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No curfew, no shutdown, Kashmir gets a day's breather

Curfew was lifted from the entire Kashmir Valley today as markets and banks opened after 10 days of restrictions and separatist-sponsored shutdowns. "Curfew has been lifted from the Valley and there are no restrictions in place anywhere. We are closely monitoring the situation," a police officer told the media here. Despite being a public holiday, shops, banks and post offices opened early and public transport was also seen plying.

Authorities on Saturday evening lifted curfew from north Kashmir Ganderbal district, central Badgam district and also from Handwara town. Curfew was also lifted from nine police station areas in Srinagar city.

"I have spent all the money I had during the last 10 days. I asked a bank official if I could withdraw some money from my savings account and he said the bank would remain open today. That is a big relief," said Nasir Ahmad, a retired engineer living in Srinagar's Lal Bazar area.

The hardline Hurriyat group headed by Syed Ali Geelani has asked people to resume normal activities today and buy essential supplies in sufficient quantity as the group has issued another resistance calendar calling for protests and shutdowns beginning from Monday.

"Normalcy has become an aberration in the Valley while curfews and separatist shutdowns are the order of the day," said Nisar Hussain, a retired engineer.

The Kashmir Valley has been on the boil for more than 50 days due to violent protests against civilians being killed in firing by security forces.

As many as 49 civilians have been killed in firing by security forces in the cycle of violence that began on June 11.

China-India ties to be big story of 21st century: Rao

The relationship between India and China is a complex one but will be the "big story of the 21st century", Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said.

In an interview,Rao said that an "intelligently transacted dialogue" enables both the interlocutors to place their issues, which leads to "greater responsiveness and sensitivity to these issues".

She said: "I believe what that points to is the fact that this relationship, the relationship between India and China, is going to be the big story of the 21st century".

"A story based on dialogue, which we intend to conduct intelligently and which we intend to conduct with confidence so that our concerns are protected always," she added.

"That is exactly the context I referred to when I spoke of the complexity in the relationship. And that is what dialogue, intelligently transacted dialogue, enables you to do when you seek more responsiveness from the other side about your concerns; this is exactly so that we are able to place these issues in context and to seek the other side's focus on this issue and greater responsiveness and sensitivity to these issues," said Rao, a former Indian ambassador to China.

Rao, who was previously Indian ambassador to China, said the two Asian giants not only have a multi-pronged, multi-sectoral dialogue but were also consulting each other on multilateral issues.

"I think there is a multi-sectoral dialogue with China on the bilateral front and if you look at the global multilateral front, there are increasing areas of convergence... And so this is really, as I said, the trajectory along which we hope the dialogue develops," she said.

India and China had fought a border war in 1962 but have since witnessed an increasing economic relationship, with trade volume expected to increase to $60 billion by the end of this year.

There had been a few hiccups in recent months, but Rao said that there were enough institutional mechanisms to let the two sides to keep talking to each other.

"Here in officialdom we deal with realities. And let me tell you the reality of the situation is that the border between India and China has been peaceful for the last few decades and the effort from both sides is to ensure that the mechanisms that we have put in place for confidence-building and for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity work well, and there is constant communication between the two sides," she said.

Sarnas appear before Akal Takht, panel set up on Phoolka charges

The Sikh high priests on Saturday formed a five-member committee to look into a controversy involving 1984 anti-Sikh riots victims' lawyer H.S. Phoolka and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) president Paramjit Singh Sarna and his brother.

The committee was set up after Sarna and his brother appeared before the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs, here on Saturday and submitted a written reply before the Sikh high priests to support their allegations against Phoolka.

The Sarna brothers, Paramjit and Harvinder, were summoned by the Sikh high priests last month following a complaint by Phoolka, lawyer of 1984 anti-Sikh riots victims, saying that he was humiliated by them at a meeting in Delhi recently.

The Sarna brothers were asked to explain their stand on the controversy over Phoolka.

The lawyer later told reporters that the allegations against him by the Sarna brothers were a "deep-rooted conspiracy" by the Congress leaders to save those party leaders who were behind the killing of thousands of innocent Sikhs in New Delhi November 1984 in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on Oct 31, 1984.

Phoolka, who spearheaded a 26-year-long battle for justice to victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, had last month offered to quit as lawyer of riot victims' families after Sarna leveled allegations against him for "having received crores of rupees for personal benefit".

In a letter to the Akal Takht, Phoolka said: "It is not possible for me to continue with the cases."

"I am conscious that my decision will have an adverse impact on the cases, but my hands are tied. An alternative arrangement be made and a decision be rendered at the earliest so that the community's interest does not suffer," he said.

Phoolka's decision follows allegations made by Sarna and his brother Harvinder in the July 17 meeting of the committee that he had taken Rs.1.09 crore from the DSGMC.

But Phoolka, who has himself suffered at the hands of rioters who ruled Delhi's streets for three days following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, denies the allegation.

Shah grilled by CBI throughout today

Gujarat's former minister of state for home Amit Shah was grilled throughout today by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials probing the 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake shootout case. The questioning is expected to continue late in the night.

According to CBI sources, Shah's interrogation would continue late in the night and might be resumed again on Sunday. His two advocates, Mitesh Amin and Yatin Oza, have been permitted to be in visual distance though not in hearing distance during the questioning.

From the CBI, the two principal investigating officers, Deputy Inspector General G.P. Kandaswamy, who is leading the probe, and Superintendent of Police Amitabh Thakur, were present.

According to the sources, one of the key issues that Shah is being questioned on pertains to his phone calls to the police officers accused of the staged killings of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram Prajapati around the period they were killed.

The CBI claimed that the phone call details provided to it by the state CID (Crime), which was investigating the case earlier, were doctored and the originals were in Shah's possession.

The Gujarat High Court on Friday granted the CBI two days' custodial remand of the former minister for questioning.

The CBI officers took custody of Shah from the Sabarmati jail in Ahmedabad today morning and brought him to the CBI office here. Before being handed over to the agency, he was made to go through a medical check-up in the jail.

Meanwhile, the hearing on the bail application of former Banaskantha district police superintendent Vipul Agrawal, the principal accused in the Prajapati killing, scheduled to come up at the Palanpur sessions court today, was put off till Aug 12.

The Gujarat anti-terrorism squad (ATS) has been accused of killing Sheikh in a staged shootout on Nov 26, 2005, in Ahmedabad.

Bengal's decision on CBI probe in Sainthia train crash soon

The West Bengal government will inform the central government within a week about its opinion on a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into last month's train accident in Birbhum district which left 63 dead, an official said today.

State Home Secretary Samar Ghosh said: "A detailed report has been sought from the state police's Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which is probing the accident, and after going through the status report we will inform the centre about our opinion."

He said the CID report is expected in two to three days.

Ghosh's statement came a day after the union home ministry on Friday sent a letter to the state government seeking its opinion about ordering a CBI probe into the accident at Sainthia railway station.

The Sealdah-bound Uttar Banga Express rammed into the stationary Vananchal Express at Sainthia station in West Bengal's Birbhum district on July 19.

According to the letter from the ministry, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has sought a CBI probe into the accident, prompting the central government to seek opinion of the state government on the issue, another senior state government official said.

The state has already initiated a CID probe into the incident following a complaint lodged by passengers with the Government Railway Police (GRP) at Sainthia station.

Kashmiris hold protest in Delhi

Kashmiri students and professionals living in Delhi today took out a rally here to protest the human rights violations back home.

Hundreds of Kashmiris assembled at the Jantar Mantar and demanded a political solution to the Kashmir issue, rather than "a military one".

Among the other demands put forth were the demilitarisation of Kashmir, the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers Act), the release of all political prisoners and a dialogue with Kashmiri leaders.

Shouting pro-freedom slogans, the protesters also demanded an immediate end of the killings of protesters in the Valley by security forces.

Though no major incident of violence was reported from anywhere in the Kashmir Valley today and authorities lifted curfew from parts of Srinagar and three major towns, another injured protester succumbed to his injuries in hospital, taking the toll in the last nine days to 32 and the total since June 11 to 49. Most of the deaths were due to firing by security forces.

'Awareness, support can prevent mental illness'

Awareness and community-support at an early stage can help prevent the onset of mental illness, experts suggested on Saturday.

They were speaking at a panel discussion commemorating 10 years of Erawadi tragedy in Tamil Nadu, which left 28 mentally disabled people charred to death on Aug 6, 2001. The victims could not escape as they were chained.

The discussion laid emphasis on the judicial reforms and social activism needed in the area of mental health. The United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities was also discussed.

Former Delhi High Court chief justice A.P. Shah said: "The horror of the incident should have triggered many positive changes. It is still sad to know that the laws are inclined towards the safety of society from persons with illness."

Javed Abidi, director of Disabled Rights Group, said: "We need to look at the rights of mentally disabled people. They are abandoned in asylums where they are chained, given drugs that might even aggravate their illness. Their rights are violated."

Jeetu Moni wins 'Dance India Dance L'il Masters'

After several weeks of tough competition, 11-year-old Jeetu Moni Kalita from Guwahati was announced the winner of Zee TV's dance reality show "Dance India Dance L'il Masters" at the grand finale held in Pune on Saturday.

The talented boy pipped Pune-based Vaishnavi Patil, Atul Banmoria from Mani Majra in Chandigarh and Manoj Rathod from Mumbai, to bag the title of "Dance Ka Baap".

He has been awarded a trophy and a cash prize of Rs.300,000.

The grand finale took place at Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune, and was graced by actress Sonam Kapoor and her father, actor Anil Kapoor.

The show began with 16 children and was judged by ace choreographers Farah Khan and Sandip Soparrkar.

Veteran actor Mithun Chakraborty also attended the event. The children's mentors - Dharmesh, Jay, Mayuresh-Vrushali and Amrita staged power-packed performances.

Choreographers Remo D'souza, Geeta Kapoor and Terence Lewis, who provided encouragement to the contestants on various stages, too came to encourage the children.

'Lamhaa' director invited to visit Kashmir

While Rahul Dholakia's "Lamhaa", a telescopic look at militancy and other problems plaguing the Kashmir Valley, didn't release there because of the current turmoil, pirated DVDs nevertheless made their way into markets. Some top Kashmiri leaders have apparently watched the film and invited Dholakia to visit the state.

"Though prominent politicians and ordinary Kashmiris have watched 'Lamhaa' on spurious DVDs, I'm grateful they saw the film. Front-page articles are being written in Kashmir's papers. And I've been invited to visit the Valley," Dholakia told the media.

The filmmaker, however, doesn't want to reveal any names for fear that the politicians may be pulled up for viewing "Lamhaa" illegally, especially since there was much hue and cry when some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members watched a pirated copy of "Rajneeti" in Rajasthan.

But unfortunately Dholakia can't go to Kashmir immediately as his father is ailing.

"My parents, who are US-based, flew down to Mumbai for the release of 'Lamhaa'. My father, who is 82, is unwell. I am now torn between looking after him and visiting Kashmir. As soon as my father is well I am off to Kashmir."

Dholakia's "Lamhaa", which earned him good reviews, stars Sanjay Dutt, Bipasha Basu, Anupam Kher and Kunal Kapoor.

After "Lamhaa", the director has almost completed a social satire called "Society" and is all set to direct a film for Ravi Chopra, again based on a "burning" issue.

But this time the issue is not political. It's about loopholes in the legal system.

Ironically, the Chopras got themselves into a legal tangle over copyright of their latest film "Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai", which was an adaptation of Hollywood film "My Cousin Vinny".

Apparently Dholakia's film is inspired by the Chopras' encounter with legal issues.

Said Dholakia: "Right now it's slightly early to talk about the project. But, yes, it tackles legal issues. I can't comment on whether Mr. (Amitabh) Bachchan is in the film. It is every director's dream to direct him."

I'm not bold enough for item numbers: Sonakshi Sinha

Shatrughan Sinha's daughter Sonakshi's launchpad "Dabangg" has one of the raunchiest item numbers, but she isn't a part of it. Ask her if she ever wanted to be in Malaika Arora Khan's shoes for the song, the shy debutante says a clear no.

"No I never wanted to be in the song. It's because I am a shy person. I can't be so bold and daring and I think Malaika is fabulous in the song ('Munni badnaam') and at what she does. But that's not me...I didn't want to do it," Sonakshi, who is debuting opposite Salman Khan, told the media.

Considering so many actresses are giving a nod to item numbers, will she think of doing one in future?

"No. I am not open to item numbers. I am happy with what I am doing," she said with a coy smile.

The 23-year-old studied fashion designing and was 30 kg more than what she is today. But a promise given to her by superstar Salman Khan changed her life.

"Salman had promised me that he will give me a break if I lose weight. So I started working hard...It took me two years to get into shape and he fulfilled his promise. Salman was very particular about my gym routine and pushed me into it as I was very lazy and lethargic," she said.

Now the actress looks fit and beautiful - all excited for her first film to hit the screens in September. In "Dabangg", her role is of a village belle, Rajo, who plays an important part in changing the life of Chulbul Pandey, the protagonist played by Salman.

Sonakshi is candid when she says she always wanted a more glamorous debut but has no complaints about her first film.

"I did want a glamorous debut. Who doesn't want it? But then these days who knows what will work and what won't. The film has turned out well; it has an actor as popular as Salman and I feel it's a nice project to start off with. I think I made a good decision," the youngster said.

But Sonakshi, who was in the capital for the music launch of "Dabangg", intends to be very selective about her future films.

"I don't have to struggle a lot and sign up films frivolously, I don't have to buy a house or car, I am well settled with my family. So I want to work at my own pace and so I will be and can be extremely choosy about my films," she said.

So is the luxury of being choosy thanks to being Shatrughan Sinha's daughter?

"There are both sides to being a star kid. For my brother (Luv Sinha), 'Sadiyaan' didn't prove to be a successful launch. So it's easy for some, and tough for some. It's easy for star kids in the sense that our parents have been in the industry for a long time and they have contacts; so filmmakers are that much more accessible.

"But it also has a downside - people have a lot more expectations from you. For me, it has been a beautiful journey so far, and I believe no journey is complete without both ups and downs equally. So I am very happy," Sonakshi said.

It's always exciting to break rules: Priyanka Chopra

Actress Priyanka Chopra says she is venturing into TV as a reality show host at the peak of her Bollywood career as she loves breaking rules. But she is quick to shrug off comparisons with Akshay Kumar saying he is the "original khiladi".

She will be host of "Fear Factor-Khatron Ke Khiladi" season three, which she says will be scarier than its previous editions that saw Akshay play host to 13 women celebrities.

"I want to thank Akshay. He was so wonderful in the last two seasons of 'Khatron Ka Khiladi' that he has already brought the show to one level, I only have to carry it forward. Comparisons would be unfair," Priyanka told the media in an interview.

"Akshay is not only the industry's but also India's action hero. He is an original khiladi and I can't be like him; neither will I try following in his footsteps. I will try to make a mark of my own."

Breaking rules excites Priyanka and that's why she chose to venture into television now.

"Television is the biggest medium to reach your audience. There is a set rule that when actors are leaving films, they come to television. It's always exciting to break rules. I'm lucky that I'm in such a stage of my career where I'm doing good films with talented people. At this point, doing something different is quite exciting," said Priyanka.

Asked why she chose "Fear Factor..." as a television debut, she said: "Actually I'm doing so many films right now that there's no time for television. When 'Fear Factor' came to me, because it's my favourite show and I love spontaneous things...and the fact that I could grill the boys and be really mean to them, I guess being a part of a show like this was really exciting for me. What made it easier for me was they required only 20 days from me."

"Fear Factor" on the Colors channel will bring together 13 celebrities competing with one another by performing daring stunts and the one who survives through all the tasks is the winner.

"This time the stunts are bigger, a little more scary, a little more gross. Actually they play with your mind at lot...There can be trivial things that scare you. Some fear darkness, some may fear cockroaches, so it's basically playing with your fears," said Priyanka.

The show was earlier supposed to have cricketers as contestants this season but now they have male celebrities including model-actors Rahul Dev, Milind Soman and Dino Morea, actors Rahul Bose, Shabbir Ahluwalia, Karan Singh, funnyman Cyrus Broacha, filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor and squash champion Ritwik Bhattacharya.

"I think BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) had a commitment with the channel but later what happened I really don't know. But now I have contestants from various I feel it's much better because you have various people who will talk about many, many things. It's a different mix of people," said Priyanka.

Asked whom she would choose if she had to select participants among her co-stars, she said: "I would love to see Shah Rukh Khan in this show. If Ranbir (Kapoor) had been a participant it would have been great entertainment."

Priyanka reveals that her mother is scared about her being on the adventure show.

"My father and brother were very excited, but my mom got very scared and she said she would stay with me during the shoot and keep praying for me," the actress said.

So will we get to see her perform dangerous stunts as well?

"You will see me showing stunts. Quite a few actually...may be not in every episode. See the lucky thing is I'm the host and I can pick my stunts," she quipped.

"Fear Factor..."' is expected to go on air in September and will be shot in Brazil this month.

Delhi Metro pays back over Rs.567 crore to Japanese agency

One of the few metros in the world to make an operational profit, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has paid an amount of over Rs. 567 crore back to a Japanese agency, which sanctioned it a loan for its projects.

According to a DMRC spokesperson today, the amount of 567.63 crore paid to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) included the loan for Phase I, besides the interest amount for Phase I and II of the metro projects.

JICA, earlier known as Japan Bank for International Cooperation, had sanctioned a loan of Rs. 6,434.06 crore for the Delhi Metro's phase I project on an annual interest of 1.3-2.3 percent.

"The loan was received by DMRC in a total of 6 tranches. Phase I comprised of 65 km and was completed in 2002 with a total completion cost of Rs.10,571 crore, out of which 60 percent was financed by JICA," the spokesperson said.

The total cost for Phase II is approximately Rs.20,000 crore and JICA is financing 49.19 percent of it. For DMRC's Phase II, the Japanese company has sanctioned a loan of Rs.9,686.69 crore -- to be paid in 5 tranches on an annual interest of 1.2-1.4 percent.

"So far, four tranches have been paid to DMRC. Phase II comprising 124.61 km will be completed by September ahead of the Commonwealth Games," he added.

The Delhi metro said that the Japanese company has altogether collected an amount of over Rs.16,000 crore to DMRC for both Phase I and Phase II projects.

The loan payback period for both Phase I and II is 30 years with a moratorium of 10 years. This way, the DMRC can pay back the loan for Phase I by 2035 and for Phase II by 2040.

The spokesperson said that after completion of the two phases, Delhi will have a total network of over 190 kms covering Delhi and NCR regions.

Phase-II is also crucial om the point of view of the Commonwealth Games because the Metro link will be connecting 10 out of a total of 11 Commonwealth Games venues.

Disabled group demands sacking of swimming coach, official

Irked with a swimming coach and an official of a sporting body, the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) has written to Sports Minister M.S. Gill to sack them ahead of the Swimming World Championship from Aug 15-21.

The letter written on Friday alleges that the disabled athletes are facing continuing discrimination at the hands of corrupt sporting bodies like the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI), and the indifference of the sports ministry.

"It is the first time that four Indian paralympic swimmers have qualified for the World Championships. A good performance will impact the probability of our swimmers for the London Paralympics 2012," NCPEDP director Javed Abidi said.

"The team is supposed to leave on Aug 12 but the swimmers have still not been informed if they are going or not. Neither have their funds been sanctioned nor their visas arranged," he added.

"Moreover, they are currently undergoing coaching on their own and at their own expense," Abidi said.

The PCI has said that if the swimmers want to participate in the World Championships, they will have to fund the tour themselves, he said.

The NCPEDP demanded that V.K. Dabas, coach of the Indian para swimming team from the Paralympic Swimming Federation of India, and C.V. Raghunath, administrator of the PCI, be sacked.

"The four players are not and don't even want to train with Dabas. Then why his name is being proposed by the PCI as coach for the world championship? As for Raghunath, he is neither disabled nor does he have anything to do with swimming," Abidi argued.

He added that it is high time the sports ministry puts a stop to foreign tours of corrupt PCI officials at the expense of the public exchequer.

FIR cannot be encyclopaedia of incident: Supreme court

The Supreme Court has said that a first information report (FIR) was not an "encyclopaedia" that would contain the minutest details of an incident and it was not necessary to mention therein all the evidence on which the prosecution proposes to rely during the trial.

"The FIR need not be an encyclopaedia of all the facts and circumstances on which the prosecution relies," said a bench of Justice Harjit Singh Bedi and Justice J.M. Panchal, overturning an April 12, 2002 Allahabad High Court verdict acquitting three accused sentenced to death for killing six people in a village in Uttar Pradesh's Farrukhabad district.

"The basic purpose of filing FIR is to set the criminal law into motion and not to state all the minute details therein," the court said in their judgment on Tuesday, but made available today.

Writing the judgment, Justice Panchal said: "The hard reality of life is that the person who has lost kith and kin in the horrific incident is likely to suffer great shock and, therefore, law would not expect him to mention minutest details either in his FIR or statement under Section 161 (of the Criminal Procedure Code)."

The apex court assailed the high vourt for not taking into account the oral dying declaration of a deceased while appreciating the evidence. The reasons given by the high court for disbelieving the oral dying declaration was that it was not mentioned by the witness, Jhabbulal either in his FIR or in his statement recorded under Section 161 of Cr.P.C.

The high court committed a serious error in disbelieving the oral dying declaration made by deceased Baburam before his brother Jhabbulal, implicating Shrikrishna, Ram Sewak and Kishori, as his assailants, the judgment said.

It said the question before the court is whether the assertion made by the witness that soon after the incident, he had gone to the place where his injured brother was lying and was told that the appellants were his assailants, inspires confidence of the court.

Answering this question, the apex court judgment said that the evidence of the witness as a whole points to a ring of truth in it. It went on to say that there was nothing improbable if a brother approaches his injured brother and tries to know from him as to how he had received the injuries nor it is improbable that upon an enquiry being made the injured brother would not give reply/information sought from him.

Meghalaya rebel group asks for boycott of Independence Day

The outlawed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) today appealed to the people to join their boycott of the Independence Day celebrations, even as security forces were put on alert across eastern Meghalaya.

"We appeal to the people of Hynniewtrep land (eastern Meghalaya) to join hands with us in this fight for the greater cause of our nation," HNLC spokesman Sainkupar Nongtraw said.

As a mark of protest to the celebration of Independence Day in Hynniewtrep land, the HNLC has called for a 36-hour shutdown from 6 p.m. on Aug 14 to 6 a.m. on Aug 16.

At the same time, the Khasi rebel group also called for a night curfew on Aug 12 and 13 from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on both the days.

"The HNLC will not take any responsibility for anything that happens to any person violating the call for agitation," Nongtraw warned.

The HNLC, which runs hit-and-run operations from its hideout in Bangladesh, has been demanding a sovereign Khasi homeland in eastern Meghalaya.

Meghalaya shares a 443 km-border with Bangladesh, part of which is porous, hilly and unfenced and prone to frequent infiltration.

Indian classical dance now a global heritage

Once confined to temples, Indian classical dance is crossing the seas, creating new cross-cultural idioms and churning out foreign exponents.

Classical dancers of foreign origin say genres like bharatanatyam, kathak and mohiniattam have become fashion, wellness and cultural statements among GenNext in Southeast Asia and in the West because of their heritage and mystic pull.

Kuchipudi, a traditional dance from Andhra Pradesh that was conferred classical status a few years ago, is finding a slow but steady following among serious dance aficionados.

Indian classical dance is riding on the surge of the diaspora population, one of the largest worldwide. They are passing the tradition to the local non-Indian populace as part of the cultural osmosis post-globalisation.

"We have a large established Indian population in Southeast Asia that is closely connected to India. The Indians living in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia consider themselves to be a part of greater India and classical dances are a part of their lives," Ramli Ibrahim, one of the best-known exponents in Malaysia of bharatanatyam and odissi, told the media.

"Indian culture is trying to broaden its perspective and transcend the barriers of both India and diaspora," Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim and student January Low were in India to perform at an International Dance Festival organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Ibrahim, a dancer of Islamic origin who has trained in classical ballet, modern dance and Indian classical dance, likes to explore "modern culture from an Asian perspective".

As a teacher of bharatanatyam and odissi, Ibrahim has groomed some of the finest dancers in Malaysia at his Sutra Dance Theatre and at the same time placed Indian classical dance in the context of the Malaysian experience.

Low, a danseuse of Chinese-Malayali origin, teaches bharatanatyam to more than 200 students in Malaysia.

"My father encouraged me to learn bharatanatyam and odissi from guru Ramli Ibrahim when I was 15," she said.

Low said the large Tamil and Malayali diaspora in Southeast Asia has contributed to the popularity of the genres in the Orient. "Earlier, bharatanatyam topped the popularity charts but odissi has now jumped into the wagon," Low, a native of Kuala Lumpur, told the media.

She is helping propagate the dance forms across the world. "I spend most of my time touring the world with my troupe of seven bharatanatyam and odissi dancers," she said.

The Tribhangi Dance Theatre of South Africa, directed by Jayasperi Moopen, fuses Indian bharatanatyam with Afro dances for new cross-cultural choreographies.

"Kathak will soon become a part of the curriculum at the Beijing Dance Academy in October this year," said Zhang Jinghui, a kathak dancer from China.

The dancer, who presented a kathak recital in the capital Aug 4, said her "guru Ashok Chakraborty - who teaches kathak to more than 300 Chinese children across the country - will instruct learners at the academy".

"The ICCR has been the force behind popularising kathak and bharatanatyam in China that till five years ago identified Indian dance with the ones shown in Bollywood movies," she said.

"Chinese dancers love the speed of kathak," she added.

Irina Strakhovenko, a kuchipudi dancer from Russia, said: "The relatively low-key traditional dance from Andhra Pradesh is gradually finding practitioners in Russia and across Europe. The genre has been slow to journey out of the country."

"Kuchipudi has everything - it combines the grace of odissi, the perfection of bharatanatyam and the speed of kathak," she told IANS.

Anne Dietrick teaches mohiniattam, a traditional genre from Kerala, in German universities. "I conduct at least 30 workshops a year," the exponent, who trained at the Kerala Kala Mandalam, told media.

Bharatanatyam and kuchipudi dancer Kaushalya Reddy of the Raja-Radha-Kaushalya Reddy trio says the whole world is attracted to Indian dance along with Indian clothes, fashion and cuisine.

"The country's rich culture and spiritual health draw people. In the US, almost every street has a kuchipudi dance school," Reddy told the media.

Juan Manuel Santos sworn in as Colombia's 59th president

BOGOTA: Juan Manuel Santos has been sworn in as the 59th president of Colombia the Western Hemisphere's only nation beset by an armed conflict.

A reminder of the conflict was the absence of Venezeulan President Hugo Chavez among the 14 Latin American presidents attending Saturday's inauguration.

Chavez broke ties with Colombia two weeks ago after outgoing President Alvaro Uribe released video of alleged Colombian rebel camps in Venezuela.

Venezuela's foreign minister did attend, saying Chavez's government is ready to extend a hand of friendship to Colombia's new leader.
source: agency

80 dead, 2,000 missing in China landslides

BEIJING: Over 80 people were killed and 2,000 went missing on Sunday morning after landslides triggered by torrential rains hit northwest China's Gansu province, an official said.

The landslides occurred at around 12 am on Sunday in Zhouqu county in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. More than 80 people have been confirmed dead and some 2,000 others are missing, said Mao Shengwu, an official.

"Torrential rains began at around 10 pm on Saturday, then there were landslides," Xinhua quoted Diemujiangteng, head of the county, as saying.

"Many people were trapped. Now the sludge has become the biggest problem. It's too thick to walk or drive through," he said.

At least 50,000 residents in the county seat and nearby regions were believed to be affected as floods had submerged half of the county and many houses were buried by landslides, authorities said.

Li Tiankui, a resident who lived near the Bailong River, said: "Someone said the fifth floor of my residential building has been submerged. People are busy looking for their family members and friends."

Peng Wei, head of the county's fire department said: "The county was in a valley and the Bailong River runs in the middle...The cars in the yard have all been damaged. Many toppled houses have formed new barriers to the floods.

A barrier lake was formed on the Bailong River which runs through the county at around 1 am.

Two helicopters carrying demolition experts left for the landslide-hit county at 6.30 a.m. Sunday to explode the barrier lake, according to the provincial flood relief headquarters.
source: agency

HP CEO forced out for hiding payments to contractor 'friend'

SAN FRANCISCO: Hewlett-Packard Co CEO Mark Hurd resigned after an investigation found that he had falsified expense reports to conceal a "close personal relationship" with a female contractor.

The shocking announcement from the world's top personal computer maker sent its shares plunging 10%, as Hurd is one of the most admired executives in Silicon Valley, credited with reviving HP after the tumultuous reign of Carly Fiorina.

The unnamed contractor, who did marketing for HP from late 2007 to fall 2009, contacted the firm's board in June this year and alleged that Hurd had sexually harassed her, HP said.

The board ordered an investigation and found that the married 53-year-old Hurd did not violate HP's sexual harassment policy. But he had a "close personal relationship" with the woman that was never disclosed to the board, HP said.

"The board investigation found that Mark demonstrated a profound lack of judgment that seriously undermined his credibility and damaged his effectiveness in leading HP and Mark agreed," HP general counsel Mike Holston said, adding that the board's decision to replace Hurd was unanimous.

Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles-based attorney who has represented numerous high-profile clients including Tiger Woods' alleged mistresses, said late on Friday she is representing the woman who made the sexual harassment claim.

She said her client did not have sex with Hurd, but declined to identify the woman or comment further.

According to HP, Hurd filed "numerous inaccurate expense reports" that concealed his relationship with the contractor, who also received compensation and expense reimbursements without legitimate business reasons.

Hurd said the decision to step aside was "painful". A source familiar with Hurd's "business acquaintance" said the expense issues stretched over two years, were related to travel, meals and lodging, and totaled up to $20,000.
source: agency

Curfew lifted from entire Kashmir Valley

SRINAGAR: Curfew was on Sunday lifted from the entire Kashmir Valley following improvement in the situation after days of violent street protests and police firing.

Relative calm prevailed in the city and other parts of the Valley, prompting the authorities to lift the curfew, police said. Curfew was withdrawn from three districts of the state -- Budgam, Gandarbal and Kupwara -- and some localities of the Srinagar city on Saturday.

As per police, curfew has now been withdrawn from the districts of Anantnag, Srinagar, Baramulla, Kulgam, Bandipora, Shopian and Pulwama.

Curfew was imposed in the entire Valley on July 31 in the wake of violent protests in which 33 people were killed and several others, including securitymen, injured.

The latest round of violence in the Valley saw protestors attacking and torching government and police buildings, railway stations and vehicles, prompting hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to issue a surprise appeal telling agitators that burning public property would damage the "movement".

Urging people of Kashmir to "heed to voices of reason" and desist from violent protests, home minister P Chidambaram had on August 4 promised to reactivate a dialogue to address their grievances once normalcy is restored in the Valley.

Battling the upsurge in violence in the Valley, chief minister Omar Abdullah had visited Delhi and met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week. Omar had said the state needs a political initiative to deal with the situation but made it clear that for that to happen a semblance of normalcy was needed.

Beckham hopes to return to Galaxy next month

LOS ANGELES: English midfielder David Beckham said he hopes to return to the Los Angeles Galaxy in September even though doctors have projected he would not be healthy enough for a comeback until October.

The 35-year-old Major League Soccer superstar suffered a torn left Achilles' tendon last March while on loan to AC Milan in a Serie A match against Chievo.

Beckham said on Saturday that he saw a doctor on Saturday and he was given a prognosis for an October return.

"Two or three weeks before that," Beckham said he told the doctors. "It's just about getting strength back in my calf."

At 12-3 with four drawn for 40 points, the Galaxy began the day with the best record and highest point total in the 16-team US league, which decides its champion in a November playoff.

The Galaxy play six of their final seven matches on their home pitch in September and October, but if Beckham can make an early recover, his debut could set up a showdown of superstars.

Los Angeles will play host to the New York Red Bulls, whose lineup now includes French star Thierry Henry, on September 24, and a Beckham return for that match would be a showcase event for MLS.

The Red Bulls are 8-6 with three drawn for 27 points, fourth-best in MLS.

It's salsa and rumba time for corporates

It's not yoga and aerobics but salsa, samba, tango, waltz and other western dance forms that constitute the new mantra among corporates to help employees de-stress. Private companies are offering their employees dance classes to reduce stress levels the fun way.

"Western dancing has actually become very popular with corporates. With work pressure increasing and long working hours, employees don't have the time and the energy to indulge in any such activity after office hours.

So now with offices offering dance classes, the employees can relax and learn new forms in the office itself," said ace choreographer Sandip Soparrkar.

Soparrkar, who is a pro in ballroom dancing, offers dance lessons at the offices of HUL, Lintas, Hinduja Hospital, Jet Airways, ICICI, Westside and Citibank among others to train employees in dance forms like salsa, samba, rumba, cha cha cha, waltz and tango among other international forms of dancing.

According to Tijo Rolls of Tijo's Dance Academy, western dancing helps employees in many ways.

"Firstly, it is a stress buster and very enjoyable. Then the employees learn a new form of dance; and the main thing is that employees from different departments and levels dance in the same area.

This helps to break the ice among people of different levels in the organization and encourages team spirit," said Tijo, who along with his trainers, takes classes in companies like McCann Erickson, Tata Consultancy Services, Delloitte and 3G among others.

Shikha Bansal, 28, who didn't want to reveal the name of her company, agreed with Tijo.

"Through our dance classes we get to know our co-workers much better because it's not just work that we discuss during the classes. People from all departments dance together. No one is a boss or an employee," she said.

Soparrkar added that dance also helps develop a person's personality.

"Attending dance classes in office helps people come out of their shells and instils confidence in them. It helps develop their personalities, which is an added advantage. People from all age groups can learn these forms," he revealed.

Employees too prefer dance classes to other forms of exercise, including gymming in office.

"Sitting in front of the computer the entire day is a task; so when these dance classes were introduced in our office we found a way to relax for some time," said Devna Dhyani, who works with WNS global services.

"Also dance is a much more enjoyable way of exercising and staying healthy than working out in a gym. Gymming becomes boring at times," she added.

While some companies offer this facility to their employees for free, others charge a discounted price for the services from anywhere between Rs.500 to Rs.2,500 for 12 classes.

Asked what makes companies prefer western dance to Indian classical dances, Soparrkar said: "Western dances can be learnt and picked up at any age but with Indian classical dances, it's always advised to start at a young age; hence Western dance is preferred for employees."

Now, employees are dancing their way to work!
source: agency

US firm plans to sell 'Bhang' chocolates, seeks trademark

NEW DELHI: Chocolates as such are considered intoxicating for many, and an American entrepreneur now wants to give it a new high by lacing the bitter-sweet dessert with very much an Indian intoxicant 'Bhang' and trademark it too.

The product, to be produced and sold in the US for now and possibly in our country later, will be called 'Bhang: The Original Cannabis Chocolate' and the New Mexico-based chololateur has sought a trademark for the same. If the trademark is granted, the Bhang word cannot be used for a chocolate or candy product by anyone else.

Synonymous with festivals like Holi and Shivratri and associated with Lord Shiva in the Hindu mythology, 'Bhang' is one of the few legally available preparations of cannabis plant in the country. It is smoked and also consumed as a beverage or doughed up as semi-solid candies.

Adding a new recipe of this ancient Indian intoxicant, chocolateur Scott J Van Rixel plans to start selling at least two types of 'Bhang' chocolates soon in the US and will later consider expanding to India, if regulations permit.

In response to emailed queries on the matter, Rixel told PTI from California that "sky is the limit" when it comes to the market potential for these new chocolates, as there is no "high-end cannabis chocolate" available.

Rixel has already incorporated a company named 'Bhang Chocolate Company Inc' for this new venture and is also selling merchandise items like T-shirts and baseball caps with the name and logo of 'Bhang Chocolate' embossed on them as part of a marketing and brand recognition exercise.

"Yes, we have an extensive line of merchandise that will be available internationally," Rixel said.

Asked whether he will consider producing and selling these chocolates here, Rixel said, "I am not familiar enough with India's cannabis laws, but would love to to do so, even if it is the THC-free white label products."

Rixel plans to sell two types of Bhang chocolates -- a white label containing hemp seeds and hemp oil and the black label with THC containing Marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are two forms of cannabis plants and the former has very low THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) content, the main psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants.

In India, Bhang is made of dried leaves and flowering shoots of hemp plants, which also produces ganja and charas.
source: agency

Government ensures food for rats by allowing stocks to rot: Karat

Slamming the ruling United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) food management policies, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat today said the government was ensuring food for rats by allowing stocks to rot. "The FCI (Food Corporation of India) godowns have 60 million tonnes of foodgrain. Stocks are overflowing and allowed to rot. What they are ensuring is food safety for rats," Karat said while inaugurating the extended central committee meeting of the party here. The CPI-M leader said the Left parties have been demanding food security for poor since long "but the government is relentless". "The Congress leadership and the government speak hypocritically about inclusive growth when the policies they pursue are designed to exclude the vast majority of the people from access to food, education, jobs and social security." He said India presents the "shameful spectacle" of having the world's largest number of hungry and malnourished people. He said repeated increases in the prices of petroleum products is one major reason for ever rising prices. "How the government policy is injurious for people's interests is glaringly illustrated by the relentless price rise of food and other essential commodities. Government policies are directly responsible for the ever rising prices," Karat said. "Repeated increases in the prices of petroleum products is one major reason. Forward trading in foodgrain and other essential commodities is another major factor. The government has weakened and curtailed the Public Distribution System through a targeted system, which excludes much of the poor. Yet the government callously and arrogantly refuses to take responsibility," he added. Opposing the government's pro-US policies, he said the US and Israel are the two essential friends of India during the Manmohan Singh government's rule. He also slammed the government for its effort to pass the India-US civil nuclear liability bill in parliament. "There are no second thoughts on compromising national sovereignty and even the lives and safety of the people in order to fructify this alliance. As part of the commitment made in the Indo-US nuclear deal, the government has brought a legislation in parliament which embodies this subservience. "After the worst industrial accident in the history of the world in Bhopal, in which the victims got no justice and the perpetrator of the crime - the American multinational - was let off, the government now proposes a law which will make any American company which supplies nuclear reactors to India not liable for even one rupee if there is a nuclear accident," he added.

Chhattisgarh has best government-party tuning: BJP

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is experiencing the best co-ordination between government and party in Chhattisgarh, party's newly-appointed state in-charge J.P. Nadda said today. "There is an absolute tuning between the party's state government and state unit which is an example in itself to follow on," Nadda, a BJP general secretary, told reporters after his maiden trip to the state as in-charge. Asked about the growing activities of dissidents in the state, he said: "The party would not tolerate anyone's outburst in media and if anyone has a complaint about anything, he or she can directly communicate with me or even voice it at party forums." Nadda, who was appointed in-charge last month for the state where BJP is in power since December 2003, observed that the Chhattisgarh government was tackling the Maoist militancy with "limited resources". "Naxal (Maoist) issue is not a problem alone of Chhattisgarh... it has now become a national problem but Chhattisgarh's BJP government is committed to wiping out leftist militancy from its soil," he added.

Dust needs to settle: Rao on India-Pakistan talks

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has said that the "dust needs to settle" after the collapse of the India-Pakistan talks in Islamabad last month. In an interview to Outlook magazine, the foreign secretary was asked a question on the future of the talks. "I believe the dust needs to settle," she said. Rao said that India's "genuine, carefully formulated and reasonable approach to these talks" should not be "under-estimated and under-valued by Pakistan". After the meeting between External Affairs minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart S.M. Qureshi July 15, their joint press conference went downhill with Qureshi equating a statement by Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai to the provocative anti-India speech of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafez Saeed. "At some stage into the press conference, after four questions had been raised -- two from the Indian side and two from the Pakistani side -- as previously agreed, Foreign Minister Qureshi decided to allow more questions. Perhaps the outcome would have been less tendentious if this turn of events had not taken place," Rao argued in the interview. She said that "path to lasting peace with Pakistan will not be easy", adding: "We have never nurtured any illusions about this". "A serious, sustained and comprehensive dialogue remains the best option. But such a dialogue can thrive only in a climate free of terrorism directed against us from Pakistan. Otherwise, the trust deficit and public alienation towards Pakistan will only deepen," said Rao. On the reiteration by Pakistan that it is also a victim of terrorism, the top Indian diplomat noted that it did not "diminish its responsibility to address India's legitimate concerns about Pakistan-originated terrorism against our citizens and our territory". "A selective approach in such matters is not acceptable," she asserted.

Current account deficit likely to be 2.7 percent of GDP: Rangarajan

India's current account deficit this fiscal is expected to be 2.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and capital inflows are likely to be around $73 billion, said C. Rangarajan, chairman of prime minister's economic advisory council, today. "This (capital inflows) will go to cover the current account deficit and add to reserves of a modest sum of $31 billion. Thus, with a moderate surplus on the capital account after meeting the current account deficit, the exchange rate variations will stay within an acceptable range," he said. Delivering a lecture on Globalization and the International Financial Crisis, he underlined the need for bringing down the current account deficit. The deficit, however, will not pose a financing problem to Indian economy as the capital inflows were expected to be adequate, he said. "With globalization, capital inflows need to be managed with an appropriate balance between market forces and regulation," he said at the the foundation day lecture at School of Management Studies, University of Hyderabad. He suggested that the best policy option to tackle large capital inflows is strong economic growth which can absorb the large inflows without affecting the macro economic stability. "So long as there are saving-investment imbalances, capital flows will remain. The art of the management of capital inflows lies in discouraging short term volatile flows and encouraging long term quasi-permanent flows," he said. Stating that the current financial crisis exposed the weaknesses of the regulatory framework particularly in the advanced countries, the former Reserve Bank of India governor felt that regulatory reform agenda in a globalized world must be more or less uniform across countries. Rangarajan suggested that the regulatory framework should cover all segments of the financial markets, systemically important financial institutions and should receive special attention. He said institutions may set up buffers in good times to be drawn in bad times and excessive leverage in banks may be contained through additional supplements to the risk based capital ratio. He said the current international financial crisis has brought out in a stark way the impact of globalization. Globalization spreads both prosperity and distress. The contagion works both ways, he said. "The coming years may see increasing restrictions being put on financial services. Developing countries may not want to see unfettered freedom in the flow of funds. As in the case of everything, there is a need to have a balanced view here," he said.

Army, IAF bring succour to devastated Leh

Six Indian Air Force (IAF) planes landed today in devastated Leh town in Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region with men and material to carry out rescue and relief operations after flash floods triggered by a massive cloudburst killed 120 people. The Indian Army has also activated its disaster management cell for rescue operations on a war footing since the tragedy hit the cold desert mountainous region located at an altitude of 3,505 metres. Heavy rainfall disrupted the operations for a few hours Saturday. More than 6,000 army soldiers are conducting rescue and relief work in the region that shares its borders with China. While the priority of the relief operations of the army is on saving lives and property, soldiers are also providing succour to the affected with food, drinking water, medicines. Bulldozers and other earth moving equipment of the army were pressed into service to clear the mudslide. Leh airport, affected in the mud slide, was opened Saturday and six planes of the IAF carrying disaster response teams, doctors, communications equipment and material took off from Delhi and Chandigarh. A defence spokesperson said the rescue and relief operations "received a major boost with the arrival of six plane loads of men and material augmented". Two Ilyushin-76 and four Antonov-32 aircraft of the IAF carried 30 tonnes of load, which include 125 rescue and relief personnel, medicines, generators, tents, portable X-ray machines and emergency rescue kits. Two teams from the central ministry of health and family welfare, including specialist doctors and surgeons from Delhi, also reached Leh. The spokesman said 110 bodies were been recovered from debris. From Western Command Headquarters in Chandigarh, 4,000 ready-to-eat food packets were sent to Leh. A MI-17 helicopter had been pressed into service to carry out relief operations in Nubra Valley since Friday when the disaster struck, while two more Chetak helicopters have been provided to the civil administration for aerial recce of affected areas. Some 33 columns of the army and personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have been deployed in the affected areas to carry out rescue operations, the spokesperson said. "So far, more than 500 injured civilians and tourists have been treated at the military hospital at Leh and about 100 discharged after treatment. As a special gesture, the IAF has agreed to carry bodies of foreign tourists and non-locals to Delhi if no civilian flights are available from Leh," he said. The tri-service Disaster Management Coordination Group, which met at South Block Saturday morning, reviewed the progress in rescue and relief operations and decided to earmark special service aircraft to carry 19 VSATs and a set of other equipment of BSNL to Leh. This is being done to help restore mobile and telecom connectivity at the earliest. In the meantime, two INMARSAT mobile phones have been provided to Leh district administration for meeting immediate communication requirements. Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is closely following the rescue and relief efforts, was briefed by the tri-service Disaster Management Group about the steps taken to provide succour to the victims in Leh, the spokesperson said.

Conflict between monetary, fiscal policies exaggerated: Rangarajan

Economic Advisory Council chairman C. Rangarajan today said the conflicts between fiscal policy and monetary policy were exaggerated but called for coordination between the two. "I think monetary policy has its own role to play. There has to be some coordination between monetary policy and fiscal policy," Rangarajan told reporters here. "At a time like this when inflation is high, monetary policy has an important role to play. I think the conflict between fiscal policy and monetary policy are exaggerated. All that it means is there is a need for coordination between the two policies," he said. Opposing the idea of a super regulator for the financial system, he favoured the continuation of the present system of multiple regulators. "There is no question of a super regulator. We have a system in India of multiple regulators. There is no unified single authority supervising all segments of the financial system. That is in keeping with the way the financial system in our country has developed." Rangarajan hoped the availability of food grain as a result of good monsoon would bring down the food prices. "Our own projection is that as a result of good monsoon, agriculture will grow between four and five percent during this year. This will have a favourable effect upon availability of food grains and this will also dampen inflationary expectations. Both taken together should lead to a decline in food grain prices," he said. He did not agree that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was being hawkish. "The central bank is doing what is appropriate. We have an inflation level which is uncomfortably high and therefore inflation needs to be addressed. The RBI is taking appropriate action. In fact, the RBI has been following a series of small steps rather than one big step. The RBI policy is moving in the right direction." He said the RBI would take a decision on interest rates towards the end of next month. "It all depends on how inflation continues to behave in the next four weeks." Rangarajan said economic recovery in the US would be slow but ruled out the possibility of a double dip. "The recovery is not strong. Even the second quarter results that are now available for the US show the growth rate is small. The economy will grow this year between 2.5 and 3 percent," he said.

Himachal to relocate Geu village known for mummified monk

Himachal Pradesh's Geu village in Lahaul and Spiti district known for a 550-year-old mummified body of a monk is to be relocated to a safer location after it was damaged in flash floods and heavy rainfall. Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal Saturday directed the district administration to relocate the village. "We would extend all help to relocate the traditional tribal village Geu in the Spiti Valley at some safe location as it has been washed away due to flash floods, putting life and property in peril," an official statement quoting Dhumal said. Dhumal also said that to relocate the village, the state government has already taken up the matter with the central government. "Alternate forest area at Silche near Hurling village has been identified by the state where the village could be easily relocated," he added. Geu, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level, lies on the Indo-Tibet border and is some 340 km from state capital Shimla. Every year a large number of tourists, especially researchers, visit Geu to study the unique, naturally preserved mummy in a monastery. The mummy was found by a team of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) after an earthquake that hit the region in 1975. It was discovered from one of the eight stupas (a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) in the village. Even the teeth, nails and hair on the skull of the mummy are intact. The Spiti Valley is populated mainly by Buddhists. The climatic conditions of the area are harsh as much of the land falls under a cold desert where the mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius during winter.

Four new swine flu cases in West Bengal

Four more people tested positive for swine flu in West Bengal today, taking the number of confirmed cases of the contagious disease to 118 in the state this year, a health department official said. "Four confirmed cases of swine flu were reported today (Saturday). The total confirmed cases of H1N1 infection are now 118 in the state," Asit Biswas, nodal officer, Swine Flu, told the media. Four people have already died of swine flu this year in the state. In 2009, a total of 135 people were affected by swine flu in the state. However, there were no casualties.

Infosys Murthy's son Rohan to wed TVS Venu's daughter

N.R. Rohan Murthy, son of Infosys Technologies Ltd chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy will soon marry Lakshmi, daughter of TVS Motor Company chairman Venu Srinivasan and Mallika Srinivasan. "Yes, Rohan had proposed to Lakshmi Thursday in Chennai and the latter had consented. They have known each other for over six months and have been in touch regularly since then," Murthy told the media here today. The wedding date, however, has not been decided as the parents on both sides have left the decision to the would-be couple. "It is up to them to decide when to marry. Rohan is quite independent. Though we are his parents, we have left the date of wedding and location to him and Lakshmi to decide and tell us," Murthy said. Rohan, 27, is a doctoral student in computer sciences at Harvard University in the US, with a Microsoft research fellowship and owns around two percent of Infosys' blue-chip shares as promoter's son. Lakshmi, also 27, has a doctorate in engineering management from Warwick University in Britain and is a board member of the Chennai-based TVS group firm Sundaram Clayton as strategy chief. Lakshmi's mother Mallika is the daughter of the Amalgamations Group chairman A. Sivasailam. Murthy's daughter Akshata got married to her Stanford classmate Rishi Sunak Aug 30, 2009 in Bangalore. She holds around 1.4 percent equity stake in the IT bellwether. "Though I have known Venu and Mallika for long as business friends, it is heartening to know that we will become relatives soon, thanks to Rohan and Lakshmi," Narayana Murthy said. Admitting that Rohan's choice of a life partner came as a pleasant surprise, he said he and Sudha were delighted and relieved that their only son has decided to settle down with Lakshmi. "We are very happy that Rohan is getting married soon and to a wonderful girl of his choice. As parents, we wish him and Lakshmi a happy, prosperous and glorious life," Murthy, who is also Infosys' first chief mentor, noted. Murthy's family sources hinted that the wedding would take place in Chennai and reception in Bangalore, "most probably this year". Going down memory lane, Murthy recalled his own marriage to Sudha three decades ago after he proposed to her in Pune, where they both were working at Patni Computers and Telco, respectively. "We met through a mutual friend and got married after she consented to my proposal," Murthy quipped.

Shooting in Canada, Akshay says 'Singh is Kinng 2' next year

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, who is busy shooting romantic comedy "Thank You" here these days, says a sequel to his hit film "Singh is Kinng" would be out next year. The 'khiladi,' who has been chosen as Canada's tourism brand ambassador in India till 2012, wants to shoot more movies in the country and even intends to spend more time in Canada after he retires. He said he would also shoot his own production "Breakaway" in Canada next month. "It is a cross-cultural emotional family comedy with an ice-hockey background," the Bollywood hero said. The 43-year-old actor, who has acted in over 120 films, said he would "split my time between India and Canada" once he retires from his acting career. The action star was chosen for the brand ambassador's role at the instigation of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who met him in Mumbai during his visit to India last November, and Industry Minister Tony Clement. Akshay said though he has been "a big friend of Canada for the past 15 years", he feels privileged to officially promote this country in India. According to the actor, Indian tourists prefer destinations like New York, London, Bangkok or Los Angeles, but he will try to "put Canada on the map as a tourist destination for Indians" in his new role. The Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) has designed promotional campaigns for him to woo tourists from India, he said. Akshay, who was also given the honour of carrying the Winter Olympic Torch here last December, said Canada is an amazing country. "A bit cold at times, but very warm and friendly people. Add to this the natural beauty of Alberta, B.C., Halifax, the multiculturalism of Toronto and the unique culture of Montreal, and you have an ideal destination for vacation." He said he was overwhelmed when thousands of people came out on the streets on Toronto to cheer him during his run with the Olympic Torch in December in minus 20 degrees.

Shilpa Shetty, Malaika best item girls: Salman

Bollywood star Salman Khan, who has gyrated to sizzling number "Munni Badnaam" with his sister-in-law Malaika Arora Khan in "Dabangg", says apart from her only actress Shilpa Shetty can be counted among the best item girls in the industry. "Shilpa Shetty is very good in item numbers," Salman told reporters on being asked which actress according to him gives competition to Malaika as far as item numbers are concerned. Shilpa is popular for her sensuous moves in the song "U.P., Bihar lootne", and "Chhaiya chhaiya" girl Malaika has featured in many item songs like "Hoth raseele", "Kaal kaal", and "Mahi ve". While it took a little while for Salman to answer, his younger brother Arbaaz, who is married to Malaika, flattered his wife by saying: "Malaika gives competition to herself." The actors, along with the cast and crew of "Dabangg", were in the capital for the music launch of the film late Friday. Salman maintained his habit of coming late and appeared with his team two and a half hours later than the scheduled time. However, he infused energy into the event as soon as he took to the stage. The 44-year-old actor has always been known for his unique dance steps in all his films. In "Dabangg" too, he has done some very catchy steps which are fast becoming a rage among youngsters. But Salman gives little credit to his choreographer Farah Khan for his dance. "I have taken my steps from a doctor I once met in London. He had a different style of dancing, so I picked my belt step from him," he said. "There is another step which I have picked from Arbaaz. It's his all-time favourite step and again there's one which is from my make-up man Raju," he added. "My steps are a mix from all these people, and yes, there is one step by Farah Khan also. Out of four steps that she gave me, I picked one," Salman quipped. "Dabangg", which is Arbaaz's first movie as a producer, has been directed by debutant Abhinav Kashyap, the younger brother of acclaimed director Anurag Kashyap. The film is set in a small Uttar Pradesh town and has Salman in the role of a policeman. It is the launch vehicle for Shatrughan Sinha's daughter Sonakshi, and is slated for a September release.

Ratan Tata is 'Businessman of the Decade'

Ratan Tata is the "personification of honesty, integrity and inspiring leadership", is how Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan described the industrialist while conferring him with the Businessman of the Decade Award. After giving the award on behalf of the Federation of Indo-Israeli Chambers of Commerce here on Friday night, Sankaranarayanan praised Tata for putting the nation first and upholding ethics and trusteeship in busineses. He also said the Tata Group touched the life of every Indian in some way. "The Tatas freshen our mornings with their tea, they bring taste to our food with their salt. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Tata Group touches the life of every Indian in one way or the other," the governor said. Lauding the efforts of the Federation of Indo-Israel Chambers of Commerce for promoting closer business-to-business ties between India and Israel, Sankaranarayanan said relations between the two countries had witnessed a rapid growth across a broad spectrum since diplomatic ties between the two countries were established in 1992. The governor felt that India and Israel should increase their cooperation in areas like science and technology, tourism, agriculture and water management. After the felicitation, Tata said he was rather embarrassed to hear words of praise showered on him by speaker after speaker. Accepting the honour, he said he foresees tremendous opportunities for cooperation between India and Israel, especially in agriculture and high technology. The other speakers included Israeli Ambassador Mark Sofer, Israeli Consul-General in Mumbai Orna Sagiv, tennis ace Leander Paes, Archbishop of Mumbai Cardinal Oswald Gracias and federation president Gul Kripalani.

Lifetime achievement travel award for Jet Airways chairman

Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal has been given the lifetime achievement award at the TAAI Travel Awards during a two-day expo organised by Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI). The India Travel and Trade Expo (ITTE) 2010 that began on Friday saw participation of representatives of various industries like airlines, hotels, tourism, technology partners and allied services. "Launched in Dubai last year, the event saw newer awards across the airlines and hotel industries," TAAI Travel Awards chairman Sunil Kumar said. "TAAI, in its capacity as leader in the travel and tourism industry for close to 60 years, has taken up the responsibility to organise this annual event to award the best in the travel and tourism industry," he added. Inaugurated by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation Joint Managing Director Avinash Dhakne and India Tourism Regional Director (western India) Sujata Thakur, the expo showcased all segments of this sector, including outbound and inbound tourism. Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who was the chief guest, said: "I am happy to learn that TAAI is an ever-growing organisation which is currently enjoying membership of 2,500 companies with staff strength of over 15 lakh." "I hope that the growth of tourism, a sector which is second largest foreign exchange earner for the country, will be reflected strongly in the choice of this year's awards," he added. Other award winners included Taj Group of Hotels who won the luxury/deluxe hotel chain of the year award and Thomas Cook (India) for inbound tour operator of the year. The expo hosted events like CEO Conclave, followed by sessions on inbound and outbound tourism.

We have proved ourselves: Dhoni

India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said his team's five-wicket victory over Sri Lanka here today in the series-levelling third cricket Test has vindicated the bowlers, who had come in for much criticism in the first two Tests. India had fielded a depleted bowling attack in the absence of spearhead Zaheer Khan in the three-match Test series. An out-of-form Harbhajan Singh only added to their woes, with India losing the first Test by 10 wickets. The visitors came back strongly to draw the second and the won the third Tests to finish up the series 1-1. A beaming Dhoni praised the all-round performance of the team. "It is a great win for us. After the first Test people said our bowling is not good enough, that our batsmen were not stepping up. But we have proved ourselves here," Dhoni said. "It was a convincing victory for us. The pitch played really well. It had something for batsmen and the bowlers. Our batting plan was to soak up the pressure and (Sachin) Tendulkar and (V.V.S.) Laxman batted really well. When Kookaburra bowl gets old, it becomes difficult for the bowlers." Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakarra felt their batting in the second innings let them down but was said his team can be proud of their performance. "We put in a good effort through the series. This game we were found wanting with our batting in the second innings. Full credit to the entire team for the effort. It was great Test wicket. It had the bounce for both spinners and the fast bowlers," Sangakarra said. "It was great to see the guts shown by Ajantha Mendis. He had to face quite a few blows on his body. Lasith Malinga and Suresh Randiv deserve a special mention. They were fantastic with the ball. All five wickets were taken by Randiv in the second innings. Laxman and Sachin also batted fantastically well." Man of the match Laxman (103 not out) who with Tendulkar (54) rustled up 109 runs for the fifth wicket to chase down 257-victory target also attributed the win to the bowlers. It was Laxman's first Man of the Match award in Tests since the Trinidad Test in 2002 and only the third of his career. "It was a great victory for us. It pulled us back in the series. Bowlers on the third day got us back in the game. Sachin and I played good. I really feel proud of my effort today. (Coach) Gary (Kirsten) told me that it is an opportunity for me to win the match for the country. I am really happy that I along with Sachin won the game for India," Laxman said.

No question of recognising IHF again, says FIH official

International Hockey Federation (FIH) vice-president Antonio Von Ondarza said today that the international body will only recognise Hockey India (HI) as the custodian of the sport in the country and not the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF)as decreed by the Indian sports ministry. Speaking to IANS from Monchengladbach in Germany, Ondarza said the FIH will stick with HI come what may and there was no question of recognising IHF which was derecognised in 2000 after it failed to merge with the women's federation as per FIH's rule of country one federation. "We will continue to recognise HI as the official body of the sport in India. We recognise it as it is also affiliated to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). There is no question of recognising IHF again," said Ondarza, who was here to oversee the HI elections on Thursday. The sports ministry has asked FIH to recognise the K.P.S. Gill-led IHF as the sole governing body of the sport and asked the world body to follow suit. The sports ministry's decision came a day after it withdrew provisional recognition of HI for not holding the election as per the government guidelines. The ministry, in its letter to FIH president Leandro Negre, said: "The Government has derecognised Hockey India by a speaking order on August 5, 2010, a copy of which has been endorsed to you. As such, HI is no more the recognised National Sport Federation (NSF) for management, control and promotion of hockey in the country, and is also not authorised to select and field the national team in international competitions. "In view of this development, the IHF stands recognised by the government as the sole NSF in India in the light of the judgement dated 21.05.2010 of the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi in a writ petition, which has also been accepted by Indian Olympic Association (IOA) as well as the HI before the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi." IHF was disaffiliated by the IOA in April 2008 and Gill was sacked following a cash-for-selection scam. The Delhi High Court last month lifted the suspension and asked IOA and the ministry to recognise IHF as the sole authority for running the sport in the country.

Nepal MP claims threats by Indian officials; embassy rubbishes

A Nepali lawmaker, who left his ethnic party from the Terai plains to join the Maoists, has created a furore with charges that he was threatened with abduction and worse by Indian officials, claims that were repudiated by the Indian Embassy in Nepal as baseless. Ram Kumar Sharma, who left his Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party to join the Maoists, was described as having played a prominent role in getting other MPs from Terai parties to vote for Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' in the prime ministerial election in defiance of their parties' decision to stay neutral. Sharma, who now faces action from his former party, is the new politician at the centre of the latest controversy. On Friday, when Nepal's fourth round of prime ministerial election flopped once again with neither Prachanda nor his rival, Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, able to muster simple majority in the 601-member parliament, Sharma created a sensation alleging that he had received threat calls from an Indian Embassy staffer, who had identified himself only by his surname Das. A private television channel on Friday night held a nearly hour-long interview with Sharma and the allegations were splashed over Nepal's major dailies today. According to the MP, Indian officials were trying to pressure him into quitting the Maoist party. The threat began, he said, with a senior official from Kendriya Vidyalaya, the Indian school run from the premises of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, ringing him up to inform that his daughter Chandra, who had been admitted in the 11th grade, would have to be removed since there were too many students. The Maoist MP said he blasted the school official, saying he had paid NRS 52,000 to get her admitted. "My daughter was not there on charity," he said. "Besides, how can she be asked to leave on the ground that there are no seats when she has already been given admission?" Soon afterwards, the lawmaker said he received calls from a man who identified himself as working in the consular section of the embassy. The man, Sharma claimed, threatened he would be kidnapped or worse if he continued supporting the Maoists. The Maoist MP also claimed to have received a call from the Indian ambassador, Rakesh Sood, who, though using diplomatic language, tried to warn him against supporting the Maoists. The Indian Embassy rubbished the allegations, saying it disdained to dignify them by commenting on them. The Maoists, however, played them up today. "Maoist leader receives death threats from the Indian Embassy," the Maoist mouthpiece Janadisha daily said in a front-page report. It also linked the threats to the visit to Nepal by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy, former foreign secretary Shyam Saran. "Such threats were issued from the embassy at a time Shyam Saran was on an official visit to Nepal," the report alleged.

Campaign to treat vascular diseases launched

A low-cost screening programme to mark the 'National Vascular Week' and spread awareness regarding vascular diseases in the country has been launched by Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals. The screening programme that began on Friday will continue till Dec 31. The cost of the investigation has been reduced from Rs.14,000 to Rs.5,000. It will offer a one-time vascular surgeon consultation plus ultrasound screening of carotid arteries, abdominal blood vessels and lower limb arteries. "This innovative and cost-effective screening programme will ultimately help our patients know and prevent many complications, thereby avoiding surgery or interventions before the disease is end-stage," said Ramesh Tripathi, academic coordinator and senior consultant, vascular and endovascular surgery in Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. People above the age of 50 years, having diabetes, hypertension, ulcers in legs or gangrene, heart disease or stroke and smokers are the ones who will benefit the most. The National Vascular Week is observed Aug 6-13. A campaign titled "SAVE" India is also going to be launched soon. It will be a comprehensive vascular screening programme. Launched with the slogan - 'Save Limbs, Save Lives, Save India!', it aims at increasing awareness about vascular diseases. "WHO (World Health Organisation) has estimated that by 2011, India will be the diabetes capital of the world. SAVE Campaign has been launched with an eye to future challenges of increase in cases of vascular diseases in the country," Tripathi said.

Priyanka Chopra is new UNICEF national ambassador

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra has been appointed the national ambassador of UNICEF and she will support it in promoting child rights, officials said today. An agreement in this regard will be signed between the actress and UNICEF representative to India, Karin Hulshof, on Aug 10 here. "UNICEF ambassadors are celebrities with a demonstrated commitment to improving the lives of children. Highly talented in their individual right, they all share an ability to bring children's issues to attention and to raise urgently needed funds for vital Unicef programmes," said an official statement.

Pakistan flood threaten historic Moenjodaro site

Tragic history could revisit the world's first planned city as floods approached ancient Moenjodaro, the centre of Indus Valley civilization, a UNESCO official said today. Located on the bank of Indus River in the southern province of Sindh, Moenjodaro was built around 2400 BC. It was destroyed at least seven times by the floods and rebuilt on the top of ruins each time. Jawad Aziz, a UNESCO spokesman in Pakistan, said protective spurs may not be able to withstand the swelling river, and "potentially and naturally the flood can prove devastating for the city". "This year's floods, greater than any in living memory, may again destroy what remains of the ancient city of Moenjodaro," Aziz said. Floods triggered by last week's unusually heavy rains devastated much of the northwestern region, and inundated hundreds of villages downstream in central Pakistan. More than 1,600 people died and 12 million others were affected by the floods in thousands of villages in Sindh province. Moenjodaro, around two kilometres from the river, was discovered by chance during excavations in 1922. Regarded as the oldest planned city in the world, the site covers an area of about 240 hectares, but so far only 10 percent of it has been excavated. UNESCO launched an international campaign to buttress Moenjodaro against floods that completed in 1997 after an investment of about $8 million. Five spurs built along the river banks at an average height of 6 metres protected the city during 1992 floods. "Nonetheless, there are concerns that history may repeat itself. And we are regularly monitoring the situation," Aziz said.

Maharashtra offers aid to Leh flood victims

Maharashtra is ready to offer any kind of aid or assistance for providing succour to the victims of the flash floods in Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said here today. Chief Minister Ashok Chavan spoke to his Jammu and Kashmir counterpart Omar Abdullah this afternoon and made the offer of help as per their requirements. Abdullah said that his administration was in the process of calculating the losses and would seek help as and when required, but expressed appreciation at Chavan's offer. Chavan also expressed his grief over the tragedy and loss of lives on behalf of the people of the state. The Maharashtra government has also set up helpline numbers to help people whose near and dear ones have lost their lives or are reported missing in Leh following the disaster. The numbers are: Mumbai: 022-22027990/22854168. New Delhi: 011-23384353/23387285. Cell: 0-98688-68286.

We are under attack in West Bengal, says CPI-M resolution

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has admitted that the party is facing "an unfavourable situation" in the party-ruled states of Kerala and West Bengal after suffering reverses in the Lok Sabha elections. Both the states are likely to go for polls in mid-2011. "The party is under attack in West Bengal where it has suffered electoral reverses," says the draft political resolution of the CPI-M presented before the four-day extended central committee meeting began here today. Describing West Bengal as its strongest base, the draft resolution said "after the Lok Sabha elections, the Trinamool Congress-led combine has launched an offensive against the party." "In this, it is being aided and abetted by the Maoists who are targeting party cadres, members and supporters. Since the panchayat elections when there was some erosion of support among certain sections of the rural masses, the Trinamool Congress-led combine has been concentrating its attack in the rural areas," it said. The CPI-M said the attack on the West Bengal party and movement is being aided by imperialist agencies. "This multi-pronged attack (in West Bengal) is meant to weaken the entire Left movement in the country," the draft political resolution said. The CPI-M-led Left Front has been in power in West Bengal for more than three decades. Seniormost CPI-M leaders including Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and M.K. Pandhe are among the 366 representatives participating in the conference. Senior CPI-M leader and Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan is not attending the conference as he is undergoing ayurvedic treatment. The resolution said the party has to resist these attacks by mobilizing the people. Asking the West Bengal government headed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to implement developmental programmes, the resolution said: "Steps are being taken to remove the organizational shortcomings and to reforge links with the people." "The entire party fully stands behind the West Bengal unit and will strive to mobilise democratic opinion all over the country against the killings and violence perpetrated on the CPI(M) by the Trinamool Congress-led anti-Communist combine and the Maoists," the resolution said. In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) is consolidating the "communal and reactionary forces" behind it, says the resolution "Tripura is the exception where the party has strengthened and consolidated its base," says the resolution.

Indo-US ties 'defining partnership of 21st century': Senate

Noting that President Barack Obama considers India-US relationship as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century," the US senate has resolved to foster and advance the strategic partnership between the two nations. A bipartisan resolution introduced by Republican John Cornyn and co-sponsored by Democrat Christopher Dodd, to mark the 63rd anniversary of India's independence, also celebrated "the contributions of Americans of Indian descent to society in the United States." Noting that the first state dinner hosted by Obama was held in honour of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2009, the resolution recalled the two nations "have pursued a strategic partnership based on common interests and shared commitments to freedom, democracy, pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law" The US and India have undertaken a cooperative effort in the area of civilian nuclear power, which Congress approved through the enactment of the US-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-Proliferation Enhancement Act, it noted The strong relationship between the US India is based on mutual trust and respect, enables close collaboration across a broad spectrum of strategic interests, including counter-terrorism, democracy promotion, regional economic development, human rights, and scientific research, the resolution said. The Senate resolution also acknowledged that since 2001, Indians have comprised the largest foreign student population on college campuses in the US, accounting for approximately 15 per cent of all foreign students in the country. Noting that there are more than two million Americans of Indian descent in the United States, it acknowledged the lasting contributions to the social and economic fabric of the US made by the Indian Americans. "Americans of Indian descent continue to enrich all sectors of public life in the United States, including as government, military, and law enforcement officials working to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to protect all people in the United States," it said.

CPI-M supports 'maximum autonomy' for Kashmir

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) today said the central government had failed to solve the Kashmir issue and supported "maximum autonomy" for the troubled state as its problems "can't be resolved through conventional means". In his inaugural speech at the CPI-M's four-day central committee meeting in this Andhra Pradesh city, party general secretary Prakash Karat made a specific reference to Kashmir and said the central government has failed to solve the issue and tide over the alienation of Kashmiri youth. "A solution can be found only if there is recognition that the problem of Kashmir cannot be resolved through conventional means. The people of Kashmir have to be assured that their identity and special status is expressed through a new political framework in which maximum autonomy is the bedrock," Karat said. Referring to unending protests and violence in the Kashmir Valley for the past nearly two months, the CPI-M general secretary said: "Distressingly, scores of young men and women have died due to police firing and actions." He stated that the civilian killings - nearly 50 in three weeks - "have brought out the intensity of alienation among the young people against the Indian state in the valley. There has to be a stop to this endless cycle of confrontations and killings. The central government, he said, has to immediately initiate the process of dialogue with all sections in the valley.

Rains hamper rescue operations in Leh, 25 army men among missing

Heavy rains and bad weather today morning forced authorities to suspend rescue and relief work in Jammu and Kashmir's Leh town where at least 115 people were killed and over 300 injured in massive flash floods triggered by a cloudburst. So far, 115 dead bodies have been recovered and the injured are being treated in hospitals. Nearly 100 others, including 25 army soldiers, are missing in the unprecedented cloudburst that hit the town early on Friday. "Heavy rains have forced us to suspend the rescue operations in Leh town. "The moment weather improves, the rescue and relief operations would be restarted," said a senior official here. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who visited Leh on Friday, has sanctioned Rs.5 crore immediately for relief to victims. Omar flew to Leh after the runway at the airport there was restored. The runway had been inundated due to the flood waters and mud slushes. President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Governor N.N. Vohra have expressed grief and sorrow at the loss of human lives and assured all possible help. The police have set up tented accommodation for 2,000 victims in Choglamsar village and Leh town where free meals are being served to the people. Over 6,000 army men and soldiers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are involved in the massive relief and rescue operation and are assisting the local administration. Army and Indian Air Force helicopters have also been pressed into service. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is to visit Leh today along with a team of doctors and paramedics. According to latest reports from Leh, Azad's arrival had been delayed due to the bad weather. The cloudburst, flash floods and mudslides that hit Leh town around midnight on Friday washed away concrete structures including government offices, paramilitary camps and residential homes. Among the worst hit are the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), many local hotels and shops. The headquarters of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam limited (BSNL), a government polytechnic, ITBP camp, CRPF camp, some government offices, main transmitter of All India Radio Leh and residential homes have been extensively damaged by the flash floods. The general manager of BSNL said that according to preliminary estimates the corporation has suffered a loss of around Rs.12 crore because of damage to its equipment. The damage to the BSNL headquarters led to communications being completely disrupted in Leh town. Another service provider, Airtel whose network is still operating in Leh has issued SIM cards to the local administration for setting up helplines. State Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, who belongs to Ladakh region, is camping in Leh to supervise relief and rescue operations. Leh is 434 km away from Srinagar and 474 km from Manali in Himachal Pradesh, to which it is connected through an alternative highway. The cloudbursts occurred at Choglamsar village, which is situated at the top of Leh town. Hundreds of locals waded through four feet deep mud to rush to higher reaches as mudslides and flash floods inundated low lying areas in the town. Situated at 3,524 m above sea level, Leh town is spread over 45,110 sq. km, and comprises the main town and 12 adjacent villages.

UN, US designate HuJI as terrorist organisation

The UN and the US have designated Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) as a terrorist organisation and imposed sanctions on the group and its commander Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri. The US department of treasury on Friday put the label "A Specially Designated Global Terrorist" on HuJI, a terrorist organisation most active in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh since the early 1990s. Under US law, assets held by HuJI and Kashmiri in the US would be frozen and American people or companies would be prohibited from engaging in transactions with the group or with Kashmiri. The UN also took a similar action against HuJI and Kashmiri. "Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri is at the core of HuJI's efforts to plan and carry out attacks against US forces and our allies. He is responsible for creating a cadre of militants to act on behalf of HuJI and Al Qaeda," Stuart Levey, the treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, was quoted as saying by Xinhua. "In acting together, the US and the UN are today taking another important step in combating the threat that Al Qaeda and its affiliated organisations pose to innocent people around the world," said Levey.

Youth succumbs to injuries in Srinagar

A 22-year-old man critically injured in security force firing in Jammu and Kashmir's Sopore town on Friday died in a hospital here today, taking the toll of civilians killed in firing since June 11 to 49, police said. "Rameez Ahmad Rishi was injured in Sopore town today when unruly mobs attacked the Warpora police post. He succumbed to his injuries this morning," a police official said here. Rishi had sustained a bullet injury and doctors at the Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Soura, (SKIMS) said he could not be revived despite their best efforts, the official said. With Rishi's death, the number of civilians killed in security forces firing during violent protests here since July 30 has gone up to 31. Authorities are continuing the imposition of indefinite curfew in Srinagar and other major towns of the Kashmir Valley for the eighth day running as residents complain of acute shortage and non-availability of essential commodities. "There is just a day's ration left in my house. We are a family of five and unless I am able to buy foodstuff, cooking gas, edible oil etc, I am afraid my family would starve," said Maqsood Ahmad, 45, who lives in Old City Srinagar. Meanwhile, fuel supplies to the valley remained suspended for the fifth day today as oil tankers' associations refused to bring in fuel supplies from winter capital Jammu demanding compensation for the damage suffered by them during protests in Kashmir and security cover in future. Most petrol pumps, especially in central Kashmir Badgam district, have been running dry for the last two days. Separatist Hurriyat group headed by Syed Ali Geelani has asked people to resume normal life Sunday in order to buy essential supplies.

Foreign tourists also trapped in Leh

Several foreigners were among the tourists reported to be stranded in Leh on Friday as air links were snapped after massive flash floods hit the town, killing at least 115 and washing away several government buildings and houses. "Some foreign nationals are reported to have been affected in the natural calamity i.e. flashflood due to cloud-burst at Leh," a statement by the external affairs ministry said. It gave the satellite phone number of the control room of the Leh district administration for those wanting to find information. The number is 00870-7636-13623. A 24-hour helpline has also been set up in the control room. The numbers are 09906990787 and 09906990835. Unprecedented massive cloudbursts triggered flash floods and mudslides in Leh town around midnight, washing away concrete structures including government offices, paramilitary camps and residential homes in the town. "The runway of the Leh airport has been inundated by the flood waters and road connectivity was disrupted there," a police official said in Srinagar. Because of the damage to the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) headquarters, communications have been completely disrupted in Leh town and it is difficult to reach anybody through phone there.

SRK shoots ad with wife Gauri

Superstar Shah Rukh Khan has revealed that he is shooting for an advertisement with his wife Gauri, who usually likes to remain away from the spotlight. "I am shooting an advert with Gauri for a fantastic furnishing brand called D decor, very nervous, hope it turns out well," Shah Rukh posted on his Twitter page. The duo has been happily married for the past 19 years. They have two children - Aryan and Suhana.

Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to perform in Gurgaon on Sunday

There's good news for all those who were left disappointed with the cancellation of Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's concert in Gurgaon last week, as he will now be performing on Sunday. The popular singer, who has sung songs like "Mann ki lagan" and "Jiya dhadak dhadak", faced a police complaint following his cancellation of a live concert that was to be held at the Gymkhana club in Gurgaon. Trzy Events, the organisers of the concert, have now withdrawn the complaint. "We have taken back the complaint after a mutual settlement between the organisers and Rahat ji's manager. Now the concert will take place on Sunday (Aug 8) and Rahat ji is coming a day prior to it. We have already received a copy of his visa," Chaitanya, a member of organising committee, told media. The show was scheduled to go packed last week, but Rahat could not make it due to visa issues. Now, organisers are working a way out to retain those who had already booked their tickets. "The response is good and the sales are shooting. The tickets that we sold earlier have been put on hold and can be retrieved by the same people who had bought them earlier. However, if those people can't be a part of the concert due to prior commitments, they can get a refund," he added. Fresh tickets priced at Rs.2,000, Rs.1,500 and Rs.1,000 are also being sold through