|Maoists end strike in Nepal
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
“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
“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
Heralds era of
instability for region
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(Sydney Morning Herald)
Iceland’s volcano spews more ash into
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
“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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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
In other election night news:
• Northern Ireland’s first minister and DUP leader Peter
Robinson has been defeated in East Belfast by the Alliance
• 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
• 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
• 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.