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Egypt’s military takes over

Cairo’s streets exploded in joy when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after three-decades of autocratic rule and handed power to a junta of senior military commanders.
A grim-faced and ashen vice-president Omar Suleiman announced the handover on state television after an extraordinary national outpouring of rage brought more than a million furious demonstrators onto the streets.
“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the supreme council of the armed forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Suleiman said.
A free and fair presidential election has been promised for September after a momentous 18 days that rocked Egypt.
Earlier, the 82-year-old strongman had flown out of Cairo to his holiday retreat at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea, his ruling party said.
As news spread cries of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and howls of victory rang out in the streets of the capital and firecrackers exploded.
World oil prices slid and European stock markets bounced following news of the resignation of Mubarak.
In Tahrir Square, several protesters fainted with the emotion of the moment following two weeks of protest. The plaza has become a focal point of the revolt since it was occupied by protesters in late January, and earlier in the day had been thronged by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, who prayed and chanted abuse at Mubarak.
“People here don’t care if he’s in the palace or not. We want him to quit the presidency,” said 40-year-old Mohammed Hamdan, who works for an oil firm.
On Thursday night, hundreds of thousands had crowded into the square to hear a speech that was widely expected to be Mubarak’s last as president.
Instead, he delegated some of his powers to Suleiman, while vowing he would stay in office until September and one day die in Egypt, ruling out a flight into exile.
Mubarak had also been on a collision course with the international community, and in particular Egypt’s key ally and donor, Washington.
US President Barack Obama reacted with a flash of anger of his own, saying Mubarak had failed to map out “meaningful or sufficient” change, or to speak clearly enough to Egypt and the world.
(Hindustan Times)

Switzerland to freeze assets of ousted ruler

The announcement, which gave no details as to what assets Mubarak or his family might have in the country, will send shock waves through the presidential palaces of other Middle Eastern countries.
“The government wants to avoid any risk of misappropriation of state-owned Egyptian assets,” a statement by the foreign ministry said.
Stories of Mubarak’s personal wealth, ranging up to wild estimates of $70 billion (£44 billion), long suppressed by state media, began to circulate among the crowds from the beginning of protests.
His family is said to own property around the world, including London, Paris, Dubai, and the United States. He is understood to have money in bank accounts in Britain, the US, and France as well as other western countries.
But the control of resources by the regime’s leaders is mirrored across the region, whether through military dictatorship, as in neighbours such as Libya, or oil-funded feudal rule, as in the Gulf.
(The Telegraph)


S Asia rivals resume peace talks

(BBC) – India and Pakistan say they have agreed to resume peace talks “on all issues.”
Peace moves were put on hold after Pakistan-based militants attacked Mumbai in 2008, although the sides have met a number of times in the past year.
The nuclear-armed rivals’ decision to discuss key issues in the dispute came after top officials met at a summit in Bhutan.
Pakistan’s foreign minister will visit India by July to review progress in the dialogue, a joint statement said.
Before then, senior officials from both sides will get together to discuss a range of issues which have harmed relations for decades.
“They have agreed to resume dialogue on all issues following the spirit of the Thimpu meeting between the two prime ministers,” a joint statement said, referring to weekend talks in the Bhutanese capital.
BBC correspondents say no-one is expecting swift progress on issues at the heart of the dispute.
“The two countries will work to narrow the trust deficit so that we can discuss all bilateral issues,” Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vishnu Prakash told The BBC.
“We are picking up the threads again, we have to move forward step by step. We are taking baby steps.”
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said he welcomed “the important decision taken both by Pakistan and India to resume [a] full spectrum of dialogue”.
In a statement, Gilani said the peace negotiations had resulted from his talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
As well as the main disputes over counter-terrorism and the Himalayan territory of Kashmir – which both countries claim – the talks teams will look at economic issues and a number of other, smaller, territorial disagreements.
Before the Mumbai attacks, the two sides held formal peace talks known as a “composite dialogue” for several years but made little headway, apart from a number of confidence-building measures.

7 of Somali pirates seem to be minors
Stating that seven of the 28 Somali pirates arrested off the Lakshadweep coast on February 6 appeared to be minors, the metropolitan magistrate’s court, directed the police to collect evidence to prove their ages.
Though described to be over 18 years of age by the police, metropolitan magistrate of Ballard Pier court, C W Meshram, observed that seven pirates — Ibrahim Noor, Ahsan Mahmood, Mahomed Musee, Atoor Bare, Noor Xersi, Madar Abdi and Shafee Maxammed — appear to be below 18 years of age.
The Indian Coast Guard had arrested the 28 Somali pirates who attacked the Greek-flagged merchant ship Chois off the Lakshadweep coast. They were apprehended when after approaching a Coast Guard ship they tried to return to Prantalay 11, a fishing trawler hijacked by them last year.
The 24 Thai and Myanmar residents taken hostage by the pirates were released and all the apprehended pirates were subsequently handed over to the Yellow Gate police at Mumbai.
The fact that the pirates purportedly understand only their mother tongue and none of the languages known to local police is adding to the hurdles.
“We are facing difficulties as the language barrier is leading to obstacles in verifying their nationality, address and recording statements,” said Quaiser Khalid, deputy commissioner of police (port zone). “We have asked the African Studies Department of the University of Mumbai to provide us with translators to assist in the investigation.”
Moreover, as the incident occurred off the Lakshadweep coast, collecting evidence from the crime scene too is becoming tough, said a senior police official.
The police also divulged that they plan to house the 24 hostages from the current operation and 20 from the previous operation on January 29 on Pranatalaya 11, the trawler that is currently anchored along the Mumbai coast.
(Hindustan Times)
Algeria forces prepare for rally

(BBC) – Riot police have been deployed in the centre of the Algerian capital, Algiers, ahead of a planned anti-government rally.
The government has banned the protest, but opposition and rights groups say they intend to go ahead with the march.
Algeria – like other countries in the region – has recently witnessed demonstrations for greater freedoms.
On Friday, police stopped people from gathering to celebrate the fall of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak.
The BBC’s Chloe Arnold in Algiers says the authorities want to avert any popular uprising similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt.
“We are ready for the march,” Mohsen Belabes, a spokesman for the small Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) opposition party, said.
“It’s going to be a great day for democracy in Algeria,” he told Reuters news agency. Demonstrations are banned in Algeria because of a state of emergency which has been in place since 1992.
A heavy police presence is normal in Algeria but far more officers than usual were in place hours before the start of the protest at 1100 local time (1000 GMT), Reuters reports. At least 15 police vans, jeeps and buses were lined up at 1 May Square, where the march is due to start, and about the same number on a nearby side-street outside the city’s Mustapha hospital.
Small military-style armoured vehicles were also parked at junctions around the city.

US man shot Pakistan pair ‘in cold blood’

(BBC) – A Pakistani police chief has said a US citizen in custody over the deaths of two men in Lahore last month was guilty of “cold-blooded murder.”
Lahore city police chief Aslam Tareen told a news conference that one of the men was killed while running away. He spoke after Raymond Davis was remanded for another 14 days following an appearance in a Lahore court.
Davis, 36, has admitted he shot the men, but says he acted in self-defence because they were trying to rob him. The court has ordered the Pakistani government to clarify US embassy claims that Davis has diplomatic immunity. He is charged on two counts – murder and possession of illegal weapons.
Tareen told a news conference: “The police investigation and forensic report show it was not self-defence.
“His plea has been rejected by police investigators. He gave no chance to them to survive.
Tareen also said that forensic evidence did not support Davis’s claim that one of the motorbike riders had approached his car window, cocked his gun and pointed it at him. No fingerprints had been uncovered on the triggers of the pistols found on the bodies of the two men, he said.
And tests had shown that the bullets remained in the magazine of the men’s gun, not the chamber. “It was cold-blooded murder,” said Tareen. “Eyewitnesses have told police that he directly shot at them and he kept shooting even when one was running away. It was an intentional murder.”
Police officials have previously said that the two men were street robbers, although conspiracy theorists have suggested that the pair were members of Pakistani intelligence.

Sudan detains opposition leader

KHARTOUM (AFP) – Sudanese security services arrested prominent government critic Mariam al-Mahdi, daughter of the prime minister whom veteran President Omar al-Bashir ousted in a 1989 coup, a member of her Umma party said.
Mahdi was arrested as she went with a group of activists to petition the security forces for the release of protesters detained nearly two weeks ago, Habab Mubarak, the daughter of another leading Umma party member Mubarak al-Fadil, told AFP.
“The minute we stepped out of the car they arrested her,” Mubarak said.
“They also violently grabbed the placards that we had in the back of the car showing pictures of those people who were detained on January 30,” she added.
She said the incident took place after around 30 women, among them the mothers of those still being held after anti-government demonstrations last month, set off to present their petition to the head of the Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services Mohammed Atta.
They had gathered at the home of Fadil and were just leaving when the security forces arrested Mariam al-Mahdi, daughter of Sadeq al-Mahdi, the premier Bashir overthrew.


Scandal-hit Japan politician refuses to leave party

TOKYO (AFP) – A split within Japan’s centre-left government deepened when veteran powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa rejected a demand by the prime minister to leave the party as he faces trial in a funding scandal.
Ozawa, dubbed the “Shadow Shogun” of Japanese politics, is the biggest faction boss in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and narrowly failed in a bid last September to oust Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
He denies personal wrong-doing in the funding scandal, which has led authorities to raid his offices, indict three of his former aides and, forced by a citizens’ review panel, to indict Ozawa himself late last month.
Kan – who is battling plunging opinion poll ratings and the threat of legislative gridlock in a split parliament – Thursday met 68-year-old Ozawa, who commands the loyalty of many first-time lawmakers he picked and coached.
After the hour-long one-on-one talk with Kan, Ozawa told a news conference: “He asked me whether I can leave the party until the trial is over... I have made up my mind to continue my activities under my current status.”