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India to organise solidarity event against terror today

New Delhi: Artistes, sportspersons and civil society representatives will participate in a government-organised "Solidarity Against Terror" event at the India Gate today to express the nation's unity against terror. The home ministry would be organising 60-minute event starting 5 p.m. at the historic monument. "Artists, sportspersons and representatives of civil society from across the country are coming together at the India Gate to share the message of solidarity, courage and resolve to stand up against terrorist violence," a home ministry spokesman said here today. Celebrities participating in the event include Shah Rukh Khan, Nandita Das, Javed Akhtar, L. Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Shankar Mahadevan, Shreya Ghoshal, Shilpa Rao, Shekhar Gupta, Abhinav Bindra, Sania Mirza and Feroz Abbas Khan. The officials said Nov 29 was symbolic as it was the day on which the 26/11 Mumbai terror siege had ended last year. "The event has a simple message - terror has no religion. Our solidarity, courage and resoluteness are the answers to the threat of terror," the official added.

India, Canada clinch nuclear deal

Port of Spain: Ending months of complex negotiations, India and Canada on Saturday announced here the conclusion of a civil nuclear deal that will enable New Delhi to access Canadian nuclear technology and uranium after a gap of 34 years. The breakthrough was announced after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here. "We have now got an agreement which means this is a tremendous opportunity for both countries," Harper said here while underlining that it was "a tremendous step forward" in bilateral relations. "Canada is a supplier, obviously an integrated supplier in the nuclear energy field and India is an expanding economy that has great energy needs," Harper said. The nuclear agreement promises to transform bilateral relations that turned frosty when Ottawa cut off atomic trade after New Delhi's 1974 nuclear test and accused the latter of misappropriating Canadian reactor designs in the test. Harper, however, added that it will take "a little time to complete the normal legal text and the ratification process." Lauding Harper for giving a political push to the negotiations, Manmohan Singh said:"This is a tribute to the prime minister's great leadership and the way the civil service functions in Canada." "It augurs extremely well for the development of our relations," he added. The deal is likely to be signed when Manmohan Singh goes to Canada to attend the G20 summit in June next year where he will also hold bilateral talks with the Canadian leader on the sidelines. After this deal is inked, Canada will become the seventh country with which India has struck civil nuclear pacts since the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) allowed India to resume global nuclear trade in September 2008. India has already signed bilateral civil nuclear deals with the US, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Mongolia. The Conservative government of Harper has, however, not released the text of the India-Canada deal, saying it would only be released when implementing legislation is tabled in Parliament. The minority government will require the support of parliament members from one opposition party in order to pass the agreement. The two sides were close to a civil nuclear deal when Harper came to New Delhi last week, but could not conclude the pact as there were lingering differences over the nature of safeguards. "Prime Minister Harper proved to be absolutely true to his words when he told me he will have this matter looked into and that this exercise could be completed in a short period of eight to ten days," Manmohan Singh said. The deal will remove the last irritant in the way of stronger political, economic and strategic ties between the two countries. The two countries have declared their resolve to triple bilateral trade from around $5 billion to $15 billion in the next five years.

Krishna gives a skip to Qureshi, chill deepens

Port of Spain: A year after the Mumbai attacks, foreign ministers of India and Pakistan were in the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, but did not meet for any talks, indicating a deepening chill in their ties. With India making it clear that Pakistan needs to do more to punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and dismantle the sanctuaries for terrorists, there was little hope of any attempt at diplomatic contact to resume the stalled dialogue. "Pakistan has done little to address our concerns. There is little to be achieved by another meeting," official sources said. Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi were in the Trinidad capital to attend the foreign ministers meeting of the Commonwealth countries. Qureshi is also representing Pakistan at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Earlier, either Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani or President Asif Ali Zardari were expected to come to attend the CHOGM, but kept away from the summit due to domestic situation. Four days ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Washington that his government will not rest till the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attacks are brought to justice and asked Pakistan to dismantle the terror infrastructure and all safe havens of terrorism. The prime minister had stressed that since the conspiracy was basically hatched in Pakistan, it was their obligation to punish the masterminds of 26/11 attacks. "It's our strong feeling that the government of Pakistan can do more to bring to book the perpetrators and masterminds of the ghastly crime who move about freely in Pakistan," Manmohan Singh said. Venting Pakistan's frustration at Indian response to its repeated pitch for the resumption of dialogue, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said here that Islamabad wants "serious talks" with India and not "photo opportunities". In an interview with the media, Qureshi said India has not given enough evidence to nail Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai carnage. "I have always welcomed a meeting but it has to be a meaningful meeting. I has to be a dialogue which has to be result oriented," Quresh0i said. "(India has) to respond, so far (India has) failed to respond. We are no longer interested in a photo opportunity," he said. Qureshi stressed that the there was always the possibility of India and Pakistan resuming talks, but it must be "free of conditions". "The possibility is there, you need political will ...we have to get out of the old mindset. We have a common element lets join hands to defeat the common element and if we miss that opportunity then we have not served over a billion people living in the subcontinent," he said.

Headley my half brother: Pakistani PM's PRO

Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's public relations officer (PRO) today confirmed that terror suspect David Coleman Headley was his half- brother but said there had been "very little contact" with him for the past seven years. The PRO, Danyal Gilani, also said his family was in no way related to the prime minister. Reports in the Indian media "trying to establish a relationship between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the family of detained US terror suspect and my half-brother, Daood Gilani alias David Coleman Headley, are incorrect, misplaced and totally baseless", Danyal Gilani said in a statement. His ancestors had migrated to Pakistan from Jastarwal in Indian Punjab and from Etawah in Uttar Pradesh while the prime minister's family had been living in Multan "for centuries" and the two families "have no relationship with each other", the statement said, adding the media reports were creating "unnecessary hype". Danyal Gilani said he had last met Headley at their father's funeral in December 2008. He also said that his father had cautioned him against associating with his half brother due to his involvement in drug-related activities and there had been "very little contact" with him since 2002. According to Danyal Gilani, his half-brother was born in 1960 in Washington, where their father was working with the Voice of America and had an American wife. "Soon after Daood's birth, the tenure of my father's posting ended and the couple shifted to Pakistan. In the late 1960s, my father and Daood's mother got divorced, and according to family elders, she went back to the US," he added. "His having another name or changing his name at some stage in life has come as a surprise to me," Danyal Gilani maintained. Headley and his associate Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Canadian national of Pakistani origin, were nabbed by the FBI in the US on charges of plotting attacks against India and Denmark.

Usain Bolt likely for 2010 Commonwealth Games

Port of Spain: Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, is likely to participate in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi said here today. Kalmadi said at a media conference here that Bolt is scheduled to attend the Games and would be a top star at the event. Bolt, a Jamaican, won three gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Koda scam probe may be handed over to CBI: Maken

Ranchi: Minister of State for Home Ajay Maken today said the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) may be asked to probe the alleged Rs.2,500 crore money laundering scam involving former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda. "Two agencies, the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), are investigating the case and if the need arises, the CBI or any other agency could be asked to probe the scam," Maken told reporters here. "The Congress does not consider Koda innocent. We had launched an agitation against the corruption prevailing in the Koda government. He is no longer part of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance)," Maken added. Koda became chief minister with the support of the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). His term as chief minister from September 2006 to August 2008 generated a number of stories about his alleged wrongdoing. "The Congress will prefer to sit in opposition instead of taking help of such people to form the government in the state (after the judt-concluded assembly elections)," Maken said. "The Congress is committed to weeding out corruption. We took action against (former Jharkhand governor) Syed Sibte Razi's aides (who was accused of corruption). Razi, who is now governor of Assam, has not been given an extension," he poointed out. The CBI had raided houses of Razi's aides, senior Indian Administrative Service officer Avinsh Kumar and personal secretary Rajesh Thakur in August this year.

I can't go around asking for roles: Neha Dhupia

Mumbai: Neha Dhupia has been around for more than six years now and has done films as diverse as "Mithya" and "Julie". But she neither believes in boasting about her body of work nor is she keen to approach leading actors and filmmakers to rope her in for their films. "This is the way I have been throughout my career. I am not the type who would go and tell everyone what I have done in the past," Neha told media. After having debuted opposite Ajay Devgan in "Qayamat" (2003), she has worked in close to 30 movies. "What's the point in doing that when you have your work to speak for itself? This is not to say that I am less ambitious than anyone. I work as hard as anyone else. It's just that I can't serve myself on a platter," she said. This is the reason why she is not complaining even if she is playing a supporting role in films like "Singh Is Kinng" and just released "De Dana Dan" with Katrina Kaif as the leading lady opposite Akshay Kumar. "There is a thin distinction between lead and supporting roles today. You may not be a romantic lead in a film, but then you have to see the kind of value you bring to a film. "For example, when Vipul approached me for 'Singh Is Kinng', I asked him why he was giving me that role. When he told me that he could visualise only me to be doing that role, I took it as a backhanded compliment." Same held true for "De Dana Dan" where Priyadarshan felt that he could see a naughty opportunist girl in her. In the film, Neha plays a club singer who has a 'bindaas' attitude towards life and is a 'huge advantage taker'. "I am happy that he felt so. My role is quite spunky in 'De Dana Dan'. There is a lot of spark in it. "When it comes to commercial cinema, I have to thank people like Vipul, whose sensibilities I completely agree with, and Priyan Sir, with whom I have worked in 'Chup Chup Ke' and 'Garam Masala' earlier. They have always approached me whenever there is something good in the offing," Neha said. However, she has the trio of Rajat Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla and Vinay Pathak to thank for the complete shift in mindset that she went through at a crucial phase of her career. "These are the people responsible for opening up different avenues for me. By working in movies like 'Mithya', 'Raat Gayi Baat Gayi', 'I Am 24' and 'Pappu Can't Dance Saala', there is an altogether different dimension that I have been able to explore. "I owe a lot to them," said Neha who is happy to be juggling between hardcore commercial mainstream movies and new age offbeat cinema.

Aamir Khan not to sign new films for one more year

Mumbai: Aamir Khan, who is currently busy promoting "3 Idiots", has decided not to take any new acting assignments in 2010 because he wants to concentrate on his three home productions. "Aamir had earlier decided to take one year off. But now he has decided to extend his sabbatical by one more year. Filmmakers who have approached him with projects have been told that Aamir intends to take approximately one more year to supervise the post-production and final look of his three films," said a source close to the actor. He wants put his home productions -- Abhinay Deo's "Delhi Belly", Anushka Rizvi's "The Falling" and his wife Kiran Rao's directorial debut "Dhobi Ghat" -- in order. After the tough physical and emotional preparation for "Ghajini", Aamir had decided to take one full year off to rejuvenate himself. He also wanted to relax and spend time with his wife and children. That's precisely what he has done for the last one year. But now Aamir would be taking one more year off because he feels all three projects need serious fine-tuning and have been delayed because he has been busy finishing and promoting director Rajkumar Hirani's "3 Idiots". "The only way Aamir feels his three productions can be completed and released in 2010 is if he sets aside all his own acting assignments to look into them. So, he isn't signing any films in 2010 either," said the source "It requires guts to say no to the best roles going in Bollywood and to a reported fee of approximately Rs.30 crore per film. But Aamir suffers no security pangs about not signing films. He told a friend he will work at his own pace, no matter what the temptation or provocation to take on extra work," added the source.

Technical glitches mar online CAT in Bangalore

Bangalore: Several aspirants to seats in the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other B-Schools failed to appear for the Common Admission Test (CAT) here today as computer servers crashed at some of exam centres. Around 2,000 candidates were to write the test, which went online for the first time across India, in eight centres in the city on the first day of the exam spread over 10 days. "It's very disappointing. I had come fully prepared and could not write the exams as I failed to log in into the computer assigned to me. No one came forward to help me," Mohini P., a candidate, told media. Candidates complained that either they failed to log in or those who logged in could not access the questions online. The country-wide tests are being conducted jointly for the IIMs and other B-schools by US-based testing company Prometric. The test is being conducted at 105 centres in 32 cities across the country. Students can appear in the test at these centres during the 10-day window. There are around 1,800 seats in the seven IIMs at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Indore, Kozhikode, Lucknow and Shillong. Besides IIMs, some other reputed B-schools in the country give admission to students on the basis of CAT scores.

US software major returns to India with new partner

San Ramon (California): Pervasive Software, a global leader in embeddable data management and integration software, has returned to India with a new partner, nearly three years after closing its development centre in Bangalore. The Austin, Texas-based company has chosen Chennai's Tiara Consulting as its international market development partner for delivering their integration products across India. "Under this partnership, Tiara Consulting will utilise its Indian arm to facilitate distribution and sales of Pervasive's data integration products across India. Tiara also has its offices in San Ramon," the company said in a statement. Pervasive Software had a product development team of some 30-40 people in Bangalore and was in operation since January 2005. The company said that it was closing its Bangalore-based subsidiary due to operational complexity, increasing wage costs an overall consolidation of technical operations for its integration product line in Austin. "We are excited Tiara Consulting is acting as our market development partner for India," said Mike Hoskins, executive vice president, chief technology officer and general manager for integration products with Pervasive. "Tiara's technology depth and local support capabilities will ensure that local companies and their IT departments, systems integrators and independent software vendors can take advantage of Pervasive's cutting-edge integration products." Pervasive's data integration platform accelerates the sharing of information between multiple data stores, applications, and hosted business systems across a broad range of diverse integration scenarios, including pre-packaged, out-of-the-box solutions. "India's high growth rate continues to challenge companies in India to adapt quickly to new opportunities and brings with it the need for having an integrated IT platform to support their business," said V.A. Venkatesh Babu, president and chief executive of Tiara. "With Pervasive, we can help companies adopt flexible integration that can be rapidly implemented with higher return on investment." While logging out of Bangalore in June 2006, the company had said the potential cost-savings of an offshore development was mathematically compelling though they found the complexity of managing it a challenge. "The potential cost savings of an off-shore development operation can be mathematically compelling," John Farr, Pervasive's president and chief executive officer, had said while closing down the Bangalore centre. "However, we have found that the complexity of managing such an operation and the increasing costs of labour, employee turnover, training, and facilities in a hot market such as Bangalore make it challenging to ultimately realise those savings." The company had retained their presence in India through a partnership with Aztec Software. Through the tie-up with Tiara, Pervasive hopes to focus on selling its trademark data integration product that can improve the business capabilities of Indian companies by integrating their data across different systems quickly, efficiently and in a cost-effective fashion.

Chhattisgarh advances dates for polls to urban bodies

Raipur: The Chhattisgarh state election commission has advanced the poll dates for urban bodies, an official said today. The change has reportedly been made in view of the Christmas holidays. The polls will now be held on Dec 21 and Dec 23 for the three-tier urban bodies. The votes will be counted on Dec 27. State Election Commissioner Shivraj Singh said the commission had scrapped its announcement made on Nov 19 that polling would be held in three phases - Dec 21, 24 and 27, while counting was earlier scheduled on Dec 30. As per the fresh announcement, polling for 14 Nagar Palika and 87 Nagar Panchayats will be held on Dec 21, while voting for the remaining 12 Nagar Palika and 32 Nagar Panchayat seats and all the nine Nagar Nigams will be held on Dec 23. While the Commission did not give a reason for the change, sources said the request of the Christian community that the polls interfered with their religious festival was the prime reasons for the alteration. The polling time in the Maoist-insurgency hit Bastar region will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., while for the other areas it will be held 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The election will be held through ballot papers, not by electronic voting machine.

Eid-ul-Zuha celebrated with fervour in UP

Lucknow: Muslims across Uttar Pradesh celebrated Eid-ul-Zuha today with traditional fervour as thousands attended the special morning prayers in mosques amid heavy deployment of police and security personnel. In Lucknow, the biggest crowds were seen at the Aishbagh Eidgah (the biggest prayer ground in the city) and the Aasifi Masjid in the old city area here. After the congregational prayers, a large number of Muslims sacrificed animals, particularly goats, and distributed their meat among family, friends and the poor. "We prayed to Allah to free our country from terrorism that has now become a global threat," said Naeem Ansari, a resident of Rakabganj locality in the old city area. Arshad Khan, another devotee, who attended the morning prayers at the Kursi Road mosque here, said: "We hope that all our Muslim brothers around the globe will celebrate the festival with gaiety and will remember Prophet Ibrahim's sacrifice". People also thronged the markets to buy new clothes and sweets for the festival that also marks the end of Haj. As a part of the elaborate security arrangements, the state government has deployed 35 companies of the Police Action Committee (PAC) and 10 companies of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) in parts of Uttar Pradesh, an official said. "Security has been stepped up at all sensitive and busy places for three days," Additional Director General of Police (law and order) Brij Lal told reporters. Security and patrolling have been stepped up in all the 71 districts.

India not kowtowing to any foreign country on Iran: Tharoor

New Delhi: India cannot be accused of kowtowing to any foreign country, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said today, defending India's vote for the IAEA censure resolution against Iran. India had on Friday voted in favour of the resolution at Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency against Iran over its nuclear programme, but qualified it by saying it is opposed to "a renewed punitive approach or sanctions" and stressed the need for "keeping doors open for dialogue". Tharoor told the media: "I would not see it that way. As you know for many years we were accused of kowtowing to the Soviet Union when there was a Soviet Union. So this business of accusing people of kowtowing is very much in the eye of the beholder or in the tongue of the critic." He added that the "responsible decision" was taken "on the basis of our judgement on what is in our sovereign national interest". "In some cases that might be a decision that will please a certain capital, or displease another capital -- but ultimately the only capital we are concerned about is New Delhi," he said. The IAEA resolution was endorsed by six world powers -- the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- and passed by a margin of 25-3 in the 35-member board of governors. It appears to signal possible support for any new Western push for a fourth set of UN sanctions in case of Iran continuing its defiance over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects to be for developing atomic bombs. India's vote against the Iranian nuclear programme comes barely two weeks after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna in New Delhi. India had voted against Tehran first in 2005 and then again in 2006, inviting criticism from Left allies of the first UPA administration for following the US line in return for the civil nuclear deal. The latest IAEA resolution, based on a critical report by its outgoing Director-General Mohamed El-Baradei, demanded that Tehran freeze the uranium enrichment facility at Qom immediately. Under international pressure, Iran had finally revealed its new facility in Qom only in September, leading first to outrage and then a renewed effort by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany to engage Tehran to give up its enrichment plan.

Dubai World woes don't warrant panic: Mukherjee

Chandigarh: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee today said there was no need to panic over the potential adverse impact on the country's economy due to the multi-billion-dollar debt default risk faced by Dubai World, among the largest conglomerates in the region. "There is no need to press the panic button," Mukherjee told reporters here after delivering the P.N. Haksar Memorial Lecture at the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development. "Let us wait and watch what has happened recently. I don't visualise it is going to have an earth shaking adverse effect," he said, adding the potential impact on the Indian economy, nevertheless, has to be assessed further. Asked how the impact would be on the five million Indians working in the Gulf region, accounting for nearly half the inward remittances of over $25 billion annually, Mukherjee said: "I don't think they will be severely impacted." The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), meanwhile, also maintained that no knee-jerk action was required over the woes of Dubai World and felt an intervention by the UAE government was likely. "In view of the fact that the crisis appears to involve some companies owned by the government and that Abu Dhabi is expected to intervene, it is too pre-emptive to set an alarmist perspective," said FICCI secretary general Amit Mitra. "More analysis and deeper understanding needs to go into this issue before one can arrive at a clear understanding of the depth of the crisis and its impact on India," Mitra said in a statement in New Delhi today. The state-run Dubai World stunned the global financial world Thursday when it announced it would need to restructure its debt, estimated at $59 billion, to pre-empt default and asked creditors for a six-month deferment. The conglomerate has a host of companies under its fold with interests in a wide range of businesses such as realty, infrastructure, logistics and economic zones. It operates not just in the region but across a clutch of countries including India. The total debt of Dubai as an emirate is estimated at $80 billion. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma sought to smoothen nerves Friday when he and some key policy makers said there was no need to panic over the potential impact of the crisis on the Indian economy. "India is a very large economy. It is a resilient economy. I don't think some development in real estate in Dubai will have an impact on the Indian economy," Sharma said during a press conference at his Udyog Bhavan office here. "As far as India is concerned, the housing, real estate sector and construction industry are all doing well. This is confirmed by the increasing demand for construction materials, cement and steel," the minister added. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), meanwhile, said it would measure the extent of Dubai World's debt problem as well as its potential impact on Indian economy. "We should not react to instant news like this. One lesson that we learnt from the global financial crisis is that we must study developments and measure the extent of the problem and we need to study its impact on India," RBI Governor D. Subbarao said on Thursday. "I have requested my officials to study this and if necessary we will certainly communicate to the public about what the implications are likely to be."

India will stick to its approach on climate change: Pranab

Chandigarh: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee today said India would stick to its approach while addressing the climate change issue in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit next month by seeking clean and green technology at affordable cost. Speaking to the media here today, Mukherjee said that the concerns of India and China, two of the fastest developing economies in the world, were the same on the issue of emissions and climate change. "In the recent G20 finance ministers convention, the finance ministers of China and India shared the same opinion. There is a common approach between us but with different shells. We are sticking to that approach," Mukherjee pointed out. He added: "Developing countries need green and clean technology but at an affordable cost. The funds required for this should come from developed countries." China has announced a 40-45 percent reduction in the carbon intensity from the business-as-usual scenario by 2020. India and China have been, in recent months, resisting attempts by developed countries to put a cap on emissions by emerging economies. Carbon intensity measures the amount of carbon dioxide -- the main greenhouse gas that is causing global warming -- emitted per unit of industrial output. India's carbon intensity is one of the lowest among emerging economies.

Indian scientist designs method to reduce radioactive waste

London: Nuclear power could meet all our energy needs but leaves dangerous radioactive waste. Now, a team led by an Indian scientist has developed a new method to reduce the amount of this waste considerably. The disposal of the old core rods and also reactor operation results in a large amount of low-level waste, especially contaminated cooling water. S. Narasimhan from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Kalpakkam, India working with P.D. Borje Sellergren, a chemist from the Institute of Environmental Research Technische University, Dortmund in Germany, developed the method. His approach: small beads consisting of a special polymer which 'fishes' the radioactivity out of the water. Usually radioactive water is cleaned with ion exchangers. But this technique has a crucial disadvantage, because it doesn't differentiate between non-radioactive iron-ions and radioactive cobalt-ions. Sellergren and Narasimhan were looking for a material which binds cobalt and not iron. They developed a special polymer which is made through a procedure called "molecular imprinting". This polymer is made in an environment containing cobalt. Then the cobalt-ions are extracted with hydrochloric acid, meaning that they are virtually "washed out". The resulting cobalt-sized holes -- the imprinting -- are able to trap cobalt, and just cobalt, in other environments. The result: a small amount of this polymer can mop up a large amount of radioactive isotopes. The team is now forming the polymer into small beads that can pass through the cooling system of a nuclear-power station, says a release of the Institute of Environmental Research. They expect that it would be more economical and environment-friendly to concentrate radioactivity into such beads than to dispose off large amounts of low-level waste. There obviously is a demand. Some 40 new nuclear-power stations are being built around the world. And the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that a further 70 will be built in the next 15 years.

India warns against protectionism under a green label

Port-of-Spain: Amid growing pressure from developed countries to accept carbon curbing targets, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday pushed for "an ambitious, substantive and equitable outcome" at the UN summit on climate change but warned developed countries against pursuing "protectionist policies under a green label". In a strong message barely ten days before the Cophenhagen conference, Manmohan Singh said it was "unfortunate that the global discourse on climate change has become enmeshed with arguments about maintaining economic competitiveness or level playing fields". "Climate Change is becoming the pretext for pursuing protectionist policies under a green label. This would be contrary to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and a violation of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) as well," he said. "India and other developing countries will strongly resist this," Manmohan Singh said in his intervention at the special session on climate change at the 53-nation Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Pushing for "a global and a collaborative response," Manmohan Singh pushed for "an ambitious, substantive and equitable outcome" at the Dec 7-18 UN summit on climate change. He said: "India has repeatedly emphasised the need for the Copenhagen outcome to be comprehensive, balanced and above all, equitable." Explaining India's negotiating stance, the prime minister asked developed countries to resist "a partial outcome" and pushed for a legally binding instrument based on core principles of the UNFCCC and the 2007 Bali Action Plan. "It must be comprehensive in the sense that it must cover all the inter-related components of mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology. This means we should resist a partial outcome," he said at the summit meeting. "Furthermore, there must be balance and equal priority given to each of the four components," he said. "And most important from our perspective, is the need to ensure an equitable outcome corresponding to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," the prime minister said. The prime minister repeatedly placed equity at the centre of international negotiations on climate change. "India is willing to sign on to an ambitious global target for emissions reductions or limiting temperature increase but this must be accompanied by an equitable burden sharing paradigm," he said. Amid pessimism among some countries about the outcome of the Cophenhagen conference, the prime minister said: "Our view is that we should not pre-empt the Copenhagen negotiating process." "Whatever time is still available to us before the High Level Segment meets from Dec 16, should be used to achieve as much convergence as possible," he said. "If the consensus is that only a political document is feasible then we must make certain that the post-Copenhagen process continues to work on the Bali mandate and the UNFCCC continues to be the international template for global climate action," he said. He went on to say that "the attempts by some countries to dispense with the Kyoto Protocol altogether has generated avoidable misgivings and has been strongly resisted by all developing countries without exception." "We hope that a legally valid instrument to which we too are parties, will not be set aside in a cavalier manner. This will undermine credibility in any future legally binding instrument." In his separate bilateral talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit, Manmohan Singh also stressed emphatically that India has a major stake in the success of the Cophenhagen conference. The prime minister told the British and French leaders that it was in India's interests to see a successful outcome at Cophenhagen, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said. They all agreed on the need for a balanced, ambitious and equitable outcome at the Cophenhagen conference, Prakash said. Elaborating on India's position, the prime minister informed about a slew of unilateral and voluntary actions taken by India to curb greenhouse gas emissions and alluded to the national action plan on climate change. Manmohan Singh reiterated the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of developed and developing countries for curbing carbon emissions and stressed on the transfer of technologies and resources to enable developing countries to combat climate change.

Crashgate casts long shadow on US-India Polo Cup next year

Washington: A celebrity-seeking couple's caper of crashing into President Barack Obama's State dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has cast a long shadow over India's participation in America's Polo Cup next year. For it's the Virginia couple Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who had a "wonderful time" in the company of Obamas and Manmohan Singh at the exclusive 'black tie' affair Tuesday, that organise the Polo Cup. It is one of the major events on the Washington social calendar. Salahi says the US will challenge India at the Cup next June and that "(the Indian team is) very excited in this first ever cultural connection being hosted on the D.C. National Mall since polo is one of the primary sports in India and in fact, polo was invented in India." In fact, an announcement about India's participation in the event was made by Salahi himself at a reception hosted by the Indian Embassy in Washington on Sep 9 followed by the kick-off of a polo match between India and the US at the National Mall Sep 19. A photograph on Michaele Salahi's Facebook page shows the couple drinking wine and celebrating the kick-off at the Indian embassy with Arun K. Singh, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy. Arun Singh was again caught on the camera with the Salahis at the state dinner on Tuesday night. Announcing India's participation at the embassy reception, Salahi said he had invited Oscar winner Indian composer A.R. Rahman and Pussycat Dolls to perform during the tournament at the National Mall. "We are really excited about this partnership (between India and the US)," said Salahi claiming to be the captain of the US Polo Team. A Washington DC tradition since 1923, America's Polo Cup attracts thousands of people to the National Mall during the two-day annual event.


Koda fails to appear before vigilance, called again on Dec 4

Ranchi: Former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda failed to appear before vigilance officials today for questioning over his alleged involvement in a Rs.2,500 crore money-laundering scam. He has been issued fresh summons by the vigilance bureau for Dec 4. The fresh summons were issued to Koda today evening for questioning related to assets allegedly amassed by him beyond his known sources of income. According to sources, Koda told the vigilance bureau he was busy in election campaigning and would appear before it after the five-phased Jharkhand assembly polls end on Dec 18. "Koda failed to appear before us today. We have again sent summons to him and we will take recourse to legal measures to ensure his presence," M.V. Rao, inspector general, vigilance bureau, told media. The state vigilance department in August filed a case against Koda and three former ministers - Bandhu Tirkey, Bhanu Pratap Shahi and Kamlesh Singh - for graft. The houses of the four were searched by the vigilance department in September and cash and documents detailing huge amounts of investments and land purchases were allegedly seized. A country-made revolver was also recovered from Tirkey's house. Koda also failed to appear before the Enforcement Directorate on the three dates - Nov 11, 15, and 19 - he was summoned.

Madhu Koda's aide seeks anticipatory bail

New Delhi: Vinod Sinha, a close aide of former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda, who is at the centre of a Rs.2,500 crore money-laundering scam, today approached the Delhi High Court seeking anticipatory bail. Sinha's counsel R. Karanjawala also pleaded with the court that it would be unfair to arrest Sinha when Madhu Koda, who is the main accused in the multi-crore scam, has not been taken into curstody yet, escpecially when he is also willing to cooperate in investigations. However, Justice M.C. Garg dismissed the petition and asked Vinod Sinha to file a fresh petition before an appropriate forum. "The Directorate of Enforcement has flouted all laws and procedures while issuing and servicing of summons to him on various dates in Delhi as well as Jharkhand. And the agency has tried to create hostility against the applicant (Sinha) to falsely justify a future arrest," Sinha's counsel said, moving the bail application. Counsel Karanjawala said: "My client apprehends that he will be arrested and will be physically tortured like his brother, who was arrested earlier by the agency, but the arrest on papers was shown much later. My client is only being made a scapegoat in a case coloured by political vendetta and overtones." The Income Tax (IT) department earlier this month issued arrest warrants against Vinod Sinha and Sanjay Chaudhary, close associates of Koda. The IT department asked them to appear before it by Nov 11. When they failed to appear, the IT department issued arrest warrants against them. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has already arrested Vikas Sinha, the brother of Vinod Sinha, who, according to sources, has admitted to sending Rs.40 crore abroad for Koda. On Oct 9, the ED lodged a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against Koda, and three former ministers as well as his associates Sinha and Chaudhary. Emphasising that Sinha is willing to cooperate with the investigating agency, his counsel pleaded that anticipatory bail should be granted to him. Sinha also pleaded that Koda, who is the main accused in the scam, has not yet been arrested and, therefore, it would be unfair to take Vinod Sinha into custody, especially when he is ready to cooperate.

Hundreds protest at Jama Masjid over Babri demolition, demand arrest of guilty

New Delhi: Hundreds of Muslim protesters gathered near the Jama Masjid today and burnt effigies of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders L.K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who were indicted by the Liberhan commission for razing of the Babri Masjid. They demanded the arrest of those responsible for the 1992 demolition. The demonstration was held by Real Cause, an NGO, and came three days after the Liberhan Commission report was tabled in parliament. The Liberhan Commission has pinned the blame for demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid on Hindutva advocates and said in a scathing indictment that events leading up to Dec 6, 1992, were "neither spontaneous nor unplanned". Kamran Siddiqui of Real Cause voiced anger over the government's "inaction to bring the culprits to book". He said the protesters in Jama Masjid burnt the effigies of Advani, Vajpayee, Uma Bharti and other Hindutva leaders. They have also written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting him to arrest those who "threatened national integrity by razing the mosque". "We also demand a nationwide ban on the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Bajrang Dal as these organisations are clearly involved in anti-national and anti-social activities, as the Liberhan Commission report has found them responsible for disrupting communal harmony in the country," Siddiqui told media.

Uttar Pradesh farmers to sell sugarcane in Uttarakhand and Haryana

Lucknow: Sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh will sell their produce to sugar mills in Uttarakhand and Haryana if the state government did not raise the advised price to Rs.215 per quintal from the current Rs.165-Rs.170, a farmers' body said today. The Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) convened a meeting of farmers in Muzaffarnagar district, some 350 km from Lucknow, in which they passed a resolution saying they would sell sugarcane to mill owners in neighbouring states. "In Uttarakhand, the mill owners have agreed to give Rs.215-Rs.220 per quintal for our produce," BKU's general secretary Rakesh Tikait told media over phone from Muzaffarnagar. "We are also in the process to have such an agreement with the mills in Haryana, where cane growers get Rs.200 for their produce," he added. According to BKU, the farmers would finalise their plan to sell sugarcane to mills in Uttarakhand at their Dec 1 meeting in Lucknow. "If the state government fails to meet our demands and does not agree to pay us at least Rs.215 per quintal for sugarcane, we will have no other option but to sell the produce to Uttarakhand mills," Tikait said. The farmers were spearheading an agitation across the state, demanding the government fix the state advised price for sugarcane at Rs.280 per quintal.

Saudi Mufti's anti-terror message timely: Indian Muslim leaders

New Delhi: Muslim leaders in India today welcomed the "timely message" by Saudi grand mufti asking Muslims not to support terrorism and urging them to unite against suicide attacks. In his message to Muslims delivered during Haj pilgrimage, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al Sheikh said there was no place for terrorism in Islam and asked Muslim intellectuals to take measures to "eradicate misunderstandings about Islam and its teachings". He was delivering the annual Haj sermon at Masjid-e-Nimra in Arafat, outside the Makkah city, where over two million Muslims from across the world had gathered for 'waqoof', one of the important rituals. Many millions around the world watched the sermon broadcast live on TV. Khutba Haj, as the sermon is known, is very important to Muslims as it is addressed to the entire community and Haj pilgrims carry its message back to their respective homelands. Welcoming the message, Moulana Niyaz Ahmed Farooqi, the secretary general of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, said: "The khutba from the mufti sahib is timely and was much needed. People all over the world should now understand that any killing done in the name of Islam is actually against the tenets of Islam." "The Haj khutba is meant to lead the Muslims towards the righteous path and the mufti sahib could not have chosen a better platform to bring home this important point." He said clerics in India had always held the view that there was no justification of terrorism in Islam and those who terrorise the people in the name of Islam and denigrating the religion "are actually the enemies of Islam". The Jamiat, Farooqi said, "has launched a nationwide movement to clear the misconceptions about Islam and propagate the right message of peace which is the essence of our faith". Journalist-politician Shahid Siddiqui said the sermon was "better late than never". "This message should have gone 20 years ago and the damage that the terror in the name of the religion did to Muslims could have been prevented," Siddiqui said. "All along these years, I have been wondering how Muslims are tolerating the terror in the name of Islam which has caused a huge damage. Islam is a religion which forbids you to cut trees, how can you kill innocents and claim to be a Musalman. "I appreciate what the Mufti sahib has said and hope that these enemies of Islam would have got a message," said Siddiqui, who is also national secretary of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Fromer Congress MP Syed Shahabuddin said the views of the grand mufti are what "Indian Ulema have been saying and questioning terrorism and calling for a united struggle against misrepresentation of Islam". He said Muslims should empower themselves with education and knowledge to fight the evil forces which bring a bad name to Islam.

I can't change Pakistan's attitude, says Chidambaram

New Delhi: India is hopeful that its strict stance on not moving forward to have bilateral talk with Pakistan will compel the nation to take a speedy action against the terror groups operating from there. Apart from its own strict stance, India is also optimistic that international pressure on Pakistan will force Pakistan to change its attitude towards terrorism. While giving an interview in a television programme Home Minister P Chidambaram clearly stated that several attempts have been made by terrorists from across the border to launch terror attacks in India. He also stated that modules within the country had also attempted to launch terror attacks like 26/11 in India, which have been successfully foiled by the security agencies. The Home Minister appreciated the efforts of the security agencies and better intelligence inputs, which put a concerted effort in foiling those attempts. Reiterating the fact that Pakistan has not abandoned the policy on supporting terror groups after the Mumbai terror attacks 26/11, he stated that he cannot change Pakistan's attitude.


10 arrested for running fake university in Uttar Pradesh

Lucknow: Ten people have been arrested in Uttar Pradesh's Mathura district for running a fake university that enrolled students from different states across the country, police said today. The Gurukul University in Vrindavan, about 300 km from here, offered graduation and postgraduation courses under various streams. After charging students hefty amounts during admission, they were asked to take examinations at study centres in different states, said a police official. "We are yet to ascertain the exact number of students enrolled with the fake university. However, those arrested have admitted that students from different states, including Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar, were enrolled in courses offered by the fake university," police inspector Maneesh Kumar Saxena told reporters in the nearby town of Mathura. "Acting on a tip-off that the university operates from a bungalow, our team along with officials of the Special Operation Group (SOG) Thursday conducted raids at the bungalow. In three of its rooms, we found a cache of marksheets, certificates and admission forms," Saxena said.

Indian markets join others in tumble after Dubai World debt fiasco

Mumbai: Indian stock markets joined the tumble in bourses around the world today after Dubai government-owned holding company Dubai World, which manages that country's portfolio of businessess, said it had asked creditors for an extension of six months on debt repayments. Indian benchmark equity indices plummeted on the opening bell with the sensitive index (Sensex) of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) falling 2.67 percent or 451 points at 16,403.3 points. It had closed on Thursday at 16,854.93 points. By 11.22 a.m., however, the Sensex had stabilised a bit. At the time, it was at 16,431.40 points, still 423.53 points or 2.51 percent below its last close. At the National Stock Exchange (NSE), the broader 50-share S&P CNX Nifty slipped to 4,865.05 points shortly after opening, 2.8 percent or 140.5 points below its previous close at 5,005.5 points. By 11.22 a.m., the Nifty had also made a marginal recovery. It was at 4,876.1 points at that time, still 2.59 percent below its last close. Investors remained jittery at other Asian markets as well over the exposure of banking giants like HSBC to Dubai World's debt. A key Japanese index, the Nikkei, was 2.28 percent or 213.61 points lower at 9,169.63 points. The Hang Seng, a benchmark index of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange was at 21,445.13 points, 3.45 percent or 765.28 points lower. The Kospi, the benchmark index of the Korean Stock Exchange, also fell to 1,535.34 points, down 4.01 percent. In China, the Shanghai composite index was ruling 1.82 percent in the red at 3,113.36 points. Dubai World's debt burden stands at $59 billion of the total $80 billion debt of the state. The government of Dubai has authorised the restructuring of Dubai World to be spearheaded by the Dubai Financial Support Fund (DFSF). Dubai markets were closed today and will reopen only on Monday. On Thursday European markets were the first to feel the shock waves of the Dubai World debt moratium call with the key index of the London Stock Exchange, FTSE 100 index dropping 3.2 percent to close at 5,194.13 points Banking shares were particularly hard-hit with Barclays and the nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland both fell almost 8 percent in Thursday's trading. The French index, CAC 40, fell 3.41 percent at 3,679.23 points, while its German peer, the DAX slipped 3.25 percent to 5,614.17 points. The US markets are shut today for Thanksgiving.

Abhishek wrapped up 'Paa' within budget: Amitabh Bachchan

New Delhi: Amitabh Bachchan says "Paa" was crucial for his production company AB Corp and says son Abhishek has done a remarkable job as a producer by wrapping up the film within a Rs.15 crore (Rs.150 million) budget. "Any film that a producer makes is crucial for him financially. And we completely recognise that. We can only hope that 'Paa' does well. This time Abhishek has managed all the production hassles and I am glad he has done it with a high level of maturity," Amitabh told the media in an interview on phone from Mumbai. "We had set out to make the film within an estimated budget of Rs.15 crore and Abhishek managed it in Rs.14.75 crore. This, in times when movie budgets are soaring to Rs.50 crore. "I think he has done a remarkable job. I give huge credit to him for making the film without compromising on the quality or the shooting locations. God willing, it will pay off well," he said. The real life father-son duo star in reverse roles in the film. Amitabh says he was "quite well-behaved and obedient" on the sets unlike the "troublesome child" he was called by Abhishek who plays his father. "Abhishek must have been fooling around when he said I was a troublesome kid. In fact, I was quite a well-behaved and obedient child (on the sets). I followed all instructions of the script and did as much mischief as the script and director Balki required from me. It was all in good fun," Amitabh said. In "Paa", Amitabh will be seen as Auro, a 13-year-old suffering from progeria, a rare condition which causes premature ageing among children. While Abhishek plays his dad, Vidya Balan essays the role of his mother. Amitabh, 67, had to wear over eight pieces of specially crafted clay pieces designed by international make-up artist Stephan Dupuis for his role and says he was pampered well during the entire process. "I was quite pampered on the sets. Actually they (unit members) were more worried about the makeup as it was very tedious. I used to have a lot of problem in breathing, eating and used to feel itchy - but everyone was extremely courteous. "I couldn't eat properly, couldn't speak and liquid supplies were given to me using straws. Everyone was quite nice to me and pampered me," he said. But isn't he pampered much at home as well? "Well! Of course, I am. But for 'Paa', I was really pampered like a kid," he quipped. Asked about the experience of playing his son's son in the film, Amitabh said: "It was fine. It wasn't tough. Actually, once you decide that this is a role you have to play in a film, the father-son relationship takes a backseat. "We just played our parts. For an actor, I think it's all about catching the right attitude of his character and that's what we have both tried to do." Amitabh is all praise for Abhishek's acting skills. "I think Abhishek is maturing with each film. He really suited the role he has played in 'Paa' and I must say he has done a marvellous job." Amitabh is being lauded by film critics and industry members for his portrayal of Auro. Many have called it "awesome", "amazing" and his "best performance till date". But Amitabh said humbly: "I'd rather wait for public opinion." After "Paa", which is releasing on Dec 4, Amitabh will be seen in Ram Gopal Varma's "Rann" and Leena Yadav's "Teen Patti". As of now, he can be seen as a host on reality show "Bigg Boss 3", which airs on the channel Colors.

TV channels are ignoring documentaries: Jahnu Barua

Panaji: Well-known filmmaker Jahnu Barua rues that despite more than 400 television channels in the country no one sees documentaries as a viable proposition. "Foreigners are more interested in Indian short films than our own people," said Barua, who is the president of the Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA). He was addressing media at an interaction session at the ongoing 40th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) here today. Barua said the IDPA was in talks with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to start a separate channel to showcase short films. "We were in talks with Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, former minister for Information & Broadcasting who had liked the idea. But his illness and the subsequent set-up in the ministry delayed the plan," he said. Ramesh Tekwani, Vice president of the IDPA who was also present on the occasion, said that the IDPA is trying to resume the screening of documentaries in movie halls. "Films division of India used to screen their documentaries before the feature films in cinema halls, but this practice was discontinued. We are talking to cinema hall owners to restart the trend," he said. Tekwani also said that the IDPA is planning to start a Friday club at the Films Division of India (FDI) premises in Mumbai to provide a platform to short and documentary filmmakers to show their work to their peers.

PM off to Port of Spain to attend Commonwealth Summit

Washington: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left here on Thursday after a "very productive" four-day official State visit to the US, the first by a foreign dignitary since President Barack Obama assumed office in January, during which they established a framework to take their relations forward and together meet the challenges of the 21st century. Manmohan Singh was given a warm send-off with a 19-gun salute and a guard of honour amid a drizzle at the Andrews Air Force base, as he left for Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, where he will attend the two-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) summit beginning from today. India and the US signed a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism and five other pacts during the visit that marked recognition of the special status accorded to India by President Barack Obama. Manmohan Singh held talks with Obama on the entire gamut of bilateral relations, situation in the region and global challenges like terrorism, climate change and economic crisis. "I am satisfied with the visit," Singh said hours before completing "a very productive visit".

Is Headley a rogue American agent?

New Delhi: The world of David Coleman Headley seems to be taking new turns every second. There are possibilities that he was after all a USA agent who had been working undercover and went rogue. These possibilities have kept the American intelligence confused. This is what has prompted them to shield him from the Indian investigators. It is being assumed that he might have ended up giving American intelligence information that would have come in handy to stop the 26/11 attacks. There are possibilities that he might have been used in order to infiltrate the Lashkar-e-Taiba but eventually he was so influenced by their dictum and ideologies that he ended up joining them instead. It has been understood that he might have been suffering from contradictory loyalties. He could have been providing important information to his superiors in America. The attack that was supposed to have taken place in September may have been prevented by his timely inputs. However, it looks like he made a full commitment to Lashkar post September, which is why the American authorities had no hint of the 26/11 attacks. It has been learmnt that when Headley interacted in India he identified himself as an agent of the CIA. However, there are a couple of evidences that suggest that he was a rogue agent after all. A recent media profile has revealed that in 1998 Headley, known then as Daood Gilani, was found guilty of heroin smuggling from Pakistan in USA. He had supposedly provided ample information about his involvement in drug trafficking and about the providers. This meant that he received a shorter jail sentence. He consequently visited Pakistan as a undercover surveillance operator on behalf of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Will Manmohan Singh influence Obama's Afghan strategy?

Washington: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assertive counsel to stay the course in Afghanistan or risk "catastrophic consequences" under an emboldened Taliban could play a decisive role in President Barack Obama's final determination about his new strategy in the region. It is more than likely that the prime minister's warning in his interviews preceding the just concluded state visit here was a carefully calibrated move to ensure that the Obama administration seriously factors in India's views in their long-term strategy. In an interview with Newsweek, Singh said, "A victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan would have catastrophic consequences for the world, particularly for South Asia, for Central Asia, for the Middle East. Religious fundamentalism in the '80s was used to defeat the Soviet Union. If this same group of people that defeated the Soviet Union now defeats the other major power [America], this would embolden them in a manner which could have catastrophic consequences for the world at large." He followed that up with this comment during his interactions with policy wonks at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). "The road to peace on Afghanistan will be long and hard. But given the high stakes involved, the commitment of the international community must be sustained by firm resolve and unity of purpose," he said. The comments could have well come from some hardliners in the Republican Party, including perhaps even former vice president Dick Cheney, who has been a strident critic of what he calls the new president's "dithering" on Afghanistan. In that sense Manmohan Singh's standpoint unwittingly converged with some of Obama's most vehement detractors and against his core constituency of liberal Democrats who want him to withdraw from the country at the earliest. In a city where a serious policy can start off with a rumor here and a speculation there, there was some talk of whether the Indian side was in a sense encouraged to take a tough approach over Afghanistan so as to facilitate the president's break from his earlier approach with relatively manageable political risk. One comment among those hanging around at Hotel Willard, where Manmohan Singh stayed, went something like this: "If an independent and respectable figure like Dr. Singh were to make the case in support of staying the course in Afghanistan, it might help President Obama to present the case with greater credibility to his skeptical liberal constituents. To that extent Manmohan Singh is an ideal stakeholder to push for staying the course." Not that there was any obvious connection but during his joint news conference with Manmohan Singh, Obama said "After eight years - some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done - it is my intention to finish the job". This was followed by reports quoting his aides that he would probably add 30,000 more troops. This ought to have been music to the Indian ears, especially because New Delhi has gone out on a limb in Afghanistan having invested over a billion dollars in reconstruction. If the Obama strategy is going to be aimed at ensuring long-term stability by engaging in large-scale reconstruction of a new Afghan state, then India's role is going to be crucial. There is growing realization in Washington about the constructive influence of India in Afghanistan even as there are strong voices of apprehensions that disapprove of it. Washington has to be sensitive to Pakistan's vociferous rejection of any decisive presence of India in Afghanistan. Many in Pakistan have already advanced the familiar argument of being squeezed in by India from two sides. From the Indian standpoint, it is a region it must not let itself be eased out of. There are specific geostrategic reasons for India to be part of Afghanistan's present and future. The prime minister did try to address Pakistan's concern during his address at the CFR saying, "We do not see Afghanistan as a theatre of influence. Our interest is in building a region of peace and stability." While that may be completely true it does not necessarily reveal the full measure of India's interest.

Liberhan report was leaked to sideline crucial issues: Jayalalithaa

Chennai: AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa today alleged that "the strategic leak" of the Liberhan Commission report on the Babri Masjid demolition has sidelined crucial issues like the sugarcane price ordinance, the spectrum scam and other issues. She demanded the resignation of the union home minister. "In effect, the leakage has diverted the focus of attention of the nation from these current public issues to the 1992 demolition. The only beneficiary of the leakage is the union government, which has moved from the mode of an apprehensive and embarrassed defender to that of a vocal aggressor," Jayalalithaa said in a statement issued here today. She said: "This makes it a strategic leakage; a deliberately engineered leakage. The only copy of the Liberhan report available with the government was with the union home minister (P. Chidambaram). Obviously, he is fully and solely responsible for the leak. He has to go. He should go." Jayalalithaa said: "Terming the leak as 'unfortunate', he (Chidambaram) has tried to imply that the leakage has taken place outside the home ministry." She added that as head of the union finance ministry, "he puffed out his chest and claimed credit for the obviously unnatural rise in the Sensex". "The growth, he claimed, was the result of his economic policies. But when the crash came, Chidambaram conveniently blamed the market forces for it. It is the same logic with the Liberhan report leak." The former chief minister of Tamil Nadu also came down heavily on the Liberhan Commission report, saying that it does not offer any solutions on the politicisation of religion. "Nor is there any action suggested against those held guilty. In short, 17 years and 48 extensions have passed and several crore rupees have been spent for a report that will raise a lot of heat and dust without achieving any tangible results," she said.

India's swine flu deaths reach 561

New Delhi: One swine flu death was reported today from Punjab, taking the total toll in India to 561, health authorities said here. Also, 260 new cases were reported in the country, taking the total number of people affected with the contagious flu to 17,486. With today's one death in Punjab, the toll in the state has gone up to three. In the national capital, 82 new cases were reported today, taking the total number of people affected by the influenza A (H1N1) virus to 4,593. "There were 82 new cases of swine flu confirmed in Delhi today (Thursday). Of these, 63 are children. The cummulative now stands at 4,593 cases," Debashish Bhattacharya, state nodal officer for swine flu cases, told the media. Almost half - 2,603 - of those affected by the contagious disease are children, the official added. Delhi also reports the highest number of cases in the country since it was first reported in India on May 16. Maharashtra reports 3,933 cases, while 220 people have died in the state so far. New cases were also reported from Haryana (72), Rajasthan (30), Tamil Nadu (33), Uttar Pradesh (19), Maharashtra (14), Kerala (6), Punjab (3) and Jammu and Kashmir (2).

Heated exchange between Pranab and BJP MPs over Advani's 26/11 demand

New Delhi: The government's reluctance to respond to Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani's demand for coordinated action by various agencies to provide relief to people affected by 26/11 led to a heated exchange between Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs in Lok Sabha today. Raising the issue during zero hour, Advani asked the home ministry to coordinate the relief and rehabilitation efforts to provide relief to the people affected by the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai. Advani said the Maharashtra government, central government and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) have assured proper relief and rehabilitation to people hit by the Mumbai terror strike last year. "But the relief was given in slow pace," he said, referring to the number of compensation cheques and other relief given to the victims' families. The home minister should take initiative to coordinate the agencies involved in the relief and rehabilitation works, Advani said. Soon after Advani's speech, Speaker Meira Kumar invited Congress MP Madhu Goud Yaskhi to raise another matter. But BJP leader Ananth Kumar asked the government to respond to Advani's demand, pointing to Pranab Mukherjee's presence in the house. An agitated Pranab said he had rushed to the house to listen to the leader of the opposition but not to hear from him (Ananth Kumar). "I have come only to listen to him (Advani). Not to hear from you (Ananth Kumar)," Pranab said, adding every zero hour reference could not be answered. "Don't make it a practice," he said. This remark led to heated exchange of words between Mukherjee and BJP MPs, led by Ananth Kumar. "You are making politics on 26/11," Mukherjee shouted. Finally, Meira Kumar pacified the MPs, saying "today is a very solemn day. We (the house) paid our condolences and passed a resolution (on 26/11)". The speaker also said she could not ask the minister to respond to a zero hour reference.

On 26/11 anniversary, ugly scenes in parliament

New Delhi: As the nation united in grief on the first anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, the Indian parliament witnessed an ugly scene with Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee indulging in a slanging match over providing relief to the 26/11 victims, prompting cries of "shame, shame" from many MPs. During zero hour in the Lok Sabha, Advani voiced concern over the "slow pace" of relief to the victims. Mukherjee promptly hit back, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of exploiting 26/11 for "political gains". Advani asked the home ministry to coordinate the relief and rehabilitation efforts to provide relief to the affected people. He said the Maharashtra government, central government and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) have assured proper relief and rehabilitation to victims of the Mumbai terror strike. "But the relief was given at a slow pace," he said. Advani said out of 403 people eligible for relief, only 118 have received cheques. He said 64 of them were eligible for railway jobs but only 32 have received offers. He suggested that the home minister (P. Chidambaram) should take the initiative in the matter and a special cell be created in the home ministry, with an officer on special duty as the head, to look into the "problem of coordination" between 12 different agencies, including eight of the state government. Soon after Advani's speech, Speaker Meira Kumar invited Congress MP Madhu Goud Yaskhi to raise another matter. But BJP leader Ananth Kumar asked the government to respond to Advani's demand, pointing to Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee's presence in the house. An agitated Mukherjee retorted that he had rushed to the house to listen to the Leader of Opposition, and not to hear Ananth Kumar speak. "I have come only to listen to him (Advani). Not to hear from you (Ananth Kumar)," Mukherjee said cuttingly, adding that every zero hour reference could not be answered. "Don't make it a practice," he said. This remark led to heated exchange of words between Mukherjee and BJP MPs, led by Ananth Kumar. "You are making politics out of 26/11. You did that too earlier, and were paid back... You will be again paid back in your own coin," an angry Mukherjee shouted. Speaker Meira Kumar tried to pacify Ananth Kumar, saying it was a solemn occasion and one should maintain its solemnity. "Today is a very solemn day. The house paid our condolences and passed a resolution on 26/11," she said. The house had observed two minutes' silence to remember those killed in the 26/11 strike. Congress MP and spokesperson Manish Tiwari said outside parliament: "When a joint resolution against terror was passed in both the houses of the parliament, the opposition should have maintained a little more restraint." Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D. Raja said, "Today is a day to express deep remorse and not fight in parliament." The BJP later alleged that Pranab Mukherjee had been impolite to party leader Ananth Kumar in the Lok Sabha. "His (Mukherjee's) remarks were not in good taste," BJP leader Sushma Swaraj told mediapersons. She said Mukherjee was the Leader of the House and should have answered the question in the same tenor as that of the member according to parliamentary etiquette. The BJP leader said that 26/11 was a national tragedy on which the country needs to stand united and his party will be in the forefront. Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said the country had learnt lessons from the Mumbai attacks and was better prepared to deal with any such situation. Asked about the delay in providing relief to victims, Ahmed said he was not in a position to say what was the lacuna. "But we as a party request the centre and Maharashtra government that any lapse should be addressed immediately."

Government insensitive to 26/1 victims' claims: BJP

New Delhi: Charging it with "lack of sensitivity and compassion" in providing relief to the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today demanded that the government should give solemn assurance to expedite the compensation cases of the victims. The BJP also charged that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had been impolite to party leader Ananth Kumar during zero hour in the Lok Sabha when he sought an assurance from the UPA government on the points raised by Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani about problems being faced by Mumbai attack victims on the first anniversary of the tragedy. "His (Mukherjee's) remarks were not in good taste," BJP leader Sushma Swaraj told mediapersons here. She said Mukherjee was Leader of the House and should have answered Kumar in the tenor in which the question was asked as per parliamentary etiquette. Ananth Kumar said the government had paid compensation to only 118 people of the 403 victims - those injured and the kin of those killed. "The home ministry has cleared only 98 proposals for giving rehabilitation package, the Railway Claims Tribunal had cleared only 42 cases of 150 eligible, while 32 persons had been offered job by the railways of 64 eligible for employment," he said, adding that 24 grievously injured persons still had bullets embedded in their bodies. "They (the government) were incompetent in preventing the attack and lack sensitivity and compassion to provide relief to the victims," Kumar told mediapersons. He said that Mukherjee should have given clarification on the points raised by the opposition as it was an extraordinary issue. "The government should not behave in a callous manner," he said, adding that the BJP was only apprising the government of the status of victims' compensation claims in the house. Kumar also said that 2611 was a national tragedy on which the country needs to stand united and his party will not be lagging in this effort.

Kasab's lawyer found lying, judge threatens to replace him

Mumbai: A question mark hangs over the continuation of S.G. Abbas Kazmi as the lawyer for 26/11 terror attack accused Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab after the special court found him guilty of lying today- the first anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The issue rocked the special court when Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam expressed his intention to seek the court's permission to examine 340 more formal witnesses in the terror attacks trial. These would be in addition to the 271 witnesses already examined so far in person by Nikam in the past nearly eight months during the trial. "However, these would be examined only through affidavits filed by them, and then it would be up to the defence lawyer whether to summon them for cross-examination or not," Nikam told media. Upon Nikam's submission, Kazmi got up and said he was not informed of this development. Nikam, however, pointed out to Special Judge M. L. Tahaliyani that not only had he expressed his intention to examine the formal witnesses through an affidavit right at the early stages of the trial in May, but on Nov 17 even sent all the copies of the 340 affidavits to Kazmi. Accepting his contention, Tahaliyani termed Kazmi's denial as "a crystal clear lie" and said that all this had happened in the open court in the presence of the defence lawyer. "How can you now deny it?" Tahaliyani demanded of Kazmi. The defence lawyer said that he was not aware that the prosecution would be examining these 340 witnesses through affidavits. Tahaliyani warned that if the defence lawyer continued with such an attitude, the court would have to consider whether he should be allowed to continue with the trial or not. Nikam said that if Kazmi tendered an unconditional apology, then he should be allowed to continue. Otherwise, the special court could take a decision in the matter. Kazmi said if the court so desired, he was prepared to withdraw from the case. Tahaliyani has kept the matter for his ruling Friday. Meanwhile, Nikam - who was planning to complete the ongoing examination of witnesses today- said that the new list of 340 formal witnesses would not have delayed the trial in any manner, barring the delays from the defence side. In case Kazmi is replaced, he will be the second defence lawyer for Kasab to face the axe. Advocate Anjali Waghmare was removed earlier this year after the special court found her guilty of professional misconduct, resulting in clash of interests following her appointment to represent Kasab.

Voices against terror: India speaks out

New Delhi: As the horrors of the 26/11 strike in Mumbai came back to haunt India, people from all walks of life today remembered the day and spoke out against terror -- in the hallowed portals of parliament and on the streets, inside homes and in seminar halls. Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar: "Today is a very solemn day. The house salutes the indomitable courage of the security forces who gave a crushing blow to the terrorists on Nov 26, 2008, and the fortitude of the people of Mumbai. On this day the house resolved to unitedly fight and defeat the forces of terrorism and never again allow them to spill the blood of innocent people." Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan: "We shall leave no stone unturned to protect Mumbai and its citizens." Taj Mahal Palace and Tower General Manager Karambir Kang, who lost his wife and two children in the attack: "A lot of planning goes into dealing with such attacks. We are not dealing with any ordinary people but terrorists here who are fully prepared for everything." Survivor Khurshid: "I lost my friend that day. He was trying to save my life when he got shot. I have lost my faith in humanity. You can try to do anything now, but those who are dead will not come back." Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) announcer Vishnu Dattaram on duty that night: "As soon as my family heard about the attacks they called me. I assured them that I am fine but people around me are not." Leopold Cafe co-owner Farhang Jehani: "After people recovered from the pain that they went through they came back to Leopold's to have their favourite dishes. Even today Leopold's is their favourite eating joint." Survivor Viju Chavan: "I was pregnant at the time of the attack. After that incident people told me to name my daughter 'Goli'. Even today, my daughter is referred to as 'Goli' and not by her real name." Survivor Madhu Kapoor: "We had not imagined that something like this would happen in a five star hotel. Let alone (in Taj hotel). Terrorism was perceived as something which one reads in newspapers and not something which happens in real life. That day opened our eyes." Rear Admiral (Retd.) Vijay Shankar: "What is missing today is the absence of a real anti-terror combat strategy." National Security Guards (NSG) Deputy Inspector General Govind Singh Sisodia: "The security agencies of Britain, Germany, France and Japan have contacted NSG. Everyone wants to know more about the successful completion of one of the most horrid terrorist strikes in the world." Bollywood actor Aamir Khan : "It was a very tragic event, but good thing that happened was that the tragedy brought the people of Mumbai together and closer." Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Shaina NC, who is also a fashion designer: "People want to unite, they want to jointly tackle the common challenges confronting them like terror. That is the reason the 1.5 km wall at Marine Lines has got several thousand messages." Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar: "I remember the indomitable spirit that let us go on. Director Priyadarshan insisted on continuing the work with full strength to defy the terrorists. And now the film is coming, one year and a day after the incident."


Manmohan Singh asks Pakistan to shun terrorism to talk peace

Washington: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has offered to resume the peace dialogue with Pakistan, including on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, provided it abjures terrorism and comes to the table with good faith and sincerity. "My government has invested heavily over the past few years in normalising relations with Pakistan," he said on Monday in an address to the Council On Foreign Relations (CFR), a leading US think-tank. Recalling that the two countries had "made considerable progress on the road to a durable and permanent settlement of all outstanding issues" before the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks stalled the peace dialogue, Manmohan Singh made a conditional offer to resume the talks. "I have said that we are ready to pick up the threads of the dialogue, including on issues related to Jammu & Kashmir," he said noting "We seek a South Asia of peace, friendship and prosperity, where its borders will be energized by the flow of people, goods and ideas." "For this to happen, Pakistan must make a break with the past, abjure terrorism and come to the table with good faith and sincerity," the Prime Minister said expressing his "solemn hope that India and Pakistan can together move forward to write a new chapter in the history of the sub-continent." Noting that the first anniversary of the heinous and barbaric terrorist attacks on Mumbai was three days away, he said: "The trauma of that attack continues to haunt us. Terrorism poses an existential threat to the civilized world and must be defeated." "We should not harbour any illusions that a selective approach to terrorism, tackling it in one place while ignoring it in others, will work," he said.

Catastrophe if Taliban, Al Qaeda succeed in Afghanistan: PM

Washington: The success of Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan would have catastrophic results, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said while urging the global community to provide sustained support to Afghanistan to return to peace. "History has taught us that peace, security and prosperity are indivisible. That is why the evolution of Afghanistan as a stable and moderate nation state is so vital for the region and the world," he said Monday while addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, a leading US think tank. "The road to peace in Afghanistan will be long and hard. But, given the high stakes involved, the commitment of the international community must be sustained by firm resolve and unity of purpose," he said. Asked if the results in Afghanistan would be decisive for Pakistan, Manmohan Singh said: "I have no doubt in my mind that if Taliban and Al Qaeda group of people succeed in Afghanistan that would have catastrophic results for the security and stability not only of Pakistan but also for the security and stability of whole South Asia." Apart from the 1.8 billion people living in South Asia, he said, it would "affect the course of evolution in the Middle East, Central Asia and maybe I think beyond these regions as well". Manmohan Singh declined to interject in the ongoing debate in the US on the right size of troops that need to be deployed in Afghanistan as he was not an expert on military affairs. But, he said: "I am clear in my mind that Afghanistan requires the sustained support of global community if it is to return to a path of peace, freedom and an environment in which fundamentalist and terrorists elements do not have the sway of the type they had some years ago before 9/11." Addressing Pakistan's perceived concerns about New Delhi's role in Afghanistan, the prime minister said India has enduring civilisational links with the country and "we do not see Afghanistan as a theatre of influence". "Our interest is in building a region of peace and stability. India will continue to assist Afghanistan in building its institutions and its human resources," he said. Noting that democracy in an ancient land like Afghanistan would take time to take root, he said: "It is vitally important that all major regional and international players put their weight behind the government of Afghanistan. This is the only way Afghanistan can meet the daunting challenges it faces."

Where has all the online activism post 26/11 disappeared?

New Delhi: When the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks happened last year, the tremors also shook the virtual world. Filled with rage and a passion to set things right, people, especially youngsters, used the web world to create discussion forums and pledged not to let the carnage be forgotten. A year later, most of these groups have fizzled out. The entries are months old, and the discussions, if at all, are on random topics. Take the example of one such group created on the popular social networking site, Facebook. "Mumbai Terror Attacks: I condemn it" was created soon after the terror siege of the country's business capital on the night of Nov 26, 2008. The three-day mayhem by 10 terrorists left 166 dead and 244 injured. The group, which started in December last year, now has 35,150 members. It started with a spurt of passionate discussions, heated debates and heart-wrenching stories. The aim of this cross section of people was the same -- keep the pressure mounting on the government to take steps so that such incidents don't happen again. While the online activism continued for a few months, it started waning by the middle of this year. By August there was a post announcing a gay rights rally and on Nov 9 -- almost a year after the attacks -- there was a discussion topic on Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray. The story of another group, Mumbai 26/11, is similar. The last post on it was three months back and that too on the trend of Indian youngsters going abroad for education. "The good news is that even if you are following the herd of about 2.64 lakh students going abroad to study, you don't have to score 90 percent. Students with as little as 40 percent are making a beeline for a foreign degree..." so went the last update on the 450-member-strong group's profile. Abhilasha Sharma, an advertising executive in Delhi who is a member of one such online group, admitted that she has not bothered to check the updates of the group in the last six months. "When I joined this group, the terror attacks had just taken place. The images of that episode kept flashing on the TV, therefore the emotions were raw. Not just me, but a number of my friends and people I knew joined these various groups that were created overnight on the web and pledged not to take things lying down," Sharma told the media. "I remember I had gone for a candlelight vigil in India Gate too... However, as time passed, the memories started fading. There were no face-to-face meetings and the online momentum was soon lost amid the daily rush of life," she said. Anshuman Dey, a college student, said that while he signed up for one such group in December last year, he lost interest after people started posting updates on random topics. "When I signed up for the group on Orkut, I really believed that we can keep the pressure mounting on the government to ensure better security and putting the culprits on the dock. But after the first candlelight vigil, we never had a second meeting," he said. "There was no face of the group -- it was just a congregation of people. I am not blaming anyone, but I really feel that if a person or a group of people had kept the momentum going by organising meetings or rallies, it would have worked," Dey said. Trying to explain the fizzling out of the 26/11 online groups, Anisha Das, a lawyer and human rights activist, said: "Public memory is very short. People mostly feel for the moment and then get busy attempting to negotiate through their daily lives. "For families of victims, they probably think it's best to move on and rebuild their lives. Very few actually have the strength to follow up on their cases." Online activism in the form of petitions and otherwise have started becoming the latest tool for campaigns by NGOs as well. However in order to sustain these campaigns, it is important to have face-to-face meetings complementing them, feels Parvinder Singh of the international NGO ActionAid.

Liberhan report to be tabled today

New Delhi: An emergency cabinet meeting headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was held today to discuss the tabling of the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry report in parliament. The report is likely to be tabled later in the day, sources said. The Liberhan Commission probed the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Liberhan Report: Congress starts trying to win UP back

New Delhi: The Congress would be taking its initial steps in winning back lost ground in Uttar Pradesh when the Liberhan report is tabled at the Parliament today. This report is sure to resume debates on communality and the Babri Masjid issue. The Liberhan report has presented the Congress with a perfect opportunity to address the minority issue. Uttar Pradesh is perhaps the only place where the Babri debate can be used by Congress to fulfill its political ambitions. Over the years, the Bharatiya Janata Party has not found many takers at this state thus giving it a secular look of sorts. However, Congress is now looking to throw Samajwadi Party off their pedestal for having joined forces with Kalyan Singh who was the chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished. The fact that the Samajwadi Party faced a debacle at the Firozabad by polls meant that its ties with Kalyan Singh have also been snapped. This has also given ammunition to Congress to attack its traditional rivals in this north Indian state. In the recent by poll elections Mulayam Singh had lost at the constituencies of Bharthana and Etawah. This has prompted the Samajwadi Party to work in an aggressive manner to woo the Muslims. Amar Singh, a well known Samajwadi Party leader, has retorted that like they ended their political connections with Kalyan Singh, Congress should also look at its relations with Narayan Rane, Sanjay Nirupam and Chhagan Bhujbal who had been a part of the Shiv Sena when the Bombay riots of 92-93 where raging.