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  Nation 2  


 

Somali pirates plead guilty
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Three Somali men have pleaded guilty to piracy charges related to the hijacking of a yacht off the coast of Oman in February that left four Americans dead.
Mohamud Hirs Issa Ali, 32, and Mohamud Salad Ali, 35, and Ali Abdi Mohamed, 35, pleaded guilty in a federal court in the eastern state of Virginia, according to US prosecutors.
The owners of the yacht Quest, Jean and Scott Adam, were Christian missionaries based in California who were sailing around the world at the time of the hijacking.
They were shot to death, along with their companions Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay from Seattle, Washington, several days after being taken hostage and as negotiations were taking place with US Navy officials.
Issa Ali and Salad Ali pleaded guilty to acts of piracy and hostage taking resulting in death, as part of plea agreements that will allow them to avoid the death penalty. They face life in prison.
The two men “acknowledged in connection with their pleas that they served as leaders of the piracy operation,” prosecutors said in a statement.
The third man, Abdi Mohamed, who also made a plea deal, acknowledged “that he fired a rocket propelled grenade in the course of the crime.” He pleaded guilty to piracy. He also faces life in prison.
“All three defendants warranted in their plea agreements that they played no role in the murder of the four US citizens,” the statement said.
Plea deals allow defendants to seek reductions in their sentences.
“He avoids death with the plea,” Jon Babineau, lawyer for Issa Ali, told AFP.
Eight other suspects in the case were also expected to plead guilty on Monday.
Accused Somali pirate Mohammad Saaili Shibin, said to have been the chief negotiator in the hijacking, was indicted on charges related to the killings earlier this year.
US service members, who had been trailing the yacht during the hostage drama, boarded the vessel after hearing gunshots and discovered the Americans’ bodies, according to US officials.
The US military said it had undertaken negotiations, led by Shibin, to secure the release of the hostages at the time the pirates fatally shot their captives.
At the time of their arrest, the pirates were said to have been in possession of heavy weaponry, including a grenade launcher and several assault rifles.
The men are among 15 people – 14 from Somalia and one from Yemen – arrested after the attack for their roles in the kidnapping and killings.
 
“Now we are illegal”

Spanish anti-crisis protesters cheer as ban takes effect

MADRID (AFP) – Thousands of protesters in Madrid furious over soaring unemployment staged a silent protest and then erupted in cheers of joy as a 48-hour ban on their demonstration took effect on Saturday.
“Now we are all illegal” and “the people united will never be defeated,” were among the chants of the protesters who crammed Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square and spilled onto side streets.
The protesters held a minute’s silence, their hands in the air and some with tape over their mouths, just before midnight on Friday, when campaigning officially ended for Sunday’s regional and municipal elections.
The crowd then cheered as the clock in the square, the main site of New Year festivities in Madrid, chimed midnight and a ban on the protest became effective.
“From Tahrir to Madrid to the world, world revolution,” said one of the placards, referring to Tahrir Square in Cairo which was the focal point of the Egyptian revolution earlier this year.
Some 19,000 people took part, according to a calculation by the Lynce organisation which estimates crowd numbers and released by the Spanish national news agency Efe.
Thousands of people have massed in city centres across the country in an swelling movement that began May 15, the biggest spontaneous protests since the property bubble exploded in 2008 and plunged Spain into a recession from which it only emerged this year.
Spain’s electoral commission late on Thursday declared that protests planned for Saturday and for Sunday are illegal as they “go beyond the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate.”
Saturday is by law “a day of reflection” ahead of the local elections, meaning political activity is barred.
But organisers of the spearhead protest in Madrid vowed to defy the ban.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said Friday that police “will enforce the law” against the protesters but “in a proportional manner.”
But Spain’s leading daily El Pais quoted government sources as saying police will only intervene if there is violence.
“The fact that the gatherings are banned in not enough reason for the police to act” against the demonstrators, the centre-left paper said on its website.
Calling for “Real Democracy Now,” the protests, popularly known as M-15, were called to condemn Spain’s soaring unemployment, economic crisis, politicians in general, and corruption.
Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist Party is facing a crushing defeat in Sunday’s polls, on Friday voiced sympathy for the protesters, saying they were reacting to unemployment and the economic crisis “in a peaceful manner.”
Spain’s jobless rate hit 21.19 percent in the first quarter of this year, the highest in the industrialised world. For under-25s, the jobless rate in February was 44.6 percent.
“My obligation is to listen, be sensitive, try to give an answer from the government so that we can recover the economy and employment as soon as possible,” Zapatero told radio Cadena Ser.

 
New Irish Obama cousins found

DUBLIN (AFP) – US President Barack Obama will be greeted by more Irish cousins when he visits the country next week, after research uncovered new branches of his ancestral family, researchers said Friday.
Dick Benn, a fifth cousin once removed, and Tom Donovan, a third cousin three times removed, have been invited to welcome Obama to Moneygall, the Irish village where his great-great-great-grandfather hailed from, Eneclann, a family history research company, said in a statement.
An eighth cousin of Obama, Henry Healy, is already among around 2,000 people who have been given tickets to see Obama in Moneygall -- but Eneclann said the new cousins were even more closely related to the US leader.
“As a result of the new findings, Dick Benn and Tom Donovan have been invited to meet the US president when he visits Moneygall next week,” said Eneclann, which is based at prestigious Trinity College, Dublin.
Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side, Falmouth Kearney, was a 19-year-old cobbler’s son when he emigrated from famine-ravaged Ireland in 1850. Kearney eventually settled in Ohio.
But in newly uncovered links, it emerged that Kearney’s mother, Phoebe Donovan, was the daughter of Fulmoth Donovan and Mary Benn – the ancestors of Dick Benn and Tom Donovan, and also of Obama.
Diggging even deeper, the researchers said Obama’s roots may come from continental Europe as the Benn family appear to have been immigrants from there, and that as late as the 1750s their name was Behn.
“We think that the Benns may originally have been Flemish, Dutch or even French Huguenot, who settled in Ireland in the late seventeenth century,” said Eneclann’s research director Fiona Fitzsimons.
As a result of waves of immigration, about 34 million people in the United States claim an Irish connection and many previous presidential hopefuls have used their “green” ancestry to attract the Irish-American vote.

 

No word for time

(BBC News) – An Amazonian tribe has no abstract concept of time, say researchers.
The Amondawa lacks the linguistic structures that relate time and space – as in our idea of, for example, “working through the night.”
The study, in Language and Cognition, shows that while the Amondawa recognise events occurring in time, it does not exist as a separate concept.
The idea is a controversial one, and further study will bear out if it is also true among other Amazon languages.
The Amondawa were first contacted by the outside world in 1986, and now researchers from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil have begun to analyse the idea of time as it appears in Amondawa language.
“We’re really not saying these are a ‘people without time’ or ‘outside time’,” said Chris Sinha, a professor of psychology of language at the University of Portsmouth.
“Amondawa people, like any other people, can talk about events and sequences of events,” he told BBC News.
“What we don’t find is a notion of time as being independent of the events which are occurring; they don’t have a notion of time which is something the events occur in.”
The Amondawa language has no word for “time”, or indeed of time periods such as “month” or “year.”
The people do not refer to their ages, but rather assume different names in different stages of their lives or as they achieve different status within the community.
But perhaps most surprising is the team’s suggestion that there is no “mapping” between concepts of time passage and movement through space.
Ideas such as an event having “passed” or being “well ahead” of another are familiar from many languages, forming the basis of what is known as the “mapping hypothesis.”

 
 
Sahara nations to set up desert patrol force

(Al Jazeera) – Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Algeria will set up, within 18 months, a joint force of up to 75,000 soldiers to secure their shared Sahara-Sahel desert zone, Mali’s foreign minister said.
“The number of soldiers in the force tasked with fighting terrorism will increase to 75,000 in the next 18 months,” Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said.
Leaders from the four nations gathered in Mali to look at security issues, including the fall-out from the conflict in Libya, which experts say has increased the access to arms.
The four nations are struggling to control the zone, where al-Qaeda’s North African wing has stepped up attacks and is operating alongside smugglers, rebels and local criminals.
A joint command centre has been established in Tamanrasset, in southern Algeria, but regional rivalries and the lack of trust between the countries have long stymied a coordinated regional approach European nations and the US have called for.
“More than ever our people and our countries are exposed to the threat of terrorism, heavy weapons in circulation, drug trafficking and hostage-taking,” said Maiga.
Maiga also stressed the need to tackle “trans-national organised crime”. He added that it was vital the four countries, which share a military base in Algeria, acted together against terrorism.
Algeria’s delegate, Abdel Kader Messahel, said: “The challenges we face require more focused planning and effective co-ordination. “It falls on us to evaluate dangerous developments and the new dimensions the terrorist threat is taking,” he added.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) has several bases in Mali from where it launches operations into the desert region, carrying out attacks, kidnappings of foreigners and drug trafficking.
AQIM is holding four French citizens abducted in northern Niger in September 2010 as well as an Italian kidnapped in southern Algeria in February.

 
Armies of Sudan rivals clash in Abyei region

(Al Jazeera) – Artillery fire have broken up in Sudan’s contested Abyei region, hours after the north accused the south of ambushing a convoy in the border area, the United Nations said.
“We heard artillery exchanges in Abyei in Todach and Tagalei but we don’t know who is fighting whom,” said Kouider Zerrouk, spokesperson for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) on Friday.
The fresh violence came after the north accused the SPLA of attacking a convoy of Sudanese soldiers and UN peacekeepers late on Thursday in Dokura north of Abyei town.
“Abyei is now a war zone,” said Sadiq Amer, deputy head of northern intelligence and security forces, adding that at least 22 soldiers had been killed in what he called an “aggression” of southern forces against a convoy of around 10 vehicles.
“The troops were ambushed without any warning,” he told reporters in the capital Khartoum. The SPLA denied responsibility for the attack, which the United Nations said had taken place on a convoy of northern troops escorted by UN peacekeepers under a deal for both sides to withdraw forces from the disputed territory.
The United States, one of the main backers of Sudan’s landmark 2005 peace deal, deplored the attack and urged both sides to stop all unauthorized military actions in Abyei.
“Political leaders on both sides must take responsibility now to ensure that this situation does not escalate into a wider crisis,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “strongly condemns” Thursday’s attack and was “very concerned over the reports of increased troop movements into Abyei.” Ban wants all unauthorized troops to be withdrawn, Nesirky added.
South Sudan voted to become independent in a referendum in January. It agreed to a peace deal with the north in 2005, but tensions have built up in the oil-producing Abyei border region where both sides have built up forces.

 
Obama names Patterson as envoy to Egypt

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama has named former Pakistan troubleshooter Anne Patterson as the next US ambassador to Egypt, a key ally which Washington hopes will become a model for Arab democracy, the White House said.
Pending Senate confirmation, Patterson will replace Margaret Scobey, who has served in the post for just over three years and was present when a pro-democracy revolution toppled US ally Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February.
Patterson previously served from July 2007 to October 2010 as the US ambassador to Islamabad, which has long had a tense relationship with Washington as a front-line ally in the decade-long war on terrorism.
By naming Patterson, Obama signalled he wanted a tested career diplomat to serve in Cairo where she will deal with the new ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is steering a more independent diplomatic course from Mubarak.
The new Egypt has signalled closer ties with anti-US Iran and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group.
After helping to ease Mubarak out of power, the United States is trying to keep Egypt as a major ally in the war on terrorism and ensure it preserves its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, the cornerstone of US diplomacy in the region.
If confirmed, Patterson will likely confront lingering bitterness among Egyptians that the decades-long US alliance with Mubarak came at the expense of their human rights.
As she headed to Cairo for a visit in March, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States sought a partnership with Egypt in its transition to democracy.
Egypt’s military said on Thursday that the country will hold its first parliamentary election since Mubarak’s overthrow as scheduled in September and then prepare a constitution before a presidential poll.
Clinton has also said that the United States has “an enormous stake in ensuring that Egypt and Tunisia provide models for the kind of democracy that we want to see.”
Setting an example for Egypt, Tunisians toppled their president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, in a pro-democracy revolution in January.
In a bid to shore up Egypt’s fledgling democracy and mitigate the economic side effects of the revolution, Obama promised Thursday to forgive one billion dollars (700 million euros) in Egyptian debt and provide one billion dollars in aid.
Obama also said the United States has asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G-8 summit for “what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.”
Patterson has also served as Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs as well as Deputy Permanent Representative and Acting Permanent Representative at the US Mission to the United Nations.
She was also US ambassador to Colombia and US ambassador to El Salvador.
Like Clinton, Patterson is a graduate of Wellesley College. She joined the Foreign Service in 1973.

 

Vesak 2011 at Los Angeles focussed on youth

By Dr. Stephen Long
Los Angeles, California
Vesak was celebrated at Dharma Vijaya all day on Saturday, May 7. The founder and Abbot, Ven. Walpola Piyananda, realised long ago that the future of Buddhism in America depended on the children, so this event, like all others at his temple, emphasized the participation of young people.
The day began at 7.30 a.m. with members of the Dayaka Sabha observing Sil, the Eight Precepts, and spending the next eight hours in a meditation retreat. Ven. Yogavacara Rahula, an American monk ordained in Sri Lanka in the mid-70s, took time from his world travels to deliver an inspiring Dharma talk and lead participants in meditation sessions.
The programme for lay people began at 4.30 p.m. with temple children competing for prizes in speech and Pali chanting. Awards were also given for essay contest winners who had written their papers the week before. The Sri Lankan Acting Consul General, the Asoka Godawita, presented the awards, certificates and prizes. A costume drama entitled “Tanha” was presented by the children, directed by Sunil Semasinghe, and a youth orchestra and choir performed Bhakti Geetha and popular Sri Lankan melodies for the approving crowd, directed by Ramani Weerasingha.
Dharma Vijaya’s resident monks including Ven. Dr. Udagama Sumangala, Ven. Bambarawane Kalyanawansa, and Ven. Gajanayakagama Kassapa participated in religious services, and worked hard to make the day a success.
Ven. Kalabululande Dhammajothi spent the week before Vesak constructing an elaborate, multi-tiered and lighted moving lantern, which delighted the attendees from Sri Lanka and reminded them of Vesak back home. A giant screen was erected to display a digital torana, provided by Colombo University. The torana, complete with all the normal bells and whistles found on toranas in Lanka, portrayed scenes from the Buddha’s Jataka stories.
Dansala was served by the temple youth at the end of the evening, and the venerable monks, members of the dayaka sabha, their children, and scores of American guests concluded the night in a pervasive mood of happiness.
The grand event commemorated the 2,600th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment, and is one of many to be celebrated throughout temples in Southern California and beyond.

 
Janaki appointed to AgriFin steering committee

Janaki Kuruppu, Chairperson of Regional Development Bank and the Advisor on Food Security at the President’s Office of Sri Lanka has been recently appointed as one of the 8-member global steering committee members of AgriFin.
AgriFin has been set up by the World Bank with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the activities that are expected to substantially increase financing for agriculture, particularly for small holder farmers.
The International steering committee consists of just eight members, two each representing the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and four other members from across the world with developing country experience. The long term goal of AgriFin is to demonstrate that providing financial services to smallholder farmers and other enterprises in rural areas is a profitable business for financial institutions by providing capacity-building grants to regulated financial institutions to generate and facilitate learning on agriculture finance.
She will serve this honorary position on this international steering committee while continuing to serve as Chairperson of the Regional Development Bank which is the largest 100 percent government owned development bank with over 250 branches serving customers residing in rural areas and mostly encaged in agriculture, livestock, fisheries and small and medium enterprises.
She also holds the positions of Advisor on Food Security, to the cabinet sub-committee on Food Security Chaired by the President of Sri Lanka, Chairperson of Mother Sri Lanka Trust and a Director at the Colombo Dockyard Plc.
Ms Kuruppu has had an illustrious career of over 20 years in both the private and public sectors locally and internationally in a variety of industries covering research and consultancy, agri-business, food manufacturing, retailing, banking, academics, media and engineering and held positions such as Director of Commercial Bank PLC, Sathosa, Cargills Ceylon PLC and Managing Director of The Nielsen Company.
She joined the Public Sector in January 2008 in an advisory capacity, to be able to make a direct contribution to nation building and is currently spearheading some special projects which include strategic Interventions into Food Security and Cost of Living Management experimenting new agribusiness models which tests supply chain interventions by governments, private sector links and partnerships, with special focus into efficiency, yield and value addition of locally produced agriculture products to ensure farmer economic stability and long term food security for the country.
She holds a M.A. in Applied Statistics and a B.Sc in Mathematics from the University of Missouri, USA and from the University of Colombo. She is also a recipient of the All American Scholar Award, the US Achievement Academy Award and The Most Outstanding Sri Lankan Award 2010.

A tale of two nations
The author rightly begins the book with a narration of the historic ties between India and Sri Lanka. He takes us through the peaceful political struggles for freedom in both countries; the inter-State visits of political leaders and cordial relations among the political parties of the two States.
There is an appropriate reference in the beginning to ‘Highland Tamils’ or ‘Indian Tamils’ in Sri Lanka who had lived for about a century at the time of the country’s independence and had built the only export industry of the island at the time. But the issue of their citizenship became an irritating factor soon after the independence of the two countries and it was resolved only 50 years after Sri Lanka got independence.
While tracing the recent history of Indo-Sri Lankan relations, the author rightly questions the role of Sri Lanka in Indo-China and Indo-Pakistan conflicts. The discrimination of Tamils in Sri Lanka since 1956 has been dealt with in a single chapter. The issue led to the formation of militant groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). All this has been explained well in another chapter.
The author describes in great detail the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and Sri Lanka’s invitation to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to assist the government. He states that the problem that arose over the effective functioning of the IPKF was due to Sri Lankan PM Ranasinghe Premadasa’s opposition to the Accord.
When Premadasa became the President of Sri Lanka in 1989, the ties between the two nations suffered, as he almost ‘ordered’ India to withdraw its forces. It’s heartening that we were able to resolve the issue, the credit for which goes to then Indian high commissioner to Sri Lanka, Lakhan Mehrotra, who is the author of the book. The book is based on authentic documents and his first-hand experiences.
(Hindustan Times)

CHINESE DELEGATION VISITS AYURVEDIC CENTRES

A five-member delegation from China visited Ayurvedic Centres in Sri Lanka last week accompanied by Pandu Bandaranaike, Deputy Minister of Indigenous Medicine at the Ayurvedic Corporation at Nawinna, Maharagama. The Deputy Secretary General, Bal Hongkui and Director, Zui Jingping of the Chinese Association for International Understanding also took part in the tour (Pic by Ravi Dharmathilaka)

Cultural tourism programme at SL embassy in NY

The embassy of Sri Lanka in the United States opened its doors to more than 1,000 visitors May 14 as part of the Passport DC 2011 cultural tourism programme.
Visitors to the embassy tasted Sri Lankan cuisine and Ceylon tea, tried on saris and sarong and wrote their names in Tamil and Sinhalese. The embassy staff discussed current Sri Lankan developments and history with visitors, who also watched a Sri Lankan travel video. Sri Lanka’s embassy was festooned with lights, banners and flags to welcome its guests.
Passport DC sponsors an annual “Around the World Embassy Tour” that functions as an open house for Washington DC’s foreign embassies. Participants in the popular programme may stroll along the famed Embassy Row and visit dozens of embassies.
Passport DC 2011 is an exploration through Washington, DC’s international culture during the entire month of May. Now in its fourth year, Passport DC invites participants to experience a global journey without leaving the city. Featuring street festivals, open houses, embassy events, special performances, and much more, Passport DC explores the international community that is a vital part of DC culture.

Nihal Sri Ameresekere releases six books in Washington
Nihal Sri Ameresekere has released six books in Washington on May 12, 2011 titled:

1. PILLAGE OF PLANTATIONS IN SRI LANKA - VOLUME I
2. COLOMBO HILTON HOTEL CONSTRUCTION - VOLUME I
3. COLOMBO PORT BUNKERING PRIVATISATION - VOLUME III
4. “DERIVATIVE/HEDGING” DEALS
5. SRI LANKA INSURANCE PRIVATISATION - VOLUME IV, and
6. FISCAL MISMANAGEMENT – LACK OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY.

In this series of books, Nihal Sri meticulously documents and analyses the ways in which corrupt forces in Sri Lanka and abroad plundered the country’s resources through the 1990s and early 2000. He argues persuasively that the policies adopted by the government of Sri Lanka during this period, at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), set the stage for widespread corruption and allowed on unprecedented illicit transfer of public wealth into privileged and private hands.
Five of the Books are now available for purchase globally from Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobel and at special introductory discounted prices from the US Publisher at their websites.

CATTLE SAVED FROM SLAUGHTERHOUSE GIVEN FREE TO RESIDENTS

Over one hundred cattle, saved from the abattoir, were given free to area residents last week by the Galle Animal Lovers’ Welfare Society under the guidance of the Ven. Kunumuldeniya Chandawimala Thero, Chief Incumbent of the Galle Kaluwella International Buddhist Centre. The animals were released paying Rs. 1.2 million and donations came from the public

SL Magazine to enlighten international community

‘SL Magazine’ - a quarterly magazine in English medium to enlighten the international community as well as our reading public on Sri Lankan Icons was launched by the Government Information Department.
The first copy of the ‘SL Magazine’, was presented to the Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa by the Director General of Government Information Prof. Ariyarathne Athugala at the office of the Ministry of Economic Development on Monday.
The Magazine hopes to encourage the English reading public as well as Sri Lankans living abroad to value our traditions, heritages, culture. The magazine will also be a resourceful handbook to provide information on Sri Lanka for prospective investors in the spheres of investment, trade and business.
This magazine will highlight and bring forth facts and figures on Sri Lanka which will enable the international community as well as our reading public to grasp at a glance on truthful facts pertaining to our country.