World News

Dalai Lama seeks ‘serious’ talks on homeland’s future

Protesting Tibetans monks in exile hold a candlelight vigil as part of an anti-China demonstration at Swayambhu in Kathmandu. Around 500 Tibetan exiles held a candlelight vigil in Nepal’s capital to show support for protesters in Tibet. The Tibetans gathered in Swayambhu, a large Buddhist temple complex in Kathmandu (AFP)

DHARAMSHALA, India (AFP) - Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has been pushing for talks with China on the future of his homeland for years but now is making clear they must be “serious discussions.”

Returning to this northern Indian hill town from a two-week trip to the United States where he met followers, he welcomed Beijing’s promise on Friday to renew dialogue, saying “basically talk is good.”

But anything other than “serious discussions” would be fruitless, he quickly added, a day after Chinese state media said government officials would meet soon with an envoy of the Tibetan spiritual leader.

A meeting solely to appease international concern ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August would be “meaningless,” he said, speaking in Dharamshala, which has been his base since he fled his homeland in 1959 after an abortive uprising.

He said he wanted “a thorough discussion” of the problems in Tibet to find out “what is the cause of this problem and how to solve it.”
The Buddhist “god-king” has repeatedly reached out to Beijing seeking dialogue and cultural autonomy for his homeland.
But even on Saturday after making its talks offer, China’s state media was denouncing the spiritual icon, accusing him of conspiring to turn world opinion against China.

The “Tibet problem” has become the tool of the Dalai Lama and his supporters to spread the “false rumour” that China oppresses Tibetan Buddhism, the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s main mouthpiece, said.

Beijing has consistently denounced the Dalai Lama as a “splittist” bent on breaking Tibet away from China.
The spiritual leader has denied the charge, saying he wants “cultural autonomy” rather than independence for Tibet despite escalating his criticism of China recently, accusing it of “unimaginable” rights violations.

The 72-year-old Nobel peace laureate – considered by many to be the world’s greatest moral force for non-violence – has continued to appeal to his fellow Tibetans to use peaceful means to achieve their ends as the world’s spotlight falls on China ahead of the Olympics


China begins building Tibet-Nepal rail link

(AFP) - China has started to build a rail link between Tibet and Nepal that could drastically reduce Kathmandu’s trade reliance on its giant southern neighbour India, officials said Saturday.

Beijing is bringing the railway line from Lhasa – the capital of troubled Chinese-controlled Tibet – to Khasa, a town along the Nepal-China border, Aditya Baral, the Nepalese Premier’s Foreign Affairs Adviser, told AFP.

“Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was told by a visiting Chinese delegation during a meeting Friday the Chinese Government has begun the railway extension project on its side to link with the Nepal-China border,” Baral said.

The Chinese communist party delegation told Nepalese officials that the railway link would be ready in five years time, said Baral.
The Nepal border town of Khasa lies some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the ancient capital Kathmandu.

“The railway network will be important for increasing trade and tourism for both countries,” Baral added.
Landlocked and impoverished Nepal is wedged between India and China.

Analysts said such a rail link could reduce Nepal’s reliance on India for many of its goods from drugs to transport vehicles and spare parts, cotton textiles and cement.
Many Nepalese are uneasy with what they say is New Delhi’s dominance of the Himalayan nation’s economy.


Turkish PM in Syria amid new peace feelers

(AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday, amid efforts by his government to facilitate peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.

Assad revealed this week that Turkey has been mediating between Syria and Israel since last year and had recently passed a message from the Jewish State expressing a readiness to swap the Golan Heights for peace.

Before flying into Damascus for a one-day visit, Erdogan said improving ties with countries in the region has allowed Ankara to step up efforts to facilitate peace in the Middle East.

“The atmosphere of trust makes it necessary for Turkey to act as a mediator,” Erdogan said. “God willing, our proactive peace diplomacy will contribute to expected developments between Syria and Israel.”

Syria’s state-run news agency said Erdogan and Assad met in the presence of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and discussed ties between the two neighbours.

Before the meeting, Erdogan and Syrian Prime Minister Naji Otri opened an economic forum attended by 700 businessmen to promote economic and trade ties between the two countries, SANA said.

In remarks published Thursday in Qatari daily Al-Watan, Assad said Erdogan “informed me of Israel’s readiness to withdraw from the Golan in return for peace with Syria” and said the message had been relayed a week ago.


Zimbabwe presidential vote count to finish by Monday

HARARE (AFP) - A partial recount of ballots in Zimbabwe’s presidential election should be completed by Monday after which the result will be announced, the head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said on Saturday.

“We trust that by Monday, April 28 this process will have been concluded... leading to the announcement of the result of the presidential election,” ZEC chairman George Chiweshe told reporters in Harare.


Gaza teen killed in Israeli air raid

(AFP) - The teenage daughter of a Hamas chief was killed and eight people wounded in a dawn Israeli air raid on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian health officials and Hamas said on Saturday.

Maryam Talaat Maruf, 14, died when a missile hit her house in Beit Lahiya, north of Gaza City and the eight others wounded, the sources said.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, said “Israeli forces Saturday killed the daughter of Talaat Maruf,” a leader of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed branch of the Islamist movement.

Witnesses said Maruf and his brother Hassan were detained by Israeli soldiers who entered the area supported by tanks.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said “the air force launched two raids on Saturday morning against armed elements in the northern Gaza Strip... There were also exchanges of fire, but none of our people were hit.”

Overnight, two members of Islamic Jihad were seriously wounded in another Israeli air strike on northern Gaza, the militant movement said.


Karzai wants US to stop arresting Taliban suspect

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged US forces Saturday to stop arresting suspected Taliban and their sympathisers, arguing that these arrests and past mistreatment were discouraging Taliban from laying down their arms.
The New York Times said the Afghan President, in an interview, also criticised the allied conduct of the war and demanded that his government be given the lead in policy decisions.

Karzai said the real terrorist threat lay in sanctuaries of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. He argued that civilian casualties needed to end completely.

“For the success of the world in Afghanistan, it would be better to recognise this inherent character in Afghanistan and work with it and support it,” The Times quoted him as saying in the interview. “Eventually, if the world is to succeed in Afghanistan, it will be by building the Afghan state, not by keeping it weak.”

Karzai, who has been in office six years, is facing re-election next year. With the polls approaching, some diplomats have even expressed dismay that, for lack of an alternative, the country and its donors may face another five years of poor management by Karzai, the paper said.

But the Afghan President was quick to reject such criticism, pointing out “immense difficulties” his government had faced, according to The Times.

“What is it we have not gone through?” Karzai was quoted as asking. The President also called for greater respect for Afghanistan on the part of its foreign partners.