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US ‘plans to oust Taliban from Kandahar’

The US has said it is planning a new offensive later this year to drive the Taliban from the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar.
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 official said.
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

News in brief

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 winning ticket.
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 Okinawa.
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

SeaWorld 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 SeaWorld.
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 ABC.
“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 way.”
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, she added.
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 Tiger Woods.
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 Woods.
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 was over.
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 Thaksin fortune

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 prime minister.

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 minister”.

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 sale.

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 verdict.
“This is total political involvement. The government knew the result in advance,” he said, according to Associated Press.
“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 Chile.
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 damaged.
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 in Timbuktu.
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, he said.
Timbuktu is approximately 620 miles (1,000 kilometres) northwest of Bamako, the capital city.
- (CNN)

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 direction.
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 structures. BBC

Sri Lanka pledges to protect sea turtles
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 with tourists.
That seems to be contributing to the problems faced by these endearing reptiles.
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.
Dead hatchling
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.