Nation 2  

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 respiratory infection.
He will now be treated at home, South Africa’s surgeon general,
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 region.
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 successfully treated.
“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 pounding.
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 said.
“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 task.
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 back-breaking labour.
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 poorest workers.
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 growth.
“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 hard.”

Harvard studies Mumbai hotel staff heroics
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 work.”
“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 corporate brand.”

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 of legislators.”
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 and Colombia.

Indonesia to suspend food import duties

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 year.
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 pricing
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’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 Muslim state.
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 ministry.
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 faithful
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 (1869-70).
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, Jesus Christ.
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 real implications.
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 sententious.


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

The 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 Centre followed.
Its highlights were singing of patriotic songs and Kathak dance performances by the students of the Indian Cultural Centre.
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 milestone
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 faiths.
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 outside.
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

Sri 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 post-conflict context.
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 and perspective.

Sajith backs temple project
Hambantota 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 Nandasiri Thero.

Foundation fellowship launched
The 26th Session of the board of directors of the India-Sri Lanka Foundation was held in Colombo on January 28.
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 governments.
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 eight

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 witnesses said.
The attack occurred early afternoon at the Finest supermarket in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district of the Afghan capital, near several Western embassies.
“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 shop.
“We now know that it was a suicide attack,” Kabul police chief Mohammad Zahir told reporters at the scene.
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 quickly extinguished.
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 civilian president
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 Al-Qaeda militants.
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 France.
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 region.
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 terms.
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 round.
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 cell.

Australia defends one-off flood tax
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 Queensland’s recovery.
“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 capacity.
“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 country.”
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 menus

‘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 protein.
“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 Netherlands.
“The best way to start is to try it once,” the entomologist insisted.
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 beetles.
Three species: meal worms, buffalo worms and grasshoppers, are cultivated by three farmers in the Netherlands for a small but growing group of adventurous foodies.
“People think it is something dirty. It generates a Fear Factor response,” citing the reality series that tests competitors’ toughness by feeding them live insects.
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 delicacy.
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 with gusto.
“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 feed.
“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 pizza ingredient.

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 mother said.
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 Jose Marti.
The dissident had been also detained late Thursday with around 10 other political activists, hours after being released from his initial detention on Wednesday afternoon.

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 area.
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.