Nation 2  


Cheap Chinese copies shrink India’s silk sari industry
NEW DELHI (AFP) - For centuries, the stunning silk saris woven by hand in the holy city of Varanasi have been prized by Indian women, but an influx of cheap Chinese-made copies is destroying the local industry.
Badruddin Ansari, one of the few weavers still in business, says that most of his former colleagues now struggle to eke out a living as vegetable sellers, tea stall operators or rickshaw drivers.
“When a person loses his home and his livelihood, where can he go?” he asked angrily.
“I hope the art of making Banarasi saris will survive. The government must ban these imported saris or put a heavier duty on them to save the domestic industry.”
Banarasi silk saris -- named after Banaras, the former name of Varanasi -- are famed for their embroidery and still sought after by northern Indian brides for their big day, even though the dresses are now normally made in China.
Rajni Kant, director of the Human Welfare Association, a non-profit group working with weavers in Varanasi since 1993, has seen the damaging effect of Chinese imports.
“To give just one example, a 55-year-old man I know started weaving at the age of 15,” he said. “He quit the handloom three years ago and now works as a manual labourer. There are hundreds of thousands of people like him.”
More than 60 per cent of the handloom industry has collapsed in Varanasi since 2003, according to Kant.
In 2007 reports emerged of weavers in Varanasi selling their blood to make ends meet as Chinese imitation saris flooded the market, costing about 2,500 rupees (55 dollars) compared with at least 4,000 rupees for an original.
Official import figures for saris from China are low, but textile experts say much of the material is imported as fabric, not as tailored saris, and a lot makes its way into India as contraband via Nepal.
“It’s doubtful whether these imitation saris even enter India as saris. They are probably imported as fabric, bales of silk which traders then cut and sell as saris,” said Ritu Sethi, head of the non-profit Crafts Revival Trust.
Weavers say that Chinese factories produce huge amounts of silk fabric at a government-subsidised prices and send the finished cloth to India.
Registered Indian imports of silk fabrics from China increased by 23 percent between 2008-09 and 2009-10, amounting to nearly 6.4 billion rupees despite India imposing an anti-dumping duty on silk fabric.
A K Shukla, deputy director for the Varanasi office of India’s Development Commissioner for Handlooms, said the 14 percent duty on silk fabric was too low.
“We have to re-examine the issue,” he acknowledged.
The Indian government granted a patent to protect silk saris woven in Varanasi in 2009, but the certification has made little difference on the ground, weavers and lobby groups said.
“We have a well-meaning government but the GI (geographical indication) act should get more teeth. Not one person has been hauled to jail yet for making or selling imitation Banarasi saris as the real thing,” Sethi said.
Many sari makers accept that customers know nothing of the made-in-Varanasi certificate scheme and often cannot tell the difference between an import and a genuine product.
Ansari, who runs a sari-weaving business with 400 weavers, said he could not predict how long he would be able to continue but that he was determined to keep going as long as possible.
“We can’t become dependent on China for everything,” he said.
Facebook users praise killing of governor

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Hundreds of Facebook users welcomed the killing of liberal Pakistani politician Salman Taseer as a strike against reformers of the country’s tight blasphemy laws.
Nearly 2,000 Facebook users joined one group on the social networking site praising Qadri, and dozens of “fans” joined other pages set up in Qadri’s honour in the hours after the shooting.
All the pages had been removed by Wednesday. Facebook was not immediately reachable for comment.
Analysts say the assassination underscores how deeply religious extremism has penetrated Pakistan’s conservative society, with even the Internet-literate elite resorting to Facebook to rally support for the killer.
Chaos engulfed the remand hearing this week of Taseer’s alleged assassin as protesters forced police to backtrack on plans to relocate the court session.
The grinning suspect -- a policeman who has admitted killing Salman Taseer for his progressive views -- has been hailed a hero by the powerful religious right, highlighting the extent of their influence in the country.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was showered with rose petals for a second day as he arrived at an anti-terror court in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where his lawyers raised claims that he had been tortured by police.
“Qadri complained he was tortured, not given food, not allowed to sleep, was tortured with electric shocks and that there are torture marks on his body,” defence lawyer Tariq Dhamial told a scrum of reporters.
“The police investigative officer asked the judge for a five-day remand because he said there was a conspiracy behind this killing that we have to investigate,” he added. The next hearing was adjourned until January 11.
Before the hearing, several hundred radical lawyers and madrassa students descended on the court premises in a show of support for the 26-year-old.
The Punjab governor was shot on Tuesday by one of his guards, Mumtaz Qadri, who confessed to the murder because of Taseer’s vocal opposition to the law that was recently used to sentence a woman to death.
But other private account holders used their Facebook status updates to make comments such as: “We salute you Mumtaz Qadri,” “thank God he (Taseer) is not alive (any) more” and praise for the attacker as “a soldier of Islam”.
In a sign of mainstream media opposition, Pakistan’s leading Urdu-language newspaper, Jang, ran a front-page story declaring: “There should be no funeral for Salman Taseer and no condemnation for his death.”
“A supporter of a blasphemer is also a blasphemer,” said a sub-heading, reporting that 500 religious scholars and clerics had paid tribute to Qadri.
But voices also came out to denounce the gunman, and Facebook page named “I Hate Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri” had 70 “fans” with no comments or discussions.
Those Facebook users who spoke out in support of the politician expressed sadness over the growing Islamisation of the country.
“Sad over Death of Tolerance in Pakistan. Governor Punjab killed by his ‘lunatic guard,’” said one man on his status.
“Pretext: Late Governor Salman Taseer was bold enough to stand-up against Blasphemy law... extensively used/abused against religious minorities,” he added.
“It is sad. I shiver thinking where we are heading and in which society my kids will live their lives,” said another.
Police investigations are focusing on whether the bearded police commando acted alone or as part of a wider conspiracy.
A lawyer from Islamabad’s high court, Farooq Sulehria, said the assassin would find no shortage of support.
“We will provide all legal support to Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, we will fight for him in the court,” said Sulehria.

‘Abused’ Indonesian housemaid shows
wounds to Saudi court
RIYADH (AFP) - An Indonesian housemaid who has accused her female Saudi employer of stabbing, beating and burning her appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday and showed her wounds, an Indonesian official said.
Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, “showed the judge her injuries, especially her head,” said Diddi Wahyudi, an Indonesian consular official in Jeddah.
The Saudi woman was arrested after allegedly beating Sumiati so severely as to break bones and cause internal bleeding, putting a hot iron to her head and stabbing and slashing her with scissors.
During the hearing, the woman “denied everything, saying that the maid has beaten herself,” Wahyudi told AFP by telephone.
But “the judge said that everybody knows from these pictures that (the maid) must have been beaten by someone” when he was showed photographs of Sumiati’s wounds, Wahyudi added.
The Indonesian official also said the Saudi woman’s son has earlier testified against his mother.
Wahyudi said the next hearing was set for a week later without specifying a fixed date.
The case, being heard in the city of Medina, had been postponed on December 28 because the maid was not yet ready to confront the woman, Wahyudi said at the time.
“Sumiati is not psychologically ready to appear in court.”
Her case shocked and outraged rights groups and labour activists as another example of the paucity of protection for millions of mostly Asian domestic workers, especially in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
Saudi Arabia’s labour ministry said it was sorry about the case, but called it an isolated incident.
In November, Wahyudi said Sumiati had undergone surgery, but that she would need to be operated on once more.
Wahyudi said she was still seeking her pay and other benefits from several months of employment in Saudi Arabia.
“She has nothing, she does not even have a single abaya,” Wahyudi said of the black cloak that all women in Saudi Arabia must wear in public.
“She wants her employer to be punished severely,” he added.
He said the Indonesian government was still pursuing the case of another maid, Kikim Komalasari, whose dead body was found near Abha earlier in November after being beaten.
Two people, her employers, have been arrested in that case, Wahyudi said.


Tourism campaign for tarnished Manila
MANILA (AFP) - Philippine authorities have launched a fresh campaign to lure tourists to Manila after a deadly hostage fiasco and terror attack warnings further tarnished the national capital’s already shady image.
Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said the many festivals in Manila and its suburbs would be promoted as tourist attractions in 2011, in a bid to emulate the way similar celebrations in regional areas already attract tourists.
“Soon, both foreigners and locals will know the metropolis beyond being the premier gateway and capital city of the Philippines. There are special events in Metro Manila worth witnessing,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
The campaign comes after a tragedy in August last year when a disgraced ex-policeman took a busload of Hong Kong tourists hostage in Manila, leading to the deaths of eight of them in a botched rescue operation.
The city’s image was further hurt when Australia, Britain, Canada, France, New Zealand and the United States issued advisories in November warning of an imminent terror attack in the capital.
Some of the countries downgraded their warnings after the Philippines complained, and no such attack has occurred.
Even before last year’s events, foreign tourists often bypassed or spent little time in Manila as they made their way to the idyllic beaches outside the capital.
Poor infrastructure, rundown tourist attractions, confronting poverty, corrupt police and nightmarish traffic are the some of the factors that have long contributed to foreign visitors skipping Manila.
But Lim said his department and local governments were developing the capital as a vibrant tourist destination, showcasing the various religious and arts festivals that are celebrated in the city of about 12 million people.
Such annual festivals in Manila include processions for fertility rites and infant Jesus statues, a river parade, an arts festival and a mardi gras-style celebration before Lent.
UN names panel for Haiti cholera probe
NEW YORK (AFP) - The UN named four experts who will lead an investigation into the source of a cholera epidemic in Haiti, which some have blamed on UN peacekeepers.
“Determining the source of the cholera outbreak is important for both the United Nations and the people of Haiti,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released by his spokesman.
“The panel will seek to determine the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti. They will review all of the information and data available to date and travel to Haiti to conduct investigations on the ground,” added the statement.
“The panel will operate completely independently from the UN and will have access to all UN records, reports, facilities, and staff members as required. It will present a written report of its findings to the secretary general and to the government of Haiti.”
Cholera has killed more than 3,650 people and infected 170,000 since it appeared in the impoverished Caribbean nation in October, according to latest Haitian government figures. Some blamed Nepalese peacekeepers in the UN force in Haiti and there were protests against the contingent.
The panel will be led by Alejandro Cravioto, a Mexican who heads the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh.
The other three members are Claudio Lanata of Peru’s Institute for Nutritional Investigation, Daniele Lantagne of Harvard University in the United States and Balakrish Nair of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in India.
Ban said he worked with the World Health Organisation and other international bodies to find experts on leading technical experts in public health, epidemiology, microbiology and water and sanitation for the independent panel.
Ban has been “been deeply concerned by the cholera outbreak in Haiti since the first cases were detected,” said the statement.
“The members of the panel have been selected based on their global stature, expertise and extensive experience working with cholera in all its aspects,” it said.
Lenovo ‘LePad’ combines tablet, laptop in one
LAS VEGAS (AFP) - Chinese computer colossus Lenovo unveiled an IdeaPad computer that serves as a laptop for work tasks then converts to a touch-screen tablet for play time.
The IdeaPad U1 hybrid, with a “LePad” slate that serves as a laptop screen but unplugs to become a tablet computer, made its debut on the cusp of the Thursday opening of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“It is one device to balance life and work,” Lenovo product manager Leo Li told AFP.
“A keyboard is more important and Windows software more powerful for a lot of things you need to work, especially productivity and creating content,” he continued. “At the same time, people want to enjoy music, see videos, go to websites, read e-books, and play games in their personal lives.”
The LePad tablet is powered by Android software backed by California Internet giant Google and a Snapdragon chip from Qualcomm.
Once plugged into the keyboard base, the computer switches to Windows 7 operating software by Microsoft and a beefier Intel processor.
Lenovo is targeting consumers who embrace today’s mobile lifestyle.
“Use the light-weight slate when you’re mobile, and then simply slide it into the U1 base when you need to create and edit content,” Lenovo Idea Product Group vice president Liu Jun said.
LePad has a 10.1-inch (26 centimetre) colour screen, weighs less than two pounds (one kilogram) and connects to the Internet using 3G telecom service.
It has a front-facing camera for video chat and promises as many as eight hours of battery life.
IdeaPad U1 with LePad will be available in China by the end of March but won’t be available in the United States until next-generation Android mobile software is available for use in the tablets.
IdeaPad U1 with LePad will be priced at 8,888 Chinese yuan (1,340 dollars) and the tablet will be sold separately for 3,499 Chinese yuan ($528).