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Slapped by fine, India TV withdraws from NBA


India TV on April 10, 2009 withdrew from the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) in protest against the self-regulatory body’s decision to slap a fine of Rs 100,000 on the channel for allegedly airing a fake interview with a US-based analyst, Farhana Ali, who is of Pakistani origin.

India TV also protested the “partisan functioning of the NBA” and blamed its decision on the alleged machinations of the India Today Group, G Krishnan, CEO of TV Today network, and also the President of NBA.

In a letter to the NBA President, Rohit Bansal, COO, India TV stated: “We are compelled to notify our withdrawal from the membership of the NBA. This communication may also be kindly treated as a notice for withdrawal from the membership of the NBA with immediate effect.”

In its first order, the NBA slapped a Rs 1 lakh fine on India TV for violating the “principles of self-regulation and specific guidelines” in handling the story, based allegedly on an interview with Farhana Ali, a US-based writer, lecturer and policy analyst.

The NBA Standards Dispute Redressal Authority ordered that India TV pay the fine within a month and run an apology as a ticker on any one day between 8 pm and 9 pm, five times within a space of 12 minutes each, stating that Ali’s story was a misrepresentation of facts.

In a letter to the News Broadcasting Standards Disputes Redressal Authority, India TV contended that Ali had already “accepted and appreciated” an on-air apology run by the channel.

The letter said, “This complaint was earnestly addressed and a corrigendum aired. The complaint was voluntarily shared with the NBA Authority. The recording of the retraction was made available to Ali and she in writing accepted the corrigendum.

In fact, as a measure of her satisfaction with our sincerity, the complainant has gone on to voluntarily offer a live appearance on issues of her expertise.”

The channel had followed due diligence in addressing Ali’s grievances. India TV also argued that the NBA had not taken into consideration Ali’s letter before passing the order on April 6.

Earlier, the channel had asked the NBA authority to grant it a personal hearing at its next meeting and consider Ali’s letter.

The letter also stated, “The facts of the present case would demonstrate that the Secretariat of the NBA by its acts of omission and commission has not only frustrated the entire objective behind this noble cause, but has now compelled us to withdraw our membership from the NBA.”

The letter added, “Under these circumstances, it is apparent that the NBA Secretariat has made the ‘Redressal Authority’ to proceed without having the copies of the e-mails, which were annexed with our response dated March 19, 2009, and our letter dated March 31, 2009 annexing therewith the e-mail of Ali, after which there was no necessity for the ‘Redressal Authority’ to proceed any further. We were never given any notice by the NBA Secretariat regarding the time, date and place for personal hearing and representation through counsel for defending ourselves before the ‘Redressal Authority’.”

In addition, the letter allaged, “We would be entirely justified in our belief that the NBA Secretariat, under the presidentship of the channel head of the TV Today Group, has virtually become the personal fiefdom/ a personal office of the TV Today Group as it has become apparent that not only was there a complete absence of objectivity/ fairness in the functioning of the NBA Secretariat in assisting the ‘Redressal Authority’, it seems that the NBA Secretariat works overtime in indulging itself in such acts of omission and commission whereby – on the one hand the most relevant documents and facts were not placed before the Redressal Authority and on the other hand, we stood deprived of our invaluable right of personal hearing and representation through counsel before the Authority, in violation of the mandatory regulations in this regard and as stated hereinabove.”

“Without prejudice and subject to all other actions which are available to us in accordance with law and in continuation of our letter dated April 9, 2009, while expressing our deep anguish and serious protest against such partisan functioning of the NBA Secretariat, we are compelled to notify our withdrawal from the membership of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). This communication may also be kindly treated as a notice for withdrawal from the membership of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) with immediate effect,” the letter further stated.

It may be recalled that Ali had alleged that India TV had misused an interview that she had given to Reuters news agency, by “deceptively dubbing” it in Hindi, a language she does not know or speak. She charged that this act was “factually incorrect, unethical and unjustified”, a statement issued by the NBA said. The channel had run the said interview as part of its coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Despite repeated attempts NBA could not be contacted at the time of filing the story.

A lot of questions have been raised following this episode and we have surely not heard the last of it. We will keep you updated on all the developments.

SUN Direct Launches High Definition (HD) Services In India

Sun Direct Pvt Ltd, the leading direct-to-home (DTH) service provider is all set to redefine the television viewing in the country. Sun Direct today created history by launching the first ever High Definition (HD) broadcast on DTH platform in India. Speaking on the occasion Mr. Tony D’Silva, COO of Sun Direct said “We believe that in the constantly changing viewer-ship dynamics and taste, to keep the viewer continuously happy and engaged we need to offer them new and exciting options and HD is another first from the Sun Direct stable. HD is a visual delight and we are extremely happy to launch the world class services for our audience in India.” Adding another feather to the cap Sun Direct has crossed the 3 million subscriber base since its launch in December 2007. Sun Direct caters to every segment of the viewer ship through its innovative content packaging. “Another landmark achievement for us is crossing the 3 million mark subscriber base by March 2009, as committed earlier; this achievement qualifies us to be the No 2 service DTH provider. In the coming fiscal year we look forward to occupy the pole position. We have added more customers than any other DTH player in the last one year and in the coming days we will be adding more innovative features, services and channels in our offerings.” Added Mr. D’Silva HDTV is considered as one of the world’s best digital broadcast platforms with a higher resolution than traditional television system. The images and pictures appear more clear and sharp and sound quality is also enhanced. HDTV will improve the viewer experience by about 5 times over a regular television. The Common-wealth Games next year will unveil this next generation of television viewing in India as the same will be telecast in HD and it will be a viewer’s delight. Various international channels and content providers have been queued up for obtaining mandatory statuary compliance for broadcasting HD in India. Sun Direct offers the biggest spread of 41 add-on packages ranging from Rs 6 to Rs 300 per month of the most viewed channels. Sun Direct offers a basic package of over 130+ channels in digital clarity with DVD quality pictures and sound for a introductory offer of Rs.499*( 5 months subscription i.e. just Rs.99/-* month) –(*Taxes Extra),along with free Dish and Set top box, excluding installation charges. * First DTH player to launch MPEG 4 Technology * First DTHservice to launch HD (High Definition) TV. * First DTH service to provide FREE customer premises equipments (set top box & dish) * First DTH service to provide 41 add on packages * First DTH player to achieve 3 million subscribers in approximately 1 year Sun Direct offers a total of 200+ channels and has all the most viewed and new channels broadcasted in the country. The packages are customized in such a way that the subscriber pays only for what they watch. Sun Direct has also recently introduced International channels in all their basic packs.


Prime Minister is using hit-and-run tactics: Jaitley

Jammu: Taking on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday likened his criticism of the party's prime ministerial candidate L K Advani to "hit-and-run" tactics and said it was not expected of a Prime Minister.

BJP General Secretary Arun Jaitley, addressing a press conference, said the Prime Minister was using "different tactics not expected of a Prime Minister" to "save himself" from a debate with Advani.

"The tactic that the Prime Minister is using is of hit-and-run," said Jaitley.

"The Prime Minister should admit that he is not in a position to reply or participate in a debate," he said.

On the Prime Minister's remark that he had thought of resigning if the Indo-US nuclear deal had not gone through, Jaitley said it was "durbhagya (unfortunate) that people change their stance with time and forget what they have said earlier."

He said that on October 12, 2007, Manmohan Singh while addressing the Hindustan Times summit had said that if the nuclear deal does not go through, one has to "move on in life".

Recalling that it was the time when the Left parties, which were supporting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government from outside, had threatened to withdraw support over the deal, Jaitley said the Prime Minister had not said then that he would resign over the issue.

"When asked what he would do if the deal is not signed, he said, and these are his words, 'If the deal does not go through, it will be disappointing, but one has to live with disappointments and move on in life. We have a lot of unfinished business, ours is not a one-issue government'."

"However, on Friday he said that he had decided on resigning."

Manmohan Singh, during an interaction with women journalists in New Delhi on Friday evening, had attacked Advani for daring him to a live television debate, and said he did not wish to have a television debate with Advani as he did not want to accord him the privilege of being "an alternative Prime Minister".

Taliban chief Mehsud has links with ISI: report

New York: Mehsud, the chief of Pakistani Taliban, who claimed credit for the recent deadly attack on a police academy near Lahore, has links with the country's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), a media report


Based in lawless border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mehsud was tipped off by ISI, to enable him escape attempts to capture or kill him in the last two years, Newsweek reported.

Several operations were launched by Pakistani security forces in the last couple of years to kill or capture Mehsud, who is also suspected to have hand in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the news magazine noted.

But each time he vanished without incident.

He heads a group known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban and has made a name for himself since late 2007 as one of the militants' most ambitious leaders, Newsweek said.

Two counter-terrorism expert familiar with official US government's reporting told the magazine that officials in both Washington and Islamabad suspect Mehsud has contacts inside the ISI, Pakistan's "inscrutable and sprawling

intelligence agency".

Mehsud's contacts, the theory goes, are tipping him off before Pakistani troops can pounce, Newsweek said.

The report quoted a Pakistani source, who follows the issue, as saying that high-level American officials have shared with their counterparts in Islamabad some intelligence, indicating that renegade ISI elements helped Mehsud's group train for the December 2007 assassination of Pakistan's former

prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

US officials, it said, either declined to discuss that point or said they couldn't confirm it.

Given Mehsud's "odious reputation" and Pakistan's "purported knowledge" of his whereabouts, "it's a puzzle why they're ignoring and avoiding any strike against him," one tribal elder in the region told Newsweek.

"Baitullah is very much mixed up in Afghanistan and with Al Qaeda," one Afghan Taliban commander told the news magazine, adding that Mehsud was capable of shipping foreign fighters into Afghanistan "and even [farther] west".

Several US officials consider such threats to be mere chest-thumping, but they don't rule out the possibility that Mehsud could be cooperating with better-equipped jihadists, such as the remnants of Qaeda's high command, the report said.

Frances Townsend, a top counter-terrorism adviser to former president George W Bush, notes that Mehsud has already demonstrated his ability to mount attacks inside Pakistani cities, well beyond his base of operations.

"You have got to be careful about dismissing [his more expansive threats] out of hand," Townsend warned.

Advani not PM material: Manmohan Singh

New Delhi: In his sharpest riposte yet to BJP leader L K Advani, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said he did not wish to have a television debate with him because he did not want to accord him the privilege of being "an alternative prime minister".

Attacking Advani for repeatedly calling him a weak prime minister, Manmohan Singh retorted: "I am not used to abusive language. That is the culture inherited from parents, from teachers and the concept of what Indianness is."

"Using harsh language does not solve any problem and accentuates conflict," he said in his interaction with members of the Indian Women's Press Corps.

"Kamzor ya strong judge karne ke liye zor zor se baatein karne se nahin hota (By merely talking loudly one does not become strong or weak) ," he said.

Alluding to Advani's challenge to him for a American-style nationally televised debate, Manmohan Singh said that I can't match "Advaniji in public speaking or asserting things.

"I am not a good speaker, but I take decisions.

"I believe that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What is the record of Advani?," he asked.

"The BJP has not allowed Parliament to function. The BJP shied away from all these discussions and now Advani wants to come and debate with me. And I don't want to give him the privilege that he is an alternative prime minister," he said.

Singh also took on Advani for taunting him for not contesting Lok Sabha polls. "There have been PMs from Rajya Sabha. Advani has to amend the constitution to ensure that his wishes prevail. Indira Gandhi had been one for one and half years, H D Deve Gowda, I K Gujral too," he replied when asked whether he was planning to contest Lok Sabha polls.

Tornados, wildfires leave eight dead in US

Washington: A wave of violent spring weather across the US left at least eight people dead and dozens more injured, after severe storms spawned tornadoes in the south and wildfires burned in the southcentral states of Oklahoma and Texas.

A mother and her infant daughter were killed when a tornado touched down in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Friday afternoon, the Daily News Journal reported.

Tornado warnings were also issued across the southern states of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina late on Friday, the National Weather Service said. Severe weather from the same system also generated tornadoes in Kentucky and could continue to move north, the Weather Channel reported.

An earlier tornado killed three people in Arkansas overnight.

Separately, wildfires left a trail of ash with 200 homes destroyed in Oklahoma and Texas and three confirmed deaths, media reports said.

At least one of the fires in a suburban area near Oklahoma city was suspected to have been purposefully set, officials told the Oklahoman newspaper.

Management 'student ragged, beaten, blinded'

New Delhi: A 19-year-old management student may have permanently lost his vision after his seniors beat him up in a Coimbatore college last month.

Akhil Dev alleges his senior students at the PSG College of Arts and Science punched him in the eyes and hit him on his head with a steel chair and a frying pan on March 7.

Dev, a student of Business Management and Information Systems at the college, was allegedly assaulted after he refused to pay the senior students money for the second time after giving them Rs 3,000.

“On March 7, at 11 pm, they to came to my room and locked my friends outside. They told me to remove my shirt, which I did. Then they asked me to lick their shoes and when I bent down they started hitting me on my back,” Dev told .

“They hit me with whatever they could find in that room. (Doctors say) there has been permanent damage to my eyesight,” he said.

Doctors say the Dev has nine holes nine in his retinas and may lose his eyesight by the time he turns 25.

The college, which has an anti-ragging cell, has suspended five students after a complaint by Dev’s parents against them.

Society Against Violence in Education (SAVE), the country's only registered anti-ragging NGO, has calculated that nine teenagers are killed every year due to ragging while hundreds of them get seriously injured, hospitalised or disabled due to ragging by their seniors in colleges.

In February this year, taking serious note of an alarming rise in incidents of ragging in educational institutions across the country, the Supreme Court accepted the recommendations of the K R Raghavan Committee to curb the menace.

Lawyer of Chota Shakeel's aide shot dead

Mangalore: An advocate representing underworld don Chota Shakeel's aide Rashid Malbari was shot dead by unidentified gunmen here, police said Friday. "Naushad Kashim was gunned down at around 9 p.m. Thursday near his home in the Attavar locality," Mangalore Police Superintendent A.S. Rao told IANS. He added that six live bullets were found on the spot and two people might have been involved in the attack. Kashim's body was sent for postmortem. A murder case was registered under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) but no arrests had been made so far. Rao said the police is trying to find out if the victim's family had received any threats recently. Rashid Malabari alias Double, 38, has a large number of murder and extortion cases registered against him. He was arrested in Kasargod in neighbouring Kerala March 29. He is said to have come into contact with Chhota Shakeel in 1995 in Dubai. Soon after, he had begun to carry out 'hawala' (illegal money transaction) business, extortion and murders. Chhota Shakeel is Dawood Ibrahim's lieutenant.

US Sikhs protest army ban on turban, long hair

New York: Sikh organisations in America are launching protests and a signature campaign in favour of two Sikh military trainees who have been asked to remove their turbans and cut their hair to become eligible for active duty in the US Army. Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi, a doctor, and Second-Lieutenant Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, have just completed an army programme that pays for medical education in return for military service. The two turbaned Sikhs, who were set to join active duty in July, have been asked by the US Army to remove their turbans and hair to become eligible for active duty. But at the time of their enrolment, the army had assured them that their turbans and unshorn hair "would not be a problem", according to Sikh Coalition which plans a signature campaign to get 15,000 people to write to the US Army to stop discrimination against the two Sikhs. In a statement here Thursday the coalition said that Kalsi and Rattan maintained their Sikh identity throughout their medical graduate school, during army training, at army ceremonies and in army medical facilities. But four years later when the two Sikhs are about to join active duty, the army has gone back on its assurance and pressuring them to remove their turbans and hair, the coalition added. The Sikh organization said that on Baisakhi day Tuesday it will launch a campaign to "protect Sikhs' right to serve in the US Army with their Sikh identity intact.'' Under it, 15,000 people will be asked to write to the US Army to end discrimination against the two men. Next day, it said, it will file a formal complaint with the Department of Defense against victimization of Captain Kalsi and Second-Lieutenant Rattan. "After four years of training in army facilities, I was shocked to learn that the army would go back on its promise, and expect me to choose between my faith or my service to my country,'' the coalition statement quotes Captain Kalsi as saying. "There is nothing about my religion that stops me from doing my job. I know I can serve well without compromising my faith.''' The US Army banned "conspicuous'' religious articles of faith for its members in 1981. But some Sikhs who had joined before that date were allowed to practice their religious identity.

Taliban eye Islamabad, threaten to pull out of Swat peace deal

Islamabad: After consolidating their position in a vast swathe of the country's restive northwest, Taliban militants now seem to be eying this Pakistani capital, even as they threatened to walk out of a peace deal in the Swat valley if the federal government doesn't play ball. A large group of Taliban fighters has moved into the Buner area, an otherwise peaceful district just 100 km northwest of Islamabad, despite local elders asking them to stay out, and sparked fears that they could next move on to the federal capital. "The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the Mujahideen," The Nation on Thursday quoted Taliban commander Mullah Nazeer Ahmed as saying. "Tense calm prevailed as armed militants expanded their activities to Bagra and Kalabatt areas of Buner despite repeated calls by the Quami Jirga (elders' council) to vacate the district," Dawn News channel said on Thursday. Meanwhile, uncertainty loomed on Thursday as a radical cleric who had brokered a peace deal with the Taliban in Swat shut down his camp in the area after accusing the federal government of insincerity in ratifying the pact. Speaking to reporters in Swat, Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz e Shariah-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) said he was not pulling out of the deal but was only shutting his peace camp in the area. Initial reports said the cleric had withdrawn from the deal inked Feb 16 between the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government and the TNSM, which is aligned to the Taliban, on imposing Sharia laws in seven districts of the province, including the picturesque Swat Valley that was once a popular tourist destination. Sufi Mohammad had subsequently held talks with local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, who is also his son-in-law, on the militants laying down their arms. The cleric also said that while the NWFP government was sincere in implementing the pact, the federal government was dragging its feet on ratifying the accord. He maintained that peace could not return to the region unless Sharia laws were in place. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who had given the go-ahead for the deal, has said he would ratify it only if peace returned to the area. Zardari, however, has been under immense pressure to turn down the deal, particularly after the emergence last week of a video depicting a 17-year-old girl publicly receiving 38 lashes over an alleged illicit relationship. Though the incident was denied, it sparked universal outrage. The president's approval is necessary because the provincial government cannot amend its laws without his nod. The deal with the Taliban had attracted international condemnation as it was seen to be bowing to the militants. The Taliban-TNSM's main demand was the replacement of regular courts with Islamic courts. There are reports that over 70 Sharia Courts have already been established in Swat. Protracted fighting between the Pakistani security forces and the Taliban has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee Swat. Estimates vary, but human rights monitors believe that up to 800,000 of the valley's 1.8 million people may have left.

High alert in Pak, US embassy shuts operations

New Delhi: A heightened security alert has been sounded in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad amid reports of a terror threat from Taliban. The US embassy has suspended its routine consular services.

"Regular consular services, such as visa processing for Pakistani nationals, won't be available in the capital tomorrow. But the embassy will still be available to provide emergency services to Americans," the spokesman was quoted as saying by Geo TV.

The US government has reportedly issued a fresh advisory for its citizens to remain watchful in Pakistan and has directed them not to travel and stay there unnecessarily, the channel said.

While officials say it’s due to heightened security in the capital, it's not only the US embassy that is on alert. International aid agencies in the capital will also be closed for the same reason.

This comes amid reports that terror groups may be planning to strike in Islamabad. The US is particularly vulnerable because of its drone attacks targeting the taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The last few weeks has seen terror attacks rising in the country. The last attack took place in north Waziristan killing 17.

In fact, there have also been reports of the Taliban moving into big cities like Islamabad and Karachi in the recent days to seek refuge against US drone attacks in the tribal areas.

New battlelines are being drawn in Pakistan's tribal areas. Reports say the Taliban are abandoning sanctuaries there in the face of repeated drone attacks from the US.

But this has only led to more sinister consequences. The Taliban is now leaving the tribal areas, their safe haven till now, to urban areas.

Reportedly suicide squads are regrouping in cities like Lahore, Karachi and scores of smaller towns like Buner which is just 100 km north of Islamabad.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also asked Pakistan to do more to tackle terrorism.

"Increasingly we have seen terrorist links with Pakistan and

Britain. I'll be talking to the Pakistan President Mr Zardari. We want the

closest of cooperation between Britain and Pakistan to deal with countering

terrorism, and I think one of the lessons we're learning from the events of

the last few years is that Pakistan has got to do more to root out the

terrorist elements in its country at all," Brown said.

UK terror suspects were planning weekend attacks: cops

London: The chief constable for Britain's Greater Manchester Police indicated on Thursday there would have been the potential for terrorist acts this weekend if police had not made a dozen arrests.

"We would urge the public to be vigilant ... and contact the terrorist hotline if they see something suspicious," Chief Constable Peter Fahy said at a news conference Thursday.

Britain's chief terrorism officer resigned from the police force Thursday, a day after he accidentally exposed a sensitive document about the investigation.

The 12 people were taken into custody at several locations, mainly in northwest Manchester, Fahy said, and counterfoils police were questioning them and carrying out searches as part of the probe.

"A number of premises are being served, are being searched," he said.

The terrorism threat level, which he said is already at a heightened state in Britain because of perceived threats, will not be raised, Fahy said.

He urged Britons to carry out their usual activities and said they didn't have to avoid certain locations. Arrest locations mentioned in the media are "pure speculation," he said, adding, "There is no particular threat against any particular location."

Fahy said the probe had reached a point where police felt they had to take action -- even without the blunder made by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, who inadvertently revealed a secret document to two media photographers at the prime minister's residence.

The document contained the names of those to be arrested. Once the word was out, police rushed to make the arrests. Fahy said those actions would have been taken in the next 24 hours anyway. Manchester is about 200 miles northwest of London.

"I have today offered my resignation in the knowledge that my action could have compromised a major counterterrorism operation," Quick said in a statement. "I deeply regret the disruption caused to colleagues undertaking the operation and remain grateful for the way in which they adapted quickly and professionally to a revised time scale."

Steve Back, one of the photographers who snapped the image, said he was at No. 10 Downing Street to cover a breakfast meeting of more than 30 chief constables. He photographed Quick as he arrived toward the end of the meeting, he said.

"I didn't know what I had until I put it in my computer," Back told CNN.

He zoomed in and was able to read parts of the document, with "Secret" printed atop the page.

"This is a Security service led investigation into suspected AQ [al Qaeda] driven attack planning within the UK," the document read. It described the "planned detention" of 11 people in Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

Ironically, the bottom of the document read, "Media strategy has been ratified."

Resigning was the only acceptable option for Quick, counterterrorism analyst Will Geddes told CNN. The blunder "does raise major concerns which would have led to a very major inquiry," Geddes said.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson said he continued to hold Quick in the highest regard despite his error.

London Mayor Boris Johnson also praised Quick's "long and distinguished career" and said he accepted the resignation with regret. "Bob understands fully that the security breach which occurred yesterday was a serious issue for which he has taken personal responsibility," Johnson said.

Quick is not the first official to be photographed with sensitive documents at Downing Street.

In May, then-Housing Minister Caroline Flint was photographed carrying notes that warned of a plunge in the property market. Photographers have caught Communities Secretary Hazel Blears carrying plans for a reality TV show starring the prime minister.

Though Downing Street is blocked to the public, the news media are allowed to stand as close as 20 feet from the front door.

"Time and time again, I've spoken to the press officer in Downing Street about this," said Back, the photographer.

Assistant Commissioner John Yates will take over as head of specialist operations, Stephenson said.

Recession effect: Need an H-1B visa? Now's the time

Washington: With the demand for jobs going down in a recession hit economy, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS) has received only 42,000 applications for H-1B visas for skilled workers against the Congressionally-mandated 65,000 cap.

Additionally, the agency has received approximately 20,000 applications from advanced degrees for the fiscal year 2010 programme beginning October 1, the agency said on Thursday.

But it is continuing to accept advanced degree petitions since experience has shown that not all petitions received are approvable.

Congress mandated that the first 20,000 of these types of petitions are exempt from any fiscal year cap on available H-1B visas.

Last year, in the first five days the USCIS received 163,000 applications in both categories. In 2007, they filled the annual cap in two days.

In a reversal of trend the advanced degree holders quota has filled before the general quota this year.

Besides, recession new restrictions on employing H1B holders by bailed out companies has also acted as a dampener on the visa application.

US Senators Richard Durbin and Charles Grassley have sponsored a bill to further restrict the H1-B programme, which the Senate will soon take up.

Meanwhile, USCIS also announced plans to naturalise 200 new citizens from 56 countries including India at a special ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth.

USCIS naturalised more than one million new citizens in fiscal year 2008.


Some Mumbai attackers may be Pakistanis: Zardari

London: President Asif Ali Zardari has admitted that more than one of the 26/11 Mumbai attackers "may" be Pakistanis, but says the mayhem had "significant support from within India itself". "Our investigation into the Mumbai attacks is continuing. Some of these terrorists may in fact have been born in Pakistan," Zardari said in an interview to The Independent published on Wednesday. "But we believe that this operation was international, with significant support from within India itself," he added. Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist arrested during the Nov 26-29 Mumbai mayhem, has admitted to being a Pakistani national, a fact that has been confirmed by the country's Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Pakistan is, however, silent on the identities of the nine other terrorists who were killed during the attacks and whose bodies are still lying in a Mumbai morgue. India says it has submitted DNA evidence and other proof pointing to the Pakistani nationalities of the dead men. Zardari also brushed aside Indian complaints that Pakistan was not doing enough to bring to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks that claimed over 170 lives, including those of 26 foreigners. "I think the Indian government is not dissatisfied with the level of our cooperation. We have offered to help, and we have helped," the president said. Noting that there had been "substantial arrests of people within groups that may have been involved in the Mumbai attacks", Zardari added: "But we need cooperation from India to build the case for effective prosecution of these accused in our courts." Pakistan has named eight men for their alleged role in the Mumbai attacks. Six have been arrested and one is at large. Kasab is the eighth. Zardari also thought that "many" of the extremists "are the same people" who conduct terrorist acts in Pakistan. "Mumbai was attacked and we condemn it. But let us remember that every day Pakistan is attacked by terrorists. They destroyed our Marriott hotel in Islamabad and killed over 50 people," the president pointed out. Saying that Pakistan will "cooperate" with all nations, "including our neighbours" in identifying and pursuing terrorists "wherever and whoever they are", Zardari added: "We will prosecute them and we will punish them upon conviction. "Remember, this is OUR war. Our children and women are dying, and hundreds of our soldiers have been killed. Pakistan above all nations on earth is in the trenches of the war against these fanatics and terrorists. Our very existence is at stake," he contended.

Notice issued to 12 schools in Delhi for arbitrary fee hike

New Delhi: The Delhi government on Wednesday issued show cause notices to 12 unaided public schools for taking arbitrary decisions on the issue of fee hike, a statement issued by the state government said. "Keeping in view reported instances of arbitrary decisions by certain schools, the Directorate of Education today (on Wednesday) issued show cause notices to 12 such schools," said an official statement here. Delhi government's Education Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely also directed all the deputy directors of education department to remain available in their respective offices to redress grievances of parents of this issue. The schools have been demanding up to 50 percent tuition fee hike in order to implement the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations on teachers' salaries and arrears. In January, the Delhi government created five slabs on the basis of the existing tuition fee in schools, allowing them a maximum fee hike of Rs.500. However, since then parents have been protesting against the hike. Lovely issued the direction while chairing a meeting of all the deputy directors. The parents would be able to meet them between 10 a.m. To 12 p.m. On all working days. The government has also requested parents to come forward to submit their complaints to the respective deputy directors, so that necessary action could be taken immediately without any delay. The education minister also made it clear that no school would be allowed to hike fee without due approval by the general body of its parent teacher association in duly convened meeting. "It has also been made clear that the schools would not be able to delete name of any student and deny issue of report card on the basis of alleged non submission of enhanced fee," the official statement said.

Now make calls from US to India for 1 cent per minute

New Delhi: Leading telecom service provider Bharti Airtel on Wednesday launched a new offer for its US customers which will enable them to make calls to India at 1 cent per minute using online calling cards. "With our IndiaOne Offer, we are delighted to take the lead in offering the best value for US to India calling. Our tariff at 1 cent per minute is a compelling customer proposition and is in line with Airtel's commitment to make calling to India more affordable," Airtel executive director Syed Safawi said. "Through this offer, we are looking at delivering unmatched value to the three million strong NRI population in the US, who reach out to their friends and family in India," he added. Airtel has also launched a number of new features for its US consumers, including auto recharge, free SMS from the web and audio conferencing facilities. Airtel subscribers can buy this calling card for $10 by logging on to the company's website.

Hearing on Tytler postponed, Sikhs hold protests

New Delhi: A court today postponed till April 28 a hearing involving Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in a case relating to the 1984 anti-Sikh violence while thousands of Sikhs held protests outside the court. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which has filed its closure report in the case last week giving a clean chit to Tytler, argued before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Rakesh Pandit that the court did not have the power to try the case as it involved charges under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), that is, murder. Only a sessions court can try a case of murder. The court summoned the video CD of statements by two witnesses, made before the CBI in the US earlier this year, and adjourned the proceedings to April 28-29. The magistrate said he would hear both sides on those two days before taking a decision on the matter. Tytler, a former central minister, has been nominated by the Congress as Lok Sabha poll candidate from Northeast Delhi. The clean chit has sparked off widespread protests by members of the Sikh community in Delhi and Punjab. Ahead of Thursday's court proceedings, protesters gathered outside the Karkardooma court in east Delhi. Burning effigies and shouting slogans against Tytler, they demanded harsh punishment for those guilty of the mayhem in which 3,000 people, including over 2,000 in Delhi alone, were killed. As police tried to stop her, a woman tried to climb over the barricades and storm the complex. "The perpetrators of the riots who have incited the mob should be brought to book. The court is our last hope. If the court gives a decision, it is good; if it does not, our confidence in Indian democracy will be shaken," said one of the agitators. "Tytler should be locked up and if the court sentences him to death, he should be hanged. We want justice for the victims of 1984 riots," added another. An elderly Sikh said: "We are sure that justice will be served. But the Congress decision to give Sajjan Kumar and Tytler tickets is outrageous. Congress must pay heavy price for supporting Tytler and (Sajjan) Kumar." Reacting to the situation, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said: "By evening, the decision (on whether Tytler will continue to be the Congress nominee in northeast Delhi) will be taken by the Congress party." On April 2, de-sealing its final report in the case in the court, the CBI pleaded that the case against Tytler be closed. On April 28-29, the court may decide on accepting the CBI closure report against Tytler and ordering the quashing of charges against him or order fresh investigation into the case. According to CBI, affidavits in the case by two witnesses, Surender Singh and Jasbir Singh, were inconsistent and contradictory. In January 2002, Surender Singh filed an affidavit before the Justice Nanavati Commission probing the riots, and said Tytler incited a mob to burn a gurdwara and kill Sikhs on Nov 1, 1984. In August 2002, he filed another affidavit pleading ignorance about the first document, the CBI said. In 2006, he filed a third affidavit backing the August 2002 claim and was re-examined in 2008 after which he left for the US. California-based Jasbir Singh, who had earlier been declared untraceable by the CBI, stated in his affidavit that on Nov 3, 1984, he had overheard Tytler commenting on the killing of Sikhs in his then constituency Sadar Bazar. This was one of the seven cases registered by CBI relating to the anti-Sikh riots that took place in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards Oct 31, 1984. Tytler was among the three prominent Congress leaders accused of having incited mobs against the Sikhs in 1984. The other two were Sajjan Kumar, the candidate from South Delhi, and the late H.K.L. Bhagat.

Sikhs storm Delhi court ahead of Tytler hearing

New Delhi: Sikh protestors stormed the Karkardooma court complex in the Capital hours before the hearing on the CBI clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.

Shouting slogans against Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, the protestors tried to scale the court walls. They also tried to break through the police barricades.

Police have been deployed in strength in the area but a massive crowd of Sikhs is still gathered outside the court complex.

The court is expected to decide whether to drop charges against Tytler or order a trial or even a reinvestigation in the 1984 riots case.

Tytler is accused of inciting a mob at Pulbangash in the Capital in 1984.

Meanwhile, senior Congress leaders have advised Tytler to take a conscience call and withdraw from the elections as he awaits court verdict in the riots case, according to sources.

Congress sources have also told CNN-IBN that the party may withdraw Tytler from the election race.

However, Tytler, who is contesting from Delhi's northeast constituency, remains defiant.

“I am awaiting the court judgment which I am told will come at 2 pm. After that I will hold a press conference at 5 pm. I believe that CBI report was in a closed envelope. How do you know that I have been given a clean chit?” Tytler said.

Anti-terror raids in UK, 12 al-Qaeda suspects held

London: British police on Wednesday arrested 12 men in a series of anti-terrorist raids involving hundreds of officers across northwest England.

Greater Manchester Police said the suspects were detained under the Terrorism Act at eight addresses in the cities of Manchester and Liverpool and the surrounding area, about 200 miles (320 kilometres) northwest of London.

Police were searching several properties, including an Internet cafe, in the working-class Cheetham Hill area of Manchester, which has a large south Asian community.

Witnesses said another raid was at Liverpool's John Moores University.

Sky News broadcast the mobile phone video and still images of the university raid.

Police said the suspects ranged in age from a youth in his mid-teens to a 41-year-old man but would not give any details of the alleged plot.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported that most of those arrested were Pakistani nationals but the Associated Press had no independent confirmation of this.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the country's top law-and-order official, said she and the prime minister had been kept informed about the raids, but stressed that the decision to carry out the raids had been "an operational decision for the police and the security services".

Police would not confirm reports in British the media that the arrests were triggered after a senior officer inadvertently leaked details of a secret anti-terrorism operation.

Britain's top counterterrorism officer, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick was photographed entering Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office on Wednesday morning holding a dossier on which details of an ongoing intelligence operation were visible.

The Metropolitan Police said Quick had apologised to the chief of the force for the lapse.

Smith on Wednesday refused to be comment on calls for the assistant commissioner's resignation, saying that "the focus is the ongoing operation".

The British government currently assesses the country's terror threat level as "severe", the second highest of five possible ratings.

It has been at that level or higher since suicide bombers with ties to Pakistan killed 52 commuters on London's bus and underground system on July 7, 2005.

Since then, two other major attempted attacks in Britain have failed.

Two weeks after the July 7 attacks, a group of men attempted a similar strike against the city's transport network - but their bombs failed to detonate.

In 2007, attempted car bombings in London's theatre district and at Glasgow airport also failed.

Intelligence and security officials say more than a dozen other attempted attacks have been thwarted since 2001.

They include an alleged 2006 plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners in mid-air, for which eight men are on trial.

Congress to contest 440 seats, up from 417 in 2004

New Delhi: A week before the Lok Sabha elections start, Congress strategist Jairam Ramesh has conceded it will be a "tough fight" although he is optimistic that his party will win again.

Ramesh said his party would contest around 440 seats out of 543 seats as against 417 in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

It won 145 seats the last time, while the party expects to better its performance this time.

"It is a tough fight and no political party can predict the outcome. But we sure have an edge," Ramesh, who resigned as a central minister to take charge of the party's election war room, told IANS in an interview.

He said there was "cautious optimism" in the Congress, which is trying to again emerge as a single largest party in the 545-seat Lok Sabha.

Ramesh admitted that the exit of the PMK from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was a serious setback.

"We are seeking a mandate on the performance of our government, which implemented 85 percent of its promises in the previous manifesto," he said. But "Indian elections are not fought on achievements alone", he quickly added.

"There is a caste arithmetic that also has to be factored in."

Asked how he would compare the previous Lok Sabha elections with the one set to start, Ramesh answered: "Security is an important issue now.

"Then you don't have (former prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, who was like an umbrella figure (for the National Democratic Alliance allies), which (L.K.) Advani is not," he added.

India's inflation falls again, to 0.26 per cent

New Delhi: India's annual rate of inflation fell marginally to 0.26 per cent for the week ended March 28, from 0.31 per cent the week before, official data showed on Thursday.

The inflation had declined for eight consecutive weeks to 0.27 per cent for the week ended March 14, but marginally rose to 0.31 per cent for the week ended March 21.

Between March 21-28, the index remained unchanged at its previous week's level of 227.3 (provisional), data released by the commerce and industry ministry showed.

Among the three main commodity groups, the index for manufactured products rose 0.2 per cent, while that for primary articles declined 0.3 per cent.

The index for fuel, power, light and lubricants remained unchanged at its previous week's level of 320.9 (provisional).

Economists, who have already warned of a deflation in the Indian economy, contend 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.

Fernandes, Digvijay to file nomination today

New Delhi: In a show of solidarity, expelled Janata Dal - United (JD-U) leader George Fernandes will accompany another rebel party leader Digvijay Singh when he files his nomination from Banka Lok Sabha seat in Bihar on Thursday.

Both Fernandes and Singh are contesting as independents from Muzaffarpur and Banka seats respectively after being denied tickets by their party.

“George saheb and some other known socialist leaders will be coming to Banka tomorrow (Thursday) to show their support for me during my nomination,” Digvijay, a known detractor of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, told PTI from Banka.

Supporters of Fernandes and Digvijay say that serious attempts are underway to bring all the rebel party leaders and their sympathisers together to ensure the rebels win, while JD-U leaves no stone unturned to ensure their defeat.

“After Digvijay files his nomination, he will accompany Fernandes to Muzaffarpur the next day to chalk out strategies to ensure the victory of Fernandes,” party sources said adding the veteran socialist leader would be projected as a victim who was denied his right.

Earlier both Fernandes and Digvijay had accused Nitish of humiliating hard-working leaders of the party and accommodating “party-hoppers” in the state government.

JD-U has fielded Captain Jai Narayan Nishad from Muzaffarpur and Damodar Raut, a minister in the state government from Banka.

Actor Ambareesh agrees to contest polls, sure of win

Bangalore: Kannada film actor and MP Ambareesh has cleared all doubts about his contesting elections – he has agreed to be the Congress party's candidate from Karnataka's Mandya constituency.

He says he is confident of winning this time as well.

"I am confident of a big win even this time," Ambreesh, who won the Mandya seat with a margin of over 2,00,000, told IANS. "Take it from me, my fight is not with BJP's Shivarame Gowda, who is showing his lack of political decency in criticising me."

"My contest is with former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy who have a great influence in this constituency. But I will work hard in my campaign, channelise all resources and will win the elections," he added.

Prior to the elections, Ambareesh is visiting temples in Karnataka and Kerala to seek divine blessings. After consenting to be a Congress candidate, the actor is seen visiting temples in and around Mandya as well along with colleagues like director Prem.

Ambareesh has been lying low ever since he was defeated from the Srirangapattanam constituency in the last Assembly elections. He had even publicly said that the infighting in the Congress and the double-crossing of many big party leaders had led to his defeat.

"I would like to spend more time with my family now. I would keep away from politics for some more time," Ambareesh had then told reporters.

Court likely to decide Tytler's fate today

New Delhi: Congress leader Jagdish Tytler's fate is likely to be decided by a city court today after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) gave him a clean chit in a case related to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots here. The court may decide on accepting the CBI closure report against Tytler and ordering the quashing of charges against him or order fresh investigation into the case. De-sealing its final report in the case in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Rakesh Pandit, the CBI on April 2 pleaded that the case against Tytler be cancelled. According to CBI, affidavits in the case by two witnesses, Surender Singh and Jasbir Singh, were inconsistent and contradictory. In January 2002, Surender Singh filed an affidavit before the Justice Nanavati Commission probing the riots, and said Tytler incited a mob to burn a gurdwara and kill Sikhs on Nov 1, 1984. In August 2002, he filed another affidavit pleading ignorance about the first document, the CBI said. In 2006, he filed a third affidavit backing the August 2002 claim and was re-examined in 2008 after which he left for the US. California-based Jasbir Singh, who had earlier been declared untraceable by the CBI, stated in his affidavit that on Nov 3, 1984, he had overheard Tytler commenting on the killing of Sikhs in his then constituency Sadar Bazar. This was one of the seven cases registered by CBI relating to the anti-Sikh riots – in which more than 3,000 people, including 2,000 in Delhi, were killed in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards Oct 31, 1984. Tytler, the Congress' candidate from the Delhi North-East constituency, 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.


Nomination cannot be cancelled for false affidavit'

Kolkata: To prevent candidates from suppressing facts in their affidavits, the Election Commission has ruled that the nominees cannot leave any column of the form blank, a top electoral officer said here on Monday. But he made it clear that contestants cannot be barred from the poll fray for giving false information in the affidavit. "The EC has come out with two advisories on candidates' affidavits. Firstly, the affidavits have to be typed and not handwritten. This was done as a section of candidates in some states used to give handwritten affidavits, which were illegible," said West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer Debasish Sen. "Another problem was suppression of information by some candidates, who used to leave some of the columns blank. So, in another advisory, the EC has said none of the columns can be left vacant. The candidate has to write at least 'nil' or 'not applicable' in those columns in which he has nothing to add," Sen said after inaugurating the state chapter of the National Election Watch. But as per a Supreme Court ruling, candidature cannot be cancelled for giving false information or suppressing facts. "This is because the system of filing affidavit was introduced much after the electoral laws came into force". However, Sen said the affidavit serves as a moral tool, and a candidate can also be prosecuted in a court of law for supplying false information. He said the EC was doing a vulnerability analysis of all the police station areas across the state to decide on the deployment of security forces and ensure peaceful and fair polls. "The central observers will come in the next few days and review the situation in various areas," he said. Asked whether the EC was contemplating any steps to prevent criminals from contesting the polls, he said: "The commission has recommended some reforms for the long term. If the EC recommendations are implemented, the situation will be better." The West Bengal chapter of the National Election Watch was inaugurated by Sen along with its state unit chairman General (retd) Shankar Roychowdhury.

India win Test series in New Zealand after 41 years

Wellington: Rain robbed India of a deserving win in the final and the third Test here Tuesday but couldn't stop them from winning the three-match series 1-0 on New Zealand soil after 41 long years. At the Basin Reserve, India were just two wickets short of a win in the third Test on the fifth day. But rain stopped play 30 minutes after lunch to save New Zealand, who were struggling at 281 for eight in the second innings while chasing an improbable 617 runs to win. India made 379 in the first innings and declared their second innings at 434 for seven. New Zealand were bowled out for 197 in the first innings. Zaheer Khan had a match haul of seven wickets including a fiver in the first innings. Gautam Gambhir, who scored 445 runs at a staggering average of 89 in the series, was adjudged Man of the Match for his 167 in the second innings. He also scored a century in the second Test. India won the first Test in Hamilton by 10 wickets and drew the second Test in Napier. India's last and only series win in New Zealand was under Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who led them to a 3-1 victory in 1968. India were in sight of a historic 2-0 series win at lunch on the fifth and last day of the third and final cricket Test after New Zealand failed to work on Ross Taylor's 107 at the Basin Reserve. Taylor cashed in on a reprieve when he was called back after television replays reversed the decision on a close-in catch. He went on to score his second century of the series. But that was not enough to save the hosts, who were 254 for seven at lunch. Set 617 runs to win and share the series 1-1, New Zealand dourly defied the Indian attack for well over an hour of the extended morning session to make up for the loss of time Monday because of bad light. The home team had an eye on the clock as well as the overcast sky. The weather held out but as lunch neared, they lost three wickets, two of them to part-time leggie Sachin Tendulkar. By then Harbhajan broke the stubborn fifth-wicket stand between Taylor and James Franklin. New Zealand, who resumed at 167 for four, looked highly unlikely to survive another two sessions for a draw unless rain saves them soon after lunch. Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni surprisingly called Tendulkar to bowl for the first time on the tour. The master batsman, who seldom turns his arm over after a back problem, removed Brendon McCullum (6) and then James Franklin (49) after Harbhajan provided the breakthrough by bowling Taylor with a beauty. Taylor, 69 overnight, reached his century flicking Harbhajan, the ball bisecting wicketkeeper Dhoni and Virender Sehwag at backward short leg. Taylor's 100, which took four and half hours, followed his 151 in the drawn second Test at Napier. He was the main contributor to the record fifth-wicket stand of 142 against India along with Franklin. The previous best was 140, between Craig McMillan and Adam Parore at Hamilton in 1999. McCullum had an early escape when Munaf Patel dropped him at mid-off off Tendulkar. But Tendulkar dismissed the New Zealand vice-captain for six, caught at slip by Rahul Dravid. Tendulkar then ended Franklin's vigil at 49 as the left-handed all-rounder was given out leg before. Franklin spent more than four hours, facing 171 balls and hitting seven fours.

US needs to convince India it can keep Pakistan in check: Stratfor

Washington: As the United States tries to sell Pakistan its plan of negotiating with Afghan Taliban, it will have to assure India that Washington can keep Pakistan and its militants in check, says a leading US think tank. "For the United States to make any headway getting Pakistan on board with its plan, it needs to ensure that Islamabad does not get distracted by its primary security threat: India," Stratfor, a global intelligence company, said in an analysis as two senior US officials headed to the region. US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen arrive in New Delhi Tuesday for high-level talks on President Barack Obama's Af-Pak strategy after Visiting Islamabad and Kabul. The Indians are well aware that the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "is not prepared to cut ties with its array of militant proxies, particularly those the ISI has cultivated to focus attacks on India in the name of Kashmir," Stratfor noted. "As the ISI tries to rein in those militant proxies that have slipped from Islamabad's grasp, it will likely try to regain their support by redirecting their attention away from Pakistan and toward India, an enemy on which both Islamabad and the militants can agree. As a result, it is likely India will come under attack again," it said. Meanwhile, Washington needs Islamabad to focus on its western border with Afghanistan, not on India, the think tank said as "the last thing the United States needs is for India and Pakistan to come to blows again. "To dodge this outcome, Holbrooke and Mullen will have to do their best to convince New Delhi that Washington can keep the Pakistanis in check," it concluded. Holbrooke and Mullen were in Islamabad Monday for talks with senior Pakistani leaders, including Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI. They were in Kabul the previous day. The trip is one of many US visits to the region aimed at turning around Washington's fortunes in Afghanistan, where Obama intends to pursue a strategy of bringing "reconcilable" Taliban militants into the Afghan political fold. To give this strategy even a remote chance of success, Washington needs to get Pakistan on board, Stratfor said.


Delhi's Ekta Choudhury is Femina Miss India Universe

Mumbai: Ekta Choudhury, a 22-year-old from New Delhi, was on Sunday night crowned Pantaloons Femina Miss India Universe 2009. She will represent the country at the global beauty pageant later this year. She received the crown at a grand ceremony here. Pooja Chopra was crowned Miss India World and Shriya Kishore is Miss India Earth 2009. The ceremony also featured performances by Bollywood stars Priyanka Chopra, Kangana Ranaut and Genelia D'souza, choreographed by Shiamak Davar. The contestants dazzled the event in beautiful creations by designers Ritu Kumar, Rocky S., Pantaloons (designed by Rajesh and Anirban) and Prasad Bidappa. The show was choreographed by Marc Robinson and hosted by Bollywood beauty Malaika Arora Khan and star R. Madhavan.

Taliban threaten two attacks a week in Pakistan '

Washington: The Taliban have threatened that they would "carry out two bombings a week within Pakistan" in retaliation to the US drone attacks. Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to Baitullah Mehsud who is the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, said in a telephone interview on Sunday that the Taliban were responsible for the suicide attacks in Pakistan's Islamabad and Chakwal, the New York Times reported. There have been three suicide attacks in Pakistan in the past two days. Mehsud said the Islamabad bombing on Saturday was in "retaliation" to an attack by a remotely piloted American aircraft Wednesday in Orakzai in which at least 10 people were killed. He said the Pakistani Taliban plan to carry out two bombings a week within Pakistan, the report said. He did not specify whether the attacks would be by suicide bombers or in commando-style assaults, a technique used against a police training school in Lahore last week, in which eight police officers were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Hakimullah Mehsud said the attack in Chakwal on Sunday was carried out by a group known as the Fidayeen-e-Islam, part of the broad alliance known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban. He said he would release a video showing that the recent attacks were being conducted by "Pakistanis and Muslims", and not by foreigners, as the Pakistani government has asserted. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to a Shia mosque in Punjab province's Chakwal city Sunday, killing at least 22 people. A suicide bomber struck in Islamabad on Saturday night, killing eight paramilitary security personnel. On Saturday morning, a suicide bomber drove his vehicle into a group of civilians in North Waziristan, killing at least eight people.

Kasab asks to meet Waghmare

Mumbai: Mohammed Ajmal Amir alias Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist captured alive in the 26/11 attack, today expressed a desire to meet his advocate Anjali Waghmare as the special court set April 15 for beginning the trial into the terror attacks case. Kasab, appearing in video-conference before the special court, expressed his desire to meet Waghmare, a government lawyer appointed by Special Judge Tahilyani last week to defend the Pakistani terrorist. Accepting his request, the court directed Swati Sathe, superintendent of the Arthur Road Central Jail, where Kasab is housed, to fix a suitable date and time when Kasab and Waghmare could meet. Judge Tahilyani also directed Swati to collect a copy of the charge-sheet from Kasab and bring it to the special court on April 8 so that it could be handed over to Waghmare. The trial into the Nov 26-29, 2008, Mumbai carnage will be conducted in the high-security Arthur Road Jail in south Mumbai where Kasab and two other Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) activists are held in detention. In a related development, co-accused Faheem Ansari told the court that the police were pressurizing his family members to seek an advocate from the government's Legal Aid Cell. He also sought a month's time from the special court to finalise his lawyer. Special Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam said the date of the trial has been rescheduled since the work on setting up the special court inside the jail premises was not yet complete

Sonia owns house in Italy, no car in India

Rae Bareli: Congress president Sonia Gandhi owns neither a car nor a house in India but she has an ancestral home in Italy, according to papers she submitted today while filing her Lok Sabha nomination here. She submitted an affidavit to the district magistrate, stating the Italian house was valued at Rs.1.8 million (Rs.18.02 lakh). Sonia Gandhi's assets, according to the affidavit, totalled Rs.13.8 million (Rs.1.38 crore), nearly Rs.10 million less than what her son Rahul Gandhi reportedly has. He is contesting from nearby Amethi constituency. Sonia Gandhi's affidavit says that she had Rs.75,000 in cash and Rs.2.86 million (Rs.28.61 lakh) in bank deposits. In addition she had mutual funds worth about Rs.2 million (Rs.20 lakh) and Rs.1.2 million (Rs.12 lakh) in Reserve Bank of India bonds. A sum of Rs.199,000 was deposited in post offices and Rs.2.49 million (Rs.24.88 lakh) with the Public Provident Fund. Sonia Gandhi's jewellery, weighing about 2.5 kg, was valued at Rs.1.1 million (Rs.11 lakh) while 88 kg of silver possessed by her was stated to be worth about Rs.1.8 million (Rs.18 lakh). She owns two plots of agricultural land totalling up to about 15 bighas and valued at Rs.219,000. Their location is not mentioned in the affidavit. Sonia Gandhi paid Rs.558,000 in income tax for the assessment year 2008-09 and Rs.32,512 in wealth tax. In the section related to educational qualification, Sonia Gandhi mentions two courses: a three-year course in foreign languages (English and French) from an institute in Turin (Italy) and a Certificate in English Language from Lennox Cook School, Cambridge.

Three blasts in Assam towns, seven killed

Guwahati: At least seven people were killed and 50 injured today when three blasts in quick succession rocked Assam's marketplaces, including in its main city Guwahati, a day ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the state. The first blast took place in Guwahati's busy Maligaon area around 1.45 p.m. and killed seven people. Barely two hours later, another explosion shook Dhekiajuli town in northern Sonitpur district, about 150 km from here. The third explosion took place in eastern Karbi Anglong district, injuring two people. "The blasts come a day before the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) marks its 30th foundation day and we had intelligence inputs about the group planning some attacks in the city," said Inspector General of Police (central western range) G.P. Singh, adding that the Guwahati bomb was planted on a parked motorcycle. The blasts also came a day before the prime minister's visit to Assam Tuesday to address an election rally for the ruling Congress party in Dibrugarh, 500 km east of Guwahati. "This is a barbaric act and we have asked the police to take firm action," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said. Most of the victims in Guwahati, where 45 people were injured, some of them seriously, were shoppers and vendors, besides some schoolchildren, police said. Witnesses added that the area was packed with people when the explosion occurred. "Among the injured were several schoolchildren who were returning home. A woman and a child were among those killed," Debajit Das, a witness, said. There was a massive fire soon after the blast in Guwahati with at least a dozen motorbikes and several cars gutted. Less than two hours after the Guwahati blast, another bomb placed on a parked bicycle exploded in Dhekiajuli town. "Four people were injured in the blast that took place in a market. The bomb was strapped to a parked bicycle," a police official said. The third explosion took place in Karbi Anglong district. While police blamed the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) for the two blasts in Guwahati and Dhekiajuli, the responsibility of the Karbi Anglong bombing was placed on a tribal rebel group