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UN chief urges global response to Libya

CANBERRA, Sept 3, 2011 (AFP) - United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Saturday urged all nations to help stabilise Libya but said the future of the country should be decided by its own people.
“I continue to urge all countries to come together to help the Libyan people,” he told a press conference in Canberra.
“The future of Libya should be decided by Libyan people.”
Ban, who arrived in Australia after attending an international summit on Libya in Paris, has said he is working to bring a UN mission to the country to deal with a possible humanitarian crisis as soon as possible.
“We are working to make sure that the United Nations can respond quickly to requests by the Libyan authorities,” he said Saturday.
“This includes restoring public security and order and promoting rule of law, promoting inclusive political dialogue... and protecting human rights, particularly for vulnerable groups.”
“We are working closely with the country’s leadership to ensure that confusion and duplication of effort are kept to a minimum,” Ban said from the Australian capital where he met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Ban called on Australia to continue to support efforts to stabilise the country where fallen strongman Moamer Kadhafi has warned of a lengthy and widespread guerrilla war in messages broadcast from his unknown hideout.
“At this critical moment in history there is so much at stake for people in developed and developing countries, and I am here to say to Australia we need your ideas, your experience and your continued commitment,” Ban said.
Libya’s new leaders have pledged to restore order and stage elections in 20 months after their forces defeated Kadhafi.
They have been bolstered by promises made at the Paris conference on Thursday that billions of dollars in cash from assets of the Kadhafi regime would be unfrozen.
Gillard had earlier said that Australia would continue its push for a seat on the UN Security Council, saying “we believe Australia’s voice should be heard there”.

Libya council seeks to restore order in Tripoli

BBC: Libya’s new civilian leaders are beginning the process of restoring order in Tripoli after the revolution.
A military spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC) said fighters would be encouraged to return home or enlist in the army.
NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil has said a panel of wise men and tribal leaders will be set up to aid reconciliation.
Jalil’s announcement came as he returned to Libya from a summit in Paris on the country’s future.
He also said the NTC would move to the capital next week from its long-held base of Benghazi.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the world to do what it could to help Libya in its transition, while on a visit to Australia.
“We are working to make sure that the United Nations can respond quickly to requests by the Libyan authorities,” he said at a news conference in Canberra.
The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen says Libya is enjoying its revolutionary honeymoon, even though ex-leader Col Muammar Gaddafi remains at large and some parts of the country remain under the control of troops loyal to him.
But there are large numbers of armed young rebel soldiers on the streets of Tripoli who have moved into the power vacuum created by Col Gaddafi overthrow, says our correspondent, and the NTC is now gradually persuading them to go home.

NTC military officer Gen Omar Hariri said most of these fighters were engineers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals who would eventually return to their jobs.
“These people abandoned everything to join the struggle against Gaddafi. They will go back to their previous life. Those who are left will be given a choice to join as regular soldiers,” he said.
There is concern also about the large number of weapons now on the streets of the capital and elsewhere, with the EU’s senior representative in Tripoli warning that “everybody is wearing Kalashnikovs”.
Ali Tarhouni, the NTC’s senior member in Tripoli, told the BBC he was not too concerned about the guns at present as they were still needed “to hunt this killer”, Col Gaddafi.

But he continued: “My concern, when you talk about democracy, civil society and peaceful discourse, is that you don’t really want to do that with anti-aircraft guns.”
Thousands of people, most of them women, gathered in central Tripoli on Friday in a show of support for the interim leaders.
Many of the women said they wanted a greater say in Libya’s future under the new leadership.
“We want women to get out because we can’t do that a lot and express our feelings. We want education to change,” said one 15-year-old girl.
Meanwhile, files have been found showing the level of co-operation between the CIA and Col Gaddafi’s intelligence agencies, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The documents, found in a Libyan government building by Human Rights Watch researchers, show the relationship included an agreement to send terror suspects to Libya for interrogation.

The article says the CIA also moved to set up in 2004 “a permanent presence” in the country, according to a note from CIA top operative Stephen Kappes to Libya’s intelligence chief at the time, Moussa Koussa.
At the Paris summit on Thursday, states represented at the summit promised to ensure Libya’s frozen assets were returned and to help the NTC put the country on the road to recovery.

The NTC says it urgently needs cash and other resources to begin the reconstruction of Libya. Mr Jalil said 30% of Libyan assets which had been frozen under UN sanctions during Col Gaddafi’s rule had now been released.
On Friday, Col Gaddafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim told Reuters he had walked around the suburbs of Tripoli on Thursday with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the fugitive former leader’s son.

Mr Ibrahim said the fight was “very, very far from over” and that much of the regime’s army was still in control of many areas.
“We will be able to capture Tripoli back and many other cities in the near future,” he said.
Col Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown, but several audio messages reported to be from him have been broadcast by a loyalist TV channel in recent days in which he vowed to continue the fight.
The rebel fighters have given the Gaddafi-held towns of Sirte, Bani Walid and the southern town of Sabha until 10 September to surrender or face a military assault.

EU steps up Syria sanctions
BBC: The EU has stepped up sanctions on Syria by banning imports of its oil, as protests again broke out against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Oil accounts for about 25% of Syria’s income and EU member states take about 95% of its oil exports.
Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said the sanctions would “go straight to the heart of the regime”.
Meanwhile, at least 14 people were reportedly killed as protesters again came out in force across the country.
Activists said seven had died in suburbs of the capital Damascus, four in the central city of Homs, and another three in Deir al-Zour in the east.
The United Nations says more than 2,200 people have been killed since pro-democracy demonstrations began in mid-March.
The UK Foreign Office said the European Union had agreed at official level to ban imports of Syrian oil into the EU to increase pressure on the Syrian regime over its crackdown against anti-government protest.
A spokesperson said it was hoped the agreement would be signed off by EU foreign ministers meeting in Poland on Friday and Saturday and come into immediate effect.
However, Italy has won a concession allowing it to fulfil existing contracts until 15 November.
The EU also added four more Syrian officials and three Syrian groups to its list of those affected by an EU travel ban and asset freeze.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said: “President Assad is carrying out massacres in his own country.”
In Paris on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Mr Assad’s “brutality against unarmed citizens”, adding: “The violence must stop and he needs to step aside.”
US Gulf Coast braces for ‘Lee’
BBC: The US Gulf Coast braces for torrential rain and flash flooding as upgraded Tropical Storm Lee inches towards land.
Mississippi has declared a state of emergency a day after Louisiana, where emergency crews are on standby in the city of New Orleans.
Lee is packing winds of 40mph (65km/h) and is expected to strengthen before it hits Louisiana this weekend, dumping 15-20in (38-50cm) of rain.
Meanwhile, Katia has regained hurricane status with winds of 75mph.
A category one hurricane, Katia is expected to pass the Caribbean, but it is not clear if it will reach the US.
The Atlantic hurricane season usually brings about a dozen named storms, but Katia is already the 11th with half the season still ahead.
Oil production halves
The US is still recovering from Hurricane Irene, which hit the east coast last weekend, killing more than 40 people. Nearly 900,000 homes and businesses still have no electricity.
By Friday evening Lee - upgraded from a tropical depression earlier in the day - was drifting slowly northward, 180 miles west-southwest of the Mississippi river’s mouth, said the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is moving at a slow 3mph (6kph).
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned of possible major flooding, with up to 10in of rain forecast for the city.
He said the city, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had emergency crews on standby.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the flood control structures in New Orleans, says it is not planning to close any of the structures yet.
Man arrested for biting pet python

BBC: A man in the Californian city of Sacramento has been accused of biting a pet snake, leaving the python seriously hurt, police say.
Police were called to the northern part of the city on Thursday evening expecting to respond to an assault.
While officers were speaking to David Senk, 54, found lying at the scene, a witness accused him of taking two bites out of the snake.
The python is recovering after being given emergency surgery.
It was turned over to the city’s Animal Care Services after losing a few ribs.
“She’s doing well,” Gina Knepp, acting animal care services manager, told the Sacramento Bee. “We did surgery on her last night and I think we saved her life.”
Mr Senk was arrested on suspicion of unlawfully maiming or mutilating a reptile.
While in jail, Mr Senk told local media that he had no memory of the incident and that he had a drinking problem.
“I did what?” Mr Senk said. “If you find the owner, tell him I’m real sorry. ... I’m willing to help pay for medical expenses.”
No owner has come forward to claim the python from Sacramento’s Animal Care Services.
Ms Knepp said before the surgery that the bites on the three-foot snake were large enough to expose the animal’s liver.

Malaysia seizes 1,000 elephant tusks: Reports

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia has seized more than 1,000 African elephant tusks in two separate shipments in the past two months, reports said Saturday.
In the first incident, customs and wildlife officials seized 405 tusks in a container at the southern port of Pasir Gudang on July 8. The ship carrying the cargo was from an undisclosed African port that had been through Singapore.
A month later enforcement officials found 664 tusks in a container from the United Arab Emirates in the northern port of Butterworth.
The smugglers declared the ivory as plywood and plastics respectively in a bit to escape detection, the New Straits Times newspaper said.
Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC has described Malaysia as a major wildlife transit hub after Hong Kong authorities seized nearly two tonnes of elephant ivory worth about $1.7 million in a shipment from Malaysia last month.
The wildlife watchdog says that the illegal ivory trade has been rising globally since 2004 largely due to increasing demand in China, where ivory is often ground up and used in traditional medicine.

Over Gaza flotilla row

Turkey expels Israeli ambassador

BBC: Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu: “Security can only be achieved through genuine peace”
Turkey has expelled Israel’s ambassador and suspended all military agreements over its refusal to apologise for last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
This came as the UN published a report saying that Israeli commandos used excessive force when they boarded an aid ship. Nine Turkish activists died.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was “time Israel pays a price for its illegal actions”.

Israel has refused to apologise and said its troops acted in self-defence.
“Israel, like any other country, has a legitimate right to protect its citizens and soldiers,” an Israeli government official told the BBC.
The report was leaked to the New York Times on Thursday, the day before it was delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office.
“The secretary general’s idea was to help bring these two countries back together again. He deeply regrets the fact that this has not been possible through this report,” said deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
“I imagine he will want time to read the report, to discuss it with his officials and then take a decision as to future steps.”

US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington hoped Turkey and Israel “will continue to look for opportunities to improve their longstanding relationship, and we will encourage both to work towards that end”, according to the AFP news agency.
The nine pro-Palestinian activists who died were on board the Turkish-flagged ship, Mavi Marmara, when it was intercepted by the Israeli navy in international waters as sailed towards Gaza’s coast on 31 May 2010.
The Palmer report was seen by the media in Israel as a rare vindication by the UN.

Crucially it accepted that its naval blockade of Gaza is both legal and “a legitimate security measure” to stop weapons reaching militants by sea.
An Israeli inquiry reached the same conclusion, while a Turkish one found it to be unlawful and a collective punishment of the people of Gaza.
The dilemma that remains for Israeli officials is how to handle the deepening of the rift with their long-time regional ally, Turkey, with which it has trade, military and strategic ties.

This report was meant to mend relations but has achieved just the opposite.
Turkey wants an apology and compensation for the families of the victims. Israel has expressed only regret but may consider payouts. It believes a full apology would demoralise its citizens and project weakness.
At the time, the Israeli military said its commandos fired live rounds only after being attacked with clubs, knives and guns. But activists on board said the commandos started shooting as soon as they hit the deck.
The UN inquiry chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer found the Israeli troops faced “significant, organised and violent resistance from a group of passengers” and were therefore required to use force for their own protection.


Snooping row over Bettencourt case flares up in France

BBC: France’s government has confirmed the country’s secret service obtained phone records of a journalist investigating alleged illegal political donations.
But Interior Minister Claude Gueant denied the counter-intelligence operation amounted to eavesdropping on the reporter for Le Monde newspaper.
Le Monde, a respected centre-left daily, said a journalist’s right to protect sources was at stake.
The alleged donations were denied by President Nicolas Sarkozy last year.
It is alleged that his 2007 election campaign received at least 150,000 euros (£132,000; $215,000) from the richest woman in France, 88-year-old Liliane Bettencourt.
Private donors in France may, by law, only give a maximum of 7,500 euros a year to a political party.
The allegations surfaced during lawsuits over the estimated 17bn-euro fortune of Mrs Bettencourt, whose father founded the cosmetics giant L’Oreal.
The latest row comes less than a year before the next presidential election, when Sarkozy is widely expected to stand again.
Sarkozy’s office said last year it had “never given a single instruction” to investigate Le Monde’s sources.
But Gueant confirmed on Thursday that France’s counter-intelligence service (DCRI) had obtained the phone records of Le Monde investigative journalist Gerard Davet.
It gathered them in July of last year in order to identify a source in the justice ministry being used by the journalist, he said.
“The gathering of telephone communications is quite different from eavesdropping,” the minister added.
The paper itself filed a lawsuit in September accusing Sarkozy’s office of spying on its journalist. A formal investigation was opened in May.
The campaigning group Reporters Without Borders has spoken of its concern that French legislation to protect the secrecy of journalistic sources is being “deliberately trampled on by the French intelligence services, not for national security reasons but to protect top government officials from embarrassing revelations”.
Sarkozy denied allegations of illegal campaign donations last year
This week saw the launch of a book co-written by Davet called Sarkozy Has Killed Me.
It alleges, apparently for the first time, that Sarkozy personally received campaign donations in cash from Mrs Bettencourt’s fortune.
The allegation was based on the words of an investigating judge, Isabelle Prevost-Desprez, who quoted Mrs Bettencourt’s former nurse, speaking off the record to the judge’s stenographer at an interrogation last year.
However, in an interview published by French magazine Marianne on Wednesday, the nurse denied talking about Mr Sarkozy.
At the same time, she said she had received death threats over her testimony in the legal battles involving Mrs Bettencourt.
Reuters news agency reports that Mrs Bettencourt has not spoken of giving money to Sarkozy and has said she has no memory of giving money to the former treasurer of his UMP party, Eric Woerth.
Speaking to the same news agency, a spokesman for Sarkozy’s office described the allegations in the new book as “scandalous, unfounded and untruthful”.
Last year, President Sarkozy went on TV to condemn the allegations of illegal donations as lies and calumny, aimed at destabilising his government.

Fears grow for Asia’s endangered anteaters
BANGKOK (AFP) - Tiger poaching gets the press but wildlife groups in Asia are increasingly fearful for the future of a smaller, scalier and “less sexy” creature: the pangolin.
So prized are the meat and supposed medicinal properties of this reclusive anteater that it is now thought to be the most heavily trafficked mammal in the region, rapidly being driven towards extinction.
“The volumes we are seeing in seizures are mind-boggling. No species can survive this level of extraction for long,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy from the wildlife trade watchdog Traffic.
“Unfortunately, this scaly animal does not invoke as much attention from the public, and by extension from the authorities, as pangolins are considered to be less sexy than their larger mammalian counterparts,” she added.
Tigers are also killed for their body parts, mostly for use in traditional Asian medicines, and major international campaigns have been launched to save them from extinction.
Trading in pangolins is banned under international law, yet Traffic’s Asian surveys show they are frequently poached from the wild, mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, exacerbating the threat from rapid deforestation.
They are transported through Southeast Asia, mostly ending up in China and Vietnam, where pangolin flesh is a delicacy and its scales -- it is the only mammal known to have them -- are ground into a powder for medicinal purposes.
Historically, this ingredient was used in Chinese medicine to try to cure a range of ills, from children’s hysterical crying to eyelashes curling inwards, according to researcher and pangolin expert Dan Challender.
Today, reports suggest the scales are used in an attempt to reduce swellings, cure asthma and even in some cases cancer, but a lack of solid analysis means “all uses seem unfounded to date”, he said.
Challender, at Britain’s University of Kent, added that the supposed health benefits of eating the meat include nourishing the kidneys, but these are also probably unfounded.
“Unless efforts are taken to address both the demand for, and supply of pangolins, they will go extinct in Asia in the short term future,” he told AFP.
Of four species found in Asia, two are “endangered” and two “near threatened”, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which says it is unknown how many of the secretive, nocturnal animals are left.
Two of four species found in Africa are also “near threatened”, and all have decreasing populations, while Challender said seizures of scales bound for Asia from Africa suggested a developing trade.
Likened in appearance to a globe artichoke, the pangolin curls up hedgehog-like into a ball when under threat, making them easy for humans to catch.
Steve Galster, director of the anti-trafficking Freeland foundation, said the shy creatures were the “unknown problem” of Asia’s illegal wildlife trade, sometimes fetching more than 1,000 US dollars each on the black market.
“The price of pangolins is just going through the roof,” he told AFP. “We’re surprised there are any left.”
Already this year, seizures have been reported along trading routes in Thailand, Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia -- but these are probably just the tip of the iceberg, according to Traffic.
In one of the biggest hauls, the group said customs officials at a Jakarta port found 7.5 tonnes of pangolin meat in May, stashed in crates and covered up with frozen fish, bound for Vietnam.
“The most outrageous thing here is they even exterminate the young pangolins, the ones that when curled up are about 20 centimetres long,” port customs chief Rahmat Subagio was quoted as saying after the find.
Late last year, seized logbooks showed one trafficking gang alone had killed and traded 22,200 pangolins over 14 months in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo, Traffic said.
Often, however, pangolins are transported alive to maintain freshness and smugglers are known to inject them with water to increase their weight -- although many die along the way without food or drinking water, activists say.
Bundled into tightly-bound sacks, the poor-sighted pangolin finds its long sharp claws, normally used to dig out dinner from anthills, can become a danger: it is common for them to blind each other as they try to escape.
Experts warn their removal from the wild also threatens to destabilise the ecosystem of tropical forests, where the pangolin’s diet of ants and termites is a key form of pest control.
Asian authorities are often unwilling to go after people of influence -- “the big mafias, the big well-connected traffickers”, said Galster.
He said laws against wildlife crime are weakened by loopholes and judges who don’t take the issue seriously, despite the perpetrators often making millions of dollars by exploiting endangered species.
“We’ve seen too many traffickers get a slap on the wrist, if anything,” he said.
Medvedev says no progress in Pakistan, Afghanistan eco deals
 DUSHANBE (AFP) - Russia on Friday lamented a lack of progress in joint energy projects with Pakistan and Afghanistan that could help bring stability to the volatile region as President Dmitry Medvedev met his counterparts for a security summit.
Meeting his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai for a four-way summit that also included Tajikistan, Medvedev said Russia was ready to invest “millions of dollars” in the joint energy projects.
“There’s a whole range of projects that have been on the table for a long time which have seen no movement forward and which should be implemented,” Medvedev said in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.
“It is time to move from words to deeds,” he said, referring to a project codenamed CASA-1000, whose aim will be sending power from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a transnational gas pipeline.
The four-way summit in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation of Tajikistan comes after Medvedev hosted Zardari, Karzai and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon for a rare summit in his Sochi residence in August 2010.
During that gathering the four leaders agreed to pursue joint economic projects to help bring stability to the volatile region.
Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan all have a troubled history of relations but Moscow is keen to demonstrate it is playing a constructive role in improving security in a region where historically it has had a major influence.
The Kremlin is seeking to expand its footprint in the region as relations between Islamabad and Washington have nosedived since Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in May in a clandestine raid in Pakistan.
Days after bin Laden’s killing Zardari visited Moscow, the first official visit by a Pakistani leader since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Speaking in Dushanbe, Medvedev said Russia was ready to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” into the CASA-1000 project that could send 1,000 megawatts of electricity annually from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“But for it to happen, necessary organisational decisions should be taken first, we have to be invited,” Medvedev told reporters after the talks.
He also confirmed Russia’s interest in a key transnational gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.
The 1,700-kilometre (1,050-mile) Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline has been on hold for many years due to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and economic reasons
The gas price has also been a contentious issue.
“The question is at what price Turkmenistan would be selling gas to the project’s participants?” Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told reporters in Dushanbe.
The TAPI pipeline aims to transport over 30 billion cubic metres of gas annually from the Dauletabad gas fields in Turkmenistan and could become a cash cow for Afghanistan in transit fees.
The four leaders also adopted a joint declaration stressing the importance of linking their countries through modern highways and railroads to improve joint cooperation.
“The immediate focus has to be on increasing connectivity,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters.
“When this comes, investment comes after that.” She stressed Islamabad was keen to strengthen its Soviet-era ties with Moscow.
“There has been historical investment in Pakistan which is still known as Russian investment and we want to give further boost to that,” she said.
The four countries also urged the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan to step up the training of local security forces as it completes its planned staged withdrawal.
US ‘to sue a dozen banks over housing bubble mortgages’
BBC: The US is planning to sue more than a dozen major banks for misrepresenting the quality of mortgages they sold during the housing bubble, the New York Times reports.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency will argue that the banks should have known the securities were not sound.
Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs are to face action, the newspaper quotes sources as saying.
The suits could be filed as early as Friday, it adds.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency - which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - blames the banks for failing to perform adequate checks on the quality of mortgage securities they sold on to investors before the financial crisis in 2008.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lost more than $30bn (£18.5bn), partly because of the deals, and had to be bailed out by the government.
The suits follow subpoenas the finance agency issued to banks last year, according to the newspaper.
The BBC’s Marcus George in Washington says this is the latest of a number of lawsuits against financial institutions who were involved in the practice of issuing mortgage-backed securities.
However, some executives say the losses were made because of the wider economic downturn.
Others fear further litigation against banks could damage America’s fragile recovery, our correspondent adds.
Bollywood’s ‘Bodyguard’ breaks box office records
 MUMBAI (AFP) - The new Bollywood thriller “Bodyguard” has broken Indian box office records in its first two days, industry analysts said on Friday, predicting that it will also surpass opening weekend benchmarks.
The film sees Khan play a bodyguard to Kareena Kapoor and is a remake of the 2010 Malayalam-language movie of the same name.
“Salman Khan’s ‘Bodyguard’ has smashed all previous records and has emerged the biggest opener ever in the history of Hindi cinema,” wrote Taran Adarsh on the bollywoodhungama.com website.
The film took 215 million rupees ($4.68 million) on Wednesday and 183 million rupees on Thursday, taking the two-day total to 398 million rupees, he said, using figures from studio Reliance Entertainment.
Both days were public holidays in India.
“The business is expected to zoom upwards from Friday onwards, when the weekend begins,” he wrote.
Adarsh said the film was also on course to break the record for opening weekend takings.
According to the boxofficeindia.com site, which tracks cinema takings, Khan’s award-winning corrupt cop movie from last year, “Dabangg” (Fearless), holds the record for first day takings in India with 193.4 million rupees gross.
“Dabangg” also holds the record for first weekend takings with 653.4 million rupees and for the first week at 1.08 billion rupees.
Aamir Khan’s 2009 film “Three Idiots” holds the record for all-time takings with 2.69 billion rupees.
India’s West Bengal becomes ‘Paschim Banga’
 KOLKATA, India (AFP) - The Indian state of West Bengal will now be known as “Paschim Banga” after state lawmakers voted unanimously in favour of the name change on Friday, despite some high-profile opposition.
The state becomes the latest in a long list of Indian places to have their anglicised titles dropped and replaced by a name drawn from the local or regional language.
“Paschim Banga” is a literal Bengali-language translation of West Bengal. Other prominent name changes in recent years include Bombay (now Mumbai), Madras (Chennai) and the West Bengal state capital Calcutta (Kolkata).
Banga is pronounced “Bongo” in the Bengali language.
While local nationalist sentiment has often been the driving force behind these changes, in the case of West Bengal there were also more pragmatic considerations at work.
As state parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee explained, the state was tired of its position at the bottom of the official alphabetical lists of India’s 29 states.
“In meetings where all states make representations, West Bengal comes last (and) those listening are often exhausted when our turn comes,” the politician said.
“We wanted a change in the name of the state to get administrative advantage.”
Some critics in Kolkata, including Bengali film director Buddhadeb Dasgupta, say that argument defies any logic.
“Look at strong countries like the United Kingdom or the United States of America,” Dasgupta said.
“The names of these countries start with a ‘U’ and so the rationale based on the alphabetical upgrade doesn’t have any relevance in today’s world.”
A top regional industrialist joined the chorus of show business personalities opposed to the name change. “The world ‘Paschim’ is not necessary because it has no relevance these days -- I would have been more comfortable with Banga,” Harsha Neotia, chairman of Ambuja Realty Group, said.
A search for a unique identity for the state began three years after a bloody war between India and Pakistan in 1971 led to the creation of Bangladesh from Pakistan’s eastern rump, then popularly known as East Bengal.