Nation World  


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 on power.
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 said.
“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 environment.”
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.

Ayodhya rumpus
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,” he said.
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 the media.
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 community.
“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 Bureau.
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 Saturday.
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 scarcity

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 “fingers”.
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 of purity.
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 news program.
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’ wounds.
“I’m very pleased and very happy,” said the twins’ mother, Sarita Gil.
Ceballos said the next 24-48 hours were crucial in the girls’ recovery.


Iran blasts US ‘interference’

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 year.
“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 election.
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 strikes.
“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 relations’
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 chain.
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 the country.
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 university.


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 Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
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 Lancet.
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 Ervan said.
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 research practices”.