|ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan’s ex-military ruler Pervez
Musharraf has spent two years building a Facebook following
and cultivating the media but few believe his audacious plan
to recapture power has any chance of success.
Aside from the small matter of possible death or arrest if
he steps foot on home soil, there is little sign he can win
over the politicians he alienated, the judges he sacked, his
former underlings at the military or the Americans.
From the comforts of self-imposed exile in London, the
67-year-old unveiled the All Pakistan Muslim League this
week and has said he would contest elections in 2013.
The current climate could not be more uncomfortable for
President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan People’s Party
(PPP), facing an onslaught of criticism at home over
perceived economic, political and governance failings.
With the military said to be mulling ways to shake up the
coalition, the Supreme Court flexing its muscles and the
media calling for Zardari’s head, now could be the perfect
time for the return of a leader remembered for his firm grip
The government’s perceived shambolic response to floods, a
deadly threat from Taliban militants and an economy in
meltdown have all shaken a country still getting used to
democracy after almost a decade of military rule.
But aside from a tiny band of loyalists, none of the
principal powerbrokers and few people on the street believe
Musharraf is the answer.
“I wouldn’t read too much into him announcing his party. The
going would be very, very tough for him if he did decide to
return,” Pakistani political and security analyst Imtiaz Gul
“Those chances are remote in the near term because Pakistani
people already suffered him for nine years and neither the
military nor the Americans would like to hedge their bet on
a person who has outlived his utility.”
No prominent politician has declared support for Musharraf.
Both the PPP and its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim
League-N (PML-N) loathe him.
When asked recently about Musharraf’s possible return, Prime
Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani snapped back that he would be
“received by the chief justice”.
‘Eco-city’ to serve as a model
TIANJIN, China (AFP) - At a construction site in northern
China, a billboard boasts of a “liveable city” where
residents can drink tap water, travel on clean energy public
transport and enjoy acres of parkland.
For now, the ambitious “eco-city” covering 30 square
kilometres of non-arable salt pans and former fishing
villages has more cranes than wind turbines and will not be
finished for at least another decade. But its developers
hope the settlement near the port city of Tianjin will serve
as an ultra-efficient alternative to ill-planned and heavily
polluting mega-cities not only elsewhere in the country, but
around the world.
“We hope to influence our neighbours,” said Goh Chye Boon,
chief executive of Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City
Investment & Development Co. “With the right ingredients,
with the right eco mindset, I think together we can change
The governments of China and Singapore have combined their
expertise and finances to develop the future city, which has
a planned population of 350,000.
|NEW DELHI: Though India’s response to the Ayodhya
verdict has been respectful and dignified, to use Home
Minister P Chidambaram’s words, political players seem to be
back at the game they are best at — trying to create trouble
where there is none.
While Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav is
openly discussing his “disappointment”, obviously in the
hope of luring some Muslim votes, Uttar Pradesh chief
minister Mayawati is using every opportunity possible to
shrug off all responsibility on the law and order front,
repeating ad infinitum, “The Centre will be responsible if
anything goes wrong”.
The BJP has already started saying how the verdict has
“paved the way for the construction of a grand Ram temple in
Ayodhya” and the Congress is baying for Mayawati’s blood.
Mulayam startled many people at a press conference on Friday
as he virtually lambasted the special three-judge bench
which delivered the verdict in the case.
“I am disappointed to see that matters of faith have been
given precedence over law and evidence in a legal matter,”
Mulayam did not stop at that. “The Muslims are feeling
cheated… there is a feeling of despair throughout the
community,” he said.
The SP president said the verdict splitting the disputed
site would create further complications. “This is not a good
omen for the country, the constitution and even the
judiciary,” he remarked in a written statement released to
Soon afterwards, and perhaps equally predictably, the
saffron brigade latched on to the communal bandwagon.
“Mulayam’s remarks are totally irresponsible,” fumed state
BJP chief Surya Pratap Shahi.
“It does not become a senior leader like him to speak this
sort of language at a time when we need to keep peace and
calm,” he said.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member and
Lucknow’s naib imam Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahali
also scoffed at Mulayam, saying no politician should try and
project himself as a leader or authorised representative of
the Muslim. He said only the ulema could speak for the
“In any case, this is not the time to criticise the
judgment… the option of the apex court is open,” he said.
|Heart scare for Thai queen
|BANGKOK (AFP) - The Thai palace said yesterday that the
kingdom’s 78-year-old queen was recovering after being
admitted to a Bangkok hospital with a heart problem.
Queen Sirikit was taken to King Chulalongkorn Memorial
Hospital late Thursday with “symptoms of an irregular heart
beat”, according to a statement from the Royal Household
She continues to be monitored in the hospital, where she was
visited on Friday by her husband King Bhumibol Adulyadej,
who has himself been hospitalised for the past year.
“A team of royal physicians treated her with high frequency
radio waves and her heart beat returned to normal in the
Friday night of October 1,” the palace said.
Bhumibol, who is the world’s longest-reigning monarch and
considered a demi-god by many Thais, was seen arriving at
the hospital in a wheelchair with royal aides, as hospital
staff knelt and bowed in respect.
The couple’s daughter Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has
visited and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also arrived to
pay his respects by signing a book of well wishes on
The king was admitted to Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital in
September 2009 for treatment for a respiratory condition,
although he has appeared in public several times since.
Bhumibol is seen as a unifying figure in a country riven by
political unrest, although he remained largely silent during
April and May’s anti-government “Red Shirt” protests that
left 91 people dead.
He married Queen Sirikit, a distant cousin and ambassador’s
daughter, in 1950, the same year as his coronation.
|‘River crisis’ worsens threat of water
PARIS (AFP) - The vast majority of the world’s rivers are
reeling from pollution, over-development and excessive
extraction, and billions of dollars of investment by rich
countries to avert water stress have damaged biodiversity, a
study released this week said.
“Rivers around the world really are in a crisis state,” said
one of its authors, Peter McIntyre, a professor of Zoology
at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The investigation, published by the journal Nature, looked
at the health of the world’s major rivers, assessing them
for water security and the state of their wildlife.
Their probe covered 23 factors, including water extraction,
types of agriculture and industry, pollution levels,
habitat, wildlife, population growth and urban development.
The result makes for grim viewing. “We find that nearly 80
percent of the world’s population is exposed to high levels
of threat to water security,” the authors say.
Over 30 of the world’s 47 largest rivers, which collectively
account for half of the global runoff of freshwater, are
under at least “moderate” threat, they say.
Eight of them are rated as being under very high threat in
terms of water security for humans. Fourteen of them are
rated as being under very high threat for biodiversity.
In contrast, the rivers of Scandinavia, Siberia, northern
Canada and unsettled parts of the tropical zone in Amazonia
and northern Australia have the lowest threat rating.
|Robot hair-washer unveiled
|TOKYO (AFP) - Japan’s Panasonic unveiled a robot that
can scans a client’s head using 3D technology, then shampoos
their hair and massages the scalp with its rubbery
The prototype machine was developed to help thinly-stretched
staff at healthcare facilities, common problem in
rapidly-ageing Japan, said the electronics maker.
In a three-minute media demonstration, the automated hair
salon, which resembles a dentist’s chair with a wash basin,
moved a pair of “arms” with 16 finger-like massage nobs
while squirting shampoo and water.
“With 16 fingers, the robot washes hair and rinses the
shampoo bubbles with the dexterity of human fingers,” the
company said in a statement.
“The robot’s two arms scan the head three dimensionally as
they move and measure and remember the head shape to apply
just the right amount of pressure to each person when
shampooing and massaging.”
The machine, which will hit stores in a few years, was
unveiled at a Tokyo fair of welfare goods that showed off
20,000 products, including a wheelchair that can dock into a
three-wheeled electric motorbike and automobiles designed
for disabled people.
Panasonic also displayed a prototype electric bed that turns
into a wheelchair.
|$35m Tamil blockbuster hits screens
|CHENNAI (AFP) - Three years after his last blockbuster,
bus conductor turned Indian film megastar Rajinikanth
returned to the silver screen on Friday with a movie
expected to break all box-office records.
The 60-year-old’s latest film, the Tamil-language
‘Endhiran’, has a budget of 1.65 billion rupees ($35
million) according to the movie’s official website, making
it the most expensive Indian film ever made.
The science-fiction fantasy thriller, which will be screened
in nearly 2,000 theatres worldwide, had its first screening
in India as early as 5 am, with some fans queuing through
the night for tickets.
Some celebrated the release by bursting crackers, beating
drums, showering the movie screen with flowers and even
washing life-size posters of Rajinikanth with milk -- a sign
A star of more than 150 films, Rajinikanth’s presence on
screen has been likened to a leaping tiger, and his fans are
known to pray in front of life-size cardboard cut-outs of
him for the success of his latest release.
|Siamese twin girls separated
PANAMA CITY (AFP) - Year-old Siamese twin girls connected at
the abdomen were surgically separated by a team of 50
doctors from Panama and Argentina, in Panama’s first medical
operation of this kind.
“We’re very happy because the surgery was very difficult and
complex. It took many months of preparation, but it’s
yielded results,” Caja del Seguro Social Hospital pediatrics
chief Iliana Ceballos told Telemetro Reporta, a television
She said the operation, postponed from August because the
girls had the flu, took less time than expected.
“There was no bleeding,” Ceballos said, adding that all that
was left to do was to “close the skin” over both girls’
“I’m very pleased and very happy,” said the twins’ mother,
Ceballos said the next 24-48 hours were crucial in the
|Iran blasts US
TEHRAN (AFP) - Tehran hit out
against US interference after Washington ordered sanctions
against senior Iranian officials for alleged human rights
abuses during a crackdown on post-election protests last
“This decision is in line with the US interference in the
internal affairs of Iran for the past 30 years,” foreign
ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying
by the IRNA news agency.
“It goes against international law,” he added.
US President Barack Obama imposed the sanctions against
eight senior Iranian officials on Wednesday over the
crackdown against anti-government protesters who rejected
the outcome of the Islamic republic’s 2009 presidential
The order will freeze any US assets held by the eight, who
include Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari
and former Tehran prosecutor general Said Mortazevi.
On Thursday, Iran summoned Swiss Ambassador Livia Leu
Agosti, whose mission manages US interests in Tehran, to
protest against what it called an illegal move.
After the 2009 presidential election, hundreds of thousands
of opposition supporters defied a government ban and poured
onto the streets of Tehran to protest against the
re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Human rights groups have accused the government of
suppressing the uprising through extra-judicial killings,
rapes and torture.
Iran’s police chief also lashed out at the US sanctions and
warned that his forces will crack down on anyone who uses
economic sanctions imposed by the world community on Iran
over its nuclear programme to ‘create trouble’.
“The US is seeking to restore the morale of the
counter-revolution (opposition),” the ISNA news agency
quoted General Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam as saying, adding that
certain unidentified groups could seek to “provoke strikes”
in order to create ‘economic sedition.’
He warned that the forces of order will act against those
wishing to take advantage of the economic sanctions and act
in line with the enemies by creating economic trouble and
“The enemies are seeking, with their economic threats, to
push people toward disobedience and to provoke social
troubles,” Ahmadi Moghadam was quoted as saying.
In June, the UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of
sanctions over Iran’s controversial programme of uranium
enrichment, which many Western states believe may be a
covert bid to make a nuclear bomb, a charge Tehran denies.
The United States and European Union have since unilaterally
imposed even tougher punitive measures, with provisions to
penalise Tehran’s trading partners.
This is the first time that a senior official has
acknowledged the sanctions could have such an effect.
|China urges Japan to ‘maintain
|BEIJING (AFP) - China called on Japan to “maintain the
full spectrum of relations” between the two nations amid a
damaging territorial row that has rumbled on for more than
three weeks, state press reported.
“China attaches great importance to its relations with
Japan. We hope Japan will work with China to maintain the
full spectrum of bilateral relations,” said Ma Zhaoxu, the
chief spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs.
The statement came after Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan
called on China to behave as ‘responsible member of the
international community’ as the two sides work through their
worst spat in several years, centred on a disputed island
Amid the heightened tensions, China issued a travel warning
for its citizens after Japanese right-wing nationalists
harassed a busload of Chinese tourists this week, kicking
their bus and hurling insults.
China on Friday allowed three Japanese construction workers
to return home after detaining them for 11 days for
allegedly filming a military site, but it retained one of
their colleagues for further questioning.
Japan’s centre-left Prime Minister Kan fired off another
salvo in a parliamentary speech when he voiced concerns
about China’s military muscle and its recent display of
hardball diplomacy in the bitter spat.
“We are concerned that China has strengthened its defence
power without transparency and that it has intensified its
maritime activities in regions from the Indian Ocean to the
East China Sea,” Kan said.
“I expect China to play an appropriate role and act as a
responsible member of the international community,” he said,
softening the comments only by saying that Japan sought good
relations with China.
Japan and its top security ally the United States have in
the past called for greater transparency in China’s military
spending, which has seen double-digit growth for much of the
past two decades.
Asia’s two largest economies have been embroiled in a tense
diplomatic standoff since Japan’s arrest on September 8 of a
Chinese trawler captain near the disputed islands, called
Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Japan has since released the captain, but the move did
little to ease tensions and left Kan open to domestic
attacks from political conservatives claiming he had caved
in to Chinese bullying.
|High-tech revolution yet to hit NKorea
|PYONGYANG (AFP) - Stressed out by email overload and
non-stop mobile calls? You might consider a vacation in
North Korea, where your cell phone is seized at the airport
and Internet is unavailable.
The communist country is one of the world’s most
tightly-controlled societies and bans unauthorised mobile
phones as part of a crackdown on information from outside
Visitors landing at Pyongyang’s airport find there is no
cellular phone signal. But it does not matter because polite
and efficient customs officials confiscate foreigners’
phones and put them in a green cloth bag.
They are returned when the visitor leaves.
Laptops are allowed after a customs check to ensure they do
not carry a mobile communication device.
While foreigners are left incommunicado at the terminal,
North Koreans chat on their own mobiles.
The country in December 2008 introduced a 3G network in a
joint venture with Cairo-based Orascom Telecom.
Chosun Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper published in
Tokyo, reported in April that there were only 120,000 mobile
subscribers in North Korea, a country of 24 million people.
Tour guides and officials are among those with mobiles
although, unusually for Pyongyang, two girls were also seen
intently focused on their handsets as they sat in a park.
Anywhere else in Asia the scene would have been routine but
it was a rare sight in the run-down capital which seems
stuck in a time decades past.
The regime is expanding its wireless network to accommodate
about 600,000 subscribers before the end of this year, the
Chosun Sinbo paper said.
Mobiles used in Pyongyang are made in neighbouring China.
Tour guides said the poverty-stricken country has a “local”
Internet service and they thought that an outside link to
the real Internet existed, perhaps at a library or
NEWS IN BRIEF
|US drone strike kills four
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan (AFP) - A US drone strike killed four
militants yesterday in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt along
the Afghan border, local security officials said.
The missiles hit a house used by militants in Dashgah
village near Datta Khel town, some 45 kilometres west of
Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal
district, they said, a known hub for Taliban and
|Malaria funding ‘falling short’
PARIS (AFP) - Funding for malaria has risen sharply over the
past three years but still has to double to meet needs,
according to a study published online yesterday by The
Global financing has risen by 166 percent since 2007, from
730 million dollars to around 1.94 billion dollars, it said.
|Vaccine ‘closer than ever’
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Scientists are closer than ever to
rolling out the first malaria vaccine, which could be
available in Africa by 2015, a co-inventor of the shot
against the killer disease said.
Advanced trials of the RTS,S vaccine against falciparum
malaria, the deadliest strain of the disease, are under way
in seven African countries and going ‘very well,’ said
GlaxoSmithKline researcher Joe Cohen, who has been working
on developing the vaccine for over 20 years.
|Fire deals blow to ‘Hobbit’
WELLINGTON (AFP) - Troubled movie
The Hobbit, which is already embroiled in a union row,
suffered a further set-back after fire destroyed parts of a
key studio in New Zealand.
Fire investigators were yesterday sifting through the studio
in Wellington, a day after battling nearly three hours to
put out the fierce blaze.
The studio, which specialises in making miniature models for
movies, employs Oscar-winning cinematographer Alex Funke and
was used in the making of Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the
Rings trilogy and King Kong.
|33 killed in train crash
JAKARTA (AFP) - At least 33 people were killed yesterday
when a passenger train slammed into the back of another
train in Indonesia, leaving dozens trapped in the mangled
wreckage, an official said.
“Thirty three people were killed and more than 30 were
injured. All the victims have been extracted from the train
and taken to hospital,” transport ministry spokesman Bambang
|Syphilis tests spark row
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US apologised for a study conducted
more than 60 years ago in Guatemala in which US-led
researchers infected hundreds of people with syphilis and
gonorrhea without their consent.
The study conducted between 1946 and 1948 was “clearly
unethical”, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a
statement issued jointly with Health Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius, in which the two officials extended an apology to
“all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent