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Fighting erupts in Pakistan as peace deal crumbles

MINGORA, PAKISTAN, May 6: Taliban militants and security forces battled for control of a northwestern Pakistani town on Wednesday as residents hunkered down in their homes ahead of an expected major offensive.

Thousands of men, women and children have fled Mingora and surrounding districts, the first wave of a refugee exodus the government fears could reach 500,000.

The collapse of a 3-month-old truce in the Swat Valley with the Taliban means Pakistan will have to evict the insurgents by force, testing the ability of its stretched military and the resolve of civilian leaders who until recently were insisting the insurgents could be partners in peace.

A reporter in Mingora said gun and mortar fire started on Tuesday and continued through the night into Wednesday morning.

Dawn News reported that helicopter gunships were attacking militant positions in the town and that more troops had been deployed there.

Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas declined to say whether the events heralded the start of major operations, saying only that “all the contingency plans are worked out” for carrying one out.

The developments brought Islamabad’s faltering campaign against militancy into sharp focus as President Asif Ali Zardari was preparing for talks on Wednesday in Washington with President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on how best to counter an increasingly overlapping spectrum of extremist groups behind surging violence in the neighboring countries.

The Obama administration hopes to build a strong and lasting regional alliance, linking success in Afghanistan with security in Pakistan. Toward that end, the administration is encouraging Pakistan to confront _ not make peace with _ the Taliban and other militants.

“We need to put the most heavy possible pressure on our friends in Pakistan to join us in the fight against the Taliban and its allies,” Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a congressional committee on Tuesday. “We cannot succeed in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s support and involvement.”

In an interview with CNN, Zardari defended his country’s ability to fight the militants within its borders. “It doesn’t work like that. They can’t take over,” he said. “How can they take over?”

Fearing that war could consume the region, thousands fled the main Swat town of Mingora on Tuesday. Refugees clambered onto the roofs of buses after seats and floors filled up. Children and adults alike carried belongings on their heads and backs.

“I do not have any destination. I only have an aim - to escape from here,” said Afzal Khan, 65, who was waiting for a bus with his wife and nine children. “It is like doomsday here. It is like hell.”

Shafi Ullah, a student, said the whole town was fleeing.

“Can you hear the explosions? Can you hear the gunshots?” he said, pointing to a part of town where fighting was continuing.

Pakistan agreed to a truce in the valley and surrounding districts in February after two years of fighting with militants who had beheaded political opponents and burned scores of girls schools in their campaign to implement a harsh brand of Islam modeled on their counterparts in Afghanistan.

As part of the agreement, the government imposed Islamic law last month in the hope that insurgents would lay down their arms - something they did not do.

Last week, the Taliban moved from their stronghold in the valley into Buner, a district just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital. That caused alarm at home and abroad.

The army responded with an offensive it says has killed more than 100 militants and was “progressing smoothly” on Tuesday, according to a brief statement.

Govt may offer general amnesty to LTTE cadres

COLOMBO, May 3: With the Tiger rebels on their last legs, the Sri Lankan government is mulling a general amnesty to the surrendering LTTE cadres as well as to those who are in detention in the Island country.

"Regulations are being worked out in consultation with the Attorney General and they would cover anyone who agrees to lay down weapons and surrender before the security forces," Minister for Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe said.

However the amnesty will not be granted to those who have already been charged or convicted in courts.

"In these cases, the legal process will be applied," the minister told reporters.

He said an undisclosed number of LTTE members had come along with the displaced people to the camps in Wanni.

"While some have confessed they are members of the LTTE, others are being investigated for their links with the group".

Samarasinghe said he was not aware of the exact number of the LTTE cadres among the displaced people but some estimates put it at 3000.

The LTTE members would be rehabilitated and later allowed to re-integrate with others once the investigators get convinced that they have shunned separatism, Samarasinghe was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Officials said that around 1000 rebels had already confessed their involvement with the LTTE and were undergoing rehabilitation in special transit camps in Wanni and elsewhere, the newspaper said.

Earlier the United Nations had urged the government to consider a general amnesty for the LTTE members willing to give up arms.

Late last month, President Mahinda Rajapksa had said there will be no amnesty for Tamil Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran as he has "spurned chances for pardon".

"The LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has spurned the possibility of pardon by us. In doing so, by not giving up arms and surrendering as required, he must now face the consequences of his acts," Rajapaksa said.

Rajapaksa said his government has earlier shown the example by offering clemency to Karuna Amman and Pillaiyan, who are now a Minister and a Chief Minister respectively.

"Such clemency would have been possible for Prabhakaran if he had surrendered, given up arms and abandoned violence, as called for on several occasions, and not caused so much suffering to the people," the President had said.

Tamil Eelam is the lone solution to Lankan ethnic strife: Jaya

SALEM, April 25: AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa has come out in the open in favour of a separate "Tamil Eelam" (homeland for Tamils) in Sri Lanka, saying it alone would solve the decades long ethnic strife in the island nation.

"Separate Tamil Eelam is the only solution. Sri Lanka will not ensure equal status to Tamils. If the AIADMK-led alliance is elected in all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, we will work for formation of separate Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka," she told an election meeting in Salem.

She dismissed as a "drama" and an "eyewash" the visit of National Security Adviser MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo as India's special envoys to press for cessation of hostilities, saying "nothing has happened since their visit."

Taliban withdrawing from Buner in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, April 25: Taliban militants on Saturday began withdrawing from the Buner district near the Pakistani capital, which they had entered over the past fortnight, as the government deployed troops for a possible offensive.

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told reporters the militants had started pulling out from Buner, located 100 km from Islamabad, on the instructions of Maulana Fazalullah, the militant commander in the restive Swat valley.

The Taliban had come to Buner on their own and they were not being pressurised to withdraw to Swat, Khan claimed.

However, the government had warned it would use force if the militants did not vacate the strategic district, officials said.

Militants from Swat who entered Buner had occupied mosques, looted dozens of vehicles and relief supplies, set up check posts and begun conducting armed patrols in the area.

Mohammed Javed, the Commissioner of Malakand division which includes Swat and Buner districts, said Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi chief Sufi Muhammad, who struck a peace deal with the government, had persuaded the Taliban to leave the area.

Khan said around 100 Taliban had entered Buner to maintain peace and preach Islamic values.

However, reports said local Taliban would remain in Buner.

Since their arrival in Buner, the Taliban had barred women from venturing out of their homes.

They also closed down civil courts, asked judges to leave the district and warned people not to indulge in "un-Islamic" activities.

The withdrawal of the Taliban from Buner coincided with a tough statement from Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who said his force would "eliminate the militants who endanger the lives of peaceful citizens...and challenge the writ of the state".

Kayani also said the army will not "allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life on the civil society".

Earlier in the day, Malakand Commissioner Mohammed Javed held talks with Sufi Muhammad and Taliban commanders to defuse the situation in Buner.

"The Taliban's pull out from Buner has been started and the district is being cleared of unwanted elements," Javed said.

The Taliban had also agreed to end armed patrolling across Malakand division, he claimed.

In return, the North West Frontier Province government would implement the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, which envisages the enforcement of Shariah in Malakand, Javed said.

Darul Qaza or appellate courts and Qazi courts will be established in all districts of the division to provide speedy justice, Javed said.

Pak groups rope in Babbar Khalsa to launch attacks

NEW DELHI, April 21: As part of their larger plan to target prominent politicians and carry out blasts in India during Lok Sabha polls, Pakistan-based terrorgroups have roped in Khalistani outfit Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) to carry out terror attacks — particularly in Punjab.

Indian intelligence agencies recently found out about a joint meeting between militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed with BKI chief Wadhawan Singh in Rawalpindi in February where they planned terror attacks in Punjab during polls.

Wadhawan Singh, hiding in Pakistan, is one of the 40 most wanted terrorists who found place in New Delhi's list to Islamabad for deportation. Intelligence agencies believe that Singh has constantly been in touch with radical elements in the Sikh community to carry out his plan.

Sources in the agencies said the terrorist outfits had planned to take help of local BKI activists for logistics. Similar meeting had also taken place in December last year when Pak-based terror groups had planned to infiltrate their cadres through fenced western border in Punjab and Rajasthan, sources added.

Punjab will go to poll in the fourth and fifth phases on May 7 and 13. The home ministry has, meanwhile, alerted the state to take adequate measures in coordination with central intelligence and security agencies to thwart any such attempts.

Sources in the ministry said similar alerts had also been sent to other states and Union Territories as the government has intelligence inputs suggesting attacks on prominent politicians during the polls.

Agencies here believe that Wadhawan Singh continues to be a vital link between terrorists in other countries and some radical elements in the Sikh community in Punjab.

The intent of BKI and its patrons was evident in 2005 when investigation into the bombing of Liberty cinema in Delhi led to the arrest of its agent, Jagtar Singh Hawara, wanted for the assassination of former Punjab CM Beant Singh.

Another 26/11-style attack in the offing: US think-tank

NEW DELHI, April 19: Pakistan-based terrorists are likely to launch another deadly Mumbai-style attack on India in the near future, according to a US intelligencethink-tank, Stratfor.

Coming on the heels of the Tokyo donors' meeting which gave Pakistan some $5 billion, Stratfor concludes that these aid packages would have little effect in changing Pakistan's behaviour vis-a-vis India.

"Yet the gradual unravelling of command and control within the Pakistani military establishment has enabled many more of Islamabad's Islamist militant proxies operating in Pakistan and India to team up with transnational jihadists to carry out deadlier and more strategically targeted attacks," it said.

"Though the timing is uncertain, India is likely to witness another large-scale...attack on its soil that will once again escalate cross-border tensions," Stratfor warned.

India had refrained from taking a more militaristic response against Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks, which Stratfor had criticized, saying that a lack of response was far more dangerous than the threat of escalation, that was the argument India had given then.

"New Delhi's restraint arose from fears of destabilizing Pakistan further and granting the militants' wish for a cross-border conflict to divert the Pakistani military's attention from the Afghan-Pakistani border region toward India," it said.

Stratfor believes that the UPA government was too soft, but that if the BJP comes to power there was a greater expectation of a stronger response to Pakistan. "India is more likely to deliver a forceful response to future attacks should the BJP emerge victorious in these elections," it said.

Stratfor said India was watching fearfully as the jihadist insurgency in neighbouring Pakistan has spread to India's doorstep in Pakistan's Punjab province.

These attacks, Stratfor said, have revealed a trend in which the Kashmiri Islamist militant proxies, formerly controlled by Pakistan's ISI, are now moving into the jihadist orbit under al-Qaeda and the Taliban to carry out more complex and deadly attacks.

"Since these are the same militants who traditionally have had their sights on India, it is very likely that India will witness another large-scale attack," Stratfor said.

In a separate report, Stratfor has dismissed comparisons between the Manawan police training academy terror strike and the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

The think-tank's analysis said the two incidents should not be compared as the Mumbai attacks were significantly different from the one in Manawan. The buildings of the two luxury hotels taken under siege by the terrorists in Mumbai were far more complex in design and occupied a larger area than the training academy's building in Manawan, the report said.

The Mumbai incident was intricate because it involved foreign citizens taken hostage at three different locations situated far away from each other.

"Pakistani authorities did not have to worry about international sensibilities or killing a foreign citizen with friendly fire," it said.

Taliban moves to new areas close to Pakistan's capital Islamabad

ISLAMABAD, April 19: In an alarming development, Taliban has spread its reach to Swat's neighbouring districts, including Buner, within 100 km of Islamabad.

Meanwhile a video footage aired by Dawn television showed Taliban militants executing a man and a woman on charges of having illicit relations. The couple was gunned down in full public glare in the troubled northwest of Pakistan.

The shocking footage of the shooting incident which took place a few days back near the border of Orakzai tribal agency was made available to a Pakistani media outlet on Friday.

The footage, aired by Dawn News Channel, showed the Taliban shooting the man, aged around 40, and a woman, who was about 45-year old, at an open space in the presence of their relatives and a large crowd.

The woman was heard appealing to the Taliban, "Have mercy on me, please have mercy; the charges against me are false and no man has ever touched me".

The militants first shot the woman by firing two bullets in her chest and later opened a burst of Kalashnikov fire at both the woman and the man. But the woman was still seen breathing, following which the Taliban yelled that she was alive and "kill her, kill her".

Sources told the channel that the Taliban had asked the relatives of the woman and the man to present the two before them for questioning at a specified place.

The relatives brought both of them to the Taliban, who killed them in cold blood.

LTTE has reached its Waterloo: Rajapaksa

COLOMBO, April 19: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said his government takes crucial decisions on the basis of national interests and expects support from the international community and not hindrance or disruption. Mr. Rajapaksa did not name any country.

Addressing workers of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Rajapaksa said the LTTE leaders trapped in the few square kilometres of the No-Fire Zone (NFZ) had reached their Waterloo.

“They have only three alternatives. Either they have to surrender to our armed forces, eat the cyanide capsule and commit suicide, or plunge into the sea.”

Rajapaksa claimed that when people accepted his “Mahinda Chintana” policies and elected him President, they were not concerned about their hunger. “They were solely concerned about the future security of their country. They wanted their motherland to be free from terrorism and fragmentation as per the agreements inked between the terrorists and the past governments.

“This was my foremost task, responsibility and duty which I have successfully achieved. We have now the strength to visit the Tiger terrorists’ stronghold and their administrative capital of Kilinochchi. I visited Kilinochchi with glad tidings of comfort and joy for the new year, to our gallant war heroes who have achieved all this,” he said.

Certain reactionary forces and friends of the terrorists, both local and international, were making unfounded allegations against the government and seeking to save the terrorists, he said.

“They are accusing the government of human rights violations and the like. It is extremely regretful that some of our leaders too are aiding and abetting this campaign to deprive their motherland of international monetary and other assistance. ”

Sri Lanka military declares truce

COLOMBO, April 13: Sri Lanka's government has declared a temporary halt to its offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in the north-east.

The move, which aims to let civilians leave the conflict zone safely, comes in view of New Year celebrations that start on Monday, the government said.

There has been no immediate response from the Tamil Tigers.

The authorities have been under growing international pressure to allow time for tens of thousands of trapped civilians to leave the war zone safely.

The decision came after a special cabinet meeting headed by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said that government forces would not engage in any offensive operations during the two-day Sinhala and Tamil New Year period.

He said the decision was taken to allow time for civilians to leave the war zone safely.

The authorities had been under pressure from the UN, US and other countries to allow a humanitarian pause to allow civilians time to leave the conflict zone.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly Tamils, have been protesting in Western capitals demanding an immediate ceasefire in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan military says it has captured the entire Tamil Tiger-held territory in the north and pushed the rebels into a government-designated safe zone set up to protect civilians in the north-east.

The defence ministry says security forces have surrounded the no-fire zone on all three sides and troops are now poised to enter the area to rescue the civilians.

There has been no immediate reaction from the rebels to the government's announcement on temporary halt to the fighting.

Taliban threaten two attacks every week in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, April 6: A suicide bombing at a crowded Shiite mosque south of Pakistan’s capital killed 22 people, the latest evidence of how security in the US-allied nation is crumbling well beyond the Afghan border region where al-Qaida and Taliban fighters thrive.

The violence came Sunday as a senior Pakistani Taliban commander said his group was behind a deadly suicide bombing the night before in Islamabad and promised two more attacks per week in the country if the US does not stop missile strikes on Pakistani territory.

Sunday’s suicide bomber set off his explosives at the entrance to a mosque in Chakwal city in Punjab province, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Islamabad, said Nadeem Hasan Asif, a top security official in the province. The blast killed 22 and wounded dozens, he said.

A little-known group believed linked to the Pakistani Taliban claimed it staged the attack. Pakistan also has a history of sectarian violence, often involving Sunni extremists targeting minority Shiite Muslims.

TV footage showed pools of blood in front of the mosque. Torn clothes and shoes littered the ground, while at least one car and four motorcycles were damaged.

Farid Ali said he was leaving the mosque when he felt the blast on his back.

“I saw several people lying dead,” he told Express News TV. “There was blood everywhere.”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack and directed authorities to “bring the perpetrators to justice.” Such statements from the premier have become a matter of routine in Pakistan, where extremists seem bent on wreaking havoc.

Most of the militant attacks in Pakistan occur in the northwest, where the Taliban and al-Qaida have strongholds from which they plan strikes on US and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. Still, all of the country’s major cities have experienced assaults.

A man who goes by the name Umar Farooq and says he speaks for the shadowy militant organization Fedayeen al-Islam told The Associated Press via telephone that the group staged Sunday’s attack on the mosque as part of a “campaign against infidels.”

He also warned the US to stop its drone-fired missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan’s northwest.

Little is known of the group, but it is believed linked to the Pakistani Taliban.

In the past it has said it was behind other attacks, including the bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel and last week’s attack on a police academy in Lahore, but officials have never named it as a primary suspect.

Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud -- who also claimed responsibility for the attack on the police academy, which killed at least 12 people -- has vowed more assaults unless the US shelves the drone-fired missiles.

His deputy Hakimullah Mehsud said the Pakistani Taliban carried out Saturday’s suicide attack against the paramilitary camp in Islamabad. He, too, cited the missile strikes, and promised that the group would carry out two suicide attacks per week in Pakistan.

He also said Pakistani troops should withdraw from parts of the northwest.

“We have shown enough restraint,” Hakimullah Mehsud said. “Previously, we were striking once in three months, but from now onward we will go for at least two suicide attacks a week.”

Qaida, Taliban present across Pak: NWFP police chief

NEW DELHI, April 6: In what will deepen fears about Pakistan's capacity to tackle al-Qaida-Taliban, a top police official from North-West Frontier Province - where the jihadi groups have an entrenched presence - said the Taliban was present in every city and town and hoped to launch more 9/11-type strikes against the West.

NWFP police chief Malik Navid told the Pakistan National Assembly's standing committee that the extremist organisations were spreading rapidly through the country and were no longer confined to the mountains of NWFP or Waziristan. He said the terrorists' aims included destabilisation of current regimes in the Middle East - a long-term objective of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

Pointing to the unchecked progress of jihadi groups, Navid said Taliban were moving towards major cities like Lahore and Karachi. "Their people are present in every city and town. In some places they are active, in others they are dormant. Taliban's philosophy is to create pockets everywhere," he said, adding that jihadi groups were moving through southern Punjab and eventually aimed to reach the financial hub of Karachi.

Navid, according to reports from Pakistan, said the al-Qaida-Taliban combo hoped to use parts of the Middle East as launch pads for attacks against the West and pointed out that the groups had developed some expertise in making bio-chemical weapons. He warned that the Pakistan government needed to urgently focus on containing militancy as it spread from its bases.

The frank assessment of the police official serves to confirm concerns about whether Pakistan and its military complex in particular was prepared to clearly acknowledge the threat posed by jihadists given the army and ISI see Taliban as allies in ensuring a "friendly" dispensation in Afghanistan while also feeding the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistan army's sporadic efforts to roll back jihadis has lacked conviction and have predictably shown poor results.

The patronage extended to Deobandi and Wahabi groups by Pakistan's army and ISI since the mid-90's for anti-India operations - as they were seen to be more brutal and ready to carry out the directions of their handlers than Kashmiri outfits - tied in with the rise of Taliban who came from the same cloth. Ironically, having facilitated escape of Taliban leaders from Afghanistan after 9/11, Pakistan now faces the same threat at home.

Navid's testimony also points to the virtual merger of al-Qaida with Taliban, with the latter being both part of the core and the major striking arm. The al-Qaida core of leaders like bin Laden and the Eqyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri has shrunk but its "vision" can be seen in the overall jihadi plan to topple the Pakistani state. Indian intelligence assessments see anti-India groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba being very much a part of this conglomerate.

It was only a few weeks ago that reports of Taliban establishing a network of cells in Karachi and setting up bases in nearby hills had sparked off alarm over the possibility of terror strikes in the port city. The NWFP inspector general of police said the 1,000-mile porous border with Afghanistan was a major source of weapons in the tribal areas. The Taliban, he said, were trying to turn the tribal areas into the Islamic Emirates of Waziristan.

Outlining the depth of extremist threat, Navid said al-Qaida specialised in turning out suicide bombers within three months. Five to 10% of Pakistan's madrassas were involved in this activity and he named an al-Qaida operative Qari Hussain for training suicide bombers. The jihadis were a mix of Pakistani Taliban, jihadis, local groups, criminals and Afghan Taliban besides a major al-Qaida component.

Sri Lanka captures last LTTE bastion; 420 cadres killed

COLOMBO, Arpil 6: Moving closer to "annihilating" the LTTE, Sri Lankan troops captured their last stronghold of Pudukudiriyirippu and pushed the rebels into a narrow 'no-fire zone' packed with civilians after killing at least 420 Tamil Tigers in heavy fighting in the north.

LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, second-in-command Pottu Amman and other senior commanders of the guerrillas are believed to be holed up in the 20 sq-km safety zone, the military said today and accused the rebels of using the tens of thousands civilians as "human shields".

The army has captured the entire Pudukudiriyirippu area that was under the control of the Tamil Tigers, who have lost many of their key leaders in the latest fighting, military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said. Bodies of 420 rebels killed in intense clashes with advancing troops in the past three days have been recovered from the war zone, he added.

"Prabhakaran is in the 20 sq-km no-fire zone after army captured the remaining one sq-km LTTE area in Pudukudiyirippu.

He will be caught dead or alive. It will be easier to detect him amongst the people because of his heavy size," according to a top Defence Ministry official.

Military sources said a number of senior LTTE leaders, including Theepan, Ruben, Nagesh, Gadaphi (a former bodyguard of Prabakaran), Vidusha (head of 'Malathi' female wing), Durga (head of 'Soothiya' female wing) and Kamalini were killed in fighting since last night.

Another top LTTE leader Bhanu has been wounded, sources said adding, Prabhakaran's son Charles Antony, who was injured in fighting recently, is also possibly in the no-fire zone.

"The remaining LTTE cadres ... are now facing a total annihilation as the soldiers are engaged in a man-to-man combat against them," the military said.

Asked whether the army have suffered losses, a Defence Ministry official said "there have been some casualties. But minimum casualties".

The LTTE has taken hostage all civilians in the 'no-fire zone' -- a strip of land along a beach -- hostage, reports said. The UN says 150,000 to 190,000 people are trapped in the zone, but government estimates vary between 30,000 and 40,000.

The latest developments may increase international concerns about the safety of the trapped civilians.

In search operations conducted in the combat zone, troops were able to recover more than 250 bodies of LTTE rebels. In addition, three 130 mm artillery guns, one 85 mm artillery gun, a large quantity of 12.7 mm weapons and small arms were recovered from the area by the troops.

Troops have also located over 140 LTTE bodies scattered ahead of the battlefront east of Puthukkudiyirippu. LTTE's intelligence wing leader Pottu Amman, Theepan and Bhanu have led the fighting formations. At least 100 rebels were killed during Saturday's fighting alone, battlefield reports said.

Meanwhile, facing an imminent defeat, the LTTE on Sunday appealed to India to treat them as their "ally".

"We are not enemies of India or Indian interests. India should look at us as an ally. We are disappointed with India's attitude towards us," Tamil Tigers' political head B Nadesan told an Indian TV channel.

Conceding that the rebels have lost 4,000 of their cadres in the last two years of fighting, Nadesan also claimed that the rebels have killed over 20,000 Sri Lankan soldiers over the period.

He said the LTTE supremo Prabhakaran was in "excellent health and leading our freedom struggle".

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan military said they asked the trapped LTTE cadres to surrender before launching the onslaught against them.

"We called them to surrender via their (LTTE) radio frequencies, but they were ordered to fight to their death by the LTTE leadership," a senior ground commander said.

Asked why the LTTE cadres chose to do so, he said that they had no other option. "Their family members are held hostage by the LTTE leadership in the No-Fire Zone.

"They (LTTE) were not only ordered to fight to their death, but also ordered to not even think about coming back to NFZ alive if they had any love for their family members there," he said. "We heard them pleading to the LTTE leadership to let them withdraw before we attacked them, but their request was not granted."

Mehsud threatens to launch 'amazing' attack on US

ISLAMABAD, March 31: Claiming responsibility for the terror attack on a police academy in Lahore, Pakistan’s most wanted man Baitullah Mehsud on Tuesday threatened to launch an “amazing” strike on Washington in retaliation for a series of attacks by US drones in tribal areas.

Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief and on whom the US has announced a bounty of $5 million, also warned of further strikes in the country unless Islamabad withdraws troops from tribal areas and press America to cease drone attacks in the troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The Taliban chief, who is wanted in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Pakistan Premier Benazir Bhutto, told foreign news agencies “soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world.”

Mehsud, who operates from the lawless tribal region in Waziristan, said yesterday’s attack that killed nine people was in retaliation for US drone attacks in the unruly tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“We will keep on taking revenge if the US drone attacks continue. And finally a major attack will prove to be an arrow (aimed at) the government,” he warned.

His remarks came as authorities in Lahore carried out widespread raids on suspected militant hideouts rounding up more than 50 people on suspicion of helping the attackers.

Lahore police training centre under attack, 22 killed

LAHORE, March 30: Heavily armed terrorists on Monday gunned down at least 22 policemen, including eight officers, and injured 90 others as they stormed into police training centre near Lahore, barely a month after the brazen attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in this city.

Lobbing grenades and opening indiscriminate fire, the terrorists, said to number between 10 and 16, struck the academy as trainees prepared for the morning drill, killing guards at the gate and later holed up inside with hostages.

Authorities clamped curfew, called in the Army and paramilitary rangers who along with police laid a siege to the sprawling complex where an estimated 800 unarmed policemen were present.

Helicopters and armoured carriers were deployed by the security forces to monitor the situation inside, which authorities described as a hostage crisis.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said the suspicion in the attack was on Lashker-e-Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammad as intermittent firing and sounds of explosions continued to emanate from the centre.

While Malik said the attack bore resemblance to the Mumbai terror strikes, former Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub said it “is similar to the one on the Sri Lankan team”.

“It is the same type of people and same style of operation,” he said.

Prior to the attack, which started between 7-8 a m, a series of at least five blasts were heard at the training centre at Manawan, located near the Wagah land border.

The explosions were followed by an exchange of fire between the attackers and policemen that continued for over two hours.

Most of the casualties occurred near the gate of the centre when the terrorists lobbed several grenades as they launched their attack and then fired indiscriminately.

Zardari seeks early resumption of composite dialogue

ISLAMABAD, March 29: Reaching out to India, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday pressed for early resumption of the composite dialogue process, stalled since the Mumbai attacks, and said Kashmir and other outstanding issues between the two countries should be settled peacefully.

"We will continue to seek the peaceful settlement for all outstanding disputes, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir, (with India)," Zardari said in a customary address to a joint sitting of the Senate and National Assembly.

"At the same time, the government also believes that Indo-Pakistan relations can and should be improved. We hope that the composite dialogue process will be revived soon," he said, referring to the peace process started by the two countries in 2004.

India maintains that the dialogue process cannot be resumed till Pakistan takes concrete steps to end terrorism emanating from its soil.

New Delhi put the dialogue on hold following the 26th November Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed over 180 people. It has blamed Pakistan-based elements, including the banned Lashker-e-Toiba group, for the strike and urged Islamabad to do more to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Zardari said the government led by his Pakistan People's Party is "fully cooperating to bring the criminals behind the Mumbai attacks to justice".

"I appreciate the government's handling of the crisis," the Pakistan President said.

He said the government had opened trade across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir as part of its "bold initiatives" to achieve "peace with honour".

Pakistan is also "proposing a more liberal visa regime and (plans) to establish more facilities for visiting Sikh and Hindu pilgrims," he said.

Pakistan's foreign policy objectives include achieving regional and international peace and security and socio-economic development of its people, Zardari said during the address that was initially disrupted by opposition PML-Q members when their leaders were barred by the Speaker from raising a point of order.

Zardari said economic ties with China had been strengthened with the signing of a free trade agreement while Pakistan had finalised a "joint declaration on directions in bilateral cooperation" with Afghanistan to boost ties.

50 killed in Mosque bombing in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, March 27: At least 50 persons were killed when a suicide bomber struck a mosque packed with worshippers for Friday prayers in Pakistan's restive north-west Khyber tribal region on Friday and the two-storey shrine also collapsed in the blast.

In one of the worst terror strikes in the country, the mosque situated in Jamrud area of Khyber tribal agency was targeted leaving at least 100 persons injured.

About 300 persons were reported to be inside the mosque at the time of the attack.

Assistant political agent Fida Bangash of Khyber Agency told TV channels that at least 50 people were killed after a suicide bomber blew himself up.

Among the dead were 15 members of the local political administration and the Khasadar force.

Officials said the toll could rise since some victims were believed to be buried in the rubble.

About 30 personnel from the local Khasadar militia were in the mosque, which caved in after the blast, and officials said they could have been the target of the attack.

Tariq Hayat, the political agent of Khyber Agency, said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.

Other officials said the attacker had rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the mosque, which is located near a Khasadar check post on the Pakistan-Afghanistan highway.

No group claimed responsibility for the strike.

Some security personnel were also among those who persished in the suicide attack.

People dug through the debris with their bare hands to pull out the injured and dead.

Witnesses said some of the bodies were beyond recognition. Many of the injured were in a serious condition.

Security forces sealed the strategic Pakistan-Afghanistan highway soon after the blast.

The injured were taken to hospitals in Jamrud and Peshawar.

Jamrud lies in the Khyber region near the Afghan border where militants have intensified attacks on trucks carrying supplies to NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The area is also bedevilled by bloody feuds among various tribal and militant factions.

Core of al-Qaeda is in Pakistan: Gordon Brown

LONDON, March 22: Stating that the core of al-Qaeda has shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Sunday said that Britain was about to take the war against terror "to a new level".

Britain will release on Tuesday a new counter- terrorism strategy called Contest Two, billed as the most comprehensive approach to tackling the threat of terrorism by any government in the world.

Writing in The Observer, Brown said, "We know that there is an al-Qaeda core in northern Pakistan trying to organise attacks in Britain. We know also that there are a number of networks in London.

"Al-Qaeda terrorists remain intent on inflicting mass casualties without warning, including through suicide bombings. They are motivated by a violent extremist ideology based on a false reading of religion and exploit modern travel and communications to spread through loose and dangerous global networks".

The new counter-terrorism strategy takes into account recent attacks on hotels in Mumbai.

It will reflect intelligence agencies' opinions that the biggest threat to the UK comes from groups aligned or inspired by al-Qaeda.

A spokesman said the strategy will update the Contest strategy developed by the Home Office in 2003, which was later detailed in the Countering International Terrorism document released in 2006.

Pak judges reinstatement step towards reconciliation: PPP

ISLAMABAD, March 17: The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party on Monday said the government's decision to reinstate judges deposed during the 2007 emergency had created new space and opportunity for strengthening democracy in the country.

Though the decision was made by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani under pressure from lawyers and the opposition PML-N, the PPP sought to portray its move as an opportunity for political reconciliation.

PPP spokesperson Sherry Rehman, who quit as information minister last week over differences with Zardari on handling media coverage of opposition protests, said," The restoration of the deposed judges by the democratically-elected government has provided a unique opportunity for the whole nation to move forward with a renewed spirit of reconciliation."

It's a great day for the supremacy of democracy in Pakistan, she told members of the international media in Islamabad.

Referring to Gilani's announcement about reinstating the deposed judges, including former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Rehman said the move had provided new space and opportunity for strengthening democracy in Pakistan.

Following the painful bitterness of the politics of confrontation, the country now needs a healing touch, she said. She added that the PPP-led government had done well by responding to the people's voice.

Gilani had announced the reinstatement of the judges as opposition PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif was marching towards Islamabad with thousands of supporters for a protest on the issue. Sharif called off the protest after the government's announcement. Rehman said: There is a need to end politics of confrontation and polarisation. All democratic political forces of the country need to learn to accommodate and demonstrate flexibility on national issues.

The PPP's central executive committee will meet on March 19 to take stock of the political situation in the country. The meeting will be presided over by party co-chairman and Zardari.

Sources said the PPP's future relationship with the PML-N is expected to be discussed at the meeting.

Daughter's cellar hell: locked up for 24 years; raped 3,000 times

March 16: Josef Fritzl, the Austrian electrical engineer on trial for incarcerating his daughter in an underground prison for 24 years and fathering seven children with her, yesterday pleaded guilty to charges of rape, incest, false imprisonment and coercion.

The 73-year-old denied one charge of murder for the death of a twin boy born to his daughter, for whom Fritzl failed to seek medical help. He also denied a charge of slavery, which has been on the Austrian statute book since the 1960s, but has never been tried in court. Fritzl faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, and a maximum of life.

Prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser told the court how Fritzl had raped his daughter an estimated 3,000 times while holding her in appalling conditions.

She said he had lured his daughter into the purpose-built cellar in August 1984 when she was just 18, on the pretence of asking her to help him fix a door. He then sedated her by placing a cloth soaked with ether over her nose and mouth and slammed the door closed.

On the second day after her incarceration, he put an iron chain around her stomach, attaching it to a pole "so that she had no chance of escape".

He raped her the same day for the first time, Burkheiser said.

She said the underground cell had been "his playground" and that he had "used [Elisabeth] like a toy".

"He came, took her and went again," she said.

Listing the dates Elisabeth had given birth over a 12-year period, Burkheiser spoke of the pain she had felt at her father's decision to take three of the children to live with him upstairs.

"Can you imagine what that was like for her, on the one hand the relief that the child would have a better life, on the other, the fact that he was taking away her dearest?" she asked.

She detailed how his failure to fetch medical help for a twin boy called Michael, born to his daughter in 1996, had led to his death, and how he later disposed of the body by burning it.

Defending Fritzl, Rudolf Mayer said his client was not a monster, as he had been portrayed by the media. "Despite the way he's been described, try to see the accused as a human being," he told the eight-strong jury and four replacement jurors. He argued that Fritzl could have let the cellar children die and that his determination to provide for both his "upstairs" and "downstairs" families was proof that he was not a monster.

Having submitted his pleas on the six charges, Fritzl then answered detailed questions from Humer about his childhood, early adulthood and career, including his apprenticeship as an electrical engineer.

Fritzl said he had hardly known his father, who had only played a "periodic and sporadic" role in his life, and that had been abused as a child by his mother. "I had a very difficult childhood," he said in a weak and sometimes barely audible voice. "My mother rejected me. She was 42 when she had me. She just didn't want a child and she treated me accordingly."

He said he had been hit repeatedly, even for bringing school friends home. "I had friends but mother didn't allow them.

I got a clip round the ear every time. Then when I was 12 I said to her: 'If you do that again I'll hit you back,' and then she stopped."

Asked if he had any friends in adulthood, Fritzl said: "I had no friends. You need to nurture friendships and I had no time for that."

He told the court that he had met his wife, Rosemarie, at the age of 19, and she had been "the first woman I had sexual relations with". She had been "very domesticated, and wanted at least 10 children".

The press and public were made to leave the courtroom before a video of Elisabeth Fritzl was played on a huge screen. Investigators recorded an interview with her last July in the presence of psychiatrists, to spare her the ordeal of having to face her father in person.

Court officials said the 11-hour long recording will be played to the court in "small portions" throughout the week, due to their apparently harrowing content.

Four expert witnesses are also on hand to give evidence. For the duration of the trial, Elisabeth and her six children are being looked after in the nearby psychiatric clinic they were taken to after their release last year, having been allegedly hounded out of their new home by British paparazzi.

One British tabloid has published pictures of Elisabeth in her new environment, while another has printed the name of the village where the family had set up home in a new house.

Pakistan crackdown on opposition activists ahead of protest march

ISLAMABAD, March 12: Pakistan detained hundreds of activists Wednesday on the eve of a mass protest against the government, as demonstrators defied a ban on gatherings to slam President Asif Ali Zardari.

As the Army reportedly demanded that the political leadership quickly defuse the rising tension, the political crisis sparked off by a Supreme Court order barring Sharif and his brother Shabaz, both leaders of opposition PML-N, from contesting elections, deepened with the government ordering the arrest of hundreds of opposition activists and lawyers.

The arrests came on the eve of a 'long march' from Lahore starting on Thursday and culminating in Islamabad on 16th March.

The government has issued warrants for arrest of several senior figures in the opposition including fromer cricket captain-turned-politician Imran Khan, who is said to have gone underground, and imposed prohibitory orders in Punjab and Sindh provinces.

Defying the ban, Nawaz Sharif held a big rally in Abbotabad in NWFP where he said Pakistan was facing a dangerous situation and told his supporters to defy restrictions imposed by the government and "join hands to change the country's destiny".

Sharif also alleged that tensions with India had increased under the PPP-led government.

In a bid to reach out to opposition PML leader Nawaz Sharif locked in a confrontation with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani on Wednesday night said his government did not want Governor's rule to be prolonged in Punjab province and that this issue will be reviewed on Thursday.

"We don't want governor's rule to be prolonged in Punjab province," Gilani said addressing senators in remarks seen at variance with the position taken by Zardari. Gilani made the comments when Zardari was not in Pakistan and was travelling abroad.

Governor's rule was imposed in Punjab on 25th February following a presidential order after Shabaz Sharif, brother of Nawaz Sharif, was removed as chief minister following a Supreme Court verdict disqualifying him. The Court also banned the former premier from contesting elections.

"Whoever has the majority should form the government," he said.

"Surely, a party enjoying the mandate should form the government," said Gilani, who is known to be at loggerheads with Zardari.

Noting that Pakistan was now at the cross roads, Gilani said, "The Charter of Democracy will help resolve issues " he added.

"We don't want institutions to be weakened," he said, adding "we promise you(the people) we will deliver on promises to the nation."

Dalai accuses China of creating 'hell on earth' in Tibet

DHARAMSALA, March 10: Accusing China of creating "hell on earth" in Tibet by launching a "brutal crackdown," Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama on Tuesday demanded "legitimate and meaningful" autonomy for the Himalayan plateau.

In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising that led him into exile, he said that Beijing had brought "untold suffering and destruction" to that region by unleashing repressive campaigns.

"And quite apart from the current process of Sino- Tibetan dialogue having achieved no concrete result, there has been brutal crackdown on the Tibetan protests that shook the whole of Tibet since March last year," the 73-year-old monk said addressing a gathering in Dharamsala.

The Chinese campaigns "thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth," he said while noting that these had taken the lives of "hundreds of thousands" of Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama, who has been advocating the "middle path" approach, said, "We Tibetans are looking of legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People's Republic of China".

Groups of Tibetans took to streets here shouting slogans like "China out" and "Tibet belongs to Tibetans" after his speech.

The Dalai Lama said, "Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them".

The Tibetan culture and identity, he said, were "nearing extinction".
He denied Beijing's charge that he wanted independence of Tibet and said he stood for greater autonomy and end to repression.

Lending out hope, the monk said, "I have no doubt that the justice for Tibetan cause will prevail if we continue to tread a path of truth and non-violence".

In a statement on the occasion, the Tibetan government in-exile in Dharamshala said, "If China is sincere about resolving the Tibetan issue, they must take it up in the ongoing meetings of the Chinese Peoples Congress and the Political Consultative Conference to discuss and decide on ways to fulfill the aspiration of the Tibetan people."

Blaming the Chinese authorities for not resolving the long-pending Tibetan issue, it asked Tibetans to continue with non-violent agitation.

"Instead of initiating reforms for the benefit of Tibetans and building a harmonious society based on Hu Jintao's mantra of scientific approach of development through harmony, stability and unity of different nationalists, China is pursuing policies designed to humiliate and oppress the Tibetans," it said.

This would further alienate the Tibetans and will in no way contribute to a harmonious society, the statement said.

It said, "another important aspect is to abide by the Tibetan new year message of the Dalai Lama to ensure that our actions do not breed mistrust and antagonism between the people of Tibet and China".

100 LTTE cadres killed, PM says war would be over soon

COLOMBO, March 9: More than 100 LTTE cadres were killed in fierce clashes with Sri Lankan security forces in the island's restive North as Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake declared that the war would be over by the beginning of next year.

Mullaittivu battle reached its last phase as LTTE cadres made several desperate attempts in vain to infiltrate the military forward defences, which left over 100 rebels dead and as many injured since Friday dawn, the defence ministry said.

LTTE fighters were preparing for a large scale offensive towards the existing military defences at Palamathalan and North of Puthkkudiyirippu, inducting over 200 cadres including suicide bombers and Sea Tigers, it said.

Following the initial thrust, terrorists had planned to send waves of 100 odd cadres to provide reinforcements. Bahnu, Lowrence, Soosai and few other high profile LTTE rebels were directly involved in masterminding the pre-emptive assault, security sources said.

Meanwhile, Wickremanayake said that the offensive "would end by the new year (2010)".

"However, I do not think it will take that long. Our forces are on fire. They want to finish it off as soon as possible. This is a war in which both sides are fighting. We cannot set any time as we are also being attacked," the Prime Minister told an election rally on Saturday.

Pakistan ISI top boss met Osama aide: TV report

NEW DELHI, March 1: One of the top bosses of Pakistan's intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has held talks with Osama bin Laden’s key aides Miram Shah in Pakistan’s restive federal administered tribal Area, according to Times Now.

In fact, highly placed intelligence sources said that around the time when Pakistan’s foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi was visiting Washington and meeting officials of the Barack Obama administration and reaffirming Pakistan's determination to fight terrorism, a senior ISI official of the rank of a major-general no less was meeting Sirajuddin Haqqani considered an ally of the Taliban as also al-Qaida chief Laden.

Sources said that the subject of discussion in the meeting was the shifting of Haqqanis operations from North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan to Afghanistan in exchange for ceasefire with Pakistan army and to halt military operations if the Haqqanis moves their operations from the NWFP into Afghanistan.

Another topic was the construction of the Khost-Gardez road being built by Indian company in Afghanistan. The ISI urged Haqqanis to sabotage efforts by the Indian government to help Afghanistan government to build the Khost-Gardez road.

The meeting assumes significance because the Haqqanis are not ordinary players but hold a great deal of influence in the region and can dictate the course of the war on terror in the region. Jalaluddin Haqqani and Sirajuddin Haqqani are Pashtun warlords and military leaders with links to Taliban and Laden.

Haqqanis have been accused by the coalition forces of carrying out the late-December 2008 bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan at an Afghan elementary school near an Afghan barracks that killed several schoolchildren, an Afghan soldier, and an Afghan guard; no coalition or USA personnel were affected.

They are also supposed to have facilitated the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. Haqqanis were also linked to Maulvi Jabbar suspect in IC-814 hijacking. Haqqanis are linked to Maulvi Jabbar of the Peshawar Shura who was in touch with the hijackers of the IC-814 in 1999.

Haqqani is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the most feared Afghan commanders, who fought against the Soviet occupation during the 1980s.

Jalaluddin, now aged and in failing health, lives in Khost and has passed the reigns of the Haqqani terror network on to his second son, Sirajuddin. Jalaluddin Haqqani once had strong ties with the CIA, according to published accounts. But now he and his son are wanted men.

The US military has placed a bounty of $200,000 on Sirajuddin Haqqani's head.

Spl tribunals to try mutineers; Hasina visits army HQ

DHAKA, March 1: Bangladesh premier Sheikh Hasina on Sunday visited the military headquarters in Dhaka to calm the frayed tempers after the BDR mutiny, even as the govt decided to form special tribunals for quick trial of those involved in the massacre of army officers during the rebellion.

A cabinet meeting chaired by the Prime Minister late last night gave its seal on the decision to constitute the special tribunals, officials said.

The development came as military officials at a press conference last night vented out their demands for "quick inquiry and highest punishment" for the killers as promised by the government earlier.

Hasina went to Dhaka Cantonment in her bid to quell the anguish in army, holding closed-door talks for three hours with hundreds of army officers.

There was no official briefing afterwards for the waiting media, but private bdnews24.com quoted sources as saying that the Prime Minister, who also holds charge of defence, faced quite "a few awkward questions" from the officers.

Hasina heard the officers and explained the circumstances as well as the actions the government took to end the armed uprising by rebel border guards, the news portal reported.

The police today filed murder charges against over 1,000 personnel of BDR in connection with the 33-hour mutiny which has claimed the lives of at least 73 army officers with the actual toll feared to be crossing 100.

Bangladesh troopers agree to lay down arms after amnesty declaration

DHAKA, Feb 25: The mutinous Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troopers, who fought a fierce battle with the army on Wednesday in the heart of the capital city, agreed to surrender their arms after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced amnesty for them.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced amnesty for the BDR troopers, The Daily Star quoted State Minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak as saying.

The prime minister also urged the BDR members to surrender their arms and return to barracks.

A team of 14 BDR troopers had gone to the prime minister's official residence Jamuna for talks.

Nanak said the prime minister would hold a video conference with the BDR troopers at Pilkhana in a bid to calm the situation.

The Hasina government faced its first serious crisis Wednesday when a mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) troopers left at least four people dead and scores injured in Dhaka.

After a half-a-day-long mayhem at the BDR headquarters at Pilkhana, a 14-member team of troopers went to meet the prime minister at her official residence, Jamuna.

The rebellious troopers claimed that there were over 20,000 of them at the headquarters.

Poor pay packets and working conditions appeared to be the cause of the rebellion.

"Everybody knows how miserably we live. We cannot work independently. We don't have a department of our own," an unidentified trooper, part of the delegation, was quoted by Star Online as saying.

BDR, which guards over 4,400 km long border with India and Myanmar, is headed by an army general.

Reports emanating from Dhaka said attempts during the day by army and air force personnel to enter the the BDR headquarters were thwarted by rebel soldiers sporting yellow masks and guarding all the gates.

Significantly, there was no inkling of the storm brewing as the prime minister had only a day earlier taken salute at a ceremonial parade and addressed officers and men at the BDR headquarters.

Trouble broke out at 7.45 a.m. as the national capital heard gun and mortar shots.

Huge columns of black smoke rose from the BDR complex in the heart of the capital, with some reports saying there had been an unspecified number of casualties. One of the dead was said to be an innocent rickshaw puller on a Dhaka street.

"We are under siege, try to save us!" pleaded a BDR official to a journalist before hanging up.

Soldiers who tried to storm the BDR headquarters, scene of the fighting, were thwarted by the protesting paramilitary personnel who guarded all the gates of the complex, said local residents.

"Stop firing and go back to barracks in the greater interest of the country and the image of the BDR," the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military's public-relations outfit had said.

Thousands of rounds of gunshots and mortar firing were heard in Dhaka. At least four army officers have been killed and dozens are held hostage, claimed one protester.

Some officials believe the death toll could be much higher as the soldiers were seen firing in all directions. A fire also raged at the BDR headquarters.

Hundreds of BDR personnel wearing red bandanas and partly covering their faces with yellow clothes crowded the gates, screaming that they had many grievances.

Army helicopters also fired shots into the BDR compound. The mutineers fired back at the choppers.

According to a television channel, heavy weapons like cannons were used to damage some buildings. Soldiers driving armoured vehicles were shooting to prevent the Rapid Action Battalion and the army from overwhelming them.

The unrest emptied large parts of otherwise perennially crowded city. All the markets close to the BDR complex remained closed.

Yasin Malik weds his Pakistani girlfriend

RAWALPINDI, Feb 23: Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik on Sunday married his Britain-born Pakistani girlfriend Mushaal Mullick in this Pakistani garrison city.

The marriage ceremony was attended by a number well known people, including politicians, Pakistan's Geo TV reported.

Mullick, a post-graduate from the London School of Economics and an artist, is the daughter of Rehana Hussain, chief of the Muslim League (women's wing). Her father, the late M.A. Hussain Malik, was an internationally renowned Pakistani economist.

Yasin Malik, 40, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, met Mushaal during one of his tours to Pakistan two years ago.

The wedding dates were fixed during Malik's current visit to Pakistan. The couple got engaged Oct 24 when the JKLF leader was in detention for launching a poll boycott campaign in Kashmir.

It was the third high-profile cross-border wedding in the Kashmiri separatist camp after Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who married a US citizen of Kashmiri origin, and Sajjad Ghani Lone, who wed the daughter of JKLF supremo Amanullah Khan from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

15 feared killed as bomb rips through Pak funeral procession

ISLAMABAD, Feb 20: At least 15 people were feared dead and 60 others injured in a suspected suicide attack at a funeral procession in the northwesternPakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan on Friday.

The explosion targeted the funeral procession of cleric Sher Zaman, who was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Thursday.

There was no official word on the casualties though TV channels quoted witnesses as saying that at least 15 people were killed and 60 others injured.

Several of the injured were in a critical condition and an emergency was declared in the hospitals of the city that has a history of sectarian violence. Witnesses said the procession was targeted by a suicide bomber.

Officials said it was believed that the attack was the outcome of sectarian rivalries.

Shortly after the attack, the people who were part of the funeral procession went on rampage, damaging a police check post and pelting stones at cars on the roads. They also targeted government offices and security forces.

The attack caused panic and confusion in Dera Ismail Khan and shops and markets closed down soon after the blast. There were also reports of people opening fire in several places in the city.

Yasin Malik to marry Pakistani girlfriend on Feb 22

RAWALPINDI, Feb 20: Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik is set to wed his Britain-born Pakistani girlfriend Mushaal Mullick Feb 22.

Mullick, a post graduate from the London School of Economics and an artist, is the daughter of Rehana Hussain, chief of the Muslim League (women's wing). Her father, the late M.A. Hussain Malik, was an internationally renowned Pakistani economist.

Yasin Malik, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, is in this Pakistani garrison city these days.

Sources close to Malik say top Pakistani leaders have been invited to the wedding party.

The 40-year-old Kashmiri leader had met Mushaal during one of his tours to Pakistan two years ago.

The wedding dates were fixed during Malik's current visit to Pakistan. The couple got engaged Oct 24 when the JKLF leader was in detention for launching a poll boycott campaign in Kashmir.

This will be the third high-profile cross-border wedding in the Kashmiri seperatist camp after Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who married a US citizen of Kashmiri origin, and Sajjad Ghani Lone, who wed the daughter of JKLF supremo, Amanullah Khan, from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Zardari permits Sharia laws in parts of Pakistan's northwest

ISLAMABAD, Feb 16: Bowing to the demands of a radical cleric, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari has permitted the enforcement of Sharia laws in parts of the country's restive North West Frontier Province (NWFP), including the Swat Valley that has been taken over by the Taliban.

At a recent meeting with a NWFP government, Zardari agreed to the demand of radical cleric Sufi Muhammad Khan of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) to impose Islamic law in the entire Malakand division including Swat, Dawn reported on Monday.

The president's approval was sought because the provincial government cannot amend the existing laws in Malakand without his nod.

Provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain said the Awami National Party (ANP) provincial government would now hold talks with the militants and organise a grand jirga the TNSM leader would also attend.

The Taliban had on Sunday declared a 10-day truce in the area to facilitate the talks.

Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar neither confirmed nor denied the promulgation of an ordinance by the president, saying an official comment would be issued after the grand jirga.

"Analysts said the government had bowed its head before the militants in Swat by agreeing to amend the law of the land and enforcement of 'self-styled' Sharia of a militant organisation like TNSM," Dawn said.

The TNSM's main demand is the replacement of regular courts with Islamic courts. There are reports that over 70 Sharia Courts have already been established in Swat.

26/11 partly planned in Pakistan: Malik

ISLAMABAD, Feb 12: Pakistan on Thursday delivered a big part of its promise of cooperation with India on the Mumbai attacks by registering a case of terrorism against eight Pakistani suspects, and formally acknowledging that part of the planning for the attacks was done in this country.

The move is unprecedented and marks an important milestone in India-Pakistan relations.

Rehman Malik, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior, who also heads the crucial Ministry, told journalists that the case was registered under sections of the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act that enable the prosecution of Pakistanis for directing, abetting, conspiring or facilitating a terrorist act in another country.

“The incidents have happened in India, and some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistan,” Mr. Malik said.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2008 and sections of the Pakistan Penal Code have also been invoked in the case, registered in the capital by the Federal Investigation Agency on the basis of its investigations into the material provided by India on the Mumbai attacks.

Six of the eight suspects are in custody, and “some of them,” Mr. Malik said, belong to the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Among the six are the LeT’s Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, alleged by India to have masterminded the entire operation and LeT communication expert Zarar Shah, who was a main “handler” of the 10 men who carried out the attacks.

Another person in custody was identified as Hamad Amin Sadiq, who Mr. Malik also described as a “mastermind.” A fourth is Javed Iqbal, who is said to have made the payments for the SIM cards purchased from Callphonex, an Internet phone company through which the Mumbai attackers and their handlers communicated.

Mr. Malik refused to divulge the identities of two of the eight men as they are not in custody yet and revealing their names could jeopardise the investigation.

While the official outlined some details of how the FIA had followed up on leads provided by the Indian government in order to get to the FIR stage, he repeatedly made the point that Pakistan needed “more information” from India to build a water-tight case in court.

“When I say this, it does not mean that we are passing on the responsibility. India and Pakistan have a joint responsibility, and we are just asking for help,” he said, stressing that it was important that “we should not allow the weakening of the FIR.”

He said he wanted “to assure the people of India, the Indian leadership that we are with you, and we have proved that we are with you.”

Mr. Malik briefed Indian High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal on the FIA findings, before the Foreign Ministry handed over the investigation report to the envoy. Included in the report is a list of 30 questions on which Pakistan wants additional information. A few of the questions raise the possibility of local help in India to the attackers.

Taliban kill 26 in attacks on Afghan govt buildings

KABUL, Feb 11: Taliban militants launched suicide bomb and gun attacks on three Afghan government buildings in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 26 people in one of their most daring assaults on the capital.

The defence ministry said eight suicide attackers also died in the near-simultaneous strikes on the prisons directorate, and justice and education ministries -- the deadliest insurgent attacks in Afghanistan so far this year.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that 16 suicide attackers had entered the Afghan capital and would carry out a wave of strikes.

"We have registered 26 people killed and 55 wounded," said health ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim. All of the dead were men, except for one 13-year-old boy, he said.

Of the eight attackers killed, three blew themselves up and five -- all at the justice ministry -- were shot dead, the defence ministry said.

Witnesses of the attack on the justice ministry said several gunmen burst into the building and opened fire on security guards. Some managed to run up a few flights of stairs in the building, shooting as they went, they said.

At least 10 ministry employees and three security officers were killed, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar told reporters.

One of the attackers took two justice ministry officials hostage before killing them, intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh said.

The five attackers gunned down at the ministry were aged between 20 to 25, Saleh said, praising the security forces for thwarting an attack that may have lasted "several hours, several days."

Mobile phones found at the scene showed the attackers had "sent three messages to Pakistan calling for the blessings of their mastermind" as they entered the building, Saleh said.

Afghan officials say many Taliban attacks in Afghanistan are planned in "safe havens" across the border in Pakistan, and that Islamabad has not done enough to curb extremist activity on its soil.

Similar allegations have been made about the November attacks on Mumbai that also involved multiple strikes by gunmen who killed 165 people in a siege that lasted 60 hours.

Witnesses said terrified justice ministry employees jumped from the windows of the four-storey building, while others locked themselves in their offices as heavy exchanges of gunfire continued for several hours.

A minute earlier, two suicide attackers struck the prisons directorate in the north of the city.

Atmar said six policemen were killed at the site and nearly 30 wounded.

At the same time another suicide attacker was shot dead at the education ministry in an incident that caused no casualties, the minister said.

Fahim, the health ministry spokesman, did not give a site-by-site breakdown of the death toll.

The Taliban spokesman, Mujahid, said the militants had targeted the justice ministry and directorate of prisons in revenge for the government's execution of Taliban prisoners last year.

An attacker blew himself up at the education ministry near the justice ministry to break up a security cordon so the other assailants could reach their intended target, he said, warning of further violence.

"More of our suicide attackers and guerrilla groups are settled in the city and when they have the opportunity, they will accomplish their attacks," he added.

The Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001, have carried out a series of suicide attacks across Afghanistan as part of a growing insurgency against the US-backed government.

In another attack claimed by the Taliban Wednesday, a French soldier and an Afghan interpreter were killed in an explosion and an ambush 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Kabul, the French military said.

Also on Wednesday, two roadside bombs killed eight Afghan security guards in southern Helmand province, police said.

The top international military commander in Afghanistan, US General David McKiernan, said the Kabul assaults showed the "barbaric" face of the Taliban.

He has asked for extra troops and equipment to tackle the insurgents who last year carried out a record number of attacks here.

President Hamid Karzai also condemned the blasts and ordered swift action against the perpetrators.

US President Barack Obama is considering a plan to double the number of US troops from the 37,000 already in the country and other allies have called on European nations to boost their contributions.

Richard Holbrooke, the new US envoy to the region, was meanwhile in Pakistan on Wednesday as part of efforts to conduct a comprehensive US policy review as Washington hopes to turn around the battle against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Pakistan army kills 35 militants in Swat valley

ISLAMABAD, Feb 3: Pakistan's military says it has killed at least 35 Islamist militants in a northwestern valley increasingly overrun with insurgents.

The army said in a statement Tuesday that the militants died in an overnight operation in Khawaza Khela town in the Swat valley.

It says security forces used helicopter gunships and artillery in the attack.

Swat was once a popular tourist destination, but about two years ago militants began a violent campaign to enforce Taliban-style Islam there.

The state responded with force, but residents say militants increasingly hold sway.

Ivory Coast confers top award on Anand Sharma

Indian Minister's visit gives political thrust to ties with Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast & Ghana

By Deepak Arora

President of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo at a ceremony honouring India's Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma with the country's highest civilian awardNEW DELHI, Jan 16: Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has conferred his country's highest civilian award on the Minister of State for External Affairs and Information and Broadcasting, Mr Anand Sharma, for forging close ties between India and Africa.

Ivory Coast President conferred on Anand Sharma the Commander of the National Order of Merit "in recognition of his distinct role in strengthening India's relationship with Ivory Coast and the African continent".

Mr Sharma, who visited Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast from January 12 to 15 as the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister, is in charge of Africa, among other regions, in the Ministry of External Affairs. He is credited with playing a key role in the transformation of the India-Africa relations that was underscored at the first India-Africa summit held in New Delhi last year.

The visits have lent the much-required political thrust to India’s bilateral relations with these countries, filling in the vacuum caused by the conspicuous absence of any political visit from our side in more than a decade.

The warmth and enthusiasm with which the Presidents of both the countries received the Minister is reflective of the significance they attach to their ties with India, as also the high esteem in which they hold our country.

The Minister’s hectic schedule in both the countries was marked by his meetings with their Presidents, Foreign Ministers and other key Cabinet Ministers.

India's Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma shaking hands with Sierra Leonean PresdientIn Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, India’s Minister discussed with the leaders of the two countries issues such as UN reforms, expansion of the UN Security Council and reshaping of the global financial architecture.

The two countries expressed solidarity with India. They appreciated "India's leadership role, its economic strength, and above all, its willingness to share its expertise, technology and development experience" with African countries.

The two countries expressed “vociferous condemnation of the Mumbai terror attack and the forces behind it and expression of solidarity with India in its combat against terror,” according to a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Recognition of India’s leadership role, its economic strength, and above all, its willingness to share its expertise, technology and development experience was clearly evident during Minister’s visit to the two West African countries.

India’s wide-ranging programmes of bilateral aid and assistance for them, encompassing areas like agriculture, education, health, capacity building, infrastructure and IT have benefited large segments of their societies and have evoked a wide recognition of India’s contribution to their socio-economic development.

An IT park, being set up in Ivory Coast with India's assistance, and named after Mahatma Gandhi by the president of Ivory Coast, is set to emerge as a shining example of Indo-Ivorian cooperation.

During his visit to Sierra Leone, Indian Minister met his counterpart Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura and signed a Joint Technical and Economic Co-operation Agreement.

The Minister also handed over 200 military barracks out of 400 to Sierra Leone as the "Government of India's gift".

He also participated in the inauguration of the Centre for Demonstration and Promotion of Technologies, funded by the Ministry of External Affairs, in Abidjan.

During his visit to Ghana, Mr Anand Sharma called on newly elected President of Ghana John Evans Atta Mills, who supported India's candidature for the permanent membership of United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Sharma and Atta Mills discussed the growing menace of terrorism that is plaguing the world.

Atta Mills expressed his deep sympathies for the victims of the Mumbai attacks and unequivocally condemned terrorism and spoke of the need for collective global effort to eradicate this scourge.

Sharma also spoke about India's participation in Ghana's development in the spirit of south-south cooperation and detailed several projects undertaken by India in Ghana including the India-Ghana Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT, construction of the presidential complex, the Golden Jubilee House, and Pan African e-network project.

He also expressed appreciation of the capacity-building and human resource development training under the ITEC programme.

Sharma assured Atta Mills that India would continue this fruitful cooperation with the new government and leadership of Ghana.

Sharma visited Ghana as the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to convey the greetings and good wishes and Indian government and people to the newly-elected Ghana President and the Government and People of Ghana.

While supporting India's claim for UNSC, the Ghana President also acknowledged India's firm position on adequate representation for Africa in the expanded Security Council. Both the countries also agreed on the need to bring this process to early fruition.

Expressing the intention to forge stronger links with India, the Ghana President said," we have more in common than any other country."

President John Evans Atta Mills on Thursday lauded the Ghana-India relations and commended the rising level of Indian investment in Ghana.

He traced the good relations between the two countries dating back to more than 50 years in Ghana's pre-independence era, reiterating the strengthening of ties to adopt initiatives for the mutual benefit of the two countries.

President Atta Mills mentioned, in particular, the grant from the Indian Government for the construction of the Jubilee House, and said Indo-Ghanaian ties had to be strengthened in the spirit of South-South co-operation.

Mr. Sharma extended a message of congratulations from the Indian Prime Minister to President Atta Mills on his assumption of the office of President and Ghanaians for successfully going through the elections.

He spoke of the friendly ties between the nations, dating back to the time of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as within the context of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.

Hamas announces ceasefire after Israeli end to hostilities

JERUSALEM, Jan 18: Hours after a unilateral Israeli ceasefire came into effect in Gaza, Hamas on Sunday announced an immediate, week-long end to hostilities in thethree-week conflict with Tel Aviv that has killed over 1,200 people.

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal declared on Syrian television today that the Islamic group would implement the cease-fire and give Israeli troops one week to pull out of the Gaza Strip.

"We the Palestinian resistance factions declare a cease-fire from our side in Gaza and we confirm our stance that the enemy's troops must withdraw from Gaza within a week," said Damascus-based Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk. Israel must end the blockade and open the border crossings, said a statement without elaborating.

A leader of the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip said that his group agreed to the Hamas truce, adding that other smaller Palestinian factions have signed on, as well.

As Israel earlier today declared a unilateral ceasefire, the Palestinian militants fired a barrage rockets into the Jewish state hours after the "fragile" truce took hold stoking fears of fresh violence.

The Israeli ceasefire came into effect at 2 am local time (0530 HRS IST) after Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert made an announcement in this regard last night. "We have reached all the goals of the war, and beyond," Olmert said. "Hamas was hit hard, in its military arms and in its government institutions. Its leaders are in hiding and many of its men have been killed."

The truce was announced after 22 days of fighting that killed over 1,200 Palestinians, half of them civilians, according to Palestinian and UN officials. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, also died.

Egypt has been trying to broker a longer-term deal between Israel and Hamas. The announcement of cease-fire by Hamas came after Egypt held talks with Islamist group's representatives, and as European and Arab leaders gathered in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheik for a summit meeting designed to turn the fragile truce into a more durable arrangement.

Shortly after the Hamas declaration, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "We'll play this day by day. We'll see how this goes. We want to leave Gaza. We'll do so as soon as we can."

"If in fact we see a cessation of Hamas activity towards Israel, then we could see a long-term ceasefire," Mark Regev said.

"Israel last night announced that from 2 a.m. (Sunday), we would cease all offensives against the Hamas military machine, and that would be of course on the premise that Hamas would cease attacks on Israel," Regev said.

Hamas demands the opening of the crossings on Gaza's borders, while Israel is seeking an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza across the Egyptian border, and an halt to Hamas rocket fire.

Israel had launched the offensive in Gaza on Dec 27 with the aim of stopping the barrage of rockets fired by Hamas fighters from the territory into southern Israel.

Olmert last night said that the Israeli forces would continue to be deployed in Gaza and its surroundings.

"Our fight is not with the people of Gaza," Olmert had said at a press conference in Tel Aviv after a security cabinet meeting.

"We left Gaza in 2005 with the intention of never returning," he said, referring to Tel Aviv's unilateral withdrawal of troops and settlers from the territory under former prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Sri Lanka army seizes camp, says rebels boxed in

COLOMBO, Jan 18: Soldiers captured a Tamil Tiger camp and a factory as government forces pushed the separatist rebels into a shrinking enclave in Sri Lanka's war-ravaged north, the military said Sunday.

A defense ministry statement said soldiers seized "a highly fortified camp" in the village of Maruthampuvel in the rebels' last stronghold of Mullaittivu on Saturday.

It did not provide details of casualties, but said soldiers found eight bodies of rebel fighters killed in fighting elsewhere in the region.

Meanwhile, army chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka speculated that the rebels' reclusive leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, may have fled the country by sea or could be hiding among the civilian population in the north.

Fonseka told reporters Saturday that troops have boxed the rebels into a 174-mile-square (450-kilometer-square) area and that they expected to capture the entire region soon.

The military has vowed to destroy the rebel group this year. Government forces in recent weeks have captured the guerrillas' de facto capital of Kilinochchi.

On Saturday, soldiers captured a rebel boat-manufacturing factory near Maruthampuvel where troops found two fast attack vessels and seven small boats used by rebels for suicide attacks, the statement said.

The Tamil Tigers have a naval wing that rams small vessels packed with explosives into government naval ships in suicide attacks.

Rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment because communication to the north has been severed.

With reporters banned from the war zone, Sri Lanka's media must rely largely on government and rebel statements for information about the war.

Meanwhile, the pro-rebel Web site TamilNet reported that an army artillery attack on a rebel-held village in Mullaittivu killed four civilians Saturday.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara denied the rebel claim and said the military attacks only identified rebel positions.

Human rights groups have warned that casualties among civilians living in the shrinking pocket of rebel territory are likely to mount as the government closes in on the insurgents.

Aid groups estimate 250,000 civilians remain in the war zone.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 to establish an independent state for minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization at the hands of successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

Kasab is Pakistani, admits Pakistan

KARACHI, Jan 8: Forty-two days after 26/11, Islamabad has confirmed that Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist in Mumbai police custody, was a Pakistani national as claimed by India.

A Pakistani foreign office spokesman said in Islamabad that initial investigations revealed that Kasab was a Pakistani national.

He claimed in Islamabad that the delay in confirming the identity was because his details were not contained in a national database maintained by government.

At the same time, the spokesman said the identity of the nine other gunmen, described as Pakistanis by India, had not been ascertained. No decision had been taken on whether to give consular access to Kasab.

Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Mohammed Ali Durrani, who has now been sacked for talking to the Indian media, had also said that Kasab was a Pakistani national.

“In my opinion, India and Pakistan need to work together to track down those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan wants to work with India. Cooperation is 110 per cent possible between us,” Durrani said.
Hours after he spoke to the Indian press, Durrani was sacked as NSA by PM Yousuf Raza Gilani for making irresponsible statements. Durrani, Islamabad said, had not taken all stakeholders, including the PM, into confidence before making statements to the Indian media on Kasab.

Durrani’s removal is a sign that the Pakistan army-intelligence establishment and the civilian government are at loggerheads on whether to cooperate with India.

The NSA, it appears, has gone because he was one of those who believed that cooperation with India on Mumbai was the right thing to do.

Earlier in the day, Gilani said that Pakistan’s own investigations into Mumbai had progressed. “We’ve received information of an interim nature on Indian investigations. We are prepared to take this process forward with a view to uncovering full facts thus ensuring that the perpetrators of this heinous crime whosoever they may be are brought to justice,” Gilani said.

Responding to Monday’s statement from Pakistan, the Ministry of External Affairs wondered how Islamabad could reject the evidence offered by India in less than 24 hours.

Spokesman Vishnu Prakash said, “How can this rejection be credible or be based on a real examination and investigation of the evidence? This is a political rejection without any basis.”

“The issue is not words or statements or the situation in South Asia. The issue is what Pakistan does about terrorist attacks on India from Pakistan,” Prakash added.

Separately, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that Pakistan had not even lodged an FIR in the Mumbai attacks. Even in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case, they had turned to the United Nations to investigate the case.

Mukherjee told a television channel that India would not allow the victims and perpetrators of terrorism to be treated at par.

FBI team visits Faridkot to probe about Kasab

ISLAMABAD, Jan 1: An FBI team, late on Wednesday night, visited Faridkot in Pakistan's Punjab province to investigate about Ajmal Amir Iman Kasab, the lone terrorist captured during the Mumbai attacks. Kasab hails from the Faridkot area.

The five-member team of the FBI was headed by its South Asian Director William Robert, Geo TV reported.

According to sources, the purpose of the FBI team's visit was to investigate about Kasab, it said.

The channel also claimed, without quoting anyone, that according to the FBI team, it found no evidence.

Kasab's father recently admitted in an interview to the Dawn newspaper that the gunman whose picture was beamed around the world by the media was his son.

Residents of Kasab's village of Faridkot too have told the Pakistani media that he belonged to the area. They said he had told his mother during his last visit home that he was going away for jihad.

Pakistan on Wednesday claimed that India has cooked up a story about Kasab being a Pakistani.

US tells Pak to hand over LeT commander Lakhvi to India

ISLAMABAD, Jan 1: Pakistan is under "tremendous pressure" from the US to extradite Lashker-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks to India.

In damning evidence that the Mumbai terror attacks originated from Pakistan, top LeT commander Zarar Shah has confessed the group's involvement and the US provided Islamabad with the tape of a conversation his associate Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind had with the gunmen.

The fresh evidence that cornered Pakistan and nailed its denials on involvement of its nationals behind the 26/11 attacks also saw it coming under "tremendous pressure" from the US which took an aggressive position asking Islamabad to extradite Lakhvi, the operations commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT).

The Americans are believed to have given Pakistan a taped conversation Lakhvi allegedly had with gunmen involved in attacks on Mumbai on 26th November, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted US and diplomatic sources as saying.

Both Shah and Lakhvi were among the LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawah(JuD) activists captured during a crackdown by Pakistani security forces near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistanoccupied Kashmir, on 7th December following mounting international pressure.

Pakistani security officials were quoted by Wall Street Journal as saying that Shah has admitted a role in the Mumbai attack during interrogation.

Shah has also implicated other LeT members, and had broadly confirmed the confession made by the sole captured militant Ajmal Kasab to Indian investigators that the 10 assailants trained in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and then went by boat from Karachi to Mumbai, the Journal report said.

British daily 'The Times' also reported that Shah, a communicatiaons chief of LeT, allegedly admitted his complicity in carrying out the attacks.

The paper said that Shah told his investigators that he was in contact with the gunmen involved in the attacks.

A second person familiar with the investigation was quoted by the Journal as saying that Shah told Pakistani interrogators that he was one of the key planners of the operation, and that he spoke with the attackers during the carnage to give them advice and keep them focussed.

The Journal said Pakistan's own investigation of terror attacks in Mumbai have begun to show substantive links between the LeT and 10 gunmen who took part in the Mumbai mission.

The paper quoted a person familiar with investigation as saying that Shah also admitted that the attackers spent at least a few weeks in Karachi, training in urban combat to hone skills they would use in their assault.

The disclosure, it said, could add new international pressure on Pakistan to accept that the attacks, which left 183 dead in India, originated within its borders and to prosecute or extradite the suspects.

"He is singing," the security official said of Shah.

The admission, the official told the paper, is backed up by US intercepts of a phone call between Shah and one of the attackers at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the site of a 60-hour confrontation with Indian security forces.

American audio experts had checked the tape and concluded it was genuine and that the speaker was Lakhvi, the Dawn said quoting US and diplomatic sources as saying.

Though Indian officials had been saying for some time that Lakhvi should be handed over to India, US officials had not taken a clear stand on this issue until this week.

Lakhvi's conversation with the gunmen appeared to have changed their minds, the report said.

Diplomatic sources in Washington told the newspaper that the Americans were now "urging Pakistan to hand over Lakhvi to New Delhi".

Ansari, Sabauddin gets police custody in CST firing case

A magistrate court in Mumbai on Wednesday remanded Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin, both arrested for their alleged involvement in the 26th November Mumbai terror attacks, to police custody till 12th January in connection with firing at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).

The two have been, however, remanded to judicial custody till 12th January in connection with another encounter case between terrorists and police on the night of 26th November registered at the D B Marg police station.

Ansari and Sabauddin were taken in the Mumbai Crime Branch custody on 18th December for allegedly carrying out reconaissance missions for the terror group in the city.

The two accused- Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin, who were in the custody of Uttar Pradesh police for their alleged involvement in the 31st December, 2007 attack on a CRPF camp, were brought to Mumbai on 18th December.

The prosecution, while seeking their custody, argued that the both had aided arrested terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman and the nine other slain terrorists in carrying out the attacks.

Ansari and Sabauddin had allegedly conducted a recce of Mumbai and had submitted information about prospective targets in the city to Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operatives.

Hasina: We’ll join India’s war on terror

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Bangladesh wants good neighbourly relations with India so that problems such as poverty and terrorism can be tackled in a spirit of cooperation across the subcontinent, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Hasina Wajed said.

"It is a victory of democracy, secularism, peace ... the people of Bangladesh today long for a better life and a prosperous nation," Sheikh Hasina said the morning after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated her. Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani and Congress president Sonia Gandhi also spoke to her.

In what should be music to the ears of Bangladesh watchers here, Ms Wajed signalled her keenness to tap foreign investment. She also declared her intent to form a South Asian joint task force to combat terrorism. "We will initiate it," she said, referring to terrorism and extremism, an issue of singular concern to New Delhi.

She said the countries of the region must unite to wipe out this scourge. "We can’t stop terrorism alone, so a joint task force should make it easy to tackle," she said, invoking memories of her late father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was assassinated in 1975. Sheikh Mujib had led the nation to independence after a bloody liberation struggle.

"My family was the worst sufferer [of terrorism and extremism.] The problem has spread to the country and beyond," she said, citing the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. "Terrorists know no borders, so we need to work together," she added for good measure.

Earlier, delivering a short victory speech in Dhaka, she said she "will not allow Bangladeshi soil to be used as a breeding ground to train terrorists who attack India." She also indicated her desire to do everything she could to restore peace between Pakistan and India. "Definitely I will take any initiative to improve the relationship in whatever capacity I have," she said. "Bangladesh is a very small country but whatever I can do, I’ll try my best to restore peace, friendship and friendly relationships in this region," she added.

In the first media interview since her Awami League’s overwhelming victory in Monday’s election, Sheikh Hasina said reining in the prices of essential commodities will be a top priority, along with law and order, for her government. "Reducing the price hike and increasing people’s purchasing power is my first priority. Law and order also needs to be brought under control," she said.

Also in her government’s crosshairs will be ramping up of power generation and creation of a conducive atmosphere for foreign investment. "Creation of more jobs, reduction of poverty ... the basic needs of the people such as food, shelter, education and healthcare needs to be fulfilled," she elaborated.

Ms Wajed said she expected cooperation from all of Bangladesh’s neighbours, including India. "We want good relations (with our neighbours) so that we can work together. The problems such as poverty are similar (for South Asian countries) and I believe if we work together we can solve those problems."

Recalling the time spent in custody, she said hers was a moral war against fissiparous tendencies that were working against the larger interests of Bangladesh and its people. Ms Wajed was jailed by the outgoing caretaker regime on corruption charges, but was released in order to contest the election. She spent over 11 months in jail and another four months undergoing medical treatment abroad.

She felt the people of Bangladesh had bestowed a "big responsibility" on her and it would be her endeavour to fulfil their expectations. "It is a verdict of the people, for peace," she said about her party’s electoral win. "People were suppressed for a long time and this time they got a chance and they showed their courage."

She went on to suggest that the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party was welcome to join her government "if they want to", in the interests of building democracy. She has indicated her willingness to give Cabinet posts to Opposition leaders if they accepted the result of the election.

Sheikh Hasina is expected to call on Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief adviser (head of government) of the non-party interim caretaker administration on Wednesday. A gazette notification of newly-elected Parliament members is likely to be issued on Thursday. Ms Wajed is expected to be sworn in within a week or 10 days.

Sources privy to New Delhi’s engagement with Dhaka hope that the Awami League government will take swift action to deport top Ulfa leader Anup Chetia, now held in a Dhaka jail. It was during Ms Wajed’s previous tenure as Prime Minister between 1996 and 2001 that the outlawed Ulfa was forced to shift its headquarters from Bangladesh to Bhutan. There are other separatist groups and individuals carrying out subversive attacks against India from Bangladeshi soil. For instance, the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland has training camps in the Khagrachari area of Bangladesh.

The sources also hoped the economic ties with Dhaka would improve under Ms Wajed’s leadership. New Delhi is interested in gas prospects in Bangladesh. The Indian private sector, led by the Tatas, is eyeing investments of up to three $3 billion in power generation, steel and fertiliser sectors.

Sheikh Hasina's landslide win restores democracy in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Jan 1: Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was set to talk to the media on Wednesday for the first time since winning Bangladesh's parliamentary election, but her major opponent rejected the result, raising fears of street protests.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party Chairperson and ex-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who lost the parliament election, said the election results are unacceptable to her party.

In a brief statement to the press after a meeting of the BNP standing committee, she claimed that she had evidence of rampant vote-rigging and that the high figures given by the Election Commission for voter turnout were false.

The Election Commission has so far announced "unofficial" results of 295 seats of the 300-seat parliament saying, the Hasina's alliance won 258 seats while her archrival ex-premier Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist

Party-led four-party grouping won in 31 constituencies.

Five seats went to other small parties and independents while results of the four others were pending.

A beaming Hasina, who lost power to Zia's BNP by a huge margin in 2001, asked her party to show restraint and not to stage any victory processions until the results were officially published.

She also urged her rivals to accept the results to end the years of confrontational politics.

"Our leader has called for change and the people have responded to her call," AL spokesman Nuh Alam Lenin said soon after the poll out come was known.

"They have given a thumping verdict against corruption and criminalisation of the past regime," he said.

Meanwhile, Zia's BNP was quick to raise the issue of electoral fraud.

"There have been a lot of irregularities," BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said.

He alleged that his party supporters were kept from voting, and their polling agents and officials were barred from performing their duties.

Hasina, who is close to New Delhi, was in power from 1996-2001 and during the period Bangladesh's bilateral ties with India were at its best.

The historic Ganges water sharing treaty between the two countries was signed during her regime.

The Election Commission officials said over 80 per cent of voters exercised the franchise to elect the country's ninth parliament after seven years of gap.

"We are expecting to get the results of all the 299 seats in next few hours" as the election was postponed in one of the 300 constituencies following the death of a candidate ahead of the polls, an EC spokesman said.

Foreign observers and independent poll monitor groups widely appreciated the voting, held for the first time under a digital electoral roll with photographs, but Zia hinted about "election engineering and rigging" as her party said it lodged complaints with the election against "irregularities" in 220 polling centres.

PM lauds Hasina on her landslide victory in B'desh polls

NEW DELHI, Jan 1: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today congratulated Sheikh Hasina on the landslide victory of her Awami League-led alliance at the general elections in Bangladesh.

Singh telephoned to Hasina on Tuesday morning and warmly congratulated her, Media Adviser to the Prime Minister said in a statement.

"India looked forward to working with the Government and the people of Bangladesh in the years ahead for the mutual benefit of the people of the two countries," Singh said.

Awami League-led alliance headed by Hasina, who has a good equation with Indian leadership and favours strong ties with New Delhi, won a landslide victory in the general elections held under a neutral caretaker government after nearly two years of emergency rule.

US rushes top Army official to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Dec 23: In a bid to defuse tensions between India and Pakistan, U.S. on Monday rushed its top Army official to Islamabad, under pressure from New Delhi to act against terrorists responsible for the Mumbai attacks, to hold discussions with the country's political leadership.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen arrived in Islamabad on Monday on an unscheduled visit, second after the November 26 terror strikes in Mumbai that killed more than 180 people.

Mullen is scheduled to meet Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The U.S. had recently criticised Pakistan for not doing enough to combat terror within its border.

Mullen met Pakistani national security advisor Mehmood Ali Durrani shortly after his arrival from Afghanistan and is expected to meet Kayani later.

Admiral Mullen had visited Pakistan shortly after the attacks in India's financial capital. He had then asked Pakistan to take action against elements involved in the Mumbai incident.

Besides discussing the regional security situation, Mullen is also expected to hold talks on the situation along the border with Afghanistan and the war on terror.

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