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Singh under pressure over $40bn scandal

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India’s parliament adjourned in uproar Friday over a massive corruption scandal that has ensnared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose popularity partly resides in his “Mr Clean” image.
India’s chief auditing body ignited a firestorm earlier this week when it announced that the botched sale of 2G telecom licences in 2008 at a small fraction of their value had cost the country up to $40 billion.
Ahead of the announcement, tainted Telecom Minister A Raja, whose ministry was raided by police in October last year, was finally persuaded to step down after his position became untenable.
The opposition has been blocking parliamentary business all week, calling for an all-party investigation into the scandal. Proceedings were adjourned on Friday until next week after angry MPs stormed the well of the house.
On Thursday, India’s Supreme Court upped the pressure on Singh by asking him to depose a sworn statement before the court by Saturday explaining his “alleged inaction and silence for 16 months.”
The court said Singh had failed to reply to a request to approve the prosecution of Raja, a low-caste politician from a regional party that is in the coalition government headed by Singh’s Congress party.
“The telecom scam is the most serious crisis faced by the government in the last six years,” respected political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan said, referring to the start of the present coalition in 2004.
“It has now become a question of credibility.”
Opposition parties say Raja, who presided over the world’s fastest-growing mobile market, gifted the lucrative wireless spectrum licences to firms that he favoured.
The auditors found that 85 of the 122 licences issued in 2008 were given to ineligible companies, while the opaque procedure in which applicants were given little time to submit their files was also criticised.
Raja says he is innocent and his decision to sell licences on a first-come-first-served basis, even to companies with no telecom experience, was in line with the policy of his predecessors.
The licences would have raised several times their sale price in an auction.
The story of the so-called “2G scam” has been splashed across all newspaper front pages, becoming the focal point of anger against official corruption that has seen a number of high-profile figures toppled in recent weeks.
Suresh Kalmadi, the chief organiser of October’s Delhi Commonwealth Games, which was also mired in corruption, was forced to step down from a senior position in the Congress party earlier this month.


Nationality is meaningless says ‘missing’ Bosnian girl

SARAJEVO (AFP) – Mila Jankovic was 17 years old when life as she knew it changed forever. She discovered that everything she thought she understood about herself was wrong -- and it made her want to die.
Raised in Belgrade as a Serb girl since the early 1990s, Mila -- whose name means sweet or kind -- was told she was really Senida Becirovic, a Muslim girl born in eastern Bosnia who had been reported missing since the start of Bosnia’s bloody 1992-95 war that pitted Serbs, Muslims and Croats against each other.
She had always known she was a foster child, but the reality of her origins came as a shock when she finally met her biological father.
“My father Muhamed came and told me my real name, that I was not Mila, that I am Senida,” the girl told AFP, recalling the episode in 2008.
Like many foster children, when Mila hit 16 she had one burning question: “I want to know who I am.”
It was Serbian social services that matched her DNA samples with that of her real father. She was told they would meet only a few hours before it happened. When they were face to face, the man told Mila who she really was.
“At that moment I felt I’d rather be killed than to be told this,” said the girl, her large green eyes shining in a round face framed by long brown hair.
She is one of more than 2,000 children estimated to have gone missing during the conflict in Bosnia, according to Bosnia’s Institute for Missing Persons. Remains of “approximately half of them were found, many in mass graves,” Lejla Cengic of the Institute told AFP.
And Mila is the only case they know of of a missing child found alive.
For the teenager, dealing with the brutality of her past is difficult.
“I do not know what to feel. I blame Serbs because they left me without my mother and sister. On the other hand the two people who raised me and gave me their best are also Serbs and I am glad to have met them,” she said.
More than two years after she learned the truth, she still prefers to be called Mila even though she has changed all her documents into her birth name.
“To me the name Mila signifies an enormous love, while Senida means war and suffering,” she explained.
As a nine-month-old baby, the girl was found alone in a burning house when Bosnian Serbs conquered her home village of Ceparde in eastern Bosnia in April 1992. Dozens of Muslim civilians, including women and children like Mila’s mother and three-year-old sister, were taken from the devastated village and have never been found.
In Mila’s case, a Serb soldier rescued her and took her to his mother in a nearby village.
After a few months of being moved around from one person to the next, a Serbian reporter wrote a story about the foundling for the Belgrade-based Politika daily.
The Jankovics, an elderly, middle-class couple from Belgrade, read the article, came to Vlasenica to offer themselves as foster parents, and named her Mila.
Her mother Senada, just 24 years old at the time of the attack, and her sister are still missing. Her father Muhamed survived by chance, because he was in a different town at the time of the attack.
Mila has set out to discover what happened during the war and found that the Serb soldier who rescued her, Milenko Vidakovic, was killed a few months after taking her to safety.

Qantas A380 blast ruptured fuel pipe

SYDNEY (AFP) - The Qantas Airbus A380 that experienced an engine blast en route to Sydney, suffered a ruptured fuel pipe in the incident which could have caused a disastrous mid-air explosion, reports said.
The Sydney Morning Herald said that official preliminary reports showed elements from the exploding engine ripped through the wing, narrowly missing a fuel tank and severing a fuel pipe.
Qantas refused to comment on the damage to the aircraft, which was carrying 466 passengers and crew, or on whether more than 50 warnings of system failures were sent to the cockpit during the emergency.
“We’re not going to speculate on that,” a spokeswoman said, adding that the airline was still carrying out its own checks on its six A380 planes which have been grounded since the November 4 incident.
The A380 superjumbo had to make an emergency landing in Singapore shortly after take-off following the engine blast, which sent metal fragments flying into the plane’s wing and showering down to the ground below.
Richard Woodward from the Australian and International Pilots Association, who said he had spoken to the pilots who brought QF32 safely back to Singapore, said the damage to the craft was such it could have exploded.
“That depends whether there is an ignition source of course... and I don’t think any of us know that,” he told ABC Radio.
“I know that the fuel pipe was severed because the crew had trouble transferring fuel around and there was certainly an indication from the airplane that they couldn’t transfer fuel so that’s probably the reason.”
Adrian Mouritz, head of aerospace and aviation engineering at Melbourne’s RMIT University, said Qantas was “very, very lucky” nothing ignited the thousands of litres (gallons) of jet fuel in the A380’s tank.
“If that fuel ignited, that aircraft would have exploded,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
The incident is still under investigation but Qantas has said that as many as 40 Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines fitted to the A380s in use around the world may need to be replaced.

Suspect bomb was ‘security test’

BERLIN (AFP) - A suspected bomb intercepted in Namibia that was to be put on a Munich-bound charter plane was only a US-made dummy used to test security checks, Germany’s interior minister said.
Thomas de Maiziere said it was not immediately clear who had carried out the test, which sparked a major security alert this week.
“Experts from the (German) federal police force examined the luggage on site,” De Maiziere told reporters after a security conference with interior ministers from Germany’s 16 states.
“The outcome is that the luggage turned out to be a so-called real test suitcase made by a company in the United States. This company is a manufacturer of alarm and detection systems and these real test suitcases are built to test security measures.”
He said investigators were still examining who placed the suitcase with baggage to be loaded on to an Air Berlin plane at the international airport of the Namibian capital Windhoek, including whether German security forces could have been involved in the test.
“I consider that highly unlikely but that is one of the things we are looking into,” De Maiziere said.
“The important thing for all of us is that no explosives were found in the luggage and that, as far as we know at this point in the investigation, there was at no point a danger to passengers posed by this luggage.”
German federal police said the suspicious baggage, a laptop bag wrapped in plastic, had been seized by Namibian police and that a subsequent X-ray revealed batteries that were attached with wires to a “detonator” and a ticking clock.

First glimpse of a planet from another galaxy

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A hot, gaseous and fast-spinning planet has been found orbiting a dying star on the edge of the Milky Way, in the first such discovery of a planet from outside our galaxy, scientists said.
Slightly larger than the size of Jupiter, the largest in our solar system, the newly discovered exoplanet is orbiting a star 2,000 light years from Earth that has found its way into the Milky Way.
The pair are believed to be part of the Helmi stream, a group of stars that remains after its mini-galaxy was devoured by the Milky Way some six to nine billion years ago, said the study in Science Express.
“This discovery is very exciting,” said Rainer Klement of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.
“Because of the great distances involved, there are no confirmed detections of planets in other galaxies. But this cosmic merger has brought an extragalactic planet within our reach.”
Astronomers were able to locate the planet, coined HIP 13044 b, by focusing on the “tiny telltale wobbles of the star caused by the gravitational tug of an orbiting companion,” the study said.

NZ taking hope from Chile miners’ survival: Mayor

WELLINGTON (AFP) - New Zealand was drawing hope from the survival of 33 Chilean miners as rescuers tried to reach up to 36 workers missing after a huge explosion at a coal mine, local officials said.
The blast ripped through the mine on New Zealand’s remote west coast, triggering a massive rescue operation which Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn said could take days.
Police said the explosion had cut power to the mine’s ventilation system, preventing rescuers from entering due to fears trapped gases could spark another blast.
But Kokshoorn said the experience of Chile’s miners, who were successfully rescued last month after surviving more than two months in a tunnel below the surface of the Atacama desert, was a source of inspiration.
“We are holding on to hope. Look at Chile, all those miners were trapped and they all came out alive,” he told Fairfax Media.
Mining Minister Gerry Brownlee said the government would put whatever resources were needed into rescuing the miners.




Tibetan Spiritual leader the Dalai Lama recieves the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice from Indian Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee and nuns from the Missionaries of Charity in New Delhi - AFP

The UN ‘here to kill us’

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) - Gangs of angry Haitians clashed in Port-au-Prince with UN peacekeepers as pre-election violence spread to the capital after days of deadly rioting in the north.
Organisers had urged people to vent their anger at the UN and the Haitian authorities in a demonstration opposite the presidential palace, but what transpired was more like urban guerrilla warfare.
Clashes lasted for hours in putrid camps as youths threw stones and troops threw tear gas from armored UN trucks under the squinted gaze of watery-eyed residents.
“The UN came here to kill us, to poison us,” shouted Alexis Clerius, a 40-year-old farmer, as he erected a barricade in the main Champ de Mars square.
Sporadic gunfire could be heard as gangs roamed the streets of the quake-ravaged capital, blocking roads with burning tires and dumpsters full of rotten garbage.
The powder keg situation stems from claims the cholera emanated from septic tanks at a base for Nepalese peacekeepers in central Haiti, leaking into the Artibonite River, where locals drink, wash clothes and bathe.
The UN says it tested some of the Nepalese and found no trace of cholera, while health officials say it is impossible to know and the focus must be on containing the epidemic and not divining its source.
President Rene Preval has pleaded for calm and denounced unnamed groups for taking advantage of the cholera to stir things up ahead of November 28 national elections.
Less than 10 days before polls to choose Preval’s successor, political forces are being blamed for whipping up tensions. MINUSTAH has warned people not to be manipulated by “enemies of stability and democracy.”
But in the poorest country in the Americas -- even before the January earthquake turned the capital to rubble and killed 250,000 people -- there is real discontent and MINUSTAH is a highly visible presence and an easy target.
“Haitian leaders have forgotten the people,” Ladiou Novembre, a 38-year-old secondary school teacher joining the scattered demonstrations, said.
“There is no infrastructure, no education, cholera is ravaging the people and the president says nothing. MINUSTAH should be keeping peace in the country, but instead they make things worse. MINUSTAH is killing Haitians.”
Hundreds of rock-throwing youths attacked one open-top truck carrying members of MINUSTAH, the UN force accused by some of being the source of a cholera outbreak that has now killed more than 1,100 people.
The international peacekeepers, long unpopular in the troubled Caribbean nation, pointed guns at the youths and one briefly fell out of the vehicle under a volley of stones before managing to climb back in.
Protesters shouted slogans like: “Cholera: It’s MINUSTAH who gave it to us!” and “MINUSTAH, Go home!” One placard read: “MINUSTAH is spreading shit in the street.”
Violence has spread from the north, where three Haitians were killed in riots this week in Cap-Haitien. A police station in the second city was set ablaze and thousands of protesters threatened to storm a UN compound.
The unrest is especially worrying as the UN peacekeepers are scheduled to help organize and preside over the elections.
Aid workers say the violence in the north is hampering efforts to treat cholera victims and stop the spread of the disease, which officials warn could kill 10,000 people over the next 12 months if it continues unabated.
US health experts warned on Thursday that the epidemic was unpredictable and repeated outbreaks could wreak havoc for years to come.
“The Haitian population has no preexisting immunity to cholera, and environmental conditions in Haiti are favourable for its continued spread,” the the US-based Centers for Disease Control said in a progress report.
More than 1,100 people have died from the diarrhoea-causing illness since it emerged there last month, with more than 18,000 people infected.
One isolated case has been found in the neighboring Dominican Republic and a second in the US state of Florida -- both from people who traveled from Haiti. Dominican authorities are investigating a possible second case.
Health officials fear cholera could spread like wildfire if it infiltrates squalid relocation camps around the capital where hundreds of thousands of quake refugees live in cramped and unsanitary conditions.
Most deaths have been in central and northern Haiti, with the disease not yet widespread in the capital Port-au-Prince, which was badly damaged in a January quake that killed 250,000 people and left over a million homeless.

Some global fish stocks ‘may be lower than thought’

PARIS (AFP) - A yardstick for estimating ocean fish stocks, many of which are under intensifying pressure from industrial trawling, is badly flawed, a study said.
As a result, global stocks of some commercially valuable top predators -- including certain species of tuna, sharks and halibut -- may be closer to collapse than thought, it warned.
Since the late 1990s, scientists and regional management organisations have used catch data to measure changes in the balance of species across so-called “trophic levels.”
The trophic level is the species’ rank in the food chain. Microscopic sea algae have a trophic level of one, while large predators such as sharks or tuna are at the highest level, four.
Proportional changes within this ranking have been used as the indicator of how well a particular species is faring.
If, for instance, a species of “Trophic Four” fish was in disproportionate decline compared with “Trophic Three” fish on which they feed, this would likely indicate overfishing.
The method presumes that humans “fish down the food web” by over-harvesting fish at the highest levels and then sequentially going after fish further down the chain.
But the new study says this technique is not smart enough.
“Applied to individual ecosystems, it’s like flipping a coin -- half the time you get the right answer and half the time you get the wrong answer,” said Trevor Branch, a University of Washington professor.
“This is important, because that measure is the most widely adopted indicator by which to determine the health of marine ecosystems.”
The method’s shortcomings are illustrated by the case of the Gulf of Thailand, according to the paper, which appears in the journal Nature.
The average trophic level of what is being caught is rising -- and this in principle should indicate improving ecosystem health.

Princess Kate ‘better prepared’ than Diana

LONDON (AFP) - Kate Middleton faces a daunting prospect in marrying Prince William, but after an eight-year romance she joins the British royal family under far more auspicious circumstances than Diana did.
Sporting a ring once owned by the late princess, William’s mother, and posing for the cameras clutching her fiancee’s arm just as Lady Di did with Prince Charles in 1981, the comparisons between Kate and Diana are inevitable.
But while Diana was a shy 20-year-old when she married into a royal family desperate for its 32-year-old heir Charles to wed, Kate will be 29 and have the security of a university degree, a job and a solid relationship behind her.
“I think that she will cope very well. I think this slow build-up will have prepared her,” said Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage, the authoritative book on etiquette and the aristocracy.
He said the royal family has also changed since Charles and Diana wed, not least because of their divorce and Diana’s death in 1997 which unleashed a wave of public anger about Queen Elizabeth II’s perceived cold response.
“I think the rather tragic lessons learned during the Prince of Wales’ marriage must have been taken to heart. The royal family has softened in a way towards the stiffness and protocol and the formality,” he told AFP.
When Diana and Charles became engaged, she told reporters she was “blissfully happy” but her new husband appeared ill at ease and made a blunder that would come to haunt him when their marriage later collapsed.
Asked if he was in love, Charles said: “Yes, whatever in love means.”
Media historian Jean Seaton, who has written extensively about Charles and Diana’s wedding, told The Guardian that their relationship was hard to watch.
“The awful thing about writing about Lady Diana’s wedding was that everyone knew that it was a trap closing in on two people, really -- and I think that Prince Charles was as much a victim of that wedding as she was.
“This is different. This woman knows what she’s going into, doesn’t she? It’s a much more negotiated, tested entry.”
By contrast, William and his bride-to-be demonstrated clearly Tuesday how comfortable they were with each other as they showed off the engagement ring that Charles gave Diana, and their son has now given Kate.
The 28-year-old prince remarked on his fiancee’s “really naughty sense of humour” and she teased him about his cooking skills, while they both expressed their excitement at their shared future.
The couple met while studying at St Andrew’s University in Scotland in 2001 and moved in together as friends a year later. They briefly split up in 2007, an experience Kate said “made me a stronger person”.
After working first at a fashion label and then at the family’s children’s party business, Kate has spent much of the last few months living with William in north Wales, where he is a search and rescue helicopter pilot.

Oil ‘will run out 100 years before new fuels developed’

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The world will run out of oil around 100 years before replacement energy sources are available if oil use and development of new fuels continue at the current pace, a US study warns.
In the study, researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC-Davis) used the current share prices of oil companies and alternative energy companies to predict when replacement fuels will be ready to fill the gap left when oil runs dry.
And the findings weren’t very good for the oil-hungry world.
If the world’s oil reserves were the 1.332 trillion barrels they were estimated to be in 2008 and oil consumption was some 85.22 million barrels a day and growing at 1.3 percent a year, oil would be depleted by 2041, says the study published online last week in Environmental Science and Technology.
But by plugging current stock market prices into a complex equation, UC-Davis engineering professor Debbie Niemeier and postdoctoral researcher Nataliya Malyshkina calculated that a viable alternative fuel to oil won’t be available before the middle of next century.

Indonesian maid ‘killed in Saudi’

JAKARTA: Indonesia has demanded an inquiry into reports that a maid working in Saudi Arabia was killed by her employers and her body dumped in a bin.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said a team had been sent to the Saudi town of Abha to investigate reports of the murder of 36-year-old Kikim Komalasari.
It comes as officials arrived in Saudi to follow up claims of torture against a second Indonesian maid.
Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa is recovering in hospital in Medina.
Her injuries include gashes to her face and cuts to her lips, allegedly inflicted by her employers using scissors. She was also burned with an iron, officials say.
Indonesia’s president has demanded justice for the “extraordinary torture”.
Indonesian media reported on Thursday that the Saudi Arabian government had arrested the female employer of Sumiati, and apologised for her treatment.
Reports of the murder of a second maid came on Friday.
Indonesia’s labour minister Muhaimin Iskandar said Ms Komalasari’s neck had been slashed and she had severe cuts to the rest of her body.
Indonesia’s president described it as “beyond inhumane”.
He said he was encouraged by the Saudi government’s quick response.
“I’m hopeful the perpetrators will be punished according to law,” he said.
He was speaking to reporters following a cabinet meeting on the need to give greater protection to the country’s migrant workers in the Middle East - estimated to be close to one million.
Rights organisations say many foreign domestic maids in Saudi Arabia work in harsh circumstances and often suffer abuse from their employers.
The Saudi Labour Ministry has in the past acknowledged some problems, but the government also says foreign workers’ rights are protected under religious law. - BBC

‘Protect civilians’ plea to NATO

Aid agencies in Afghanistan raise fresh concern over high casualties

KABUL (AFP) - Aid agencies have urged NATO to put the safety of civilians at the heart of its strategy to shift responsibility to local security forces in Afghanistan, with casualties at a record high.
Leaders of the alliance’s 28 member countries met in Lisbon on Friday, with the transfer of powers to the Afghan government likely to dominate the two-day summit.
But a group of aid agencies said they were concerned about “an increasingly dangerous variety of quick fixes” in Afghanistan, as foreign powers try to bolster Afghan police and soldiers and seek a retreat from an unpopular war.
Handing over powers to Afghan forces, including the community defence units that US General David Petraeus, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, has called “community watch with AK47s”, was fraught with difficulties, they added.
It could even have “disastrous consequences”, doing little to reduce civilian casualties that are at their highest since the conflict began in late 2001, the 29 aid agencies said in a joint briefing paper.
“There is a grave risk of widespread abuses, which can range from theft and extortion through to torture and indiscriminate killing,” they added.
“Afghan soldiers and police are poorly trained and command systems are weak; there is currently no effective mechanism for investigating alleged abuses caused by ANSF (Afghan security forces) or registering community complaints.
“Civilian casualties caused exclusively by the ANSF are not even counted. (NATO-backed) community defence forces or local militias will be even less accountable and could even increase insecurity.”
Amnesty International on Thursday expressed concerns that pledges to improve accountability for Afghan and foreign forces over civilian casualties “seem about to be discarded without fanfare” at the summit.
“The current lack of accountability fuels and fosters resentment among Afghans that international forces are above the law and unaccountable for their actions, particularly when it comes to civilian casualties,” a statement said.
The other agencies, including Oxfam, ActionAid, Christian Aid and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, singled out the increasing use of “community defence initiatives” and called for them to be scrapped.
“Initiatives of this kind often result in abuses against civilians. The professionalism and discipline of the forces is highly questionable, given the limited training and oversight,” they said.
“Without a strong system of command and control, there is a danger that these forces will abuse their powers.”
The ethnic or tribal make-up of such groups -- and the risk of infiltration by militants or criminal gangs -- could also increase violence, they added.
The aid agencies welcomed steps taken by NATO to reduce civilian casualties, including fewer air strikes and more targeted night raids that were criticised last week by President Hamid Karzai.
The number of ordinary Afghans killed in the conflict rose by a third in the first six months of 2010 to 1,271, with most deaths caused by insurgent attacks, the UN said in August.
NATO’s training of some 134,000 Afghan police and 170,000 soldiers by next October is seen as vital towards ensuring the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Alliance leaders are expected to endorse a plan to begin the transition process in the first half of 2011, with the Afghan authorities assuming responsibility for security by the end of 2014.
The aid agencies said handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces was “no guarantee that they will be less abusive given the limited oversight mechanisms for ANSF”.
Drop-out rates were high, literacy rates low and there were still “serious questions” about the Afghans’ capability to operate independently while they were widely seen as “ineffective, corrupt or abusive”, they said.
“ISAF (the US-led NATO force in Afghanistan) has a moral and legal obligation to ensure that their efforts to scale up ANSF prioritise accountability and transparency,” the agencies added.