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160 killed in Indian plane crash

At least 160 people were killed Saturday morning when an Air India Express plane overshot a table-top runway in southern India, falling off a cliff into a valley, officials said.
The Boeing 737 from Dubai was carrying 163 passengers and nine crew members when it crashed outside the city of Mangalore, amid heavy weather in a hilly region. It then caught fire, hampering immediate rescue attempts from people in the neighbouring village of Manapur.
“We have come here to help the authorities in whatever way we can. But it is really chaotic here. Nobody knows what is going on. Officials are talking on their wireless and rushing about,” Sumathi Raj, one of the civilian rescuers, said by telephone.
Television images showed charred bodies being pulled out of the wreckage as firefighters worked to douse the flames. In one case, a child’s limp, burned body was extricated from the smoldering plane by a policeman, who carried the child up a hill as other rescuers offered to pull him up.
Home Minister for Karnataka state V.S. Acharya told reporters that at least 160 people had died in the crash. Other officials put the number of dead at 60 but said they feared that it would soon sharply rise.
A senior civil aviation official in New Delhi said that about six survivors were pulled out of the wreckage and rushed to hospitals in serious condition. Two hospitals in Mangalore offer specialised care to patients with burn injuries.
“We have been geared up since morning to receive survivors. We have a burn ward in our hospital. But the fact that we have not got a single one here is bad news. It means there are not many survivors.” said Prabhkar, a doctor at Father Mullers Medical College Hospital in Mangalore.
The Mangalore district health officer, Jagan Nath, said bodies of victims were being transported to the morgue, where relatives and friends of passengers were gathering. “They are crying. Things are very bad,” he said.
Indian television reported that the pilot of Air India Express 812 had not advised air-traffic controllers of any mechanical issues before the crash.
A senior captain of Air India who regularly flies the Mangalore route said the runway was lengthened to about 8,000 feet from about 5,300 feet about three years ago
“It is a safe airfield now,” he said by telephone from Mumbai. “One edge of the runway is a steep drop. But we operate large aircraft there. It is adequate. ... This is hilly terrain. Within eight miles northeast of the runway, there are hills that are 6,000 feet high.”
Saturday’s crash may rank as the country’s deadliest aircraft disaster since 1996, when 349 people died after Saudi and Kazakh passenger planes collided in midair above north India. (Washington Post)

Afghan rescuers halt search for air crash survivors

Snow, fog and high winds forced Afghan rescuers Friday to call off their search for the day for survivors at the site of a plane crash in mountains just north of the capital Kabul.
Bodies of some of the 44 people aboard the Pamir Airways plane which crashed on Monday had been retrieved, but it was impossible to confirm all onboard had died, said a spokesman for the transportation and civil aviation ministry.
“It is difficult to immediately say how many bodies have been recovered,” Nangialai Qalatwal told AFP, adding some “were only remains and in bits and pieces”.
He added that the plane was carrying six crew and 38 passengers when it crashed into a mountainside 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Kabul.
The search would resume on Saturday.
The bodies and wreckage of the plane were found in an area called Surkh-e-Parsa on the Shakar Darah mountains in Kabul province, at around 13,500 feet (4,100 metres), officials said.
Afghanistan’s chief aviation investigator Ghulam Farooq told the Australian Associated Press (AAP) that eight foreign passengers were on board the plane.
AAP reported him as saying the passengers included three Britons and an American, as well as Australian and Pakistani nationals, though he did not have a breakdown of numbers.
Australia’s foreign affairs department could not confirm how many Australians were on the plane, AAP said.
The ageing Pamir Airways plane came down in bad weather during a scheduled flight to Kabul from the northern province of Kunduz.
Conditions for recovery were hampered by the harsh weather, Qalatwal said. “It takes the rescuers two hours to climb (to the crash site) and two hours to bring down the bodies.

EU ministers seek better
crisis response

EU finance ministers have agreed for the need to be tougher on member states’ budgets in the wake of the Greek debt crisis.
And following criticism that Europe did too little, too late to defend the euro, they pledged to react quicker and more efficiently in future.
At the first meeting of a new EU economic taskforce, they agreed new sanctions were needed to enforce rules.
Countries that break deficit limits could lose EU money or voting rights.
The meeting in Brussels comes at the end of another week of turmoil on the markets as European countries grapple with the aftermath of the debt crisis in Greece.
The euro fell to its lowest level for four years against the dollar in the last few days and share markets have seen big sell-offs.
With additional concerns about the level of debt in Spain, Portugal and other countries, the fear has been that the crisis could harm the wider European economy. (BBC NEWS)

News in brief

Thailand unrest under control

Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva says order has been restored to the capital, Bangkok, and throughout the country.
Abhisit said the government would “move swiftly to restore normalcy” following a week of violence which left more than 50 people dead.
In a televised address he said reconciliation efforts would continue to address political divisions.
Anti-government protesters returning to Chiang Mai in the north received cheers and applause from supporters.
Many of the “red-shirt” protesters - named for the colour they adopted - said they were determined to keep up the drive to force Abhisit to step down and call new elections. (BBC NEWS)

US oil spill commission takes shape

Two political veterans are expected to head a US commission investigating a huge oil spill, amid criticism of the government’s response.
Reports say former Democratic Senator Bob Graham and William Reilly, who once served as environment chief for the Republicans, will lead the inquiry.
President Barack Obama’s administration has been forced to defend its record in dealing with the spill.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said the government was doing all it could. (BBC NEWS)

Niger’s hungry ‘crossing into Nigeria’

Reports from northern Nigeria say a growing number of people from Niger are crossing the border into Nigeria because of the food crisis at home.
A BBC correspondent in the northern Nigerian state of Katsina says many women and children from Niger are seeking shelter with local families.
Aid agencies say about seven million people in Niger - about half the population - are short of food.
Niger’s transitional government has started distributing food in the north. (BBC NEWS)

13-year-old becomes youngest to top Mount Everest

A 13-year-old American boy became the youngest climber to reach the top of Mount Everest on Saturday, breaking the former record as part of his quest to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents.
A spokesman for Jordan Romero says the boy’s team called him by satellite phone from the summit of the world’s highest mountain, 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) above sea level.
“Their dreams have now come true. Everyone sounded unbelievably happy,” a new statement on Jordan’s blog said Saturday morning. (SFGATE)

Lawmakers in Germany back rescue for Europe

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany narrowly pushed the country’s share of the nearly $1 trillion stabilisation package for the euro through Parliament on Friday in the face of significant public opposition.
It was an uncomfortably close call for Mrs. Merkel. The bill passed by a margin of just seven votes, with half a dozen members of her conservative coalition voting against it. The left-wing opposition parties refused to support the deal, either abstaining or voting against it.
The vote answered the question, for now at least, of whether Germany is committed to seeking European solutions to the fiscal crisis facing the continent. It came at the end of a week that saw sharp divisions emerge over the German government’s decision to introduce unilateral measures to dampen financial-market speculation, and to do so without consulting its European partners.
The German Finance Ministry’s actions, including a partial ban on so-called naked short-selling, were intended to placate a German public fed up with bailouts, whether for other countries or for financial institutions widely viewed as profiting from the present instability.
But the crisis of confidence in the euro, which has weakened the currency and shaken markets around the world, is not just about underlying economic fundamentals. At its heart, it concerns the ability of European leaders to work in concert. And the German decision to go it alone reinforced the negative impression of a divided Europe at a delicate juncture.
In Germany, where Mrs. Merkel is still trying to recover from her party’s election defeat in the country’s most populous state earlier this month, the unilateral measures were viewed as a necessary step to win passage of the rescue plan in the Bundestag.
“As a consequence of the overheated public debate,” said Ulrike Guérot, director of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, “the German government needed to take action to show we are doing something against financial speculation before the Bundestag vote. It was a very controversial debate, but the vote is done so I guess Germany is coming back to its European convictions.”
Germany’s share of the safety net could reach $183 billion, the largest share of any European country. After meeting in Berlin with the new prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, Mrs. Merkel called it “an important day for the German Parliament.”
“Germany is the main financer of the rescue plan,” Seehofer said. “The people expect that their representatives will not disenfranchise themselves.”
(Washington Post)

Outcry in South Africa over prophet cartoon

A South African newspaper on Friday published a Mohamed cartoon which has upset South African Muslims with the World Cup being just around the corner.
The cartoon in the weekly Mail & Guardian shows Mohamed on a psychiatrist’s couch complaining “Other prophets have followers with a sense of humor.”
On Thursday night South African Muslim advocacy groups failed in a court bid to prevent the Mail & Guardian printing the cartoon.

The issue provoked a flood of responses on South African radio talk shows and internet sites.
Ihsaan Hendricks, president of South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), said the cartoon “seems to be provocative in many ways on the very eve of the World Cup in South Africa, when we need peaceful co-existence and co-operation amongst religious communities in South Africa.”
He said the newspaper should understand that offending the South African Muslim community is offending the international Muslim community.
On Friday morning the Mail & Guardian said on its website that its editor-in-chief Nic Dawes and other staff were fielding a flood of angry callers, and even death threats hit the newspaper’s office.

“You’ve got to watch your back” and “This will cost him his life” were some of the remarks made.
Dawes recounted how he received a call from an attorney from the council at about 8:30 p.m. on Thursday night, after the distribution process of the Friday paper had begun. “He asked for an undertaking that we would stop distribution of the paper and remove the cartoon.”
Dawes pointed out that this was impossible, and that in any event the M&G would not do so.

The Mail & Guardian said that during Thursday’s application the Muslim Judicial Council repeatedly raised the specter of a violent backlash, saying that the timing of the cartoon was bad because of a possible threat to the FIFA World Cup.
It added that while it wouldn’t advocate violence, it couldn’t necessarily guarantee that there wouldn’t be any.
“We very much saw that as a threat, and our counsel vigorously objected,” said Dawes. The judge upheld the objection. (Xinhua)

Can India’s economy overtake China?

(BBC NEWS) Can the lumbering elephant overtake the hyperactive dragon? What appeared unthinkable for decades, if not for more than half a century, may actually happen soon, perhaps as early as next year.
In 2010, the Indian economy may grow faster than that of China. What is more, experts contend that South Asia could expand at a more rapid pace than East Asia.
While there is no dearth of sceptics who believe that China will continue to grow faster than any other major economy on the globe in the foreseeable future, there are others who contend that the trend growth rates of the two most populous nations could change and that India could march ahead of the Chinese economy just a little faster than many predict.
China and India, accounting for roughly 40% of the 6.5bn plus people on Planet Earth, are not merely the two fastest growing major economies in the world at present, but are among the few countries that have continued to expand at a time when the economies of most countries have contracted.
In the early 1950s, in terms of per capita income and levels of economic development, there was little to distinguish between China and India. Half the populations of both countries were mired in abject poverty - in India’s case after centuries of colonial rule.
From the 1970s, the Chinese economy started growing at a fast rate while India’s economy grew sluggishly at an average rate of 3.5% - sarcastically described by the late economics professor Raj Krishna as the “Hindu rate of growth”.
As China grew by double-digits decade after decade for nearly 40 years, economists kept claiming the bubble would burst, that data was doctored by smart statisticians in Beijing - but the metaphorical dragon continued to grow bigger and bigger defying all expectations.
The economy of India, on the other hand, started accelerating from the early 1990s onwards as Delhi loosened bureaucratic controls over industry, trade and services.
In the middle of the 1990s, for the first time since India became independent in August 1947, the country’s economy expanded by an annual average of more than 9% four years in succession, that is until the impact of the ongoing international recession saw the Indian economy decelerate.
Economists argue that one reason why India’s economy can grow faster than that of China in the near future is simply on account of what statisticians describe as a “base effect”.
Following this argument, India’s growth rate is higher because the base on which the rate is calculated is narrower.
China’s economy is roughly three and a half times bigger than that of India - Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measured in US dollars in 2008 for the two countries stood at $4.2 trillion and $1.2 trillion respectively.
But there is an important reason why India’s economy has been hurt relatively less by the ongoing international economic recession in comparison to China, whose growth has been largely export-driven in recent decades.
Exports and imports put together (including “invisible” earnings from tourists, workers’ remittances and exports of services) account for approximately half of India’s GDP whereas the comparable proportion for China is over 80%.
Forecasts revised
Two years ago, China overtook the US as India’s largest trading partner.
In late June, the World Bank in its Global Development Finance 2009 report projected that in 2010, the rate of growth of India’s economy at 8% would be faster than that of China, expected to be 7.7%.
The bank’s forecast for the current year was revised upwards for both China (from 6.5% to 7.2%) and India (from 4% to 5.1%) but these prognostications are lower than those made by the governments of the respective countries.
The Chinese government claims a rate of growth close to 8% for 2009, while various agencies of the Indian government would place the comparable figure at somewhere between 6.5% and 7%.

Tensions flair up in troubled Korea

By Thanapathi
After nearly two months of cautious treading the South Koreans have come out with conclusive evidence for what many feared, their inimical northern neighbour is responsible for, the sinking of a naval vessel on March 26, 2010, that resulted in the worst incident since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953. The 1200-ton Cheonan was on a routine patrol mission in the waters near the Koreas’ maritime border when an explosion ripped the sturdy frigate in two. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued; 46 others perished. The incident has left a scar on many Koreans - not just on the families of the 46 sailors who died, but all Koreans, who are fully aware of the threat that exists from North Korea.

The South Korean military was careful early on not to cast suspicion on North Korea, even though the Yellow Sea has been the site of three bloody skirmishes between the two countries, most recently in November 2009. Naval clashes between North and South have been a regular feature of the Korean standoff for the past decades. But the unprovoked sinking of the Cheonan is a major escalation in the North’s actions that may well portend even larger clashes - especially if Kim Jong II, the illusive leader of the North feels his navy has escaped scot-free in the murder of dozens of South Korean sailors.

Nearly two months since the sinking, the evidence is overwhelming. An experts’ panel has now conclusively concluded that a North Korean torpedo is the only plausible option for the explosion that resulted in the destruction of vessel. The shattered structure of the ship was salvaged from the seabed and tested for weapons residue, which the investigators now say they found and matched to known North Korean torpedo samples.

Provocative actions
The findings have enraged the South Korean government and raised tensions in the region to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton currently on a tour of Asia, strongly condemned North Korea for what she called “provocative actions” against South Korean. “I think it is important to send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have consequences,” she said while in Tokyo. “We cannot allow this attack on South Korea to go unanswered by the international community.” Clinton’s statement came just hours after South Korean President Lee Myun-Bak called an emergency meeting in Seoul, in response to the investigation. Lee said the attack violated the U.N. Charter as well as the truce that ended the Korean War in 1953.

However ruffled the South Koreans and the US maybe there options against a nuclear armed North seems limited. South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-young said Seoul would work with the international community to come up with non-military sanctions against the reclusive state while Secretary of State Clinton said Washington would consult China, South Korea, and Japan on the appropriate response, but refused to call the North’s attack “an act of war” mindful of the Korean Peninsula’s instability. A retaliatory move is limited, especially as the Chinese are reluctant to join in any action against their ally North Korea. Beijing has described the incident only as unfortunate and urged all parties to show restraint. In her talks with the Chinese, Clinton will be hampered by the fact that she needs their backing over North Korea, but also for sanctions against Iran and a deal on re-adjusting the Chinese currency. At the moment the US considers its moves at the Security Council against Iran as its top foreign policy priority and for that China is a critical partner. The North may have yet got away once with the perfect crime due its foes being reluctant to take stronger actions considering the risks of full blown out war with an erratic, nuclear armed state.

Military retaliation
North Korea, which denies one of its submarines fired a torpedo at the corvette, said again that it would regard any punitive action as an act of war. North Korea has often threatened to attack Seoul but most analysts say that, in the face of a much better equipped South Korean army backed by some 28,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula, any major confrontation would be suicidal for Pyongyang. Some analysts still warned the more the North’s now frail leader Kim Jong-il is pushed into a corner, the greater the risk of clashes. Kim is also trying to secure the succession for one of his sons. Troublingly the South’s capital Seoul, is within range of artillery from North Korea.

Even though a military retaliation is highly unlikely at the stage the latest provocation from the North would be hardly forgotten. The South Koreans who have been boosting its failed Northern neighbour with much needed food aid and investments are expected to curtail such interactions, a move that would further jeopardise the fragile economy of the North. Currently more than one hundred South Korean companies operate in an exclusive economic zone in the North, just across the border which employees nearly 30,000 Northern labour. This was seen as the first step in the North attempting a Chinese type freeing of its tightly controlled economy. Though an immediate closure of the zone is not a realistic option the South’s government may not encourage its companies to expand into the North. The small but significant foreign currency flow would thin out. Also the hundreds of tons of food aid provided by the South Koreans, Japanese and the US is likely to reduce.

Increasing stakes of war
The North Koreans are known for their hard bargaining strategies. At the height of a famine in the late 1990s the North started its nuclear programme which was seen as a bailout from its own enemies who would go to extraordinary lengths to stall the progress of the North to build a nuclear devise. Food and other economic aid as promised and delivered to the North on the promise that it would stop nuclear material enrichment. After many years of playing hard ball, obtaining aid that kept its dictatorial regime in power the North eventually did produce a nuclear bomb. This time too the North seems to be hoping that its foes would follow the same path. By increasing the stakes of war the North is now positioned to exchange aid for the promise of peace. With the South and its traditional allies the US and Japan reluctant take military action, the North may well have pulled off its perfect crime once again and eventually benefit from it.


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemnedNorth Korea on Friday for a deadly attack on a South Korean warship and vowed that it would not go “unanswered,” but senior U.S. officials stressed that neither side on the Korean Peninsula seems to be heading toward war.
Clinton’s trip to the region is part of a whirlwind of diplomatic activity that will focus on crafting a response to North Korea’s attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan warship in March. Clinton met with Japanese officials Friday and will see Chinese and South Korean officials in coming days.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will also travel to South Korea and Japan for a trip that will no doubt focus on the incident. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is expected to address his nation on the attack, which killed 46 sailors.
The heightened tension seems to have helped push Japan to agree to most elements of a plan to relocate U.S. forces on Okinawa, specifically the Marines’ Futenma Air Base, Japanese officials and media reports said. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was scheduled to visit Okinawa this weekend to explain his decision, Japanese officials said. Japan’s “language has changed since Cheonan,” a senior U.S. official said. “There was a realisation that this still is a very dangerous world.”

Blunt statement
In a blunt statement after meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Clinton said the United States “strongly condemns” the North Korean attack and that both countries would seek an international response.
“Let me be clear,” Clinton said in her first public comments since South Korea released a report on Thursday formally blaming the North for the torpedo strike. “This will not be and cannot be business as usual.”
South Korean investigators, assisted by experts from the United States, Australia, Britain and Sweden, concluded that the weapon that destroyed the ship was a North Korean-made torpedo in part because fragments of it “perfectly match” schematics of a product that Pyongyang has been offering to sell abroad.
U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials are trying to formulate a response that will be tough enough to deter further provocations from North Korea but will not spark a war on the Korean Peninsula, where North Korea’s nuclear-armed forces face off against those of South Korea and nearly 29,000 U.S. troops. South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is within easy artillery range of North Korea’s big guns and could be pulverised within minutes, military experts have said.
North Korea’s response to the investigation has been typically bombastic. “Our army and people will promptly react to any ‘punishment’ and ‘retaliation’ and to any ‘sanctions’ infringing upon our state interests with various forms of tough measures, including an all-out war,” said a statement attributed to the North’s National Defense Commission.

More economic sanctions
South Korean officials have said they want to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council and possibly slap more economic sanctions on North Korea. South Korea could also further limit its severely restricted trading relationship with the North. But senior U.S. officials briefing reporters covering Clinton’s trip said they do not think Seoul is contemplating military action.
“I think it’s clear that the South Koreans do not wish to go to war. . . . They will not take steps that run that risk,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. As for the North Koreans, he said, he had seen no evidence that the attack was “the first step on the road to war.”
“The hope is that this was a one-off action,” he said, adding that North Korea has a long history of violence against South Korean targets.
Preventing “one-offs” could prove challenging. North Korea is believed to be armed with nuclear weapons. It has twice tested a nuclear device and pulled out of talks designed to persuade it to abandon nuclear weapons.
“We have never been good at stopping North Korean missile tests and nuclear tests,” said Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official and North Korea specialist. “But we thought we were good at conventional deterrence, which has kept the peace since 1953. Now, my concern is that the North feels confident enough in its nuclear capabilities that they do not fear retaliation if they strike out conventionally to gain the upper hand.”

China’s lukewarm reaction
China, where Clinton arrived late Friday at the head of a delegation of hundreds of U.S. officials preparing for annual talks with Beijing, is key to any plan to deter North Korea from further attacks. But China’s reaction to South Korea’s investigation has been lukewarm.
China waited almost a month to express condolences to South Korea for the loss of life on the Cheonan and throughout the crisis has tried not to take sides. It feted North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in early May and apparently presented him with a large package of aid.
Clinton will discuss the attack with Chinese leaders. U.S. officials said they want to see Beijing accept the investigation’s results.
Cha said China has successfully balanced North and South Korea since 1992 when it recognised Seoul but now is being forced to choose between them.
“Aggression by North Korea on this scale really forces China to choose: its economic future with the South, or its communist past with the North,” he said.
(Washington Post)

Musharraf plans to rejoin politics

The former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf has said he intends going back home to enter politics. Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999 and ruled until stepping down as president in 2008, has raised the possibility of re-entering politics several times over the past year although political analysts have played down the likelihood.
“I certainly am planning to go back to Pakistan and also join politics. The question of whether I am running for president or prime minister will be seen later,” Musharraf told CNN in an interview.
“There are security issues. Maybe my wife and my family is more worried than I am but there are security issues which one needs to take into consideration and that is why I’m not laying down any dates for my return,” he said. Musharraf could also face a host of legal dangers.
The Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice Musharraf tried to dismiss, has declared his 2007 imposition of emergency rule unconstitutional, which could be a basis for actions against him. Polls show that Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in 1999, is Pakistan’s most popular politician and he too has called for Musharraf to be put on trial.
Musharraf left Pakistan about a year ago and spends most of his time in Britain and the United States.

Unpopular leader
Many Pakistanis welcomed the 1999 coup by the straight-talking army chief, which ended a decade of fractious rule by rival parties tainted by corruption accusations.
But the longer he ruled the more unpopular he became.
He tried to strike a power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, who returned from self-exile in October 2007 to campaign for a general election. But she was assassinated weeks later.
Musharraf’s government said Pakistani Taliban were responsible but in a country where conspiracy theories run rife, many people believed shadowy forces, perhaps close to Musharraf, played a part in her death.
The party that backed Musharraf was humiliated in a February 2008 election, in which Bhutto’s party won the most seats, and Musharraf stepped down later that year.
He survived two bomb attacks and officials spoke of other plots to assassinate him. (Al-jazeera)