|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”
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
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
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.
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
“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
For the teenager, dealing with the brutality of her past is
“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
|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
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
“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
|Suspect bomb was
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
“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
“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
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
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’
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
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
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
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’
- 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
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
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
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
|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
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’
(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
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.
‘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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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