy security for India and hoped the countries would be able to conclude the pact soon.

After the government won the confidence motion on Tuesday night, the US had said it will work with Indian government to expedite the processes at IAEA and 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for an exemption to fcilitate nuclear commerce.

Nepal's first President sworn-in; Prachanda absent

KATHMANDU, July 23: Amid the political limbo over government formation, Indian-origin Madhesi leader Ram Baran Yadav was on wednesday sworn-in as the first President of the nascent republic of Nepal, three days after his victory in the historic poll for the coveted post.

The 60-year-old doctor-turned politician was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Kedar Prasad Giri at a grand function attended by some 2,000 people at the Sheetal Niwas, the office-cum residence of the new President.

"I, in the name of God take the oath of office that I will remain committed to the nation and its people to fulfil the duty with my utmost honesty and protect the sovereignty and freedom of the nation," the new President said.

Maoist chief Prachanda, who on Tuesday announced his party will sit in the opposition despite bagging the maximum seats - but not enough to form a government - in the landmark April 10 polls, was conspicuous by his absence at the ceremony attended by outgoing Premier G P Koirala, Army chief Rukmangad Katuwal and foreign diplomats, among others. However, Maoists' second- in command Baburam Bhattarai was present.

Yadav, the Nepali Congress-led tripartite alliance's candidate in Monday's Presidential poll run-off, defeated the Maoists-backed Ram Raja Prasad Singh by a margin of 25 votes after bagging 308 votes in the 594-member Constituent Assembly.

Attired in the traditional Nepali dress of white shirt, surwal, grey coat and black cap, Yadav assumed office amid uncertainty over the government formation following Maoists' refusal to lead the next administration in the wake of their Presidential candidate's crushing defeat, which was result of a new political equation at the eleventh hour.

India concerned over any military action against Iran

Navtej SarnaNEW DELHI, July 14: India has voiced concern over reported US statements threatening use of force against Iran while External affairs spokesperson said a military strike on Iran would have disastrous consequences for the entire region.

This will affect the lives and livelihood of five million Indians resident in the Gulf and on the world economy.

Sarna said India "calls upon all governments concerned to exercise restraint and choose the peaceful path of persuasion and negotiations.

Voicing serious concern over the reported move, India emphasised that there was no military solution to the controversy over Iran's nuclear programme and asked all countries involved to exercise restraint.

"India is gravely concerned at these statements threatening use of military force against Iran," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said while commenting on reports that US President George W Bush has given Israel a go-ahead to begin preparations for an attack on Iran if talks over Tehran's nuclear programme fail to yield results.

"India is against any such military attack, which constitutes unacceptable international behaviour," Sarna said.

Underlining that there was "no military solution to the issues that are being discussed" between Iran and the world community, he said India continues to "support negotiations and diplomacy, rather than the threat or use of force".

The US is said to have informed Jerusalem that Bush would back an Israeli plan to strike Iran's main nuclear sites with long-range aerial weapons if diplomatic talks over Tehran's nuclear programme broke down, a British newspaper reported on Sunday.

Singh, Bush talk progress on nuclear deal

SAPPORO, July 9: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush held detailed discussions on the Indo-US nuclear deal on Wednesday after which both leaders affirmed that the agreement was important for the two countries.

The two leaders spoke in unison on strengthening the bilateral "strategic relationship" after Singh drove more than 100 km from Sapporo at dawn to meet Bush at Hotel Windsor on the picturesque Mt Poromoi in Hokkaido island, where the G-8 leaders are meeting for their annual summit.

During an extended 50-minute meeting which took place hours before the Left parties formally withdrew support to the UPA government on the nuclear deal, Bush said he "respected" Singh "a lot" and congratulated the Indian Prime Minister for his "leadership at home".

"It was a really good meeting amongst two friends. And so, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us today, and congratulations on your leadership at home," Bush said in a remark that reflected the camaraderie the two leaders have developed over a series of meetings.

The body language of the two leaders, the warm handshake they exchanged and highly appreciative words they used for each other clearly reflected the commitment both sides have in seeing the nuclear deal go through fast, given the time constraints.

"We talked about the nuclear deal--how important that is for our respective countries," was all Bush said in clear reference to the agreement the two leaders had reached on civilian nuclear agreement almost three years ago.

The Prime Minister spoke of the "progress" made between the two countries in several areas including nuclear, defence, space and education.

Singh had told journalists on way to Sapporo that he would discuss with Bush and other influential leaders of the G-8, who are also members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group that he would take up with them the issue of carrying forward the processes in IAEA and NSG.

Bush described the meeting "as a conversation among friends" and added, "I respect the Prime Minister a lot. I also respect India a lot. I think it's very important that the United States continues to work with our friend to develop not only a new strategic partnership, but a relationship that addresses some of the world's problems."

The Prime Minister responded in adequate measure praising Bush's "magnificent" contribution to the bilateral relationship between the two countries which, he said, had moved "handsomely" forward in all areas since their first meeting in July, 2005 when they agreed on the civilian nuclear engagement, and had "truly acquired the characteristics of a genuine strategic partnership".

"Our relationship has never been in such good shape as it is today.... It is the intention of my government, as I believe it is also the will of the Indian people particularly the thinking segments of the people that in this increasingly interdependent world that we live in whether it is the question of climate change or managing the global economy India and US must work together shoulder to shoulder, and that is what is going to happen".

Singh said the two countries were working together in multilateral institutions for the success of the Doha.

"And I am very pleased with the state of our relationship, which has truly acquired the characteristic of a genuine strategic partnership," the Prime Minister said.

The leaders made the remarks after the meeting but took no questions.

Bush said the two had discussed how their countries could work together to grow each other's economies and at the same time be responsible towards environment.

"We talked about free trade, the Doha Round and how important it is that nations such as India and United States find common ground to make sure protectionist sentiments don't wall us off from the rest of the world," Bush said.

"I reminded the Prime Minister that the Indian American population is very proud of this relationship, and proud of their heritage, and proud of the leadership of the Prime Minister," the US President said.

China, Germany, France among supporting India on nuke energy

SOPPORO (JAPAN): G8 nations on Wednesday said they are 'looking forward' to working with India at IAEA and NSG and also showed willingness to advance India's non-proliferation commitments.

Amidst domestic political divide on the nuclear deal with the US, India on Wednesday received support from China, Germany, Canada, Japan and UK among others, for use of nuclear power as a clean source of energy.

Leaders of 17 major economies met on the sidelines of the G8 meeting and adopted a declaration which affirmed the critical role of technology in meeting the global challenges of energy security and climate change.

"We will promote the uptake and use of such technologies, including renewables, cleaner and low-carbon technologies and for those of us interested, nuclear power," the declaration said.

Leaders of the European Union, France, Italy, South Korea, Russia, Indonesia, South Africa and Mexico also attended the meeting before adopting the declaration on 'Energy Security and Climate Change'.

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Government is expected to move fast on the nuclear agreement with the US, with the support of the Samajwadi Party in Parliament, cooperation of several of these countries is crucial for approval of the deal from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group.

The declaration listed technology cooperation with developing countries as vital for capacity building for reducing carbon emissions.

"Mindful of the other role of a range of alternative energy technologies, we recognise, in particular, the need for research, development ...on carbon capture and storage. We also note the value of technology roadmaps as tools to promote continuous investment and cooperation in clean energy research...", it said.

Suicide Car Blast Kills 41 in Afghan Capital

KABUL, July 7: A huge blast from a suicide car bomb at the gates of the Indian Embassy on Monday killed 41 people in the deadliest suicide car bombing since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban.

Among the victims of the attack, the first in seven years on a regional diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, were at least four Indian citizens: the Indian defense attaché, a political counselor and two other Indian officials. Six Afghan police officers were also killed. Many of the rest appeared to be civilians.

The fact that the Indian Embassy was attacked raised suspicions among Afghan officials that Pakistani operatives allied with the Taliban had used the bombing to pursue Pakistan’s decades-long power struggle with India.

India said it would send a delegation to Pakistan to investigate what the Indian Foreign Ministry called “this cowardly terrorist attack.”

There have been a number of attacks in Afghanistan in recent months notable for their increased sophistication and deadliness. Afghan and Western officials have said such attacks are signs of the growing strength of militants in the Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, and the influence of Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists and even elements of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Suicide bombers attacked the five-star Serena Hotel in January and mounted a sophisticated assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai during a military parade in April, an attack that Afghan intelligence directly linked to the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Pakistani intelligence has had a long involvement in supporting militant groups fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan as a means to influence regions on its borders, and according to some Western diplomats and military officials, they maintain those links today, including with some elements of the Taliban.

In a statement Monday, Mr. Karzai said the “enemies of peace in Afghanistan” wanted to hurt Kabul’s international relationships, “particularly with India.”

“Such attacks will not hamper Afghanistan’s relations with other nations,” Mr. Karzai said.

The attack comes amid the worst summer fighting Afghanistan has seen since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and as concerns mount about the weakness of the Karzai government. Taliban insurgents have proved resilient, NATO and military officials said, and killed 46 members of the international force serving here in June. That was the highest toll since the invasion in 2001.

The Indian Embassy is located on a leafy thoroughfare close to the Afghan Interior Ministry, in what is supposed to be one of the best-guarded neighborhoods of the city, protected by police roadblocks. But the bomber managed to get through, and rammed a car laden with explosives into the embassy gates.

Witnesses said the bomber struck as two diplomatic vehicles were approaching the gates. Nearby, people were standing in line for visas and shopping in a market. The explosion left body parts and bloodstained clothing strewn in the wreckage. Ambulance sirens wailed as residents peered at the wreckage of a dozen vehicles.

Haji Khial Mohammad, 45, one of those in line for an Indian visa, said he saw more than a dozen who appeared to be dead. “I was shocked and could not hear anything after the attack,” he said. “But I saw at least 10 men and three women in the queue who were probably killed.”

Mohammad Ajmal, 26 a shopkeeper in the market, said the explosion sent goods from his shelves spilling out. “I could barely could stand up,” he said.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahed, denied responsibility. “The suicide bomb attack was not carried out by Taliban, we strongly reject that accusation,” he said by telephone. “We don’t know who carried it out.”

The Taliban frequently disavows knowledge of attacks that cause heavy civilian casualties.

Pakistani intelligence has had a long history of supporting militant groups fighting in Afghanistan and Kashmir, officials here said, and has regarded Afghanistan as its backyard. It fiercely resents the growing influence there of regional rival India. The Afghan Interior Ministry said it believed the attack was carried out in collaboration with “an active intelligence service in the region.”

The ministry did not elaborate on the identity of that service. But relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have become so strained after a series of attacks that Mr. Karzai has threatened to send troops across the border to attack militants operating from bases in Pakistan.

India, meanwhile, is a close ally of Afghanistan. It is spending $750 million on building roads and power lines here in what has become India’s biggest bilateral aid program ever.

It has opened consulates in several parts of the country, and promoted initiatives to offer scholarships for Afghan students.

But there have been some challenges to its influence. Several Indian workers have been killed in recent months, and Indian television shows have been restricted because of objections on religious grounds. Senior Indian Foreign Ministry officials have said for months that they were worried about the safety of Indian personnel in Afghanistan.

Portugal promises to support India at NSG

NEW DELHI, July 7: Nuclear Suppliers Group member Portugal has promised to back India's case at the 45-nation grouping for an exemption that will allow New Delhi to have trade with the international community in the atomic field.

Portugal Foreign Affairs Minister Luis Amado, who held talks with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, also expressed confidence that 27-nation European Union would be able to evolve a common position on India's nuclear issue and support it.

"We understand the concern of India on the need to satisfy its energy demands. We will support India's stand in the NSG," Amado told reporters on the sidelines of industry body FICCI function in New Delhi on Monday.

On the stance that the EU would adopt on the issue, he said, "I believe we will make consensus in European Union (EU) in support of India in the next Summit at France."

Most of the EU countries are in favour of India getting the waiver from NSG but the grouping has failed to evolve a common position.

India needs a waiver from NSG so that it can have nuclear trade with international community.

India's case will be taken up by the NSG after New Delhi firms up a Safeguards Agreement with IAEA, a step that is on hold because of opposition from Left parties.

China lacks commitment to talks: Dalai evnoy

DHARAMSALA, India, July 6: Envoys of the Dalai Lama said on Saturday the Chinese lacked serious commitment and that talks on easing tensions after protests against Chinese rule in Tibet were not serving any purpose.

They said the talks, held from July 1-2 in Beijing, were marked by personal attacks on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and the welfare of the Tibetan people was not discussed.

"We were compelled to candidly convey to our counterparts that in the absence of serious and sincere commitment on their part, the continuation of the present dialogue process would serve no purpose," Lodi Gyari, one envoy, said in India.

This was the second meeting between the two since a crackdown on protests against Chinese rule in Tibet earlier this year. The Tibet protests led to international calls for China to hold talks with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The envoys said the Chinese were preoccupied with the Olympic Games and it seemed to them that talks were held just to make sure the Games were held peacefully.

"There is a growing perception among the Tibetans, among friends of Tibet ... that the whole tactic of the Chinese government in engaging us is to stall for time," Gyari said.

The envoys said they agreed to talk in October, effectively after the Games.

Chinese officials met representatives of the Dalai Lama on May 4, but the next round of talks scheduled for June was postponed after an earthquake killed about 70,000 people.

At the latest talks, the envoys told their Chinese counterparts that the Dalai Lama, was not responsible for any violence in Tibet, adding that the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) was not a militant group as charged by the Chinese.

"We categorically rejected the Chinese attempt to label it as a violent and terrorist organisation," Gyari said in Dharamsala, headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, wants autonomy for the Himalayan region. Beijing has branded him a separatist and says his conditions amount to a bid for independence.

China has also blamed what it called the "Dalai Lama clique" for violence in Tibet in March and subsequent protests that disrupted the Olympic torch relay in several countries.

The Dalai has said he supports the Olympics and appealed to Tibetans not to protest during the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Games.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has also said that he has no control over the activists of the Tibet Youth Congress, who demand independence.

Mukherjee concludes visit to Australia

NEW DELHI, June 24: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee returned to New Delhi on Tuesday after concluding his first visit to Australia during which both the sides inked treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance and reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral ties including the possible sale of uranium to India.

Both the countries also agreed to further strengthen their relationship by forming a new body to hold yearly talks and by signing treaties to increase anti-terror efforts.

Mukherjee, who met Australian prime Minister Kevin Rudd and visited Parliament on Monday, signed extradition and mutual legal assistance treaties with his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith as both the leaders vowed to enhance their strategic security and counter-terrorism cooperation.

Smith said he wanted Australia to take its relationship with India to "the front line of its international partnerships".

"It is a matter of regret that, over the last 30 years or so, Australia has under-appreciated its relationship with India," Smith said on Monday.

On export of uranium, Smith said New Delhi was well aware of the Labour Party's opposition to uranium sales to India, as India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"The Australian Labor Party has a longstanding position, which is well known, that we don't export uranium to a country which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," he said.

Smith, who is expected to visit New Delhi in September, said Australia strongly backed India's bid to join APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) after the expiry of the group's 2010 moratorium on its expansion and also its bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Mukherjee said India supported Australia's application for observer status at the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC).

On Monday, the two countries agreed to establish an Australia-India Roundtable, which will be jointly convened by the Lowy Institute and the Indian Council for World Affairs.

Highlighting education as an vital sector of growing relations, the two ministers announced a new joint working group to examine passport and consular issues. Over 52,000 Indian students are studying in Australia and two-way tourism booming.

The two leaders, in a joint statement issued after the Australia-India Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue, the fifth in a series and first since 2005, reiterated their strong support for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

India, Australia sign extradition, legal aid pacts

CANBERRA, June 23: India and Australia have inked treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters as they vowed to enhance their strategic security and counter-terrorism cooperation.

"Australia wants to take the relationship with India to the front ranks of the partnerships we have," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said at a joint press briefing with visiting External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee after the agreements were signed here on Monday.

"These are a couple of practical illustrations of how we want our strategic security, defence and counter-terrorism arrangements to be enhanced," he said.

The two countries agreed to further strengthen their relationship by forming a new body to hold yearly talks and by signing treaties to increase anti-terror efforts.

The Australia-India Roundtable will be held by the Lowy Institute and the Indian Council for World Affairs. Australia also announced that it would spend 10 million Australian dollars to fund discussions on public policy issues such as agriculture, climate change and resource management.

Reviving the bilateral dialogue framework after a gap of three years, the ministers had in-depth and wide-ranging discussions on international and regional issues, including food security and energy security challenges and decided to work together at ministerial level.

They also deliberated on bilateral economic potential, education, security and counter-terrorism measures.

Mukherjee said the two countries looked forward to increasing operation in areas such as energy, information technology and biotechnology.

The two sides also decided to hold regular talks between their chiefs of defence, which will be held in Australia soon.

Smith is likely to visit India in September.

The Foreign Minister said Australia recognised India as an important country and wants to have good bilateral relations with India and China.

"It was important for all the major powers - Japan, India and China -- to have constructive relations between themselves as well. Its not zero sum game but win-win for all the nations," he said.

If Australia has good relations with India and was keen to take the ties to a new level, it does not mean that will be at the expense of any other nation, he said.

The two countries also noted that the proposal to create an Australia-India CEOs' forum will ensure that the expanding economic relationship was underpinned by closer business links at higher level.

They reiterated that the two sides were looking forward to receive a feasibility report for a comprehensive free trade agreement from the joint FTA study group by end of this year.

Zimbabwe opposition leader withdraws from Presidential run-off

HARARE, June 22: Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai announced on Sunday that he had withdrawn form the country's scheduled presidential run-off.

Tsvangirai cited mounting violence and intimidation against his party as major reasons for him to quit the run-off.

Speaking to the press, Tsvangirai said " We in the MDC cannot ask them to cast their vote on the 27th when that vote would cost them their lives." "Conditions as of today do not permit the hodling of a credible poll," Tsvangirai said.

He also said it is the responsibility of the United Nations to make sure the people of Zimbabwe are protected from the ongoing violence in the country.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission set June 27 as the date for the presidential run-off in which in which MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had been expected to challenge incumbent President Robert Mugabe.

In the March 29 elections, Tsvangirai won 47 percent of the votes and Mugabe 43. The winner has to garner at least 51 percent to take residence at state house in the capital, Harare.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said it is ready for the presidential run-off. Police in Zimbabwe have also reaffirmed zero tolerance to violence before, after and during the June 27 presidential run-off elections.

In a quick Reponse to Tsvangirai's announcement, the Zimbabwe government, which has repeatedly denied directing violence and intimidation against the opposition, said it will proceed with the June 27 presidential run-off election unless opposition leader Tsvangirai formally withdraws from the poll in writing, a senior government minister said.

"Tsvangirai must write formally to ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) advising that he is withdrawing from the race, in which event there will be one candidate, meaning there will not be a poll. If he doesn't, the poll will take place," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said.

South Africa, which is mediating between President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai, on Sunday urged Zimbabwe's opposition to continue with talks to find a solution to the political problems in Zimbabwe after Tsvangirai announced to pull out of the June 27 presidential run-off election.

Syrian Prez visits India's IT hub

Syrian PresidentBANGALORE, June 21: Visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday had a first-hand view of the progress and achievements made by India's IT hub in space research, IT and management on a day-long tour of the city.

Accompanied by his wife and a high-level delegation, Assad's first port-of-call was the satellite centre of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), where he showed keen interest in knowing about India's first moon mission - Chandrayaan-1 - and various technologies deployed for space applications and programmes.

Assad was treated to a visit of the satellite centre where the lunar orbital spacecraft is being integrated and tested for its maiden launch later this year.

ISRO director TK Alex made a presentation on India's space activities to Assad and the delegation.

''Appreciating the development of India in science arena, Assad said his country was looking forward to cooperating with India in space applications for societal needs.

He also expressed interest in collaborating with India to use its space expertise for the socio-economic development of his country,'' an ISRO official said.

Later, Assad visited Infosys Technologies in electronics city, on the outskirts of Bangalore, to see the IT bellwether's global delivery model and how it serves clients worldwide in bits and bytes.

Top Infosys officials took the Syrian president and the first lady on a guided tour of the sprawling green campus and its world-class facilities where about 23,000 engineers write software codes to develop products and solutions.

Assad also interacted with the faculty and students of Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-B) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM-B) for a first-hand account of their activities, programmes and projects.

Karnataka Governor Rameshwar Thakur hosted a dinner for Assad and his delegation at Raj Bhavan late Friday.

Assad left for Syria Saturday at the end of his five-day maiden visit to India.

India, Australia to further strengthen relations

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 20: India and Australia are expected to further strengthen relations in energy, trade, culture and other areas of bilateral interest when External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee travels to Canberra on Saturday.

Mukherjee will co-chair the Second Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue with his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith.

Energy security, with a focus on renewable energy sources, is expected to be a key area of discussion between the two leaders.

During the talks, Mukherjee is expected to try persuading the Australian government to revise its stand of not selling uranium to India.

"Areas for further expansion of relations are trade, science and technology, information and communication technologies, energy, education, agro industries and tourism," according to Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Advanced technology areas such as renewable energy are areas of interest and will be focus of the dialogue, he said.

India has been sourcing coking coal from Australia and is also engaged in the oil and natural gas sector, Sarna said.

"We expect to source energy from Australia," he said.

Bilateral trade has been growing at a rate of 40 per cent per year and stood at 10.75 billion Australian dollars last year.

Australia is likely to brief the Indian side about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's proposal of creating an International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

The idea of forming a Asia-Pacific grouping, on the lines of the European Union, is also expected to figure in the discussions Mukherjee will have with the Australian leaders.

Australia no to India on Uranium, backs UNSC bid

Stephen SmithSYDNEY, June 20: Ahead of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit, Australia on Friday ruled out any change in its stand of not selling Uranium to India but sought to placate Delhi by emphasising that it goes far beyond this "single issue" and voiced support for its claim to a permanent seat in UNSC.

"The Australian Government fully appreciates how central India is to our future," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a speech at the University of Western Australia, his alma mater, while making a strong push for closer ties in social, economic and defence sectors.

Acknowledging that India had a strong record on non-proliferation, he described the government's policy of not supplying uranium to countries who are not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as "long standing and well known".

The important point to note, however, is that Australia's relationship with India goes far beyond this single issue, Smith said.

He said the two nations shared the same position on promoting nuclear disarmament it would be "of great assistance" if India could sign up to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

Australia strongly believes that India, with its firm commitment to multilateralism, should have a permanent seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council, the minister said while also backing New Delhi for APEC's membership when the moratorium on new members ends in 2010.

Australia, he said, is developing a mature and broad-ranging relationship with "economic and strategic giant" India, "one that can and does accommodate differences of opinion on particular issues, and one that still moves forward constructively and positively".

However, the Opposition reacted angrily to Rudd-government's decision of not allowing uranium sales saying it made "no sense" and would harm Australia's economic interest while depriving India of clean energy.

"They've already got a great record, India, in this regard, and for us to sell uranium to China and to Russia, but not sell it to India makes absolutely no sense," Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb said.

"It will seriously undermine India's capacity to provide greenhouse free electricity in the decades to come."

Smith, who stressed on the potential economic gains for Australia from a strong relationship with India, said "while many commentators have been focusing on the rise of China, not enough attention has been paid to the rise of India.

"India's rising strategic, economic, political and cultural influence means it will be a key player in shaping the world in the 21st Century," he said pointing that the size of the Indian economy exceeded US $ 1 trillion.

For the last several years, it has been growing at 8-9 per cent annually. Some economists predict that, by 2025, India will be the world’s third-largest economy.

Last year Australia and India decided to undertake a joint feasibility study into a bilateral Free Trade Agreement which would be completed by the end of this year.

Mukherjee will travel to Australia this weekend to take part in Australia-India Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue.

Pointing to the joint military exercises and other engagements in the defence sector, Smith said the two countries can also cooperate in the sector of law enforcement and scientific and technical cooperation.

"I plan to take these ideas forward and to advance practical initiatives in talks with Minister Mukherjee," he said, adding Australia is looking forward to attend meetings of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation to which it has sought an observer status.

"India's rising strategic, economic, political and cultural influence means it will be a key player in shaping the world in the 21st Century," the Australian Foreign Minister said.

"As the world sees the potential of an Asian/Pacific century unfold, Australia sees India at the heart of this historic shift in political and economic influence," he said.

Describing India as "the worlds largest parliamentary democracy," he said New Delhi is "now rightly making its voice heard in the corridors of regional and international fora.

Australia sees a country that combines a remarkable pace of domestic development with an active and constructive role in the regional and international arena."

"The Australian Government fully appreciates how central India is to our future," he said.

"Just as India's time has come, so too the time has come for our bilateral relationship with India to be a major foreign policy priority for Australia.

He also said that Australia is ready to work with India as it addresses two of its most critical strategic concerns, energy and food security.

"We also have shared interests in a stable, prosperous region, with a focus on maritime security and counter-terrorism," he said.

Smith also quoted the 2006 census to point out that the Indian community was the ninth largest ethnic group in Australia, at over 230,000.

India can play role in W. Asia peace process: Syrian Prez

NEW DELHI, June 19: Hailing India as a supporter of the Arab cause, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad today said it can play a role in resolution of West Asia problem by using its "strong relations" with the US and Israel.

He also strongly supported India's bid for permanent membership of UN Security Council, saying the "rising" country with important role in Asian and global affairs should not remain out of the world body's powerful unit.

On his first visit here, Al-Assad doubted Bush administration's intention to usher in peace in West Asia and pinned hopes on the next government in Washington.

The Syrian President, who discussed the West Asia situation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday, expressed appreciation for India's stand on the Arab issue, saying it "always taken an objective position" and supported the Arab cause.

Asked whether New Delhi can play a role in resolving the West Asia crisis, he replied in affirmative, saying "India has the credibility because of its objective position."

To a question about New Delhi's growing ties with Washington, he said "India has strong relations with most of the world, including the US... If India wants to use these relations for ushering peace in West Asia, that will be positive."

Expressing confidence that India will always play a "positive role", Al-Assad indicated that New Delhi should "convince" the US as also Israel to have peace on top of the agenda.

Canada to open 10 new trade offices in 3 countries

By Deepak Arora

David EmersonNEW DELHI, June 19: Canada is moving along its aggressive trade strategy by establishing 10 new trade offices in three countries and is expanding its Trade Commissioner Service in Canada with four new satellite offices.

The announcement was made by David Emerson, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, during a speech delivered for International Trade Day, in Mississauga.

“Canada is a trading nation. We are expanding our international footprint to maintain Canada’s competitive advantage in key markets, and to bolster our domestic economyand quality of life for all Canadians,” said Minister Emerson.

“Today’s announcement isanother example of our government’s commitment to keep our economy strong. These new trade offices will help provide our companies with the tools they need to accessglobal supply chains and expand their commercial activities.”

Minister Emerson announced that new trade offices will open in six cities across China(Chengdu, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Wuhan), two in Mexico (Tijuana,Villahermosa) and two in Brazil (Porto Alegre, Recife).

These are in addition to two new offices in India (Hyderabad, Kolkata) and one in Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar) announced in April.

The government will also add new trade staff to existing offices in Brazil, Chile,China, Colombia, India and Panama.

“Canadian business has been demanding more service in growing markets abroad aswell as enhanced local service in Canada,” said Minister Emerson.

“Today this government is delivering on our commitment to the business community to improvethese services.”

At home, new satellite offices will be established in Kitchener, Ottawa, Victoria and Windsor. Additional trade officers will also be added to existing regional offices.

“These offices play a key role in encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to seek international opportunities and succeed in new markets,” said Minister Emerson.

“Expanding our domestic points of service means more Canadian businesses will beactive on the world stage.”

During his International Trade Day speech, Minister Emerson outlined the milestones Canada reached in trade and investment over the past year. The government has vastly increased bilateral ties with Canada’s global partners, in keeping with itscommitments under the Global Commerce Strategy.

This year, Canada signed a new free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Free Trade Association countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

In addition, Canada signed an FTA with Peru and concluded negotiations with Colombia.

The government is continuing negotiations with Korea, the Caribbean Community, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Singapore and the Central American Four countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, while at the same time looking ahead to possible new initiatives with countries such as Panama.

Canada has concluded negotiation of foreign investment promotion and protection agreements with India and Jordan, and negotiations with a number of other countriesare ongoing.

Canada also concluded new air agreements with Jordan, Iceland, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Barbados, the Philippines and Panama, and launched negotiations with the European Union for a comprehensive open skies agreement that would govern air services between Canada and all 27 EU countries.

Moreover, Canada expanded its work with China and India through existing science andtechnology agreements.

Just last week, our country took another step to deepen and broaden our commercial and economic relations with France with the signature of aCanada-France Joint Action Plan.

“We know that trade follows investment,” said Minister Emerson. “With all these bilateral arrangements, Canada is attaining a stronger position to climb global value chains, increase inward and outward investment, gain preferential market access for Canadian firms and, ultimately, generate prosperity at home.”

The new trade missions are part of the government’s Global Commerce Strategy, which provides $50 million per year to further develop Canada’s trade and investment interests at home and abroad.

The TCS helps Canadian companies and organizations do business through four keyservices: preparing for international markets, assessing market potential, finding qualified contacts and resolving problems.

With more than 115 years of experience, the TCS currently maintains offices in 150 cities abroad and 13 cities in Canada.

Minister Emerson also marked International Trade Day by launching, on behalf ofForeign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the latest versions of two annual publications: Canada’s State of Trade: Trade and Investment Update 2008, which reviews Canada’s performance in international trade and investment in 2007, and Canada’s International Market Access Report 2008.

Every year, International Trade Day brings together the business community, senior government officials, industry stakeholders and academics to discuss issues and priorities in international trade and economics.

India and Syria sign three agreements

By Deepak Arora

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan SinghNEW DELHI, June 18: India and Syria have signed three economic agreements after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad here on Wednesday.

The three agreements are for avoidance of double taxation, bilateral investment and a work plan for cooperation in agriculture and allied sectors.

Syrian President al-Assad held talks with Manmohan Singh for over an hour at Hyderabad House. There were formal delegation-level discussions as well.

The Syrian Leader arrived here Tuesday evening on a five-day visit - the first Syrian head of state to visit India after a gap of 30 years.

Syrian President laying a wreath at Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi in New Delhi on WednesdayAfter his ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhawan Wednesday morning, President al-Assad said Syria had a lot of expectations from a "rising India" and he looked forward to increasing trade with the country.

"We have a lot of things to talk about. There are a lot of expectations from a rising India," the Syrian leader told newsmen after inspecting the guard of honour.

He noted that increase in trade between the two countries would be on his agenda and looked for more cooperation in specific areas like telecom.

Al-Assad is accompanied by his wife Asma and a high-level delegation. He was received at the Indira Gandhi International Airport by Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed.

President Pratibha Patil hosted a banquet for the visiting dignitary.

Syrian President's wife Asma with UPA Chairperson Sonia GandhiEarlier in the day, Vice President Hamid Ansari, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition L K Advani called on the Syrian President.

The Syrian President will visit the headquarters of government-owned National Informatics Centre here to see the functioning of the premier computer service provider.

He will also travel to Bangalore and visit tour information technology and biotechnology establishments as well as the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The Syrian first couple will also visit the Taj Mahal.

"We hope the visit is going to give a very good impetus to Syria-India relations," Syrian Expatriates Minister Bouthaina Shaaban told newsmen on Monday.

India, Syria should intensify ties: Patil

NEW DELHI, June 18: India and Syria should intensify their relations by ramping trade and encouraging people-to-people contacts, according to Pratibha Patil, Indian President.

Speaking at a banquet she hosted for her Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, Patil said: “Our civilisational and historical links are well known and well documented.

“We look forward to intensifying our relations with Syria as we believe that our historical links are just as important to our peoples as our common endeavours in the path of modernization,” Patil added.

Pointing out that both countries were confronting common issues, Patil said India would be happy to extend its support and work with Syria in mutually agreed areas of cooperation.

“We should increase our trade relations. Indian companies are interested in working in Syria in the IT, petroleum and fertiliser sectors among others,” she added.

The Indian president also suggested building links between educational institutions, encouraging student exchanges and cultural cooperation as a way to promote people-to-people contacts.

She expressed India's commitment “to supporting all peaceful, negotiated efforts that will lead to just and lasting peace in the region, a peace that will result in the vacation of occupation, restoration of human dignity and mutual respect”.

“For this reason, India continues to call for progress in the peace process on all tracks,” said Patil.

Choicest dishes from different parts of India like chicken anarkali, daal panchratan and motiya pulao were served during the banquet.

The musical element was provided in the shape of the instrumental Swagatam, or welcome, composed by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, as well as popular song, Nour El-Ain, by Egyptian singer Amir Diab.

India and Syria commit to closer bilateral relations

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 18: “India and Syria have shared very warm and cordial political and socio-economic relations in the past – But the time has come now, to translate this into trade and investment between the nations”.

This was the common feeling voiced by various delegates at the Session on India-Syria Industrial & Economic Cooperation jointly organized in New Delhi today by CII, FICCI and Assocham.

Addressing the session, the Syrian President, Dr Bashar al-Assad, applauded India as a country that has created an environment full of opportunities for its people to compete and prosper within a framework of stability and security.

He warmly invited India to explore joint ventures and collaborations in major areas – infrastructure, development, energy production, mineral processing, IT, and training and education.

Drawing parallels between the countries, Dr. Bashar al-Assad, said that Syria too was currently at the crossroads of development path. Bringing focus to the need for ensuring economic growth at a sustainable pace, he highlighted three priorities for Syria – creating a fertile investment environment, capitalizing the country’s strategic location in West Asia to allow for efficient and cost effective movement of goods, oil, gas and electricity from Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean and maximizing the country’s human capital.

Commending CII, FICCI and Assocham for organizing this seminar, Minister of State for External Affairs Mr E Ahamed said that this dialogue will provide a platform for both countries to strengthen political, economic and social cooperation.

He expressed strong willingness to extend help to Syria in areas of IT, agricultural technology and know-how, governance, education and training, health facilities and various other industries. He also called for mutual cooperation in processing of minerals and the development of infrastructure including ports, rail and roadways.

Speaking at the session, Mr. Pratap Narayan of FICCI juxtaposed India’s sustained growth curve, despite the international slowdown and worries over domestic inflation side-by-side the dynamic growth witnessed in Syria’s economy and identified this as an opportune time for both countries to explore synergies.

Mr. Anil K Agarwal, Past President of Assocham, spoke highlighting parallels between the two countries in the area of agriculture, industry and services, and the similar contribution of these sectors to each nation’s GDP. He promised to initiate an Indian delegation to Syria to better know each other and cooperate in areas of bi-lateral trade and investment.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. V R S Natarajan, Past Chairman, CII said that Syria is an important business partner to India. Also, highlighting the common views shared by both countries on most multilateral issues and on issues of furthering development, Mr. Natarajan pointed out the vast potential for business between the two countries that needs to be tapped.

Stressing on Indian industries commitment to increase and improve contact and cooperation between the nations Mr. Natarajan said that there is ample scope for collaborations and for increasing exports of value-added industrial products to Syria and through it to the Arab and other world markets.

President Assad’s visit to give new impetus to India-Syria relations

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, June 16: The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to New Delhi would give a very good impetus to Syria-India relations, according to Bouthaina Shaaban, Syrian Expatriates Minister.

Speaking to newsmen on the eve of the Syrian President’s visit, Bouthaina said "we hope that the visit is going to give a very good impetus to Syria-India relations."

The two sides will hold talks to further strengthen bilateral ties, particularly in the sphere of trade and economy, during the Syrian President’s visit that begins on Tuesday.

India and Syria will sign agreement on avoidance of double taxation and prevent fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

The sides will also sign a work plan under Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in the Field of Agriculture and Allied Sectors for 2008-2009.

Al-Assad will meet President Pratibha Patil and hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Al-Assad will be accompanied by Mrs Asma al-Assad and by a large delegation that includes Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, Minister of Economy and Trade Amer Husni Lutfi, Minister of Telecommunication and Technology Emad Sabouni and other senior officials.

Vice President Hamid Ansari, UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Leader of Opposition L K Advani will call on the visiting dignitary.

President Patil will host a State Banquet in honour of al-Assad.

Bouthaina ShaabanBouthaina Shaaban hoped that India's growing relations with Israel will not be at the expense of its historic ties with the Arab world.

The Syrian Minister said the Arab world always looked up to India as a country that seeks peace and dignity.

"India is an old and ancient civilisation and shares a lot more with the Arab people," she said.

To a specific question on growing Indo-Israel ties, Shaaban said, "I hope it is not at the expense of its historic ties with the Arabs."

"We trust that India will stand in support of justice. It cannot stand with occupation, it cannot stand with genocide. That is what has happened to the Arab world," she said.

Bouthaina said the Arabs know that India will always support struggle for freedom and Arabs are struggling for freedom.

"We believe India will stand by the Arab people," she said.

In Delhi, al-Assad will visit the National Informatics Centre and later travel to Bangalore, to tour information technology and biotechnology establishments as well as the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Al-Assad is also scheduled to travel to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal.

Syrian President to make maiden India visit

DAMASCUS, June 13: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad travels next week to India on a maiden visit and the first by a Syrian head of state to the South Asian nation in 20 years, officials said on Thursday.

The official Tishrin newspaper said that Assad would discuss with Indian officials "bilateral relations and topics of interest to the two friendly nations."

Tishrin said the visit would take place "next week" and that Syrian first lady Asma Assad would be part of the trip.

Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdullah Dardari said that Syria and India would signs agreements to combat double-taxation and to bolster investments and energy cooperation.

In December 2005 India and China won a joint multi-million-dollar bid to buy Petro-Canada's 37 per cent stake in Syrian oilfields to feed their oil-hungry economies, prompting US objections.

Over the past years Syria has signed several oil and gas deals with foreign companies and launched tenders for exploration in both sectors in a bid to boost its dwindling energy output.

Assad's visit to India will be his first since he was propelled into power on the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, in June 2000 at the end of an iron-grip rule that lasted three decades, and the first by a Syrian president since 1978.

Tishrin hailed the "historic relations" between Damascus and New Delhi and India's "support to Arab rights, namely Syria's demand for the return of the Golan Heights," which Israel conquered in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

Syria and Israel announced last month that they have opened indirect peace talks brokered by Turkey after an eight-year freeze over the fate of the Golan.

Assad's visit also comes as inspectors of the UN atomic energy agency are due in Syria on June 22-24 to visit an alleged nuclear facility in a remote desert area.

India wants no confrontation with China: Antony

A K AntonyNEW DELHI, June 10: Advocating that China and India should be sensitive to each other's concerns, Defence Minister A K Antony on Tuesday said India would follow a non-confrontational approach towards its neighbour.

"There is enough space for the two countries to mutually cooperate and develop, while remaining sensitive to each other's concerns," Antony said in his address to the Unified Commanders conference of the Integrated Defence Staff here.

He said the agreement between the two countries on peace and tranquillity and the confidence building measures (CBM) adopted recently needed to be pursued by both the nations.

"Engaging China in a dialogue and trying to resolve outstanding issues is the right way ahead," the defence minister said, pointing out that the recent visit of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Beijing was a step in this direction.

His comments came in the wake of recent reports of Chinese incursions and Beijing's claims over chunks of Indian territory.

Later, talking to reporters after emerging from the meeting, Antony said India would follow a non-confrontational approach towards China.

"We (India) are not ignoring (these incidents). To a maximum extent, we will try to avoid confrontation," he said.

Royal flag lowered as Nepal celebrates its republic

KATHMANDU, May 29: The royal flag was lowered from Nepal's royal place on Thursday as the Himalayan nation celebrated its first day as a republic following the abolition of its 239-year-old Hindu monarchy.

A special assembly elected in April consigned the once revered institution to history and gave the ousted King Gyanendra a fortnight to vacate the sprawling pink palace in Kathmandu. His palace will be turned into a museum.

That vote was a key condition of a 2006 peace deal with the Maoist former rebels who ended their decade-long civil war and joined mainstream politics.

"Vive la Republique," read a banner headline in the Kathmandu Post.

"A hope is born," said the Himalayan Times daily.

Authorities said the national flag will be raised in place of the royal standard.

"I feel really honoured," said 27-year-old university student Dev Raj Bhatta standing in sweltering sun outside the palace gate.

"The end of the monarchy has made me a proud Nepali citizen."

Mukherjee's visit to promote 'mutual trust': China

BEIJING, May 29: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will embark on a visit to China from June 4 which Beijing hopes would promote "mutual political trust" and deepen "practical cooperation" between the two neighbours.

Mukherjee would hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi on better implementing the consensus on developing the partnership of strategic cooperation.

They will exchange views on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common interest, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular bi-weekly media briefing in Beijing.

"This will be the first visit of Mukherjee to China since he took office (as Minister for External Affairs)," he noted.

Mukherjee's four-day visit assumes significance in the wake of the recent unrest in Tibet.

The trip also comes after the Olympic torch relay, which faced disruptions by pro-Tibet protestors during its world tour, was held peacefully in India, drawing praise from the Chinese authorities.

China hoped that Mukherjee's visit at the invitation of Yang would "further promote our mutual political trust and strengthen the communication and cooperation between the two countries and deepen our practical cooperation in a wide range of fields so as to continue to promote our partnership of strategic cooperation," Qin said.

He said apart from holding talks with Yang, Mukherjee would also meet other Chinese leaders.

India receives first consignment of Uranium fuel from Russia

NEW DELHI, May 26: India has received the first consignment of uranium fuel from Russia for unit-1 of 1000 MW Kudankulam Nuclear power project (KKNPP).

"KKNPP, comprising of two units of 1000 MW (e) each, are at an advanced stage of completion in technical collaboration with the Russian Federation and the Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) fuel for its first unit arrived at Kudankulam yesterday," according to Nuclear Power Corporation of India limited (NPCIL) spokesperson A I Siddiqui.

The KKNPP is under construction at Kudankulam located in Radhapuram taluka of Tamil Nadu's Tirunelveli district.

The project is set up through a bilateral agreement between the erstwhile USSR and India.

"The life time fuel supply for Kudankulam reactors is covered through a sovereign guarantee of Russian Federation," he said.

Under the Indo-Russian collaboration, India can reprocess the spent fuel from these reactors and all the activities at Kudankulam will be under International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards, NPCIL said.

The two KKNPP units belong to advanced design of VVER family, a pressurised light water reactor (LWR), constituting majority of nuclear reactors of the world using LEU.

This kind of fuel is in use in VVER-1000 MW units in several countries around the world since 1980s and has given excellent performance, Siddiqui said.

100,000 dead in Myanmar Cyclone: US dimplomat

YANGON, May 7: diplomats in Myanmar are receiving information that there may be over 100,000 deaths in the delta area because of the cyclone that devastated the Southeast Asian nation, one of them said on Wednesday.

"The information that we're receiving indicates that there may well be over 100,000 deaths in the delta area," said Shari Villarosa, the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Myanmar. She spoke with reporters by conference call from Rangoon.

Myanmar cyclone toll climbs to nearly 22,500

YANGON, May 6: Myanmar's military government raised its death toll from Cyclone Nargis on Tuesday to nearly 22,500 with a further 41,000 missing, nearly all of them from a massive storm surge that swept into the Irrawaddy delta.

Of the dead, only 671 were in the former capital, Yangon, and its outlying districts, state radio said, confirming Nargis as the most devastating cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh.

"More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the storm itself," Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told a news conference in the rubble-strewn city of five million, where food and water supplies are running low.

"The wave was up to 12 feet (3.5 metres) high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said, giving the first detailed description of the weekend cyclone. "They did not have anywhere to flee."

Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said the military were "doing their best", but analysts said there could be fallout for the former Burma's rulers, who pride themselves on their ability to cope with any challenge.

"The myth they have projected about being well-prepared has been totally blown away," said analyst Aung Naing Oo, who fled to Thailand after a brutally crushed 1988 uprising. "This could have a tremendous political impact in the long term."

The first batch of more than $10 million worth of foreign aid arrived on Tuesday, but a lack of specialised equipment slowed distribution.

US President George W Bush urged the regime to accept US aid workers who have so far have been kept out, and said the United States stood ready to "do a lot more" to help.

"The military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," Bush told reporters, adding he was prepared to make US naval assets available for search and rescue.

Reflecting the scale of the disaster, the junta said it would postpone to May 24 a constitutional referendum in the worst-hit areas of Yangon and the sprawling delta.

However, state TV said the May 10 vote on the charter, part of the army's much-criticised "roadmap to democracy", would proceed as planned in the rest of the southeast Asian nation, which has been under army rule for the last 46 years.

Afghan president escapes assassination bid

KABUL, April 27: Afghan President Hamid Karzai was hussled away but escaped unhurt after an assassination attempt during an official celebration in the capital, Kabul, on Sunday.

A Presidential Palace source said Karzai was safe, but the Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said three of its fighters were killed.

"Yes, he is safe and fine," said the palace source, declining to be named.

Government ministers along with leaders of other political factions were seen ducking down on a dais after gunfire sounded at the celebration to mark the 16th anniversary of fall of the communist government to the mujahideen.

State television cut off live transmission of the event.

TV footage showed a couple of dignitaries slump in their seats as the shooting began. They appeared to be lawmakers.

A police officer at the scene, said he saw two people firing AK47 assault rifles from a house toward the area were Karzai and other dignitaries were sitting.

The gunfire erupted as the national anthem ended at a ceremony to mark the 16th anniversary of the victory over the Soviet invasion, which ended in 1992.

The celebration, organised under tight security for days, was cancelled.

A Taliban spokesman said its insurgents were behind the firing at Karzai who has survived several assassination attempt against his life in recent years.

"We had our people there who fired at Karzai," Zabihullah Mujahid told a News agency from an undisclosed location.

Indian students get right to work part-time in Australia

MELBOURNE, April 27: Soon after Canada liberalized its laws on work permit for students, Australia has done the same to attract more Indian students. Australia has granted automatic rights to work part-time under the new visa arrangements, a move which has come as good news for those desirous of pursuing studies in this country.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans said all international students would be allowed to work up to 20 hours a week while their course is in session.

Under the new rule which came into effect yesterday, all student visas to foreigners will be granted with work rights attached, removing the need for people to file an additional application.

More than 30,000 Indians were granted student visa in year ending June 2007 and they had to file separate applications for taking up part-time jobs here.

"It (the new rule) is a small relief for us who have to run around the visa office to get work permit which is a bit of a pain in a new place," according to Manish Tikko, a student of Accounts in Swineburne university. "While it’s just a mere saving of Rs 1500-2000, its saves students from doing the leg work."

Rahul Verma, a student of Victoria University, said "now the new students coming under automatic working visa arrangements do not have to wait for their course enrolment. They can directly start looking for a part-time role which is a bit of respite."

Earlier, students had to wait for their course to begin to apply for the work visa separately.

Canada becomes more attractive for skilled individuals

By Deepak Arora

Diane FinleyTORONTO, April 24: Canada has announced changes to work permits for international students who graduate from eligible programs at certain Canadian post-secondary institutions, making it easier to attract foreign students to Canada.

Effective immediately, and for the first time, these international students would be able to obtain an open work permit under the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, with no restrictions on the type of employment and no requirement for a job offer, according to Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley.

In addition, the duration of the work permit has been extended to three years across the country. Previously, the program only allowed international students to work for one or two years, depending on location.

“The Government of Canada wants more foreign students to choose Canada and we want to help them succeed,” said Minister Finley.

“Open and longer work permits provide international students with more opportunities for Canadian work experience and skills development. This will, in turn, help make Canada a destination of choice, and help us keep international students already studying in Canada.”

The increased flexibility offered by the expanded program will benefit graduates and employers alike as the program will help international students get important work experience while responding to Canada’s labour market needs. Canada will benefit in the long run as the professional experience gained will help graduates meet the requirements to stay permanently in Canada.

“As we move toward the implementation of the Canadian Experience Class, these changes will help create a pool of individuals who, with work experience, will find it easier to apply to immigrate to Canada,” added Minister Finley.

“Our ability to retain international graduates with Canadian qualifications, work experience and familiarity with Canadian society, will help increase our competitiveness and benefit Canada as a whole.”
The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program allows students who have graduated from an eligible program at a post-secondary institution to gain valuable Canadian work experience. Preliminary 2007 data indicate that 63,673 international students came to Canada that year, representing a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year.

The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program allows most international students who have graduated from an eligible program at a post-secondary institution to gain valuable Canadian work experience. A minimum of one year of work experience in managerial, professional or technical positions (i.e., at level 0, A or B under the National Occupational Classification system) will be necessary to apply to stay permanently through the Canadian Experience Class.

The changes to the program include extending the duration of the work permit to three years across the country for those whose program of study is at least two years (previously, permits could be granted for only one or two years, depending on location); providing the flexibility for new graduates to work in any field and not just their field of study; and removing the requirement to have a job offer.

To be eligible for the program, international students:

• Must have studied full-time for the eight months preceding the completion of their program of studies and have graduated from:

• a public post-secondary institution, such as a college, university or CEGEP (in Quebec); or

• a private post-secondary institution that operates under the same rules and regulations as public institutions, and that receives at least 50 percent of its financing for its overall operations from government grants (currently, only private college-level educational institutions in Quebec qualify); or

• a Canadian private institution authorized by provincial or territorial statute to confer degrees.

• Must apply for a work permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation (for example, a transcript or an official letter) from the institution that they have met the requirements of the academic program.

• Must have completed and passed the program of study and received a notification that they are eligible to obtain their degree, diploma or certificate.

• Must have a valid study permit when they apply for the work permit.
Note that if the student’s program of study is less than two years but at least eight months, the student would be eligible for a post-graduate work permit. However, the validity period of the work permit must not be longer than the period of study of the graduate at the particular post-secondary institution in Canada.

International students not eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program include the following:

• Students participating in a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program or a Government of Canada Awards Program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
• Students receiving funding from the Canadian International Development Agency and participating in a distance learning program.
• Students who have previously been issued a post-graduation work permit after any other program of study. However, note that graduates who are already working with a work permit issued under the previous rules are eligible to apply for an extension.

IAEA be left to decide if Iran is making nuclear weapons

NEW DELHI, April 23: India has asked the United States not to take the responsibility of deciding if Iran was manufacturing nuclear weapons, in comments that came a day after its sharp reaction to Washington's advice on bilateral relations with Teheran.

"We are advising Iran that since it is a signatory of NPT, it has some obligation to international treaties. We tell the US, do not take on yourself the responsibility whether Iran was manufacturing weapons or not. Leave it to the IAEA, the designated authority," External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said interacting with reporters at an orientation programme for Parliamentary reporting in New Delhi on Wednesday.

"It is not for me or for Iran to certify...it is for the IAEA to convince themselves whether (Tehran's programme) is peaceful," he said, a day after his ministry spokesman said neither India nor Iran needed any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations.

The MEA's response to US State Department spokesman Tom Casey's advice to India to counsel Iranian President Ahmednijad, during his stopover in New Delhi that his country should meet the requirements the UN Security Council and international community has placed in terms of suspending their uranium enrichment activities and on their nuclear programme.

To a query over Casey's advice, Mukherjee said his ministry spokesperson has already responded to it and that is "correct".

The issue also found mention in Parliament on Wednesday with CPI(M) members in the Lok Sabha asking the government to condemn a US statement that India should tell Iran to "meet the requirements of the UN Security Council" on its nuclear programme during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's upcoming visit to New Delhi.

Canada’s PM urges stronger trade relations with India

By Deepak Arora

TORONTO, April 22: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that the country would open two new trade offices in India. The offices will be in Hyderabad, gateway to southern India’s Information-Communications Technology hub, and Kolkata, the main business, commercial, financial, and transportation centre of eastern India.

Speaking at the inaugural gala dinner of the Canada India Foundation over the weekend, the Prime Minister outlined the initiatives his government has undertaken to improve trade relations with India, an emerging economic superpower and the world’s most populous democracy.

He also spoke of India’s growing importance to the Canadian economy.

Harper said “Canada simply cannot afford to miss out on India’s phenomenal economic growth. That’s why our government is putting so much emphasis on improving trade and investment between our countries.”

To further enhance trade and investment ties, the government will also post additional commissioners at the established offices in Mumbai and Delhi.

“These new trade offices will expand Canada’s reach in India beyond our traditional focus on the north. India’s boom is not just happening in the northern region, and Canada needs to be where all the action is,” said Prime Minister Harper.

The Prime Minister concluded his speech by highlighting the connection between the freer flow of goods and the freer flow of people. A decade of inaction has left Canada with the largest immigration backlog in the world.

So last month, the government tabled amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act aimed at reducing the application backlog and shortening wait times for newcomers. If passed, the reforms will dramatically reduce Canada’s immigration backlog and provide the skilled workers needed to prevent critical labour force shortages.

“Simply put, our government’s immigration reforms will get skilled workers into the country earlier, help families get reunited sooner, provide the Canadian economy with the human capital it needs to maximize its enormous potential, and continue to enrich our great country with the cultural influences of newcomers from the four corners of the earth,” said Prime Minister Harper.

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