|US ‘plans to oust
Taliban from Kandahar’
US has said it is planning a new offensive later this year
to drive the Taliban from the southern Afghanistan city of
The current action against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah
was a “prelude” to a bigger operation, a US official said.
The US general in charge of NATO forces in Afghanistan
has said the local population in Kandahar is at risk.
Kandahar is Afghanistan’s second largest city, and was once
a Taliban stronghold.
A major offensive there would follow the current military
operation in neighbouring Helmand province.
“If the goal in Afghanistan is to reverse the momentum of
the Taliban... then we think we have to get to Kandahar this
year,” an official in the White House told reporters.
The US goal was to bring “comprehensive population security”
to the city.
Suicide attacks are frequently carried out in Kandahar, with
one at the beginning on February killing three people.
He described Marjah as “a tactical prelude to a
comprehensive operation in Kandahar City.” The Marjah
offensive by Nato forces began in mid-February, and has
several more weeks to go. It was “pretty much on track”, the
In Kabul on Friday, explosions and shooting took place in an
area of hotels and guesthouses popular with foreigners. Up
to nine Indians, a Frenchman and an Italian were killed.
Three gunmen and two policemen died in a gun battle that
lasted several hours. Taliban militants said they had
carried it out.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the violence. India
called it “barbaric”.
Kabul has been relatively quiet since January 18, when
Taliban bombers and gunmen attacked government targets and
shopping malls, killing 12 people.
Friday’s attack is also the Taliban’s first major raid since
the arrest of key leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in
Pakistan this month. BBC
A hearty meal
A Ryanair passenger who became enraged when he was told
he could not claim a scratchcard prize on his flight ate his
The man was flying from Poland to the East Midlands on a
Ryanair flight when he won 10,000 euros (£8,765) on a
scratchcard he had purchased on board.
Powerful Earthquake strikes off Japan
island of Okinawa
A powerful earthquake has struck in the Pacific Ocean,
about 80km (50 miles) off the southern Japanese island of
A tsunami warning was initially issued, but later lifted.
There are no reports of major damage or casualties.
The Japan Meteorological Agency gave the strength as 6.9
while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.3. BBC
‘A whale of a
time’ to continue
Orlando’s killer whale show reopened on Saturday without
staff in the water after a whale killed one of the trainers,
the company chief says. Jim Atchison said this would be the
case until a review was finished.
He said it was believed an orca being trained by Dawn
Brancheau dragged her to her death by drowning after her
long ponytail swung out in front of it.
Her former coach, Thad Lacinak, said she would have agreed
with him, had she lived, that it was a simple mistake.
’We will only resume in-water interactions with our killer
whales after the review’
Funeral services for Ms Brancheau are to be held on
Sunday and Monday in Chicago, with a memorial service to
take place later in Orlando, park officials said.
The whale, which is named Tilikum, is to be kept at the park
despite its links to two other deaths.
“He will remain an active and contributing member of the
team, despite what happened,” said Atchison.
The company, which also has locations in San Diego and San
Antonio, said it was reviewing its procedures for the whales
and trainers to interact.
Horrified tourists using the viewing glass could see the
12,000lb (5.9 tonne) whale attack Brancheau.
Brancheau’s sister, Diane Gross, said her sister, 40, had
loved the park’s whales as though they were her children.
“It was her dream job since she was nine years old,” she
added, speaking of her sister’s ambition to work at
The president of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Jim
Atchison, told a news conference that, while it was too
early to conclude what had happened exactly, the park
believed the whale had grabbed its trainer by her hair.
Earlier, Lacinak, the former head trainer at SeaWorld who
coached Brancheau, said after viewing video of the attack
that he believed she had made a simple mistake.
“She wasn’t, obviously, watching what she was doing with her
ponytail and the ponytail drifted into the water,” he told
“Dawn, if she was standing here with me right now, would
tell you that it was her mistake in allowing that to
happen,” he added.
Speaking separately to the Associated Press news agency,
Lacinak said: “It was a novel item in the water, and he [the
whale] grabbed hold of it, not necessarily in an aggressive
An eyewitness, Sue Nichols, spoke earlier of seeing
Brancheau petting the whale and talking to it.
“Then all of a sudden he just reached up,” she said.
“He got her in the water, and he took her underwater, and he
had her under for quite a while. He came up out of the
water, and he had her in his mouth.”
An alarm was sounded and park employees scattered around
the pool with a net as audience members were rushed away,
Chuck Tompkins, chief of animal training at SeaWorld
Orlando, has said Tilikum would not survive in the wild
because the animal had been captive for so long.
He added that destroying the whale was not an option
because it was an important part of the breeding programme
at SeaWorld and a companion to seven other whales there.
However, this is the third death involving the orca.
In 1991, trainer Keltie Lee Byrne fell into a tank holding
Tilikum and two other whales at Sealand of the Pacific in
Victoria, Canada.An inquest found the whales had prevented
her from climbing out of the tank and ruled her death an
accident. At SeaWorld Orlando, in 1999, the body of Daniel
Dukes, 27, was found naked, draped across the whale’s body.
He had reportedly got past security, remaining in the
park after it had closed, and wearing only swimming trunks,
he either jumped, fell or was pulled into the frigid water
of the huge tank.
An inquest ruled that he had died of hypothermia but
officials also said it appeared Tilikum had bitten the man
and torn off his trunks, apparently believing he was a toy
to play with. – (CNN)
|Another nail for Tiger’s wood
|Energy drink firm Gatorade has ended its sponsorship of
Gatorade is the latest major company to cut ties with the
sportsman following Woods’ admission that he was unfaithful
to his wife.
The drinks company, owned by PepsiCo, had already
discontinued a Tiger Woods-themed drink, Tiger Focus. It
follows AT&T and Accenture in ending deals.
However, Gatorade said it would continue its partnership
with the charitable Tiger Woods Foundation.
A spokeswoman for Gatorade said: “We no longer see a role
for Tiger in our marketing efforts and have ended our
relationship... We wish him all the best.”
Its move comes just one week after the star made a frank
public address to a select gathering at PGA Tour
headquarters in Florida.
In his statement Woods apologised to his wife, friends
and family, as well as to his fans.
“I was unfaithful, I had affairs and I cheated. What I did
was unacceptable,” he said.
Woods, 34, told the hand-picked attendees he had spent 45
days in therapy and claimed he still had “a long way to go”
to overcome his problems.
Gatorade is the third company to end its relationship with
Communications company AT&T and corporate services business
Accenture previously cut their sponsorship deals.
Male grooming business Gillette and luxury watchmaker Tag
Heuer have also distanced themselves from him.
Car making giant General Motors (GM) said recently an
arrangement that allowed Woods free access to its vehicles
The world’s number one golfer did have an endorsement
contract with GM’s Buick brand, but that ended in 2008.
Such arrangements made Tiger Woods the world’s wealthiest
athlete, estimated to have earned £66m ($100) a year in
endorsement deals before allegations of infidelity emerged
in December of last year.
A recent University of California study suggested the total
economic damage of the Tiger Woods affair to all involved
parties could amount to as much as $12bn.
But sports equipment giant Nike, which pays Woods a reported
$40m a year, has given its support.
|Thailand top court seizes part of
Thailand’s Supreme Court has
ruled that former PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s family should be
stripped of more than half a contested $2.3bn fortune.
The court said $1.4bn (£910m) of the assets were gained
illegally through conflict of interest when Thaksin was
The funds were frozen after Thaksin’s elected government
was overthrown in a military coup in 2006.
Thaksin, who is living abroad, has denied any wrong doing.
The Supreme Court said, “to seize all the money would be
unfair since some of it was made before Thaksin became prime
The court took several hours to deliver its verdict, with
security forces on high alert amid government predictions of
violence by Thaksin’s red-shirted supporters if the court
decision went against him.
The judges said that Thaksin shaped government mobile phone
and satellite communications policy to benefit his firms.
He abused his power to benefit telecoms company Shin Corp,
which he owned then, earning wealth from shares sales in the
company through “inappropriate means”, they ruled.
The sale of Shin Corp to Singapore state investment firm
Temasek in January 2006 was one of the main catalysts for
widespread protests calling for Thaksin to resign, and the
government applied for the seizure of the proceeds from the
The court dismissed defence arguments that the
anti-corruption commission that instigated the proceedings
against Thaksin was illegitimate.
Thaksin addressed his supporters from Dubai after the
“This is total political involvement. The government knew
the result in advance,” he said, according to Associated
“I’ve been prepared for the result since yesterday. I knew
that I would get hit, but they are kind enough to give me
back 30 billion [baht].”
He had previously told them he would continue his
political fight against the “military-bureaucratic elite”
that deposed him - with or without his family fortune.
He has said the money he and his family earned was acquired
legally. The full extent of fortune is unknown, but he is
thought to be very wealthy.
Tensions in Thailand remain high. Tens of thousands of
extra police have been placed in and around the capital, and
in areas of the north-east of the country where some of
Thaksin’s supporters are based.
There were only small numbers of Thaksin supporters outside
the court. The pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy
against Dictatorship (UDD), which leads the red shirts, has
said it has no plans for any demonstration until mid-March.
|Massive earthquake strikes Chile
A massive earthquake of 8.3 magnitude has struck central
The epicentre was 91km (56 miles) north-east of the city of
Concepcion and 317km south-west of the capital, Santiago.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the earthquake struck
at 0634 GMT at a depth of about 59.4km. There is no
information yet on any casualties.
The US government said a tsunami warning had been issued for
Chile, Peru and Ecuador.
Buildings in Santiago were reported to have shaken for
between 10 and 30 seconds, with the loss of electricity in
some parts of the capital.
Telephone lines and internet connections appear to have been
The USGS said: “An earthquake of this size has the potential
to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines
near the epicentre within minutes and more distant
coastlines within hours.”
Chile suffered the biggest earthquake of the 20th century
when a 9.5 magnitude quake struck the city of Valdivia in
1960, killing 1,655 people.
Twenty six die in stampede
Twenty-six people, at least half of them children, were
killed in a stampede near a mosque in Timbuktu, Mali,
according to a journalist who witnessed the incident.
Moulaye Sayah, who works for National Radio and Television
of Mali and Mali’s News Agency, both state-run, said at
least 41 people were injured in the stampede, which occurred
Thursday night during the Muslim festival of Mouloud,
outside Djinguereber mosque.
The mosque is one of the most recognisable ancient buildings
The prime minister’s office said that Malian President
Amadou Toumani Toure is on his way to Timbuktu to offer his
condolences to the families of the victims.
Sayah said about 4,000 people, travelling to and from the
mosque to celebrate the festival, had to squeeze through a
narrow road. The main road that leads to the mosque is
closed because of construction, Sayah told CNN.
Because the smaller road was so crowded, Sayah said, people
began falling and some panicked, sparking the stampede. He
said 16 bodies arrived at Timbuktu Regional Hospital - 10 of
them girls, three women and three boys. The other 10 had
been removed by their families at the scene of the stampede,
Timbuktu is approximately 620 miles (1,000 kilometres)
northwest of Bamako, the capital city.
|At the centre of the action
Editor Dawood Azami recalls his experiences
Pashto Kabul bureau editor Dawood Azami found himself
caught up amid explosions and gunfire which rocked the
centre of the city leaving at least 17 people dead. Here he
describes his experiences.
A huge explosion woke me up just before sunrise. An intense
gun battle followed and bullets were fired from every
Broken glass was everywhere in the hotel I was staying in.
Two bullets went through the window of my hotel room.
It shared a back wall with one of the guest houses where the
battle went on for hours. Glass from the windows of my room
and bathroom littered my bed and the floor.
Nobody in my hotel knew what to do. I took shelter behind
the bathroom wall and sat there for hours. The fighting
would stop for a short while but then firing would restart
from different directions.
From my room, I could hear the crying and shouting of hotel
guests. I could tell from the way some of the guests in the
Park Residence were crying - and by the languages they spoke
- that they were foreigners. I could hear the security
forces shouting at them to move in English and Hindi.
Firing from two sides went on for around four hours. I heard
at least two heavy explosions that shook the whole building.
There was confusion. The hotel staff were running and
looking for shelter. There were no announcements and nowhere
obviously safe to go. I was glad to be behind the bathroom
wall for the duration of the operation.
I switched on the television to find out what was happening
but there was no signal and the channels were not available.
I opened the front door a few times to see what was going on
in the hotel lobby. The air was full of smoke and dust - and
broken glass was scattered all over the floor.
It was one of the most devastating attacks in Kabul.
The Ariya and Park Residence guest houses and the Safi Hotel
and Shopping Centre were badly damaged. They are in the
Shahr-e-Now (new city) area of Kabul which had been
considered relatively safe.
I always wonder why people in Kabul use so much glass in
buildings. Kabul is attacked frequently and each attack has
caused a lot of damage to property and the heavily glassed
|Sri Lanka pledges to protect sea
|By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo - The authorities are preparing new
guidelines on turtle hatchery maintainance
The Sri Lankan government says that it is concerned about
the welfare of sea turtles which live and breed on the
island’s southern coastline.
The authorities say turtle hatcheries are operating there
which contravene conservation laws and that they will
prosecute those people involved.
Sri Lanka is a vital habitat for sea turtles as five of the
seven species come ashore here to lay their eggs.
Watching adult and newly-hatched turtles is also popular
That seems to be contributing to the problems faced by these
The Sri Lankan Daily Mirror Online website says in a new
report that hatcheries which use them for commercial or
leisure purposes are harming the species.
Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka says that wildlife
officers have informed all hatcheries that selling the
turtles or using them as meat or for any other commercial
purpose is illegal.
“They can only be used for educational purposes,” he said.
“We’ve investigated the illegal places and given them
warnings not to do that.”
Senior wildlife official Sarath Dissanayake told the BBC
that turtle hatchlings should have the freedom to walk over
the beach to the sea, but hatcheries were illegally putting
walls and barriers in their way.
A tourist said he had recently been at a facility where
guests were encouraged to pick up baby turtles and ‘set them
free’ into the ocean.
He said the place was like a zoo and that at least one
hatchling appeared to be dead.
But one hatchery owner told the Daily Mirror Online he is
protecting the animals, not profiting from them.
“They have asked us to hatch them on the beaches,” he said,
“but we can’t do that.”
“If we wanted to do that, we’d need at least 20,000 soldiers
guarding these turtles, because people are hungry for them,
most use them as meat.”
But the authorities are not convinced. They are preparing
new guidelines on how turtle hatcheries should be maintained
and say that those who violate them will be prosecuted.