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20090404

Peace bus to Pakistan crosses border, but sans passengers

Amritsar: Pakistani security authorities Friday allowed the Amritsar-Lahore-Nankana Sahib peace bus between the two countries to enter its territory, but the bus did not have any passengers. Border Security Force (BSF) officials at the Attari border, 30 km from here, said that the bus was allowed to cross the international border gates with only its crew on board. "The crew will be lodged in a hotel near the border on the Pakistani side as the bus had no passengers today. The Pakistani security is taking no chances with the buses between both countries as these can be easily identified and targeted by terrorists," a BSF official said. The Delhi-Lahore peace bus, however, was Friday allowed to cross the border gates and proceed to Lahore. This bus, carrying a few passengers, is owned by Pakistan. Following last week's terror attack on a police training centre at Manawan near Lahore, just over 10 km from the Attari border, Pakistani authorities had this week not allowed one of the peace buses to Lahore to cross into its territory due to security reasons. Passengers on the bus were made to alight at the border gates and they boarded vehicles arranged by Pakistani authorities for their onward journey to Lahore.

No talks with Pakistan unless it dismantles terror setup: BJP

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has asserted that if elected to power it would have no peace dialogue with Pakistan unless Islamabad dismantles the terror infrastructure on its soil. The party delineated its approach towards foreign policy in its manifesto released here Friday. The manifesto, released in the presence of BJP's prime ministerial hopeful L.K. Advani, said: "There can be no comprehensive dialogue for peace unless Pakistan dismantles the terrorist infrastructure on the territory under its control." The BJP also said Islamabad should start prosecuting terror elements and organisations and put an end to the use of cross-border terrorism as an instrument of state policy. It said if elected to power, it would have a dialogue with Pakistan only if it "stops using the territory of third countries to launch terror attacks on India". The party said its government would "re-craft India's Nepal policy to rid it of the (United Progressive Alliance) UPA's biases that had influenced" the country's response to events in Kathmandu. The party manifesto said India shared a common civilisational and cultural history with Nepal, and added that "India-Nepal relations must be based on friendship, mutual cooperation and harmony of interests". The party's government would review the "existing arrangements" and revise these keeping in mind the mutual interests, which would be based on dialogue. "The BJP would like to see Nepal emerge as a stable, prosperous country, and will strive to strengthen age-old fraternal ties," the manifesto said. On Bhutan, the party said it would strengthen the "existing close relations". On Bangladesh, it would "pro-actively engage the government of Bangladesh on issues of mutual assistance and benefit. A friendly government in Dhaka is in India's interest." The manifesto said the party believed that Sri Lanka had the right to deal with terrorism on its soil but "at the same time, the political, economic and human rights of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority community must be protected by the government in Colombo." "The BJP will pursue a robust relationship with Sri Lanka and regain the initiative that has been lost during the last five years." The party said it would "further build upon India-Afghanistan relations and work in close association with the international community to ensure a stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan."

Manmohan Singh back after G20 London summit

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here in the early hours of Saturday after a four-day visit to London to attend the G20 summit. On the margins of the summit, he also held bilateral talks with his host and British counterpart Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama. "I leave London satisfied that my bilateral and other meetings have been productive and useful, and that the G20 summit has shown the way forward," the prime minister said, as he left the British capital. The G20 meeting was held to find ways to help the global economy out of the financial crisis and the leaders committed themselves to pumping $1.1 trillion into multilateral lending institutions to lend to needy countries.

Obama counsels 'effective dialogue' between India-Pakistan

London: India and the US on Thursday said they will step up counter-terrorism cooperation even as President Barack Obama counselled "effective dialogue" between India and Pakistan after his meeting here with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Both leaders spoke, but with different emphasis, on the need for increasing coooperation in meeting the challenges of terrorism after their first meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) summit. "We did discuss the issue of terrorism - we discussed it not simply in terms of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, although obviously we are very concerned about extremists and terrorists who have made camp in the border regions of Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan," Obama said at a press conference. With developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan figuring prominently in the discussions, Manmohan Singh made it clear that Pakistan must show absolute sincerity in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to book before the talks can be resumed between the two countries. "We discussed development in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We both agreed that our two countries must work together to counter the forces of terror," Manmohan Singh said at his press conference. The prime minister described the meeting as "useful and productive" and said the two leaders focused on development of bilateral relations and how problems of the region can be resolved through interaction between India and the US. Obama, in a detailed account of the discussions on climate change, offered US and European technological help to India in its efforts to tackle climate change. "We're going to have to combine the lower-hanging fruit of energy efficiency with rapid technological advances - to the extent that in some case we can [forge] international cooperation and pool our scientific and technical knowledge around things like developing coal sequestration," he said. "That could be extremely helpful," he added.

Gunman shoots self after killing 12 in New York

New York: A gunman blocked the back door of an immigration center in Binghamton, New York, before bursting through the front door on a shooting rampage in which he killed 12 people and then, apparently, himself, police said.

Police have searched the home of the suspected shooter, whom they have identified.

The lone gunman who killed 12 people and then shot himself inside the New York civic association building has been identified as forty-two-year-old Jiverly Voong from upstate New York, media reports said.

ABC News cited the police as saying that Voong - also known as Linh Phat Voong - was from Johnson City, New York. He burst into the one-story American Civic Association building in downtown Binghamton centre wearing a bright green nylon jacket and dark-rimmed glasses.

ABC News cited multiple state law enforcement officials as saying the gunman entered the single-storey American Civic Association building in downtown Binghamton about 1000 hours (ET) Friday and began a shooting spree.

Voong's body was found on first floor with a hunting knife jammed into the waistband of his pants. Police officials said two weapons have been found including a 9 mm pistol which was recovered as SWAT team officers entered the building.

The gunman carried identification that said he was 42 years old and from upstate New York, CNN said citing a government official who has been briefed on the situation.

Officials said Voong backed his car up to the rear door of the building to block any escape before he went to the front of the building and started to execute people. At the time of the shooting the civic association was holding citizenship classes.

Priyanka Gandhi's father-in-law found dead

New Delhi: Rajinder Vadra, the father-in-law of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, was on Friday found hanging from a ceiling fan in a south Delhi guest house, highly placed police sources said.

"Rajinder used the wire of a clothes iron to hang himself from the ceiling fan in a guest house, City Inn, in Hauz Khas area. A room attendant found the body around 9.30 a.m.," said a police official.

"The guest house employees rushed him to a private hospital in Saket where he was declared brought dead. The body was shifted to Safdarjung Hospital for post-mortem," the official added.

According to the official, Vadra was in his 60s and was staying at the guest house for some time. He was undergoing treatment at the Super Specialty Max Hospital for a liver disease, he said.

After the post-mortem examination, the body was handed over to his son Robert Vadra. The cremation was held at the Lodhi Road crematorium.

Rajinder Vadra resided in the Civil Lines area of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh and ran a brass and wood handicrafts business from there.

Around seven-eight years ago Robert Vadra sent a notice to his father and elder brother Richard, accusing them of using his relationship with Priyanka Gandhi to try and get people appointed to the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee and the Moradabad District Congress Committee.

Rajinder Vadra, who was separated from his family, had in an interview denied his son's allegations and expressed his displeasure at his marrying Priyanka, the daughter of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

His daughter Michelle died in a car accident some years ago.

India to seek $5.2 billion from World Bank

London: Assured a greater say into the affairs of multilateral lending institutions, India will seek additional assistance of $5.2 bn from the World Bank for its financial sector and infrastructure projects, officials said.

The main component of this assistance is for recapitalisation of state-owned commercial banks over the next two to three years, Indian officials here said.

The rest of the amount is for infrastructure finance companies and power grid corporations.

India normally gets assistance worth $ 3 bn from the World Bank annually of which half is given in concessional form.

At the G20 summit that concluded on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was assured that developing countries like India will have a higher voting right in institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Leaders at the G20 on Thursday pledged a $1.1 tn package alongside measures for a tighter regulation of the international financial system to help bring the world out of recession.

The measures were also designed to prevent future shocks.

The leaders agreed to negotiate a speedy conclusion of the Doha trade round and put some $250 bn more into trade finance - key demands from India, represented by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Out of $1.1 trillion pledged for various institutions, $250 bn will be given to the IMF to lend at cheaper rates to needy countries in the form of special drawing rights (SDRs).

The leaders agreed to another major Indian demand by deciding to sell IMF gold reserves to raise $6 billion that will go toward helping out the world's poorest countries with cheap loans over the next two to three years.

Besides India, Britain and the US, the G20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the EU.

Google may be in discussions to buy Twitter: report

New York: Internet search giant Google may be looking to buy Twitter, says a report. Twitter is a popular micro-blogging service provider.

The report on the website TechCrunch, quoting a source said, “The acquisition discussions are still (at) fairly early stage.”

“The two companies (Google and Twitter) are also considering working together on a Google real time search engine. The discussions between the companies are confirmed,” the website added.

Twitter offers micro-blogging which allows users to send short text messages, among others, on various multimedia platforms.

The report said if the deal would happen, Google would be paying in cash or publicly valued stock.

Citing two separate people close to the negotiations TechCrunch said, “We don’t know the price but can assume its well, well north of the $250 million valuation that they saw in their recent funding.”

A few months ago, Twitter had turned down a buyout offer from Facebook.

IPL's buzz in SA: Cheaper tickets, unlimited fun

New Delhi : The cheerleaders will be there as will the best players in the world and all the entertainment of a glitzy T20 carnival.

"We will be playing flavour of India and carnival of India all across the tournament," says IPL Chief Lalit Modi.

The tournament may have moved out of India but there will be no shortage of crowds flocking to see the games the double header to kick off the IPL in Cape Town has already been sold out.

IPL bosses have smartly priced tickets at very affordable rates. The lowest ticket is available at just about 70 Indian rupees and the most expensive ticket will set you back by just a shade over 1000 rupees.

"We have taken IPL sto South Africa to ensure that we deliver once in a lifetime experience to the South African fans. Not only the game of cricket will be interesting, but also the bollywood, the entertainment and the local performances that go along with it," says Sundar Raman

And in a bid to maximize commercial time on television, it has been agreed that there will be a 5 minute break after every ten overs allowing the broadcaster to fit in more advertising.

The break may upset the momentum of a game but teams concede that this format needs to consider the demands of Indian television audiences.

"Obviously this is a great event for the Indian crowd. Not only Indians in South Africa but also across the globe," says TV co-ordinator, John Buchanan

So whether you are watching at home or at the stadium it promises to be quite an African safari.

Maya, Maneka clash on Varun and motherhood

New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati on Saturday hit out at Pilibhit MP Maneka Gandhi for politicising the Varun Gandhi row.

The Chief Minister hit out at Maneka Gandhi for saying that she (Mayawati) doesn't understand the pain of a mother.

"Menaka forgets that even without being a mother you can understand pain of a million people just like Mother Teresa did. Menaka is so absorbed in love for her one son that she forgot that if there were any communal riots over Varun Gandhi's statement many mothers would have lost their sons," Mayawati said at her rally on Saturday.

Mayawati added that Maneka Gandhi should seek a pardon for her statements.

Former union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Maneka Gandhi had been asked not to meet her son and the party's Lok Sabha candidate from Pilibhit Varun Gandhi, who is in Etah jail in Uttar Pradesh.

"I want to make it clear we have not issued any prohibitory orders. We have just requested Maneka Gandhi that she should not meet her son Varun as per the jail administration rules," District Magistrate Gaurav Dayal stated.

"According to rules, only two meetings with jail inmates are allowed in a week. And in the case of Varun, these two meetings have already been conducted," said Dayal. Of the two meetings with Varun, the first was organised Wednesday with her mother Maneka Gandhi, while the second took place on Thursday with three leaders of BJP, officials said.

"We have just requested Maneka Gandhi that she should not visit this week in the (Etah) jail to meet her son and abide by the general rules of the jail administration. I am nobody to prevent a mother (Maneka Gandhi) from meeting her son," Dayal added.

However, the issue gained momentum when Maneka, in a statement to a news channel called the restriction as "frivolous" and "the result of political vendetta".

"Mayawati is not mother that's why she would not understand a mother's pain," Maneka Gandhi had said.

Later, taking up the cue, some local saffron brigade leaders came out with plans for widespread agitations beginning Saturday morning.

In no mood to grant the saffronites a political mileage, the state government on Friday evening issued a written clarification stating that no restrictions whatsoever have been imposed on Maneka meeting her son.

Varun Gandhi is in jail as he faces charges under the National Security Act following campaign speeches vilifying Muslims that have purportedly been delivered by him.

Anyone booked under NSA cannot get bail for at least six months and the time frame could extend up to one year. The decision to move Varun to Etah jail was reportedly taken after the Intelligence Bureau unearthed a Dawood Gang plot to kill him.

Varun has been alleging inhuman treatment at Etah jail. His supporters are already running an SMS campaign. Some of the SMSes read: "Maya has no 'mamta'. Why is Maneka Gandhi denied access to Varun?" Another SMS read: "Stand against attack on democracy by Mayawati Government by unwarranted imposition of the NSA on Varun Gandhi."

20090403

BJP reiterates commitment to Ram temple

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Friday reiterated that it was "committed" to building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Reading out extracts from the manifesto for the Lok Sabha election, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said the party was "committed to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya". On the issue of Sethusamudram, a shipping channel to link India's eastern and western coasts that the BJP is opposed to on grounds that it would destroy a chain of limestone shoals in the Palk straits that it dates back to the Ramayana, Prasad said the party would not "allow anyone to touch it". The BJP has also said it would stop cow slaughter as it was an issue associated with "faith". Prasad also talked of scrapping Article 370, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. "The unity of the country is not possible as long as Article 370 is there," he said.

Indian mission in Dubai to launch radio programme

Dubai: Fresh after launching a monthly magazine to project India and the Indian diaspora in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Indian consulate here will launch a weekly radio programme Saturday to complement the publication. Named India Matters, the same as the magazine that was launched March 29 by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the new radio programme will be aired on FM 105.4 Radio Spice every Saturday between 6 and 7 p.m. The one-hour show will be packed with news, views and interviews regarding consulate services, India-UAE relations and trade and tourism in India, according to a statement issued by the Indian mission here. It will aim to provide information on the latest developments in India, as well as events and happenings relating to India and the Indian community in the UAE. "Radio is a very powerful medium and we want to take full advantage of it," India's Consul General in Dubai Venu Rajamony said in a statement. "This is an effort to reach out to a wider audience. The idea is to complement the magazine, which will come out every month, with a broadcast every week. This will help us to get the information out to our audience and bring us feedback much quicker," he said. Radio Spice caters to the varying musical tastes of the South Asian community in the UAE broadcasting mainly in Hindi and English. It offers popular music, news, including business and sports, contests and utilities. There are around 1.5 million expatriate Indians in the UAE.

BJP manifesto: no tax on income up to Rs 300,000 per year

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will exempt all armed forces and paramilitary personnel from income tax if voted to power, the party said while releasing its manifesto Friday for the Lok Sabha elections. In another populist promise, it said it would exempt individuals with an income of up to Rs.300,000 per year from income tax. The party said it would enact a "strong law" like POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) to counter terrorism and also strengthen coastal security, "We will dealt with terrorists, whether inside or outside the country, stringently. A strong law like POTA will be enacted and coastal security will be strengthened," BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said. "The fencing of the Indo-Bangladesh border which was on the backburner will be taken up earnestly. The Chhattisgarh model of fighting Naxalism will be replicated across the country," he added. The BJP's prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, party president Rajnath Singh, manifesto commitee head Murli Manohar Joshi as well as other senior leaders were present on the occasion.

BJP manifesto: tough on terror, sops for poor

New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released its Lok Sabha election manifesto on Friday in New Delhi promising to deal with the scourge of terror with an iron hand and also announced a host of populist measures if voted to power.

"Our priority will be to tackle terrorists both inside and outside India sternly. We will bring a better law like POTA to handle terror," said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad while releasing the manifesto.

He also said that India's intelligence agencies including the Research and Analysis Wing and Intelligence Bureau would be overhauled so that they are able to deal with terror threats in a better way.

The party also wooed the poor and middle class with Prasad announcing said that they will provide 35 kgs of rice at Rs 2 per kg for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families.

The promise is a move to counter to Congress' offer of rice at Rs 3 per kg. BJP also promised to make available wheat at Rs 3.5 per kg.

Reaching out to farmers, the BJP said it will waive off all current loans and provide fresh loans at four per cent interest rate. Every school-going girl child belonging to BPL families will be provided by a bicycle, the manifesto said.

Salaried class has been promised that income tax exemption limit will be raised to Rs 3 lakh per annum. For women and senior citizen, the limit would be Rs 3.5 lakh per annum.

Prasad also announced that all defence forces and paramilitary personnel will be exempted from income tax.

The party seems to have put its Hindutva issue on the backburner with issues like rebuilding of Ram temple at Ayodhya and abolishing Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir finding a mention at the fag end of the manifesto.

"The BJP is committed to construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. We'll not anyone harm the Ram Setu." said Prasad.

However, party's prime ministerial candidate LK Advani announced that the BJP will strive for Ram Rajya in the country. Adavani said that the BJP believes in creating an ideal world and it would be possible only through the efforts of the saffron party.

He also said that politics in Indian was bipolar and there was no place for the Third Front.

The party also promised development initiatives to tackle the problem of rising population with Manifesto Committee Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi saying, "Population control is also on our agenda. We'll make sure the population control programmes are non-coercive and gender sensitive. We will encourage people to be part of these programmes."

Many senior BJP leaders including Advani, President Rajnath Singh and Joshi were present on the occasion.

Pawar flip-flop continues, skips Third Front rally

New Delhi: Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar did not attend the Third Front rally in Orissa and instead addressed it on phone from Nashik.

Pawar, who is an important partner of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), said that he was not able to reach Bhubaneshwar as his plane developed a technical snag and instead he would be addressing the rally through phone.

"I am in Nashik and the aircraft that was supposed to take me could not reach because of a malfunction. I will definitely go sometime next week. I was not going to Third Front rally but going for BJD (Biju Janata Dal) rally. I am not with the Third Front. There is a difference between Third Front and BJD. We want to continue with UPA," said Pawar from Nashik.

Though Pawar said his plane developed a technical snag stalling his plans, the decision to pull out of the rally at the 11th hour is being seen as a climbdown as the Congress on Thursday had raised strong objections on Pawar's decision to address the rally in Bhubaneshwar.

The NCP chief was scheduled to share the dais with BJD chief and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the Left leaders in Bhubaneshwar on Friday.

The NCP along with the Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha had supported the BJD government during the trust vote in state Assembly on March 11.

Pawar has been insisting that he's very much in the race for the next prime minister of India.

However, did give the due credit to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying it was a privilege to work with him.

"Manmohan Singh is a very nice person. He has truly worked for the development of the country. I was lucky that I was a part of his Cabinet," said Pawar.

Left leaders like Prakash Karat, AB Bardhan and Patnaik are attending the Third Front rally.

But an important Third Front constituent and Janata Dal (Secular) President HD Deve Gowda has rebuked Pawar's move to get close to the Third Front.

The former prime minister has said that Third Front will not have any discussion with Pawar as long as he is with the UPA.

G20 agrees trillion dollar deal to fight recession

London: Leaders of the G20 nations agreed on Thursday to pump an additional trillion dollars into the troubled global economy through extra funding for groups like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Outlining the conclusions of the G20 summit, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced an additional $500 billion for the IMF, plus $250 billion in IMF Special Drawing Rights and $250 billion to boost trade.

Congress picks Suresh Patel to take on Advani

Gandhinagar: With the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate L K Advani in the fray, the Congress thought long about who to field from the Gujarat constituency. And after a fortnight of deliberations fixed on legislator Suresh Patel, said a party leader.

With Advani, who is seeking re-election for the fifth time, having bested candidates such as former chief election commissioner T N Seshan and former Gujarat police chief P K Dutta, it was not an easy decision.

"It took the party some time to decide on the candidate for the Gandhinagar seat. We now have found the right candidate in Suresh Patel who is well known in the Kalol and Gandhinagar belt," leader of Opposition in the Gujarat assembly and Congress leader Shatisinh Gohil said.

It took the Congress poll think tank in New Delhi two weeks of discussions before deciding on the Kalol legislator.

According to a senior leader, Patel had been in contact with voters in the Kalol and Gandhinagar belt for five years. He had first won as legislator from the Kalol seat in 1998 but lost it in the 2002 Assembly poll. In 2007, Patel won back the Kalol seat after a gap of five years during which he had kept his public contact programmes going.

Congress leaders also point out that 35 per cent of the overall voting strength in the Gandhinagar constituency comprises the influential Patel community, mostly involved in farming and land dealing businesses.

They are hoping that Advani's long absences from the constituency during the last five years would work in the Congress' favour.

Noted dancer Mallika Sarabhai is also contesting the Gandhinagar seat as an independent.

Teenaged girl flogged by Taliban in Pakistan

London: A 17-year-old screaming, burqa-clad girl was whipped by Taliban fighters in Pakistan's restive Swat Valley for coming "out of her house with another guy who was not her husband", a two-minute video shot through a mobile phone showed.

The video showed the girl face down on the ground. Two men held her arms and feet while a third, a black-turbaned fighter with a flowing beard, whipped her repeatedly, the Guardian reported.

The newspaper said it received the video through Samar Minallah, a Pashtun documentary maker.

"Please stop it," the girl begged repeatedly. "Either kill me or stop it now."

After 34 lashes the punishment stopped and the wailing girl was led into a stone building.

"She came out of her house with another guy who was not her husband, so we must punish her. There are boundaries you cannot cross," the Guardian quoted Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan as saying.

The punishment was meted out within last 10 days, Minallah said.

"This video is being widely circulated because the Taliban want people to see it. They want to give the message that this is taking place after the peace deal because this is something they ideologically believe in," the newspaper quoted her as saying.

The girl's brother is among the men who pinned her down, she added. "It's symbolic that he does it with his own hands. It gives him honour in local society, that he has done it for the sake of religion."

Pakistan's North West Frontier Province government ceded authority to the Taliban under a peace deal, giving them almost a free hand to impose their puritan Islamic rule on the around 600,000 people of Swat and its seven neighbouring districts.

The peace accord signed with pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad includes measures to establish Islamic courts, a ban on music, expulsion of prostitutes and pimps from the area, closure of businesses during prayer times, and a campaign against what they call obscenity.

20090402

'Communal' BJP can't fight terror, says Chidambaram

New Delhi: Union Home Minister P Chidambaram confirmed that there are threats of terror strikes during the April-May Lok Sabha elections but assured that India was fully prepared to deal with any eventuality.

"Law and order will be maintained and elections will take place peacefully. We have taken all measures. There is no need to panic and there are enough security forces with the Election Commission. Our level of preparedness is based intelligence is gathered on a real time basis. We have checked and stopped infiltration," said Chidambaram addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

He ruled out any specific threat from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the elections but added that both Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been alerted.

But politics was not far behind and lashing out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chidambaram said the saffron party was not equipped to fight terrorism.

"Our enemy remains the communal BJP. We cannot fight terrorism if we cannot fight communal forces," he said.

“It is shameful that such a person (Varun Gandhi) has been given ticket. The CD is the primary evidence. Whether it’s doctored or not it will come out during investigations," he replied about BJP giving ticket to Varun Gandhi.

Chidambaram said that only the Congress can tackle terror, unite India because of its strong leadership and ensure peaceful elections.

"A country divided on religious and caste lines cannot fight terrorism. But Congress can because of its history and leadership. It can unite the country to fight communalism and as well as fight terrorist," said Chidambaram.

"Real issues before our government are security, growth, faster and inclusive growth, and communal harmony and peace," he said.

Sounding hopeful that after the elections, the Central government will be formed by secular forces, Chidambaram said all major parties were fighting communal forces and would come together after polls.

"Left is also fighting against communalism in some states. We are fighting communalism in all the states," he said.

Chidambaram said he met leader of the Opposition and BJP prime ministerial candidate LK Advani on Thursday morning to apprise him about the security situation.

"Advani is Leader of Opposition and due to his age I went to his house to discuss his security requirements. I have also discussed with leaders of major political parties the security issues," he said.

He declined to comment on Central Bureau of Investigation giving a clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler who was accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

"CBI has to file a report in the court. I do not wish to comment on it. It is for the court to decide. But as a Congress party member I am happy that another member of the Congress party has got relief," he said.

However, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad criticised Chidambaram saying the BJP does not need a certificate on its secular credentials.

"We don't need a certificate from Chidambaram about our secular credentials. A party that has done worse appeasement politics is now pointing fingers at us. The way the CBI has given a clean chit to Mr. Tytler in the Sikh massacre of 1984. Chidambaram, look inwards. Terrorists are killing Hindus and Muslims. The country needs to respond in one voice," said Prasad.

"A party who is still in link with Muslim League, is able to execute Afzal Guru, a party whose leader and Prime Minister says minorities have the first right over national resources... what more do you need as far as a patent communal card is concerned? The chequered communal record of the Congress is littered in the history of the country over the past 60 years. People know it too well," the BJP leader added.

Sonia launches Congress poll campaign in Orissa

Bhubaneswar: Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday slammed the Naveen Patnaik-led Orissa government for its failure on several fronts, as she kicked off her party's campaign in the state.

Addressing a rally at Jamunda village in state's Bargarh district, some 385 km from Bhubaneshwar, Sonia criticised the state government for taking credit for the schemes launched by the Central Government.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, led by the Congress, had started a scheme of selling rice at cheaper rate but the state government is trying to mislead people by claiming credit for it, she said.

She said development had been hampered in Orissa because of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Biju Janata Dal (BJD) coalition and now they are blaming each other after the alliance ended, she said, calling on people to vote for a party which takes care of the poor.

Describing the Congress as a party which works for the poor and highlighting the achievements of the UPA Government, she said the Central Government has been sending huge sums of money to the state under various schemes but the state government was not able to spend them.

Sonia also accused the Orissa government of not providing remunerative price to the farmers for their produce.

Describing Orissa as a peaceful state, the Congress chief said some people were trying to create disturbance and that needs to be foiled.

"People of Orissa are peace loving, but seeds of hatred are being sown by some outfits," she said.

People must remain alert against divisive forces and maintain peace, brotherhood and unity, Gandhi said.

The Congress President, who is on a day-long trip to the state, was scheduled to address two more rallies - one in Koraput district and another in Berhampur.

Orissa will go to poll in two phases - April 16 and April 23 - to elect 147 members to the state Assembly and 21 members to the Lok Sabha.

Chidambaram meets Advani, discusses security

New Delhi: Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday held a meeting with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial nominee LK Advani and discussed security related issues and political matters like black money stashed by Indians in foreign banks.

''The Home Minister met Mr Advani,'' ministry sources confirmed but refused to give details of the meeting.

The meeting assumes significance in view of the Home Minister's recent letter to 40 VVIPs including Advani urging them to take precautions while campaigning in view of intelligence reports regarding increased threat perception to them.

The Home Minister had urged them to cooperate with security forces engaged in the duties and share their tour programmes and movement plans with central and state authorities concerned well in advance during the election period.

Chidambaram had also conveyed to Advani and other leaders, most of whom are under Z category, security cover, that if they wanted to discuss the threat perception and security requirements in view of the intelligence inputs they could contact him or Home Ministry officials.

Earlier, Chidambaram and Advani had difference of opinion on the issue of money stashed by Indians in foreign banks with the BJP leader charging Chidambaram of remaining ''evasive and maintaining silence and inaction about illicit money kept abroad by Indian nationals''.

Chidambaram had countered the charge saying that the matter was pursued diligently by the Finance Ministry, which he earlier headed, and his reply to Advani was ''direct, clear and unambiguous''.

He had clarified that on the basis of a news report on February 26, 2008, the Finance Ministry on February 29, 2008 had written to the Federal Central Tax Office, Bonn, Germany seeking information relating to Indian tax payers who may have accounts with Lichenstein's LGT Bank.

Advani had claimed that Indians have hoarded their 'illicit wealth' estimated to be ranging from Rs 25,00,000 to 70,00,000 crore outside India in secret Swiss bank accounts and tax havens elsewhere in the world.

He also released a letter written to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on April 6, 2008, and charged that it was baffling that the government had adopted a policy of 'deafening silence and inaction' by taking no steps to get information about illicit money kept abroad by Indian nationals and strive to get it back.

He had also charged that Chidambaram was giving evasive reply on the issue of offer of German LGI Bank to give out the names of Indians presumed to have secret accounts in its bank. India was yet to approach Germany for this data, he had alleged.

Neelam Kapur assumes office as head of PIB Bureau

Neelam Kapur today assumed office as head of Press Information Bureau. She succeeds Umakant Mishra who retired yesterday. A 1982 batch officer of the Indian Information Service, Mrs Kapur, prior to this appointment, has held various posts in the different media units of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

In her long spanning career she has been DG, DAVP; Director of Directorate of Film Festivals; Registrar of Newspapers. Mrs Kapur has also worked in NACO and handled publicity for Ministries of Finance, Information and Broadcasting, Water Resources in her previous stint at Press Information Bureau.

Bhaskar Group appoints Raja Mitra as Senior GM and South India Head

Bhaskar Group, India’s largest read newspaper group has appointed Raja Mitra as Senior General Manager and Business Head for South India. Raja will be based in Bhaskar Group’s south zone and will be responsible for enhancing Group’s ad sales revenue and growth in Southern India. Besides these, Raja will also be in-charge of building and maintaining an authoritative position for the brand in the region.

Commenting on Raja’s appointment, Rajiv Jaitly, President – Ad Sales and Marketing, DB Corp. Ltd., said, “We are pleased to welcome Raja on board. With the markets shifting towards tier-II and tier-III cities, South India presents great opportunities for the brand and we are confident that with Raja’s knowledge and expertise in the southern region, we will further strengthen our position.”

Said, Raja Mitra, “I am delighted to join Bhaskar Group. It’s a dynamic organization with tremendous growth potential, aggressive and ambitious growth plans in place. I believe there is enormous scope for the group to grow its business in Southern India and I look forward to working with the team.”

Raja comes with a rich experience of 16 years spanning various media and non-media organizations. He joins Bhaskar Group from ABP Group, where he was the head of Southern India for 5 years. At ABP, he was instrumental in building and developing the untapped markets of southern region, while upholding the existing markets. During his stint with ABP, he achieved a record growth in ad sales revenue for southern region in the year 2005-06 and set a historical landmark in the organization.

Raja began his career with Larsen & Toubro Ltd. after completing his PGDM from IIM Bangalore. His other previous associations have been with Caltiger.com, Usha Martin Industries and ITW Signode India Ltd., where he held high responsibility positions.

Pathfinder Publishing’s maiden title ‘Career’s 360’ to hit newsstands on April 4

Pathfinder Publishing, the print venture of Maheshwar Peri, Publisher, Outlook, is set to launch its first title, ‘Career’s 360’, on April 4, 2009. Priced at Rs 40, ‘Career’s 360’ is a monthly and is targeting a circulation of close to one lakh copies. The magazine will be made available at nearly 8,000 outlets across the country. ‘Career’s 360’ is a 100-paged magazine with 80-85 pages of editorial content.

Peri owns a 90 per cent stake in Pathfinder Publishing, while the remaining 10 per cent is held by Rajesh Jain, one of the country’s best-known Internet entrepreneurs and founder of Mumbai-based Netcore Solutions Pvt Ltd.

Mahesh Sharma, who has been a teacher and a research scholar at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, is the Editor of the magazine.

The magazine will be catering to a broad age group of 17-35 years. “‘Career’s 360’ is meant to handroll a set of people and take them to the next level of their career paths. We will provide guidance to people on how to achieve the next step in their careers,” Peri said.

On why he chose a magazine on career and education, Peri explained, “One needs to do something that can have a direct effect on people’s lives, and there is a need for it in the market. If I can influence one lakh people to change their paths and chose the right paths and can be a guide for those people over the next 10 years, I have achieved what I’ve wanted to.”

Elaborating on the magazine’s content, Peri said, “The magazine is a ready reckoner for a person who is looking for options to take them to the next level, but are unable to find it at one single place. It has campus reviews, extra courses, part time jobs; the content will have information for a graduate, post graduate, and professional, among others. Most of the people who fail, it is not because they are not intelligent, but because they have chosen the wrong path. This magazine will help people chose the right path.”

Defending his decision to launch the new venture amid an economic slowdown, Peri said, “This venture is slightly recession proof, not completely though. All this happened much after I had begun work on the launch of this magazine. There is a research that says that in times of lay-offs, people tend to rescale themselves more. So, taking a break and going to rescale will not show a gap in the resume, plus it will upgrade their educational qualifications. I think it is an apt time to come out with this kind of a magazine – it’s a bad time and also a good time in a certain sense.”

The magazine will be distributed, marketed and sold by the Outlook Group.

Guruji.com in reconsolidation mode; reports 21 pc growth in last 6 months

Guruji.com, touted as India’s first local Internet search engine, aims to consolidate its existing offerings and an increase in monetisation this year. Anurag Dod, CEO and Co-founder, Guruji.com, speaks exclusively with exchange4media regarding growth plans for 2009.

The global search engine market is around $12 billion, whereas the Indian search market is approximately valued at $50-60 million.

Launched in 2006, Guruji.com, has not yet achieved break-even, but is bullish about growth. In the last one year, the company has extended its web service by launching Finance, Image and Music searches. On March 4, 2009, it launched its online ad networks – AdGuru for publishers and AdYantra for advertisers. Guruji.com had started off with English language and went on to introduce seven regional languages – Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Gujarati. Dod informed that two more languages would be added in the next one year.

Speaking on the plans for 2009, Dod said, “In terms of our revenue aspect, we are certainly seeing some pressure from the market, therefore, we make sure our plans are aligned to the market scenario, but in terms of consumer growth, we are seeing huge traffic growth, which will undoubtedly continue to increase.”

Over the last six months, the local search engine has witnessed a 25 per cent quarterly growth rate in advertising net profit. Guruji.com competes with established players like Google, Yahoo and MSN, to name a few. Some of the existing clients with Guruji.com include Citibank, HDFC Bank, Makemytrip.com, Monster.com and Bharat Matrimony.

This year, Guruji.com aims to consolidate more on their existing offerings, which means there will be a lot more investments on Web Search, Finance Search and Ad Networks. The focus will also be on increase in monetisation capability of the site and to ensure the ad networks perform even better.

Dod informed, “We have seen a consistent growth, especially in the last 6-8 months. In terms of search volumes, we are doing more than a million searches per day. This is one major milestone that we have crossed. We are currently able serve more than 1.5 billion ad impressions per month. Going forward, we will focus more on the search domain as we have seen a pretty consistent growth in the search area.”

Dod admitted that like any other company Guruji.com, too, had been affected by the economic slowdown and added that the company had taken necessary measures to contain it. For instance, the search engine company has gone slow in its hiring and has become cautious in terms of spending.

Drone strike, militant attacks kill 17 in Pakistan

Islamabad: A suspected US missile strike killed 12 Taliban militants on Wednesday in Pakistan's restive tribal region, while suspected terrorists ambushed a police patrol, killing five police personnel in the northwest, officials said. Two missiles believed to have been fired by a US drone hit a compound in Khadezai village of the Orakzai Agency, one of seven semi-autonomous tribal districts known to serve as sanctuaries for Al Qaeda and Taliban rebels. "Twelve militants were confirmed dead but the toll could be even higher," an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity. At least a dozen more people were also wounded in the drone attack, which was the first one in Orakzai. Local administrators confirmed the strike, but gave no details. The compound was allegedly being used as a training centre and also housed quarters for "foreigners," a term used by Pakistani officials to describe militants of Arab and Central Asian origin. The identities of those killed in the strike were not immediately known, as local insurgents cordoned off the area following the missile attack. Orakzai, which does not share a border with Afghanistan, is the stronghold of a senior aide of rebel commander Baitullah Mehsud, who confirmed on Wednesday that his fighters stormed a police training school in the eastern city of Lahore the earlier day, killing seven recruits and one civilian. Mehsud told reporters over phone from an undisclosed location that the Lahore assault and two other recent attacks were carried out by his group in revenge for US drone strikes. Nearly three dozen US airstrikes have targeted suspected militant hideouts in Pakistan's tribal region since August 2008, killing more than 300 people, including a number of lower-tier Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Dozens of non-combatants have also been killed in the strikes. Pakistan has opposed the attacks, calling them counter-productive because they fuel anti-US sentiments and increasing public support for militants in the tribal districts. Separately, suspected militants ambushed a police patrol, leaving five policemen, including two officers, dead in Dir district of the neighbouring North Western Frontier Province. "The attackers first targeted the police van with rocket-propelled grenades and then fired at it with assault rifles," Ghulam Mohammad, a provncial official, said over phone. "They took with them the weapons of dead policemen," he added. Dir borders Swat district which has been gripped by militant violence since late 2007 when a radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah waged war on security forces for the enforcement of Taliban rule in the region, once a popular tourist destination. A relative calm is being observed after the government signed a peace deal with the militants though occasional incidents of violence continue

Inflation rises marginally to 0.31 percent

New Delhi: India's annual rate of inflation rose marginally to 0.31 percent for the week ended March 21, after declining for eight consecutive weeks, official data showed today. The inflation rate was 0.27 percent the week before. The marginal rise was mainly on account of a rise in the official wholesale price index compared to the corresponding week of last year. Between March 14 and 21, the index rose 0.1 percent, data released by the commerce and industry ministry showed. Among the three main commodity groups, the index for manufactured products rose 0.2 percent, while that for primary articles registered a small increase. The index for fuel, however, declined marginally to 320.9 (provisional) from 321.0 (provisional) for the previous week due to lower prices of furnace oil. Economists, who have already warned of a deflation in the Indian economy, explain that lower inflation rate does not necessarily mean that prices have fallen. Lower inflation rate only means the rate of rise in prices has come down, not the actual prices. Deflation is a decline in the general price level. It is caused by factors such as low money supply and credit, and a curb in spending by households, industry or government. The lower demand during deflation often leads to a rise in unemployment.

CBI gives Tytler clean chit in 1984 riots case, Sikhs protest

New Delhi: Congress' Lok Sabha candidate Jagdish Tytler was today cleared by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in a case registered against him for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, prompting protests by upset Sikhs outside the court. De-sealing its final report in the case in a court here, the CBI pleaded that the case against Tytler, the Congress' candidate from the Delhi North East constituency, be cancelled. The agency had last week submitted the report in a sealed envelope before Metropolitan Magistrate Ram Lal Meena. The CBI had filed its final report after examining Jasbir Singh, a California-based witness it had earlier declared non-traceable, who had stated in an affidavit that on Nov 3, 1984, he had overheard Tytler commenting on the killing of Sikhs in his then-constituency Sadar Bazar. The victims' lawyer H.S. Phoolka submitted before the court that he wanted to inspect the final report. After hearing him, the court asked the CBI to give its reply by April 9. Reacting strongly to the CBI's clean chit, Phoolka, who has spearheaded one of the longest and most tortuous legal battles to gain justice for the victims of the 1984 riots, said the verdict was "upsetting". "It is upsetting. Ever since the case went to the CBI, the agency has been eager to give Tytler a clean chit. We will not give up our fight yet. Money and political muscle will not last long," said Phoolka. "It is sad to see that even before the seal of the final report was opened, Tytler knew that he had got a clean chit." More than 3,000 people, including 2,000 in the national capital alone, were killed in the riots that targeted the Sikh community in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on Oct 31, 1984. As the CBI decision was made public, hundreds of Sikhs who had gathered outside the court premises began protesting. They raised slogans against the Congress government, the CBI and Tytler as well as other senior Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar and Kamal Nath for their alleged involvement in the riots. "It's a shameful act on the part of CBI and with this our faith in this investigation agency has been shattered. The CBI is working hand in glove with the accused," said an aggrieved victim outside the court. Tytler was among the three prominent Congress leaders accused of having incited mobs. The two other leaders named were Sajjan Kumar, who is contesting from South Delhi, and the late H.K.L. Bhagat. The timing of the clean chit - just before the general elections - may raise questions about government interference. A day before the verdict, Tytler had exuded confidence at a press conference. "The Sikh vote has never been a problem. They have never voted against me - there is no question of the 1984 riots and the allegations against me," said Tytler. "I have been around the longest in parliament from Delhi!...This will not tarnish my image - I can guarantee that every effort will be made to ensure development in my constituency."

Chidambaram meets Advani, discusses security

New Delhi: Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on Thursday held a meeting with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial nominee LK Advani and discussed security related issues and political matters like black money stashed by Indians in foreign banks.

''The Home Minister met Mr Advani,'' ministry sources confirmed but refused to give details of the meeting.

The meeting assumes significance in view of the Home Minister's recent letter to 40 VVIPs including Advani urging them to take precautions while campaigning in view of intelligence reports regarding increased threat perception to them.

The Home Minister had urged them to cooperate with security forces engaged in the duties and share their tour programmes and movement plans with central and state authorities concerned well in advance during the election period.

Chidambaram had also conveyed to Advani and other leaders, most of whom are under Z category, security cover, that if they wanted to discuss the threat perception and security requirements in view of the intelligence inputs they could contact him or Home Ministry officials.

Earlier, Chidambaram and Advani had difference of opinion on the issue of money stashed by Indians in foreign banks with the BJP leader charging Chidambaram of remaining ''evasive and maintaining silence and inaction about illicit money kept abroad by Indian nationals''.

Chidambaram had countered the charge saying that the matter was pursued diligently by the Finance Ministry, which he earlier headed, and his reply to Advani was ''direct, clear and unambiguous''.

He had clarified that on the basis of a news report on February 26, 2008, the Finance Ministry on February 29, 2008 had written to the Federal Central Tax Office, Bonn, Germany seeking information relating to Indian tax payers who may have accounts with Lichenstein's LGT Bank.

Advani had claimed that Indians have hoarded their 'illicit wealth' estimated to be ranging from Rs 25,00,000 to 70,00,000 crore outside India in secret Swiss bank accounts and tax havens elsewhere in the world.

He also released a letter written to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on April 6, 2008, and charged that it was baffling that the government had adopted a policy of 'deafening silence and inaction' by taking no steps to get information about illicit money kept abroad by Indian nationals and strive to get it back.

He had also charged that Chidambaram was giving evasive reply on the issue of offer of German LGI Bank to give out the names of Indians presumed to have secret accounts in its bank. India was yet to approach Germany for this data, he had alleged.

TDP releases manifesto, promises TV to BPL families

Hyderabad: Releasing its manifesto, the Telugu Desam Party on Thursday promised to implement a slew of measures aimed at empowering every section of the society.

"Ensuring economic, food and health security would be top on the agenda of TDP if voted to power in this month's poll," TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu said while releasing the manifesto at the NTR Trust Bhavan in Hyderabad.

Prime among the promises made by TDP in its 64-page manifesto are an unique cash transfer scheme for the vulnerable sections, free colour television to families living below poverty line, comprehensive health insurance covering ailments from fever to heart problems, creation of 1,250 Modern Development Corridors for generation of about 25 lakh jobs, creation of a Rs 1,000 crore market stabilisation fund for the agriculture sector.

Besides, a Rs 500-crore Farmers Protection Fund, a monthly unemployment benefit of Rs 1,000 to unemployed youth, creation of 50 lakh jobs in government and private sectors as well as self-employment, special grants to entrepreneurs for setting up industries in rural areas and supply of cooking gas for Rs 150 per cylinder has also been promised.

The government would create a Rs 5,000 crore corpus fund and also pool up another Rs 5,000 crore from banks as loan for employment generation through industrial development.

"This would give major boost to the economy besides empowering the youth," Chandrababu said.

On Telangana, the TDP leader said they would take all required legal and political steps for creation of a separate state.

Under the CTS, a poorest of the poor family would get Rs 2,000, a poor family Rs 1,500 and a middle-class family Rs 1,000 a month.

"All eligible poor would be provided housing at Rs 1 lakh per unit," the Telugu Desam chief said.

Observing that television was the "prime source of infotainment and not a luxury", he said, "The free colour television offer would provide a wealth of knowledge to the poor besides being a source of mental relief from their daily toil."

The TDP President also promised to enact a legislation to check political corruption in the state.

Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy and his family stand testimony to the unabashed political corruption.

The election affidavits filed by the chief minister and his son Jaganmohan Reddy in 2004 and 2009 speak volumes of their personal wealth creation, the TDP chief said.

Stating that the agriculture sector too would be promoted to the international level on par with the Information Technology sector, he said, an Agriculture Development Authority would be set up.

Small and marginal farmers would be provided interest-free farm loans up to Rs 25,000. For loans over Rs 25,000, only 25 paisa interest will be charged. Weavers will get institutional loans at just 10 paisa interest, he added.

Microsoft seeks fewer H-1B visas in recession-hit US

Washington: With the hiring of foreign talent facing heightened scrutiny and the threat of greater restrictions in the US, Microsoft Corp has filed substantially fewer applications for H-1B visas coveted by Indian techies for next year.

"I think we will see substantially fewer H-1B applications filed this year. That is the case here at Microsoft," the software giant's General Counsel Brad Smith said as the US government Wednesday started taking applications for the H-1B visas.

As the weak economy depletes its need for workers, the industry will likely follow Microsoft's lead, he told reporters on a conference call. In contrast to last year, most applications will be for current workers.

"Fewer than half of our applications will be for new hires," Smith said. "It won't surprise me if we see that as a broader trend in the industry as a whole."

Smith would not comment directly on legislation likely to be reintroduced soon aimed at ensuring US workers are given first priority over foreign workers in hiring decisions.

The legislation, backed by Senators Charles Grassley, a Republican, and Richard Durbin, a Democrat, will likely require companies to pledge to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans for a job before seeking a visa for it.

In recent years, the annual competition for 85,000 temporary work visas awarded to foreign computer technicians, engineers, university educators and other highly skilled professionals has drawn twice as many applications as spots available.

But this year immigration attorneys are predicting that the recession will result in fewer applications, while critics of the visa programme are vowing a renewed push to regulate it more closely.

Despite the press attention paid to India-based companies utilising H-1B visas, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data show the use of H-1Bs by Indian companies declined by 27 per cent from 2006 to 2008, according to a new study.

Contrary to assertions that Indian employers use up "most" or "80 per cent" of the annual quota, USCIS data reveal that such companies utilised only 11.9 per cent of the 2008 new H-1B petitions issued, according to the study by National Foundation For American Policy.

The 12,180 new H-1B visa holders hired by Indian companies in 2008 represented 0.0083 per cent of the US labor force, less than 1/100th of 1 per cent, a small proportion by any reasonable definition.

While well-known US technology companies are most often in the news related to H-1B visas, a large variety of businesses and organisations in America, including public school systems, hire H-1B professionals every year.

In FY 2008, 24,692 different employers hired at least one individual on a new H-1B petition.

Anti-G20 protesters attack banks, one dead

London: Violent anti-globalisation protests overshadowed the Group of 20 (G20) summit on Wednesday in London as campaigners vandalised banks and clashed with heavily armed riot police.

One fatality was reported in the wake of the demonstrations, but the cause was not immediately explained.

Some 4,000 protesters converged with chants of "hang a banker" and "storm the banks" on the Bank of England and later vandalised the London headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

Police said that 24 protesters were arrested and several officers were injured in the clashes. Only a minority of the demonstrators were involved in the confrontation with police, reporters said.

Police said that a man was found unconscious in the street Wednesday evening by a person who alerted police.

The man was not breathing when two officers arrived at the scene, and they were pelted with bottles while attempting artificial resuscitation. Medics said that the man, described by witnesses as looking about 30 years old, died while being transported to a hospital, according to British media.

A handful of protesters, their faces masked by bandanas, managed to enter the RBS building and gain access to the roof. The building was empty, though, as RBS workers had been advised to stay at home because of the protests.

RBS, which reported record losses last year of 28 billion pounds ($40 billion), has been at the centre of public anger during the banking crisis.

Protesters cheered as an office chair was used to smash the large, blacked-out windows of the RBS building.

The private home of its former chief executive, Fred Goodwin, was attacked by vandals last week in Edinburgh, Scotland.

With a diverse mix of anti-war campaigners, anti-poverty groups, anarchists and climate change activists, demonstrators were penned in for hours as riot police and mounted officers were deployed.

Some accused police of "going over the top" in their efforts to control the demonstrators, many of whom were "ordinary citizens" angered by the impact the financial crisis on their lives.

Protesters held up banners proclaiming "Balls to the Banks" and "Punish the looters" while carrying effigies of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Meanwhile, bankers leaning out of office windows taunted demonstrators down below by waving 10-pound notes at them, provoking a response of shouts and cheers.

Many bankers and office workers heeded security advice to "dress down" in sweaters and jeans, rather than the customary suits and ties, to avoid being targeted.

"I am here to make sure that peace happens rather than war," said Mirthful Merryweather, a nurse among the protesters.

Christine Hickey, 64, said: "I'm just fed up with the bankers who've got away with taking all this money. People are losing jobs and their homes, and I'm fed up with it."

20090401

Anjali Waghmare gets high security for defending Kasab

Mumbai: Advocate Anjali Waghmare Wednesday agreed to defend Pakistani terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir alias Kasab, accused of the Mumbai terror attacks, after she was provided high security. Waghmare Tuesday said she was reconsidering taking the sensational case after the Shiv Sena staged a protest outside her Worli residence against her move to defend Kasab. Waghmare Wednesday informed Special Judge M.L. Tahilyani that she was prepared to take up Kasab's case. "I am ready and have no problems in continuing with the case," she told the court. The trial in the Mumbai terror attacks is due to begin here next Monday. Judge Tahilyani ordered that Waghmare be provided with "adequate security" by the state police. The judge, who had appointed another lawyer K.P. Pawar for the case, asked him whether he was also ready to fight the case. Following Pawar's consent, the judge said the duo would be provided with another junior lawyer to assist them in the case, as per the provisions of the law. Anjali and Pawar - both empanelled on the Maharashtra Legal Aid Committee - were appointed as government lawyers by Tahilyani Monday for the Kasab trial. In a related development, Special Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam said, "It was wrong to protest against the lawyer" who would represent one of the main accused in the Mumbai terror attacks trial. Nikam told journalists that as per the Indian legal system the case of each accused can be pleaded with legal assistance and every accused has a right to defend himself. "Such behaviour (protests by Shiv Sena) could be a contempt of the honourable court," Nikam said. Tuesday morning, a shaken Anjali called on the Mumbai Police top brass and informed them about the vehement protests outside her Worli residence by the Shiv Sena. The Worli police later nabbed nine Shiv Sena activists for intimidating and demonstrating outside Anjali's residence while Chaudhary was named as the "wanted" man. Chaudhary led a mob of over 500 at Anjali's Worli residence late Monday night, raising anti-Anjali slogans and demanding that she should not take up Kasab's case. The incident occurred near the Worli police camp where Anjali lives with her police officer husband Ramesh Waghmare. Anjali and K.P. Pawar - both empanelled on the Maharashtra Legal Aid Committee - were appointed as government lawyers for Kasab by Special Judge M.L. Tahilyani Monday. Despite repeated attempts, Anjali remained incommunicado for her comments. Anjali said Monday she took up the assignment as she felt very "disturbed and concerned" at the delay in such an important trial. "I was feeling very disturbed and concerned that such an important trial is held up for so long only because the accused has nobody to defend him. This is the sole reason I offered my services on behalf of the Legal Aid Committee," she told News24live team

Congress, BSP trying to trap Varun: Rajnath

Raipur: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Rajnath Singh on Wednesday asserted that Varun Gandhi was being "politically and legally" supported by the party. He accused the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of "exploiting" the National Security Act (NSA) to "trap" the BJP nominee in Pilibhit in the Lok Sabha polls.

"What is happening with Varun Gandhi is unfortunate. He is being harassed and the BJP condemns it," Rajnath Singh said at a press conference in Raipur.

The 'other' Gandhi, the BJP nominee from the Utar Pradesh Lok Sabha seat, is now in jail on charges of vilifying Muslims in his campaign speeches.

"The information I have been getting from Varun Gandhi's secretary is very disturbing. The episode is a shame for the nation. The BSP and Congress are trying to trap him," Rajnath Singh said.

"I wanted to personally meet Varun Gandhi but he is jailed in Uttar Pradesh and I am campaigning in other states. So I have asked Venkaiah Naidu to meet him and express the party's support. The BJP is politically and legally rallying behind Varun Gandhi," the BJP President said.

"His detention under the NSA is shameful. It is the joint act of the Congress and BSP. Where do they want to lead the country?" asked Rajnath Singh.

The Uttar Pradesh government had on Sunday invoked the NSA against Varun Gandhi, the BJP's Lok Sabha candidate from the seat held earlier by his mother Maneka Gandhi, for his reported hate speeches and mob violence during his arrest on Saturday.

"The Congress and BSP have created an Emergency-like situation by exploiting the NSA. Varun Gandhi has no criminal record," said the BJP President.

For reasons of security, Varun Gandhi was shifted from the prison in Pilibhit to a jail in Uttar Pradesh's Etah town at around 1:30 hrs IST on Wednesday.

"There is a threat to Varun Gandhi's life. The centre, Uttar Pradesh government and Election Commission should take note of this and ensure foolproof security for him," said Rajnath Singh.

"The Congress and BSP have crossed all limits to gain political mileage. They are playing with fire. The BJP will not remain quiet," he added.

Waghmare agrees to defend Kasab in 26/11 case

Mumbai: Anjali Waghmare has agreed to defend Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack case after being assured Z-category security by the government.

Waghmare on Wednesday conveyed her decision to the special court to continue as Kasab's lawyer.

"I shall continue with the case. There are no problems," Waghmare told the court.

Addressing the media outside the court she said, "Please not take me negative. I never anticipated the attack on me. After that I got the Z-security. I am doing everything on my own risk but my life is under threat."

She said she was mentally prepared to defend Kasab a day after she said that she wanted some more time to review her decision after violent protests by Shiv Sainiks outside her house on Monday night.

Meanwhile, Kasab's second advocate KP Pawar will also seek police protection.

Waghmare was chosen by the court from the state Legal Aid Cell to represent Kasab.

She is the wife of Mumbai Police Assistant Police Commissioner Ramesh Waghmare and lives in the same residential complex that lost police officers Shashank Shinde and Tukaram Ombale.

Ombale was killed while capturing Kasab alive.

Waghmare was chosen as she is senior-most member of Maharashtra's Legal Aid Cell.

The 40-year old was educated in Pune, but shifted based to Mumbai after she married Ramesh Waghmare.

Waghmare practices in the Sessions and High Court. She is also representing some of the accused in Telgi stamp scam case and Karimullah, an accused in the 1993 Mumbai blast case.

I'm my own man; Sonia doesn't constrain me: PM

London: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said Sonia Gandhis management of the Congress doesn’t “constrain” him and she has taken a “burden” off him.

"I am not constrained by the fact that the Congress party's management is looked after by Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi," he told the Financial Times newspaper in London.

"It is a distinct advantage the fact that the Congress president has carried this heavy burden of managing the party and bringing various political parties together in the United Progressive Alliance is a positive element. It's not a constraint on me," he said.

Sing said 9 per cent economic growth was his government’s best achievement. "The UPA had been able to increase the trajectory of India's economic growth rate to a new high of close to 9 per cent while at the same time ensuring that our growth process is more socially and regionally inclusive."

Inclusive Growth has been our watchword and that is what we are delivering. We have increased the income of our farming community by ensuring they get better prices," he said.

Security experts brace for virus outbreak today

Boston: A malicious software program that has infected millions of computers could enter a more menacing phase on Wednesday, from an outright attack to a quiet mutation that would further its spread.

Computer security experts who have analysed the Conficker worm's code say it is designed to begin a new phase on April 1, and while it's unclear whether it will unleash havoc or remain dormant, its stubborn presence is rattling businesses with multimillion-dollar budgets to fight cyber crime.

Conficker, believed to reside on 2 - 12 million computers worldwide, is designed to turn an infected PC into a slave that responds to commands sent from a remote server that controls an army of slave computers known as a botnet.

"It can be used to attack as well as to spy. It can destroy files, it can connect to addresses on the Internet and it can forward your e-mail," said Gadi Evron, an expert on botnets who helps governments protect against cyber crime.

But like many security experts, he doubts Wednesday will see a big attack.

The virus has been powerful enough to attack infected computers for months by exploiting weaknesses in Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Evron and several other analysts said Wednesday's change could simply give Conficker enhanced functionality, possibly making it more dangerous.

"This is the electronic equivalent of being told there is a major storm that has a 20 per cent chance of hitting," said Mark Rasch, an executive at Secure IT Experts who spent 25 years prosecuting computer crimes at the US Department of Justice.

"It's not time to hide in the bunker. But it might be prudent to look out the window," he added.

In February, Microsoft announced it was offering a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for creating Conficker, saying the worm constituted a "criminal attack."

India hopes reality will override differences at G20

London: Acknowledging some serious differences among G20 members on how the world should tackle the worst economic crisis in decades, India hopes the urgent need to address the issue will force that elusive consensus.

Ahead of the G20 summit in London on Thursday, being attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Indian officials said there remained major differences, notably between Europe and the US as well as between the developed and the rich nations on some key issues.

But they said there was hope yet.

"Clearly there is a crisis," an official said. "But the realisation that the global crisis cannot be resolved by individual countries should lead to some concrete outcomes. The political will for that will be provided Thursday."

Some of the differences among the G20 members include the quantum of additional money to be provided to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for lending to nations that need it the most and how the global financial system can be reformed.

India, so far, has chosen not to reveal its strategy.

But approached by both the least developed as well as African nations to voice their views at G20, India has sought to send out a clear message that protectionism will not be tolerated and that flow of credit to needy countries must continue.

"When we talk about inclusive growth in our own country, how can we not but articulate the need for inclusive growth across the globe," said an official, requesting anonymity.

Ahead of his G20 summit meeting, Manmohan Singh had articulated similar views and said emerging and developing economies needed access to adequate funds to be able to meet the challenges posed by the current global slowdown.

"It is an unfortunate reality that the effects of the slowdown have spread across the world and developing countries, particularly those in Africa, are facing its worst consequences," he said.

"It is important and necessary for the summit to take credible decisions which will help to halt and reverse the current slowdown and to instil a sense of confidence in the global economy."

About 300 Satyam staff join Bank of America

Mumbai: About 250-300 employees at fraud-hit Indian outsourcer Satyam Computer Services are joining Bank of America, the Business Standard newspaper said on Wednesday.

The employees were working on a Satyam project for Merrill Lynch, which was taken over by the US bank after it was hit by the subprime crisis last year, it said.

The project was not renewed by Merrill after Satyam was caught in India's biggest corporate scandal and the work of managing its database and providing infrastructure support would now be done inhouse, the paper said.

The first of these employees will join Bank of America between April 2 and 8, it said, adding they have been given salary increases of around 10 per cent and joining bonuses. A spokeswoman for Satyam said, "The report is speculative." An official at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch in India said she could not immediately comment.

Satyam, whose market value has slid to $505.6 million from $7 billion last May, is in the midst of a bidding process to find a new buyer. It plunged into a crisis in January after its founder quit as chairman revealing profits had been falsified for years.

Indian engineering conglomerate Larsen & Toubro and mid-sized outsourcer Tech Mahindra are among the suitors, and local media have said U.S. private equity WL Ross & Co was also among the bidders.

Nothing communal about it: MIM gives ticket to Hindu

Hyderabad: Hyderabad's old city region is the traditional stronghold of Andhra Pradesh's most well-known minority party - the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM). The party is led by Asadududin Owaisi.

Post delimitation, the party has been forced to take an unprecedented step. It has for the first time ever, given a ticket to a Hindu.

Asaduddin Owaisi says, "We are a pro-minorirty party but that doesn't stop us from giving tickets to non-minority. We have always encouraged people to come forward."

MIM's first non-Muslim candidate Muralidharan Reddy will contest the Assembly elections from Rajendra Nagar - the constituency that has come up after delimitation. It has 60:40 ratio of Hindus to Muslims compelling the MIM to go in for this image-makeover.

Murlidharan Reddy says, "Asaduddin has given me a ticket on the principle that Hindus and Muslims are all brothers."

Another factor which has prompted MIM to take other communities on board is that this time, the party is facing stiff competition for minority votes. Editor of the popular Urdu daily Siasat, Zahid Alik Khan, is contesting against Owaisi for the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat with support from the TDP as well as the Left parties.

"My main fight is with the MIM who have done nothing for the country or for Hyderabad in the last 50 years. God willing I shall win and prevail," Khan says.

This is the first election that MIM is fighting after its legendary founder President Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi's death. Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi's sons are going all out to plug apprehensions and portray secularism and development, the two much ignored issues till now, as their main agenda.

Orissa tornado death toll rises to 10

Bhubaneswar: The death toll in Tuesday's unseasonal tornado in Orissa rose to 10 Wednesday with the recovery of two more bodies, officials said. "Two dead bodies were found early this morning. We fear there could be more people trapped under the debris," district sub-collector Ranjan Kumar Das told IANS. He added that at least 20 people are suspected to have perished in the storm. The tornado followed by a hailstorm wreaked havoc in at least 11 villages of Rajkanika block in the coastal district of Kendrapada. It struck around 4.30 p.m. Tuesday and continued for nearly one-and-a-half hours. It took several hours for relief and rescue teams to reach the affected villages because a large number of uprooted trees blocked the way. While officials said the number of injured admitted to hospitals is over 100, they fear the figure will rise to 300. The twister was so strong that several vehicles were tossed around like toys. At Arasa village, a tractor crashed to the ground after being lifted into the air by the storm. The driver was killed on the spot. Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, who is on a two-day trip to the state for the poll campaign, is expected to visit the affected areas Wednesday, official sources said.

Obama to meet Manmohan with high-profile team

London: The much awaited meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama here Thursday will include a high-profile team from Washington, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Officials accompanying the prime minister to the G20 meeting here said both countries attached much importance to the first meeting Manmohan Singh will have with Obama since he took office in January. "A lot of preparatory work has gone into it," an official said. "From their side there will be six top people including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner," the official added. He said the Indian side will include Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. The prime minister is here to primarily attend the G20 summit on ways to tackle the current global financial crisis, and has scheduled bilateral talks with his host and British counterpart Gordon Brown as well as Obama. Ahead of the visit, the prime minister had said he would like to discuss a host of issues with the US president during what officials said would be a 45-minute affair. "This will be our first meeting and will be an opportunity for us to review our bilateral relations as well as hold discussions on important regional and global issues such as terrorism, the situation in Afghanistan, energy security and climate change," the prime minister had said. (

India concerned at Pakistan's 'soft touch' on Mumbai attack

London: India is "anguished" by Pakistan's "soft touch" in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to book and is concerned at the possibility of the recent Lahore-style attacks on its own soil. "We feel there is a very soft touch approach," said an Indian official accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the G20 summit here, when asked about New Delhi's stand on Pakistan's approach in investigating the Mumbai terror attacks. "This is causing us a great deal of anguish," the official said. The official, who requested anonymity, said enough evidence had been given to Islamabad that the identified masterminds behind the attacks were in Pakistan and that those who had carried out the attacks were Pakistani nationals. "The best thing for us will be if they are handed over to us. Otherwise they should be tried as per the laws of their land," the official said. "That is only fair." Prior to leaving for London, the prime minister had asked Pakistan to show some "visible results" on how it has dealt with the information India has shared with Islamabad on those responsible for the Mumbai savagery -- if Islamabad wanted the composite dialogue process to resume. "Pakistan has to prove (it) is doing all that is possible," Manmohan Singh said, responding to President Asif Ali Zardari's suggestion that the two countries resume the dialogue process, frozen since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks that left over 170 people dead. "Pakistan should show visible results on the 26/11 probe," he had said. Referring to the most recent Islamist militant attack on a police academy near Lahore, another official in the prime minister's delegation to G20 said that India had "no joy whatsoever" over the killings and that the media should not make any such insinuation. "Pakistan and India have a common objective of eliminating terrorism. Pakistan has to come to grips with this problem," he said, adding that the lesson for India was that terror was not a diffused phenomenon. "What the recent attacks have shown is terrorism and extremism are fused and un-segmented," he said. "We are concerned that every day when we look at these incidents, we feel these can happen on our soil also." It was for this reason, he said, that the prime minister had been pushing for Indian intelligence agencies to be agile, beef up their network and spruce up their ability to gather crucial information. Manmohan Singh, who will be holding bilateral talks with US President Barrack Obama on the margins of the G20 meet Thursday, has said that issues like terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be on the agenda. Officials said a lot of preparatory work had gone into the meeting. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner were expected to participate in the meeting.