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Maoists end strike in Nepal

Nepal’s Maoists ended their general strike on Friday after crippling the nation for six days, but failed to achieve their goal of pressuring the prime minister and his coalition government to step down.
Maoist leaders announced their decision late Friday evening after an estimated 20,000 professionals staged a rally in the heart of the capital to call for an end to the strike and implore the Maoists and other political parties to make progress in the nation’s stalemated peace process.

The strike had been growing sporadically more violent and confrontational, with reports of clashes between Maoist cadres and workers from other political parties. Public frustration had been building as the strike crippled transportation, forced schools to close and shuttered most businesses. Food shortages were reported in Katmandu, the capital, as Maoists blocked shipments of consumer goods into the city.
“We have decided to withdraw the indefinite strike, considering the discomforts people were faced with,” the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal told reporters on Friday night. The Maoists are planning a mass gathering on Saturday and a protest outside the main government complex on Sunday.

Nepal, wedged strategically in the Himalayas between India and China, faces a May 28 deadline to complete a new constitution to restructure the national government. But negotiations have been stalled between the Maoists, now a political party, and other political parties. Formalising a new constitution is the final step in the 2006 peace agreement that ended a 10-year guerrilla war by the Maoists.
The rising instability has drawn concern from the country’s powerful neighbours, as well as from the United States, which has urged the Maoists to end their strike. China and India have called on Nepalese leaders to reach a deal.

Hours before the Maoists called off the strike, a top United Nations official in Nepal said his office was “deeply concerned” about the rising violence spawned by the strike. Human rights monitors reported scattered violence throughout the country.
“I appeal to all parties to demonstrate the same degree of peaceful conduct and restraint as observed during the earlier days,” said Richard Bennett, representative of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal.

Business leaders and intellectuals organised Friday’s rally in Katmandu, in which doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists and businessmen converged on the city centre. Organisers said the rally was intended to call for an end to the strike and to pressure leaders of all parties to reach a consensus in negotiations.
“We want peace, not conflict,” said Prem Bahadur Khadka, president of the Nepal Bar Association, who joined the peace rally. – (Nytimes)


Hung Parliament in Britain

Heralds era of instability for region

By Thanapathi
The predictions proved right in the UK with the country facing its first hung parliament in decades after an inconclusive election result. None of the three major parties could get the magic number of 326 needed for a simple majority in the 650 member parliament. The last time the UK had a hung parliament was way back in 1974, though a power sharing agreement was hastily entered into then, that government did not even last a year, a prospect quite likely this time around as well.

The elections were not without incident. The Electoral Commission was inundated with phone calls on Friday from angry people who were unable to vote in the general election when polling stations in a number of cities were swamped with a late surge of voters. The analysis were proven wrong when large number of voters decided to cast their ballots this time around rather than be disenfranchised with politicians as predicted by many. The unexpected numbers may have caught the officials manning the polling stations by surprise.

Propping an unpopular government
In a keenly contested race the Conservative Party which has been out of power for 13 years gathered 307 seats making it the single largest entity in the House of Commons. However, the Tories forming the next government is not a forgone conclusion even though the election left the Tories the only party with a plausible claim to governance. According to British constitutional tradition the incumbent Prime Minister has the first choice of forming a coalition government. With only 258 seats in the new Parliament, Gordon Brown’s Labour Party may still be short of the numbers required even if the Liberal Democrats are to join him with 57 seats. The Lib Dems have traditionally been more aligned towards Labour than the Conservatives and it needs to be seen what type of horse trading will take place to rope them in to a future government. To remain in power, Labour would have to recruit a motley and potentially mutinous crew of Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, Welsh Nationalists and assorted Northern Ireland republicans.

With a re-election most likely within a matter of months rather than years the Lib Dems are most likely not to support Labour which has clearly got rejected by the British electorate. Propping up an unpopular defeated government may eventually back fire on the Liberal Democrats who got 23 percent of the national vote.

Disappointment to all parties
The election result is in fact a great disappointment to all parties. The incumbent Labour Party, of course, suffered the most losing 91 seats in parliament and being thrown out of power after a decade at the helm. The Conservatives who gained nearly a hundred seats cannot be overly satisfied either since they could not get enough to form their own government. Despite leading the polls for months, the Tories were not strong enough to keep the momentum in the last few weeks of campaigning. The biggest disappointment of the election, however, was for the Liberal Democrats. The Party which had 62 seats in the previous parliament was seen as a real contender to win the elections with its charismatic young leader Nick Clegg leading the pack. His exceptional performance at the televised debates was the talk of many political pundits who predicted that the party will come second in the race. Instead, the Liberal Democrats performed even worse than the previous election losing five of its seats. The electoral system in the UK has been an issue among Lib Dems who claim that it is not representational of the actual mandate of the people. Having secured 23 percent of the national vote the Lib Dems only got 57 seats opposed to Labour having 258 with a mere 29 percent of the national vote. The first-past-the-post system has ensured that the winner takes it all in the UK where the composition of the parliament can be very much different to the ratio of the national vote.

In the event outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Brown fails to retain power he is expected to relinquish leadership of the Labour Party. Currently what is limited to the realms of speculation suggest that David Milliband would ascend the party leadership and position of Opposition Leader. Miliband has emerged as the clear favourite in recent days after putting together a formidable alliance of supporters, including the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, Alan Johnson and former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Unsteady European economy
A hung parliament in the UK can jitter the already unsteady European economy. In a region which has recently seen financial troubles in Greece, Iceland and Portugal, the UK was seen a colossus of stability. The political instability may trigger more economic problems in the region. On the political front a win for the Conservatives is a loss for Europe. The Tories are known more for their Europhobia since the time of Margaret Thatcher and would most likely steer clear from the grand integration plans of the continent.

The last thing Britain wanted at this point in time was political instability. The country is facing its worse financial crisis in decades. The budget deficit has skyrocketed to over 11 percent. Gordon Brown who has a PhD in Economics would have been the obvious choice to handle the economy if not for the British public mostly casting blame on him for the financial situation. Britain has not been immune to the world economic slowdown but to its credit has been able to prevent meltdowns as seen in Iceland and Greece. Whichever party forms the next government has the task of rebuilding economic confidence and reducing the deficit. In order to make certain difficult decisions on the economic front a government would have to have a certain degree of stability. Decisions such as to cut public spending to reduce expenditure or increase spending to create jobs are difficult choices with serious implications to the electorate. Parties looking at a likely scenario of a re-election in the near future cannot be expected to take tough decisions which maybe unpopular with their electorate.


Thailand policemen targeted in Bangkok attacks

Two policemen have been killed and several people wounded in the Thai capital, Bangkok, officials have said.
One policeman was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Silom financial district. The other died of wounds he sustained in a grenade attack nearby.
It is not clear who was responsible for the attacks, which occurred near where anti-government protesters are camped.

The latest violence comes amid concerted efforts to try to bring the two-month-old stand-off to an end.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has put forward a five-step “road map” to reconciliation, including an offer to dissolve parliament in September hold early elections on November 14.
The protesters, known as the red-shirts, want the government to commit to a firm date to dissolve parliament. The government insists its election offer is non-negotiable.
The police officers killed on Saturday were part of a contingent of riot police and troops who had been stationed in Bangkok’s financial district, close to the fortified encampment where anti-government protestors are.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban called on people to “avoid violence and help solve the problem”.
“We have to seek co-operation from everybody to return Thailand to peace,” he said.
But the red-shirts insisted they would not stand down.
“The red-shirts will stop our demonstrations when our people have a clear answer to what we demand and when our people are safe,” protest leader Jatuporn Prompan told a news conference.
But the BBC’s Rachel Harvey in Bangkok says there are signs of splits among the protesters, with some red-shirt leaders apparently keen to bring the siege to an end to avoid further bloodshed, while hardliners are determined to press for further concessions.

Abhisit is also under increasing pressure from rival protest groups who are also bitterly opposed to his plans, our correspondent says.
Unless the moderates within the government and the red-shirt movement can reach a deal soon, this protracted political crisis could escalate, she adds. (BBC NEWS)


Pakistani gunman sentenced to death for Mumbai attack

The convicted terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Kasab will hang for his role in the commando-style assault on Mumbai in November 2008 that killed 166 people, including two Australians, and paralysed the city for nearly three days.
The trial judge, M.L. Tahaliyani, said the court had ‘’no other option’’ but to impose the death penalty given the seriousness of Kasab’s crimes.

He was found guilty this week of more than 80 charges including the murder of seven people, assisting with the murder of 159 others and waging war against the Indian state.
Judge Tahaliyani imposed the death sentence on four counts and a life sentence on five more counts.
‘’A common man will lose faith in [the] court, if this man is let loose,’’ he said. ‘’The death penalty is required. There is no other option. This man has lost the right to get humanitarian treatment.’’
Kasab, a 22-year-old Pakistani national, broke down after the sentence was announced but said nothing.
The death penalty will have to be confirmed by the Mumbai High Court and Kasab has the right to appeal.
Kasab was one of 10 highly trained Pakistani gunmen who staged a co-ordinated attack on several targets in the city including a busy railway station, two luxury hotels, a restaurant and a Jewish centre.

The other nine terrorists were killed by Indian security forces during a siege that lasted more than 60 hours.
Kasab was caught on camera firing an assault rifle indiscriminately inside the packed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station. He and an accomplice, Abu Dera Ismail Khan, also shot dead three of Mumbai’s leading policemen, including its anti-terrorism chief, Hemant Karkare.
The special prosecutor, Ujjwal Nikam, said Kasab’s sentence ‘’would help heal the wounds of Mumbai attack victims’’.

Nikam described Kasab as ‘’a killing machine with no human feelings’’ while making his case for the death penalty.
The sentencing comes days after a Pakistani-American, Faisal Shahzad, was arrested and charged with attempting to bomb New York’s Times Square. US authorities say Shahzad received bomb-making training in Pakistan.
Kasab has been on trial in a special high security court in Mumbai’s Arthur Street jail for almost a year. His lawyer, K.P. Pawar, had appealed to the court for leniency, claiming his client was brainwashed by a Pakistani militant organisation (Sydney Morning Herald)
It is not known if Kasab will appeal his sentence but if he does, the legal process could take years. Few people sentenced to death in India have been hanged in the last 20 years.
(Sydney Morning Herald)


Iceland’s volcano spews more ash into Europe

Iceland’s Eyjafjoell volcano threatened European skies with a new ash cloud Friday raising the risk of more flight cancellations, officials said.
“Renewed and more intensive ash eruptions took place overnight and as a result, the area of potential higher ash contamination is forecast to extend from Iceland as far south as the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula during the day,” Eurocontrol, the European intergovernmental air traffic control coordinator, said.
“Lava has stopped running from the crater and the eruption is now again an explosive eruption,” Icelandic geologist Bjoern Oddson said.

“When there’s more explosive activity, the ash does become finer and if the activity increases, it could possibly cause problems in Europe’s airspace,” he said, noting “the ash is spreading to the south-east” of Iceland.
Late Thursday, Icelandic meteorologists and geophysicists warned Eyjafjoell would emit a larger ash cloud after renewed activity, though Oddson said it had stabilised overnight.
“Right now, we’re not seeing nearly as much ash fall as in the first few days of the eruption”, which paralysed European flight traffic for a week from April 14, he said.

The ash, at sufficient concentrations, poses a hazard for plane engines.
According to the Brussels-based Eurocontrol, the areas where the volcanic ash concentration were likely to exceed engine tolerance levels were to the west of north-west Europe.
“Transatlantic flights are being re-routed south of the affected area which could cause delays to these flights.”
The ash cloud was predicted to reach up to 35,000 feet (some 10,500 metres), far higher than in recent days and thus affecting more overflying planes. The cloud caused Ireland to shut its airspace from 2300 GMT on Thursday to 1200 GMT Friday, the third closure in as many days.
The Faroe Islands, a Danish territory in the North Atlantic, also shut airspace from Thursday night until at least 0000 GMT Saturday. (AFP)



Hung Parliament: What is it?

In a parliamentary system, a hung parliament is a term used to describe a parliament in which no political party has an outright majority of seats. This situation is normal in many legislatures with proportional representation such as the parliaments of Germany and Ireland, or in legislatures with strong regional parties; in such legislatures the term ‘hung parliament’ is rarely used. Instead the term coalition government or minority government is preferred. However, in nations in which the first-past-the-post voting system in single member districts is used to elect parliament, such as the United Kingdom, a hung parliament is a rarity, as in these circumstances one party will usually hold enough seats to form a majority, often without a plurality of votes on a national basis. A hung parliament will usually force either a coalition government, a minority government or a dissolution of parliament. – (Wikipedia)

  Labour loses mandate to govern

With more than 500 general election results in out of 650, the BBC is predicting a hung Parliament with the Tories as the largest party.
Labour cannot now win a majority, but it is not clear which party will be in a position to form a government.Tory leader David Cameron said it was “clear that the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern”. Gordon Brown may start coalition talks with the Lib Dems, who, Nick Clegg admitted, had a “disappointing night.”

The BBC projection suggests David Cameron’s Conservatives will have 306 seats. If there are 10 Unionists elected in Northern Ireland then Cameron might be able to command 316 - probably still slightly too few for him to be sure of winning a Queen’s Speech.

But Labour and the Lib Dems together would have 317 seats, according to the BBC figures, which even with three SDLP MPs would still leave them at 320 - again probably just a few votes short.

Be patient
Senior Labour figures have said that under the rules of Britain’s constitution, the sitting prime minister in a hung parliament makes the first attempt at forming a ruling coalition.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said Brown had returned to Number 10, and was going to rest and “catch his breath” adding: “We have to be patient for some time more”. “It’s not possible to make definite claims or reach final conclusions about the outcome of the election because there are results still to come in,” he said.

“You could say the electorate has voted for change but what they haven’t done is voted decisively in favour of the Conservatives.”
But shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said voters would not be “entirely happy” if Brown “after a defeat like this, were to try to cling on and try to form some sort of coalition of the defeated, some sort of alliance of the dispossessed”.

In other election night news:
• Northern Ireland’s first minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson has been defeated in East Belfast by the Alliance party.
• The Greens have gained their first MP at Westminster - party leader Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavillion.
• Education secretary Ed Balls hung on in Morley and Outwood by just over 100 votes but former Home Secretary Charles Clarke narrowly lost to the Lib Dem candidate in Norwich South.
• Jacqui Smith, who stood down as home secretary over her expenses, lost her Redditch seat to the Conservative but Hazel Blears retained her seat in Salford.
• Labour’s Margaret Hodge beat the BNP’s Nick Griffin in Barking and Dagenham, with a 5% increase in her vote.
• Esther Rantzen came fourth in Luton South, which went to the Labour candidate
• Lib Dem frontbencher Lembit Opik has lost his Montgomeryshire seat after suffering a 13.2% swing to the Conservatives.
• There were angry scenes and calls for an inquiry after people were turned away from polling stations as long queues formed ahead of the 2200 BST voting deadline.
With most results in, the Lib Dem vote is up 0.9% on 2005, Labour down 6.5% and the Conservatives up 4%.Turnout is running at 65.2%, a modest increase on the 2005 general election.

New leadership
After winning his Witney seat with an increased majority, Cameron said it was clear from the results announced that the country wanted “change” and that would require “new leadership”.

Promising to put the “national interest first”, Cameron said he would aim to bring about “strong, stable, decisive and good government”.
Despite being on course to lose 90 Labour MPs, and with the party’s lowest share of the vote since 1983, Gordon Brown vowed to play his part in Britain “having a strong, stable and principled government”.
After winning his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat, Brown said he wanted that government to be able to lead Britain into “sustained recovery”.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it was “reasonable and right” that parties attempted to work together to form a government in the event of a hung parliament.

Too early
He told BBC News: “As far as I can see, the exit poll projection suggesting that no party would win this election is being borne out.
“If indeed no party has won an absolute majority then it seems to me perfectly reasonable and right that parties should talk to each other to see if they can find common ground to establish a strong and stable government. There’s no harm in that.
“It’s a good thing to do when the voters have clearly not embraced any of us and given us the absolute majority that we are all seeking.”
Brown’s spokesman said it was “too early to say” what he would do, but sources have indicated he is ready to embark on talks aimed at piecing together a coalition.

But as he was returned as MP for Sheffield Hallam Clegg - whose popularity after the live TV debates has not been reflected in votes - said: “This has obviously been a disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats.”
He said they “simply hadn’t achieved what we hoped” but he was “proud of the way we conducted the campaign”.

Amid speculation about whether the Lib Dems would side with Labour or the Conservatives in a hung parliament, he said politicians should not “rush into making claims or taking decisions which don’t stand the test of time”.
But he said his party would be “guided by the values and principles on which we fought this election.”

The other big story of the night has been disturbances at polling stations in some parts of the country after higher than expected turnout led to lengthy queues.
Even before Houghton and Sunderland South became the first seat to declare there were widespread reports of people being unable to vote.

There could be legal challenges from candidates who have fallen a few votes short of victory and the Electoral Commission has launched an investigation.
In Sheffield, police were called to move people on when voters staged sit-in protests after waiting hours to vote. The city’s returning officer apologised but said he had to close the polls at 2200 BST. (BBC News)


Hung parliament: What happens next?

As Saturday dawns, no party has yet been able to secure an outright majority in the House of Commons, there will be a frantic period of negotiation to decide the shape of the next government.
The situation is described as a hung parliament, with no single party having enough MPs - 326 - to win parliamentary votes without the support of members of other parties.
Which party is in a position to form the next government will become clear in the following hours or days.
Which party can try to form the government?
Even if the Conservatives gain the most seats, the largest party does not automatically have the right to try to form an administration.
As the incumbent prime minister, that right is Gordon Brown’s. Indeed, it is his duty to stay in office until it becomes clear which party or combination of parties can command the most support in the new parliament.
“We must always have a government, and until a new government can be formed the present government carries on,” explains Professor Robert Hazell, from the Institute for Government.
A similar situation arose in 1974, when Conservative Edward Heath stayed in power for four days after the election trying to put together a coalition even though Labour had more seats. If Brown decides to press ahead, he can then approach some of the smaller parties to ask for support.
If Gordon Brown remains prime minister
Two routes are likely to be explored as the prime minister bids to form a new government. Firstly, he can consider forging an alliance with another party or parties to create a coalition.
As an alternative, Labour might seek informal agreements with other parties, trying to form majorities in favour of each individual bill as they come up. This may include gaining the agreement of another party not to defeat the government in a no-confidence vote.
If coalition is Brown’s aim, with Labour likely to need a relatively large number of MPs to vote with them, his first port of call is likely to be the Liberal Democrats.
However, it is unlikely that Brown is the only leader negotiating with the Lib Dems, with David Cameron also exploring the option of gaining their backing to form a Conservative-led government.
How might agreement be reached?
Professor Hazell says the Liberal Democrats will in effect set the terms of negotiation in these first few days.
“They will decide with whom they want to negotiate first,” he says, adding that they may speak to both simultaneously.
He says they may be able to broadly call the shots on whether they would support a minority government or demand a coalition in return for their backing.
During the election campaign, leader Nick Clegg has repeatedly said the party with the “biggest mandate” should get the right to govern.
If Gordon Brown resigns
If the Conservatives fail to win a majority but have a clear lead in terms of the number of seats and share of the vote, it is possible that Gordon Brown could concede defeat and resign as prime minister.
In such circumstances, the Queen would be likely to invite David Cameron - as current Leader of the Opposition - to try to form a government.
Whether he seeks to create a coalition is likely to depend on how far short of a majority his party finds itself.
If the gap is only a few seats, he may prefer to try to continue with a minority government and seek informal arrangements to get each bill passed.
How might agreement be reached?
If the Conservatives have fallen just a few seats short of a majority, Cameron’s first port of call might be the unionist parties in Northern Ireland.
The Conservatives have already formed an electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party, although it remains unclear how far the Democratic Unionists would go to back the Tories.
By when must the government be formed?
There is no formal deadline for when an administration must be formed but a key date is 25 May, when the Queen’s Speech is due to set out the government’s priorities during the parliament.
However, Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society’s parliament and government programme, believes it will be clear within days whether there will be a possibility of a deal between the parties.
Queen’s speech may 25
A minority administration must show it has the confidence of the Commons but the Queen’s Speech does not have to be the deadline for negotiations between parties.
Early second election?
If no agreement can be reached between parties and no government was unable to command enough support to get the Queen’s Speech through parliament there would be a need for a second election.
However, party leaders may not be keen to go to the polls again unless the opinion polls indicate voter intentions have changed markedly. Parties would also consider the fact that another election would be costly financially.

Impact of UK elections on Sri Lankan students

More than 200,000 of the Sri Lankan diaspora appear to be united in their allegiances in the upcoming UK parliamentary elections. Immigration and economic policies of the major political parties are the key areas when deciding their vote at the elections, claimed students and young Sri Lankans living in UK.
Sri Lankan students, though not permanent residents, are temporarily allowed to vote in UK as citizens of the Commonwealth.
Although the Labour government is seen as supportive of immigrants, for students in particular, all might not be that rosy for the immigrants if the Conservative party comes to power, according to Sri Lankan student Akila Nadeera Perera.
Mohamed Rilvan Mohamed Nisar, another student at a London higher education college, agrees.
“As a result of the recession, it is already very difficult to find a part-time job to cover my expenses. But I think under a Conservative government things would be worse,” he told BBC Sandeshaya.
Majority of the students and other young people Sandeshaya spoke to were of a similar opinion.
But Lakshman Wanigasuriya, the president of the Conservative branch in Totteridge in High Wycombe constituency, disagrees.
“Under the Labour government, the immigration policy has constantly been changing,” he said.
“Students who come to UK for one category, for example, are later confused as to which category they belong after sudden changes,” Wanigasuriya said adding that under a Conservative government there would be a consistent policy.
“Every tax paying legal immigrant is of the opinion that this immigration policy needs to be changed.”
For Dhanushka Perera, a recent graduate currently working in the IT industry, it is the overall performance of the government, not only immigration that matters.
“I think Gordon Brown is very serious when he talks about policies than David Cameron,” he said.
Shiyamala Selvaratnam, a young web designer grown up in London, regards herself as a Londoner as well as an immigrant.
She said herself, as well as many among the younger generation, were influenced by the confident performance at the TV debates by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
“I think immigration issue is important but at the same time it is important to empower the younger generation,” she told BBCSinhala.com.
But for some recently arrived students, survival under a recession is the main issue.
Chanuka Dilshan Perera, a student who has been in UK for more than two years is of the opinion that it is also important to focus on economic policies.
“Many students cannot survive with what they get from Sri Lanka so they must have a part time job. It is already difficult but if the government changes things would be more difficult.”
Agreeing, Lakshman Wanigasuriya says it is only Conservatives who could take the UK out of the recession (BBC News)