|Age and TB ‘put
Mandela in high-risk category’
|PARIS (AFP) - Extreme age and a past joust with
tuberculosis place former South African president Nelson
Mandela among the highest categories of risk when it comes
to respiratory illness, experts said.
Mandela was released on Friday after two days of hospital
care in Johannesburg for what was described as an acute
He will now be treated at home, South Africa’s surgeon
Vejaynand Ramlakan, said.
Mandela’s condition was stable and “he surprises us on a
daily basis with his powers of recovery,” he added.
Details about the illness were sketchy, and French lung
specialists questioned by AFP wondered whether part of the
picture was being obscured for political reasons.
But, they said, a man of Mandela’s age and with his medical
history would clearly be a patient of prime concern.
Mandela is 92 and, while imprisoned on Robben Island during
the anti-apartheid struggle, had TB, which weakens the lungs
and boosts the risk of respiratory disease.
“Anyone can catch a respiratory virus, but the impact is
greater for elderly people compared with young people, and
their condition can swiftly deteriorate,” said Yves
Martinet, a professor at the Brabois University Centre
Hospital in Nancy, eastern France.
“However, if the patient responds well to treatment and the
vital signs are good, it’s preferable to continue treatment
at home, with medical surveillance, a nurse, a
kinesitherapist, rather than keep him in hospital, where
there’s the risk of catching germ strains” which are
aggressive or antibiotic-resistant.
If, for instance, Mandela had had a viral infection and
bronchitis, “the fact that he’s been discharged after two
days is rather positive,” said Bernard Maitre, a professor
of pulmonology at the Henri Mondor Hospital in the Paris
But Jean-Pierre Grignet, a department head at a hospital in
the northern town of Denain, cautioned that a bout of
illness at such an advanced age left its mark, even when
“Even if the infection is cured, the problem is a reduction
in respiratory capacity,” he said. “There is always a risk
of a decline in general health.”
|Washermen fear rise of the machines
|MUMBAI (AFP) - At Mumbai’s open-air Dhobi Ghat, Prem
Shankar Kanojia picks up items from a pile of laundry
stacked at the side of a concrete washing tank and submerges
them in water murky with soap suds and grime.
Once the shirts and sheets have been soaked thoroughly, he
raises each piece high above his head and smashes it down
repeatedly on a large flat stone made smooth by years of
Hard-working dhobiwallahs, or washermen, like Prem have
cleaned Mumbai’s clothes and bedding like this for
generations, confident that the dirt and sweat of the city
will provide them with a constant livelihood.
But like many in Dhobi Ghat, Prem, who followed his father
into the business, a life of dunking, thrashing and drying
up to 1,000 items of clothing each day for just $7, is now
not so sure.
“The problem is that we are not getting enough proper
clothes because so many homes have washing machines,” he
“We don’t expect enough work in the future because everyone
is washing clothes at home. Where we used to get 100
clothes, now we struggle to get 10.”
With its rows of tanks, flogging stones and bare-chested
washermen in chequered lungis, Dhobi Ghat -- the location
for a new Bollywood film of the same name -- is an unlikely
tourist attraction in India’s hectic financial hub.
Mumbaikars often fail to see the curiosity in such a mundane
Yet every day, clean shirts and sheets of all colours can be
seen billowing from the railway bridge near Mumbai
racecourse -- a triumphant result of the hours of
At ground level, the 25-acre (10-hectare) ghat bustles with
activity, as fresh loads of dirty laundry are delivered
through the narrow lanes of corrugated-roofed shacks by
handcart or expertly balanced on heads.
Prem, whose lined face, white stubble and spindly frame make
him look older than his 40 years, admitted that the job is
tough, particularly when the monsoon rains arrive.
“You have to work very hard,” he explained. “Everything
hurts when you beat the clothes and move your arms up and
down all the time. We have to stand in the water all day for
eight to 10 hours.”
The chaotic activity contrasts with the electrical showroom
just a short drive away, where neon lighting shows off the
regimented lines of shiny chrome, grey and white washing
machines on polished marble tiles.
Like many ordinary Indians who have seen their disposable
incomes rise as the country’s economy expands, Fatima Safi
Kabir can now afford to dispense with the services of the
dhobiwallahs for good.
Washing clothes at home is not only more convenient but
quicker and items are also less likely to disappear in the
bundles of linen at the ghat, she says.
“If you send the clothes out to wash you have to count them,
be there for the pick-up and delivery,” she added. “If
you’re not there, you don’t get the clothes.”
The increase in the market for ‘white goods’ in India isn’t
the only concern of the washerfolk of Dhobi Ghat, though.
Economic growth has also created more people wanting to
spend their new-found cash on better places to live.
Skyscrapers now loom over Dhobi Ghat, towering half-built or
nearing completion out of the matchbox tenements or “chawls”
that line the busy roadside and are home to the city’s
The luxury apartment blocks are marketed at Mumbai’s
increasing number of millionaires, courted by the municipal
authorities and property developers.
The city’s 10,000 or so dhobiwallahs - trying to keep
Mumbai’s millions clean while themselves living in poverty
and squalor -- wish some money could be found to improve
conditions for them.
Badri Kankaiya suggested their plight is a familiar one in
modern India: little or nothing changes for the millions at
the bottom of the pile, whatever the rate of economic
“Dhobi Ghat hasn’t changed in 20 years,” he said. “First it
was good, now it’s worse. Now everything is expensive but
our work hasn’t increased.
“Builders can come with their money. The rich man lives in
wealth but the poor man will die poor. We only want the
land, not the money. We just want to stay here and work
|Harvard studies Mumbai hotel staff
|NEW YORK (AFP) - Staff at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace gave
a new meaning to customer service when they saved hotel
guests during a 2008 gun battle -- and now Harvard Business
School wants to know whether other companies could learn.
The luxury hotel was the scene of a pitched fight between
Islamist gunmen and Indian soldiers on November 26, 2008,
trapping guests and staff.
Yet staff stayed in the burning building and did everything
to shepherd out guests. A total of 31 people died there,
including 12 employees.
“Underlying the case is a central conundrum: Why did the Taj
employees stay at their posts, jeopardising their safety in
order to save hotel guests?” asks a new study, “Terror at
the Taj: Customer-Centric Leadership,” released this week.
“And is this level of loyalty and dedication something that
can be replicated and scaled elsewhere?”
The study by Harvard Business School professor Rohit
Deshpande explores workplace culture in India.
Compared to the West, employers have a much more
“paternalistic” relationship with their employees, while
length of service is recognized and honored by top
management, the study says.
However, “not even the senior managers could explain the
behavior of these employees,” Deshpande told the business
school’s website Working Knowledge.
“In the interview, the vice-chairman of the company says
that they knew all the back exits: the natural human
instinct would be to flee. These are people who
instinctively did the right thing. And in the process, some
of them, unfortunately, gave their lives to save guests.”
The study -- which has not yet been made public in full --
found a “unique” employee culture at Tata Sons, the Taj’s
parent company, including an “exacting process for
selecting, training, and rewarding Taj employees for their
“Every time they interact with a guest they should look for
an opportunity to delight him,” said H N Srinivas, senior
vice president of human resources. During a 24-hour stay, a
guest will have an average of 40 to 42 contacts with
employees. “We’ve mapped it,” he said.
Hotel general manager Karambir Singh Kang, whose wife and
two young sons died that day, said he felt like the captain
of a ship.
“I think that’s the way everyone else felt, too,” Kang said.
“A sense of loyalty to the hotel, a sense of responsibility
to the guests.”
Deshpande has taught the case in Harvard Business School’s
Owner/President Management Executive Education program. The
website said the plan is to use the case more widely as an
example of managing “post-crisis recovery of a flagship
|France upholds ban on gay marriage
|PARIS (AFP) - France maintained its ban on gay marriage
after the constitutional court ruled that a lesbian couple
with four children do not have the right to tie the knot.
The couple, a teacher and a paediatrician who have lived
together for 15 years, had sought to bring France into line
with EU neighbours like Spain, Belgium and Netherlands which
allow same-sex couples to wed.
The ruling came as a TNS Sofres opinion poll said 58 percent
of French people questioned were in favour of gay marriage,
which is legal in ten countries around the world.
The court rejected the couple’s argument that two articles
in the French civil code which state that marriage can only
be between a man and a woman were unconstitutional and
discriminated against homosexuals.
But it said it was up to parliament to decide if the ban
should be overturned, and not the constitutional authority.
The couple, Corinne Cestino and Sophie Hasslauer, currently
enjoy tax benefits and other financial advantages because
they are in the legally recognised civil partnership known
here by its acronym PACS.
But they say they should be entitled to further benefits
that marriage would bring.
“Marriage is the only solution in terms of protecting our
children, sharing parental authority, settling inheritance
problems and eventual custody if one of us were to die,”
they said before the ruling.
“It’s scandalous,” Hasslauer said after the court decision,
slamming a ‘minority attitude’ in French society belonging
to “a backward and outdated elite.”
Gay rights activists also slammed Friday’s decision.
“The constitutional court has missed an historic opportunity
to put an end to discrimination that has become intolerable
for more than three million gay and lesbians in France,”
said Caroline Mecary, a lawyer for gay rights groups.
She said gay activists were now hoping that next year’s
presidential and parliamentary elections would see the
rightwing President Nicolas Sarkozy ousted and bring into
power the Socialists, who are in favour of gay marriage.
Friday’s court decision said it was up to politicians to
take up the issue.
On the question of whether gay couples were being
discriminated against because the law treated them
differently to heterosexuals, it said “it is not up to the
constitutional court to substitute its assessment for that
The lesbian couple’s lawyers hope the decision will now
encourage lawmakers to draw up a parliamentary bill
recognising homosexual marriage.
The opposition socialist leader in parliament, Jean-Marc
Ayrault, said his party would introduce such a bill, but the
measure has little chance of success, as the right-wing
governing UMP party is against it.
The couple’s lawyer Emmanuel Ludot said his clients would
“continue their legal battle through other means,” without
saying what these means were.
The National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED)
estimated in a 2009 study that up to 40,000 children lived
with gay parents in France.
France legalised same-sex civil unions in 1999 but the
arrangement grants fewer rights than marriage.
Ten countries around the world have so far authorised
marriages between people of the same sex, including South
Africa, Argentina and Portugal.
Two countries allow gay marriage on part of their territory:
the United States -- the states of Iowa, Connecticut,
Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and the capital
Washington DC -- and Mexico in the federal capital.
Other countries have adopted legislation on civil
partnerships, notably Denmark, France, Germany, Finland, New
Zealand, Britain, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Uruguay
|Indonesia to suspend food import
JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia has suspended
import duties on wheat, soybeans, fertiliser and other
food-related items for the rest of the year as it battles to
tame inflation, an official said.
The government escalated its fight against rising food
prices at a time when the problem is increasing pressure on
the central bank to raise interest rates in Southeast Asia’s
biggest economy -- a concern felt around the region.
The finance ministry said it decided to suspend the duties
until December 31 in a bid to anticipate a shortage in
supply that would hike food prices.
“The policy is also to help curb inflation,” said Bambang
Brodjonegoro, acting head of fiscal policy at the ministry.
Extreme weather has disrupted crop production and
distribution, pushing 2010 annual inflation close to seven
percent, above the authorities’ target of 4.0- 6.0 percent.
The government scrapped import duties for rice products last
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that soaring food
prices could lead to more unrest and food security should be
a key priority for the G20.
“High food prices impact on inflation but also poverty and
hunger, which could lead to social and political unrest,” he
told the elite forum.
In spring 2008, ten of thousands of Indonesians took to the
streets of Jakarta to protest soaring food prices --
particularly of rice, cooking oil and soybeans -- and the
prospect of sharply higher fuel bills.
|Retailer says sorry for deceptive
|BEIJING (AFP) - French retailer Carrefour has apologised
after 11 of its stores in China were caught overcharging
customers for products such as cotton underwear and tea
leaves, state media said.
Carrefour ‘sincerely apologises’ and offered to refund
customers five times the difference between the price
charged and that on the label, the China Daily said, citing
a statement from the company.
Officials at Carrefour did not respond to repeated AFP
requests for a reaction.
A nationwide investigation also busted three Wal-Mart stores
for deceiving customers over the price of goods but the US
retail giant made no admissions of guilt in a statement
released this week.
Wal-Mart said it would continue to “conduct thorough
investigations of cases relating to pricing issues” and
during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday would further
strengthen “the supervision of commodity pricing”.
Local authorities have been ordered to fine the Carrefour
and Wal-Mart stores for deceptive pricing practices and
confiscate their ‘illegal income’, the National Development
and Reform Commission said on its website.
Fines will be five times the amount confiscated, or up to
500,000 yuan ($76,000) if the amount cannot be calculated,
the statement said.
The commission, China’s top economic planner, also urged
authorities to step up price investigations ahead of the
Lunar New Year, which falls on February 3, and punish
serious offenders with fines and licence suspension.
Retail spending usually soars for the most important holiday
of the year as people splash out on food and gifts for
families and friends.
The crackdown comes as Beijing tries to curb inflation,
which rose 4.6 percent on year in December, down from a
two-year high of 5.1 percent in November.
But analysts expect consumer prices to increase at a faster
pace this month due to cold weather and the holiday season.
|Kuwait policemen ‘face
death over torture’
|KUWAIT CITY (AFP) -
Kuwait’s public prosecution plans to demand capital
punishment for some of a group of 16 policemen on charges of
torturing a man to death, a newspaper reported.
The prosecution has ordered that the 16, including three
officers, be detained pending trial, a date for which has
not yet been fixed, Al Jarida daily cited unnamed informed
sources as saying.
The prosecution plans to press charges of premeditated
murder, abduction, forced detention, torture and forgery
against some of the accused, it said.
The case came to light after 35-year-old Mohammad Ghazzai Al
Mutairi arrived at the hospital dead from a nearby police
station in the southern oil-rich city of Ahmadi in the early
hours of January 11.
The medical report said the man had bruises and injuries all
over his body and that his legs were tied on arrival.
The next day, Interior Minister Shaikh Jaber Khaled Al Sabah
told parliament the man had died after complaining of chest
pain and resisting police when arrested on suspicion of
trading in alcohol, which is banned in the conservative
But Shaikh Jaber and the interior ministry both retracted
earlier statements, acknowledging that a crime was suspected
in Mutairi’s death, and a high-level probe was set up at the
A parliamentary panel formed to investigate the case found
that Mutairi was apparently arrested for personal reasons
and that he was subjected to severe torture for six days,
three of them at a remote place in the desert.
Three opposition lawmakers on Monday filed to question the
Gulf state’s interior minister in parliament over the case,
with a subsequent debate expected on March 8.
|St Mary’s Church, Dehiwela
|Celebration of 175 years of pastoral care to the
By Eymard de Silva Wijeyeratne
The 175th Anniversary of the Church will be celebrated on
February 5 and 6with Vespers and Festive High Mass.
It is hard to believe that St Mary’s Church, Dehiwela, was
founded in 1835, just 20years after the British took full
control of the country.
The British Governor of Ceylon at that time was Sir Robert
W, Horton Bart.
Within a few years from this date there was a rush to open
coffee plantations, which K M de Silva in his History of Sri
Lanka refers to as the ‘coffee mania’.
I have used this reference to illustrate how old this Church
is by using the Sinhala epithet k pi k lé: an expression
used to convey the sense of antiquity.
At the time the Church was founded, the teachings of the
Church were based on the determinations made by the Council
of Trent (1545-1563), and thereafter by Vatican Council I
Vatican Council II (1962-1965) was a remarkable liberative
force which welded the teachings of Jesus as found in the
Gospels, to an apostolate that was meaningfully geared to
spread Gospel values after the departure of divine master,
The model of this apostolate was that of the Council of
Jerusalem, where Peter, Paul, Barnabas and others settled
the dispute relating to circumcision that was mandated by
the law of Moses; not by issuing edicts but by engaging in
warm dialogue (Acts 15: 1-19).
They also weaned away the dissatisfaction felt by Hellenic
Jews, who observed Greek customs and preferred to speak
Greek rather than Hebrew (Acts 6:1-7).
Vatican Council II, like the First Council of Jerusalem, was
more concerned about the spirit of the Law than the letter
of the Law.
Just as much as the Gentiles were more open to the teachings
of Jesus than the Jews, we who are fortunate to live in
compliance with the dispensation of Vatican Council II have
easier access to the teachings of Jesus than those who lived
before this dispensation was in force.
St Mary’s Church, a Vehicle of Transition
My association with this church goes back to 1948 when I was
yet a schoolboy.
Those were the days when the Church, though it recognised
the significance of the incident where the short man,
Zaccheus perched himself on a sycamore tree to witness the
radiance of Jesus, did not actively and joyfully savour its
The outlook was more grave and sombre, and therefore not
fully appreciative of the fact that the Sabbath was made for
man and not man for the Sabbath. It was the era of requiem
services that echoed the impending wrath of God, “Dies ira,
dies illa” (That day, the day of Wrath).
Things have now changed to recognise the freedom of feeble
and fallible minds, in the matter of heralding the good news
of liberation, in a mood of joy and thanksgiving.
Throughout the period of 175 years, St. Mary’s Church,
Dehiwela, has been a haven of inner peace and self-assurance
to thousands of men, women and children.
During the period that I have been privileged to live in
this parish, 11 priests have served the needs of the
faithful as vicars in charge. A few of them were foreigners
who had settled down in Sri Lanka as citizens.
They were assisted in their duties of pastoral care by an
equal number of Assistant Parish Priests. Over the last 15
years, the quality of young priests who served the parish
has been outstanding. Several young men, who lived in
Dehiwela, responded to the call of the priesthood.
The two outstanding priests among them were the late Frs
Dalston Forbes OMI and Michael Rodrigo OMI. Their families
lived very close to where I now live.
Both were renowned theologians, while the latter was a
martyr for the cause of impoverished peasantry.
The other priest, the late Fr Shirley Ferdinando OMI, was a
very close friend, with whom I played cricket and engaged in
other schoolboy exploits.
The most important feature of the history of this church was
the absence of religious tensions caused by misplaced zeal.
In this respect, I pay homage to the memory of the
journalist, Victor Gunawardena, who was outstanding in the
role of cautioning those who were overzealous and
|PLEASANT SURPRISE FOR
Prime Minister D M Jayaratne was the chief guest at the
inauguration of the Education Ministry’s National Programme
for the Development of 1,000 Secondary Schools held recently
at Mampooriya RC Sinhala/ Tamil Maha Vidyalaya in the
Puttalam district. The students gave a warm welcome to Prime
Minister Jayaratne. Incidentally he was the first incumbent
Prime Minister to visit this school which is located on the
Puttalam-Mannar district border and his arrival for the
ceremony gave the children a pleasant surprise, teachers
said. Here, the Prime Minister chats to beaming
schoolchildren who mobbed him. (Picture courtesy Prime
Ministerial Media Unit)
|Indian envoy hails strong Lanka ties
High Commission of India and the Indian expatriate community
in Sri Lanka celebrated the 62nd Republic Day of India on
Wednesday, January 26 at India House in Colombo.
High Commissioner Ashok K Kantha unfurled the national flag,
which was followed by a rendering of the national anthem.
The High Commissioner inspected a Guard of Honour presented
by the BSF contingent and read out excerpts from the address
to the nation on the eve of Republic Day by President
Pratibha Devisingh Patil.
The High Commissioner also conveyed his greetings on this
occasion to the citizens of Sri Lanka and noted the progress
in implementation of the significant bilateral initiatives
that had been agreed following the state visit to India in
June 2010 of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the subsequent
visit to Sri Lanka of External Affairs Minister Shri S M
Krishna, in November 2010.
A brief cultural programme organised by the Indian Cultural
Its highlights were singing of patriotic songs and Kathak
dance performances by the students of the Indian Cultural
Subsequently, the High Commissioner of India and other
officials of the High Commission paid their respects to the
memory of fallen soldiers of the Indian Peace Keeping Force
(IPKF) in a solemn ceremony at the IPKF memorial in Colombo.
On the occasion of the 62nd Republic Day of India, P S V
Natyasnagam, a Kathakali dance troupe from Kottakal, Kerela
presented a performance ‘Nalacharitam’ at Ananda College
auditorium on the evening of January 25.
The Kathakali troupe, sponsored by the Indian Council of
Cultural Relations (ICCR), is visiting Sri Lanka under the
aegis of the Programme of Cultural Co-operation between
India and Sri Lanka for 2010-2013.
It will also perform at Galle, Matara and Jaffna.
|Royal College Union celebrates
|The Royal College Union celebrated its 120th anniversary
on January 17 with a multi-religious ceremony, invoking
blessings on the students of Royal College, its union
members and society at large.
The ceremony witnessed the participation of the current
union members, past secretaries, students and staff members
of Royal College and invitees, with the four main religion’s
representatives, the most venerable Dharanagama Kusaladhamma
Thero, Swami K Sivagurunathan, Father Chrishantha Mendis and
Ash-Sheik M Akram Noor Amith being of one voice for selfless
service, espousing the values and noble truths common to all
Speaking on the occasion, RCU secretary Manju Ariyaratne
welcomed the gathering and mentioned that the unconditional
support and service rendered to the alma mater, Royal
College by the union was symbolic of the commitment and
pledge given by the members to ensure that every Royalist is
ensured the best school career in academics and sports, who
would then in turn is bounden to return the ‘debt’ owed in
‘words’ and ‘deeds’.
The Principal of Royal College, Upali Gunasekera,
re-iterated that the Royal College Union was instrumental in
upholding the traditions and values of Royal College, and
had contributed immensely to the College in many areas which
included the development of the school, its infrastructure
and commended the contribution to each and every student’s
personality and career development within Royal College and
The function affirmed that RCU stood strong as a
professional outfit, that was united, with a clear call for
service. The function witnessed a beautiful rendition of the
Royal College School song, sung with pride, and the national
anthem as the finale. The assistant secretary of the Royal
College Union, Chandana Aluthgama, thanked the respective
religious dignitaries, the union members and the academic
staff and Union staff for their whole-hearted participation.
The ceremony concluded with a traditional fellowship
breakfast, and a celebratory cake was cut as an added touch
to a ceremony.
|Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka
highlights Unesco’s key role
Lanka’s newly-appointed permanent delegate to Unesco, Dr
Dayan Jayatilleka presented his credentials to the
director-general of Unesco, Madam Irina Bokova at the
headquarters of the organisation in Paris recently.
The director-general welcomed Ambassador Jayatilleka to
Unesco and noted the long history of co-operation and
contribution made by Sri Lanka on the Executive Board in
particular and at Unesco in general.
She inquired about the role of education in the
Ambassador Jayatilleka said the values of Unesco which
nurture dialogue, appreciate diversity and recognise
pluralism were critical for member states.
He said the role Unesco continued to play was important as
it fostered the closer co-operation of differing collective
entities and helped in raising consciousness.
He said the late Prof. Huntington had even mentioned Sri
Lanka as an example of fault line conflicts and hoped that
an organisation like Unesco which attempted to counter that
notion of the so-called clash of civilisations and instead
bolstered understanding and mutual respect, would be the
ideal platform for further enhancing dialogue.
He noted that whilst looking forward to the visit of the
Director General to Sri Lanka in the course of 2011, the
focus on education for peace and sustainable development by
Sri Lanka was essential and the possible holding of a
symposium on best practices for the transition in the
building of peace would help mainstream the Unesco message
|Sajith backs temple project
district MP Sajith Premadasa and Sasunata Aruna programme
chairman has initiated a series of projects to uplift and
upgrade the infrastructure of Buddhist temples in the
context of the 2600 Sambuddatwa Jayanthiya celebrations. The
picture shows Sajith Premadasa donating Rs 320,000 for the
completion of the half-constructed Chaitya at Welipatanwila
Boddhirukkaramaya in the Ambalantota division of Hambantota
district to the chief prelate at the temple Ven Ethbatuwe
|Foundation fellowship launched
|The 26th Session of the board of directors of the
India-Sri Lanka Foundation was held in Colombo on January
The board session was co-chaired by the High Commissioner of
India, Ashok K Kantha and the High Commissioner of Sri
Lanka, Prasad Kariyawasam, and was attended by members of
the board, M Rasgotra, Prof P V Indiresan, Sunimal Fernando
and Thirukumar Nadesan.
The board of directors considered a number of proposals
received by the Colombo Secretariat and the New Delhi
Secretariat of the India-Sri Lanka Foundation and approved
proposals promoting understanding and cooperation between
India and Sri Lanka in diverse fields such as education and
culture, youth exchange and handicrafts, etc.
The board of directors also decided to launch an India-Sri
Lanka Foundation Fellowship which will be offered to
post-graduate students below the age of 35 years for up to
one year of research at reputed and recognised institutions
primarily in the area of social sciences and fine arts.
The fellowship will offer a remuneration of INR 50,000 per
month and return airfare.
Both Colombo and New Delhi Secretariat will shortly invite
nominations for the fellowship.
The India-Sri Lanka Foundation was established by A
Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of India
and Sri Lanka in 1998 and is financed through revenues from
a trust set up with grants made available by the two
The objectives of the Foundation are to foster India-Sri
Lanka relations through the enhancement of economic,
scientific, technical and cultural cooperation between India
and Sri Lanka and to promote greater understanding between
the people of the two countries.
The programmes undertaken by the India-Sri Lanka Foundation
include financing higher studies, research and other
education activities at institutes of learning located in
India, facilitating visits and exchanges between India and
Sri Lanka of scholars, academic, professionals, artists,
experts involved in areas of activities covered by the
foundation; assisting activities such as seminars, symposia,
colloquia, and workshops of subjects of common interest;
extending financial support to those non-governmental
organizations both in India and Sri Lanka whose work
facilities achievement of the objectives of the foundation
and contributing towards publication of standard works on
India-Sri Lanka relations in specific fields.
|Kabul supermarket blast kills
KABUL (AFP) - Eight people,
including three foreign women and a child, were
killed in a suicide bombing at a central Kabul
supermarket popular with Westerners, police and
The attack occurred early afternoon at the Finest
supermarket in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan
district of the Afghan capital, near several Western
“A total of eight people, including three foreign
women, have been killed and six others injured,
including three supermarket employees,” Kabul police
said in a statement.
The Afghan presidency had earlier reported nine dead
and seven wounded.
Police said the victims had not yet been identified.
At least one woman and a child of about seven were
among the bodies a journalist saw removed from the
“We now know that it was a suicide attack,” Kabul
police chief Mohammad Zahir told reporters at the
The doors of the Finest supermarket were left
twisted by the blast. The devastated interior was
strewn with merchandise and toppled shelves.
The explosion set off a fire in the store, which was
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack,
which came on the weekly day of rest in Afghanistan,
saying employees of a private US security firm were
the intended target.
“Some employees and the head of Blackwater (a
private security firm, now known as Xe) were
shopping in the supermarket in Kabul when one of our
men attacked them,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah
Mujahid told AFP.
“We claim credit for this attack.”
He said the attacker opened fire in the supermarket
before blowing himself up and killing several
people, including the private security staff.
However a spokeswoman for the firm, Jenny Byberg,
said by email: “Xe can confirm that none of our
personnel were injured or killed in the incident.”
She did not comment on whether the firm’s employees
were present in the supermarket during the attack.
A 12-year-old boy, in tears, said he had no news of
his sister with whom he was shopping when he heard
gunfire immediately followed by an explosion.
In a statement, President Hamid Karzai said he
“strongly condemned” the attack which he described
as “anti-Islamic, inhumane and shameful,” he said.
Driven from power in late 2001 by US-led forces, the
Taliban and their allies have been engaged in a
bloody rebellion against Karzai’s government and
some 140,000 foreign troops that support it.
Although residents and officials say security has
improved in the capital over the past two years, it
is regularly hit by attacks sometimes targeting
foreigners, considered by the Taliban to be
accomplices of the government.
On August 10, two suicide bombers attacked a
guesthouse of a British private security company,
killing two drivers and wounding a guard.
In February 2010, at least 16 people, including one
French, one Italian and seven Indians were killed in
a Taliban attack on residential guesthouses.
In December 2009, at least eight people were killed
and 40 were wounded in a suicide bombing near a
hotel hosting foreigners.
On 28 October the same year, the Taliban had
attacked a United Nations guesthouse, killing eight
people including five foreign employees of the UN.
In January 2008 a suicide attack against the Serena
Hotel, the city’s most luxurious and frequented by
foreigners, left eight dead.
Security in the capital is managed by Afghan forces.
|Junta-led Niger votes for
|NIAMEY (AFP) - Niger goes to the polls tomorrow
to replace a military junta with a civilian
president who will rule one of the world’s poorest
countries living under the growing menace of
The North African state of 15 million people covered
mostly by the Sahara desert has watched helplessly
as the influence of the regional offshoot of
Al-Qaeda has grown in recent years.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has staged a
series of kidnappings of foreigners, the latest
being two young Frenchmen snatched by militants from
the capital, Niamey, three weeks ago and killed
during an abortive rescue mission launched by
Junta leader Salou Djibo said security was the top
priority for impoverished Niger ahead of the
presidential and parliamentary polls.
“Security has no price,” he said, while
acknowledging that Niamey has few resources of its
own to combat the fundamentalist threat which
crosses national borders throughout the Sahara
The junta took power in February last year to end a
crisis triggered by then president Mamadou Tandja’s
attempts to extend his rule beyond the
constitutionally allowed two consecutive five-year
The military agreed to preside over a transition to
civilian rule and no member of the ruling junta is
standing for election in Monday’s polls.
The key candidate is opposition leader Mahamadou
Issoufou, whose Social Democratic Party represents
change, but he faces a challenge from three other
candidates intent on blocking his way.
Seini Oumarou is the anointed follower of the
deposed leader Tandja, who is still languishing in
jail, and whose National Movement for the
Development of Society he leads.
Former prime minister Hama Amadou is also close to
the deposed leader while Niger’s first
democratically-elected president in 1993, Mahamane
Ousmane, is trying for another term.
Oumarou, Amadou and Ousmane have created a stir in
Niger by forging a pact meant to keep Issoufou from
victory should no candidate emerge with an overall
majority and the presidential poll goes to a second
In the event one of them finds himself in a
head-to-head against the social democrat the other
two will give him their full backing.
All main candidates in the former French colony have
similar platforms, with fighting poverty which
afflicts 60 percent of the population the main goal
along with a more equitable distribution of income,
notably from the mining of uranium of which Niger is
a leading producer.
Niger’s history of 50 years since independence from
Paris has been a series of coups and military
regimes. The past leaves many voters sceptical about
prospects for democracy when most of the candidates
have ties to previous regimes and Tandja is said to
be closely watching developments from his prison
|Australia defends one-off
|SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Julia
Gillard defended her plan for a one-off tax to pay
for the flood disaster, insisting there was no “big
pile of money” to pay for the rebuilding.
Gillard, who has been prime minister for seven
months, has ordered a levy on middle and
high-earning tax payers to help fund the recovery
after deadly floods that devastated the northeast
state of Queensland.
Conservatives have criticised the plan, with
opposition leader Tony Abbott warning the levy could
become permanent and accusing the government of
being irresponsible with its spending.
But on Friday Gillard said she could not dip into a
government contingency fund or extend a budget
deficit to pay for the unprecedented deluge, which
wiped out farms and flooded mines.
“It is not true to say to Australians that there is
a big pile of money there that somehow I could just
go and use,” Gillard told the Seven Network.
“It doesn’t just sit there, this is not a magic pot
of money that can be rolled out in the face of an
unprecedented natural disaster.
“The contingency reserve is necessary to keep the
budget on track.”
Asked about a Seven Network poll in which 93 percent
of the 4,500 people who phoned in said they did not
want to pay a levy, Gillard said she believed
Australians did want to make a contribution to
“And let’s remember more is being done in budget
cuts than is being asked for from Australians in a
levy,” she said.
The one-off tax announced on Thursday aims to raise
about Aus$1.8 billion ($1.8 billion) to help meet
the Aus$5.6 billion cost of the La Nina-triggered
floods which have also hit the southeastern states
of Victoria and Tasmania.
The levy is weighted to earnings, meaning 60 percent
of taxpayers will pay less than Aus$1 a week.
Gillard has stressed the revenue was needed to
ensure the budget is back in surplus by 2012-2013
when the economy is expected to be running at full
“I think Australians around the country realise this
is a time where we need to pull together,” she told
ABC Radio earlier.
“We are seeing a natural disaster of unprecedented
economic proportions still unfolding in our
Gillard, who holds a wafer-thin majority in
parliament, will require the support of independents
to pass legislation to impose the tax after Abbott
said his conservative bloc would vote against it.
“My view is there should not be a new tax. We do not
need new taxes to cope,” he said.
| Larvae and locusts to invade western
‘Bug Mac’ treat
|WAGENINGEN, Netherlands (AFP) - Dutch student
Walinka van Tol inspects the worm protruding from a
half-eaten chocolate praline she’s holding, steels
herself with a shrug, then pops it into her mouth.
“Tasty ... kind of nutty!” the 20-year-old assures
her companions clutching an array of creepy crawly
pastries at a seminar, which forecast that larvae
and locusts will invade western menus as the price
of steak and chops skyrocket.
Van Tol and about 200 other tasters were guinea pigs
for a group of Dutch scientists doing groundbreaking
research into insects replacing animal meat as a
healthier, more environmentally friendly source of
“There will come a day when a Big Mac costs 120
euros ($163) and a Bug Mac 12 euros, when more
people will eat insects than other meat,” head
researcher Arnold van Huis told a disbelieving
audience at Wageningen University in the central
“The best way to start is to try it once,” the
At break time, there is a sprint for the snack
tables with a spread of Thai marinated grasshopper
spring rolls, buffalo worm chocolate gnache, and a
seemingly innocent pastry “just like a quiche
lorraine, but with meal worms instead of bacon or
ham”, according to chef Henk van Gurp.
The snacks disappear quickly to the delight of the
chef and organisers. But the university’s head of
entomology Marcel Dicke knows that changing
Westerners’ mindset will take more than disguising a
worm in chocolate.
“The problem is here,” he tells AFP, pointing at his
head while examining an exhibition featuring a
handful of the world’s more than 1,200 edible insect
species including worms, gnats, wasps, termites and
Three species: meal worms, buffalo worms and
grasshoppers, are cultivated by three farmers in the
Netherlands for a small but growing group of
“People think it is something dirty. It generates a
Fear Factor response,” citing the reality series
that tests competitors’ toughness by feeding them
Dicke said Westerners had no choice but to shed
their bug bias, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture
Organisation predicting there will be nine billion
people on the planet by 2050 and agricultural land
already under pressure.
“We have to eat less meat or find an alternative,”
said Dicke, who claims to sit down to a family meal
of insects on a regular basis.
‘Why do we not eat insects?’
Bugs are high in protein, low in fat and efficient
to cultivate -- 10 kg of feed yields six to eight
kilograms of insect meat compared to one kilogram of
beef, states the university’s research.
Insects are abundant, produce less greenhouse gas
and manure, and do not transfer any diseases, when
eaten, that can mutate into a dangerous human form,
say the researchers.
“The question really should be: ‘Why do we NOT eat
insects?,” said Dicke, citing research that the
average person unwittingly eats about 500 grams of
bug particles a year anyway -- in strawberry jam,
bread and other processed foods.
According to Van Huis, about 500 types of insects
are eaten in Mexico, 250 in Africa and 180 in China
and other parts of Asia -- mostly they are a
One avid European convert is Marian Peters,
secretary of the Dutch insect breeders association,
Venik, who likes to snack on grasshoppers and refers
to them as “the caviar of insects”.
On a visit to an insect farm in Deurne in the south
east Netherlands, she greedily peels the wings and
legs off a freeze dried locust and crunches down
“They are delicious stir fried with good oil, garlic
and red pepper and served in a taco,” said Peters.
The owner of the farm, Roland van de Ven, produces
1,200kg of meal worms a week of which “one or two
percent” for human consumption, the rest as animal
“When you see an insect, it is a barrier. I think
people will come around if the insects are processed
and not visible in food,” he explains while running
his fingers through a plastic tray teeming with
worms -- one of hundreds stacked ceiling-high in
refrigerated breeding rooms.
“It is harder to eat a pig you have seen on a spit
than a store-bought steak. This is similar.”
The farmer said human demand for his
“mini-livestock” was growing slowly -- from 300
kilograms in 2008 to 900 kilograms last year.
For those who won’t be swayed, there is hope for
less grizzly alternative. Wageningen University is
leading research into the viability of extracting
insect protein for use in food products.
“We want to determine if we can texturise it to
resemble meat, like they do with soy,” said Peters,
clutching a bag of pinkish powder -- protein taken
from meal worms she hopes will one day be a common
Cuban dissident Farinas freed
HAVANA (AFP) - Cuban high-profile dissident
Guillermo Farinas was set free by authorities late
Friday after his third arrest in 48 hours, his
Farinas, the 2010 Sakharov rights prize winner, was
released by security services after an emergency
medical check-up undertaken after the detainee
complained about chest pain, Alicia Hernandez, the
activist’s mother, said.
“His health is delicate, and doctors have
recommended rest,” Hernandez said from her home in
the city of Santa Clara.
She said prison doctors had been called after her
son had suffered from a shortness of breath, fever
and chest pains.
Cuban authorities arrested Farinas earlier Friday
along with “more than 20” other activists who had
gone to lay flowers at a monument to national hero
The dissident had been also detained late Thursday
with around 10 other political activists, hours
after being released from his initial detention on
|Free homes for flood victims
RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Brazil’s President Dilma
Rousseff announced a programme to build some 6,000
new homes for victims of recent floods that have
claimed hundreds of lives in the Rio de Janeiro
Rescuers have recovered 835 bodies from flooding and
mudslides sparked by more than a week of heavy rains
in what is considered Brazil’s worst-ever natural
catastrophe. Another 518 are still missing and
feared dead, according to Civil Defense figures.
In addition, over 30,000 people have lost their
homes or had to abandon them amid fears of likely
collapses, according to newly updated figures.
Brazil’s rainy season has been particularly severe
this year, with flooding also swamping southern
Santa Catarina state and Sao Paulo, the economic hub
that record its rainiest January in 60 years.
Rousseff, who was sworn as Brazil’s president on
January 1, said officials were also exploring
whether the government will reorganize its Civil
Defense forces to allow a better disaster response.