10 May 2006
New York, May 10 The UN General Assembly, inaugurating a new human rights panel to correct faults in the old one, elected the 47 member countries, including Cuba, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.
Six slots for Eastern Europe took the longest to fill, requiring three ballots before Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Romania joined Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic, which won seats in the first round of voting.
Candidate countries needed a majority of 96 votes from the 191-nation assembly to get elected to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. A total of 65 countries vied for seats, which are divided among the world's regions.
The new body elected Tuesday replaces the Human Rights Commission, widely seen as discredited because countries accused of abuses regularly held seats on it. It was disbanded this year, and the new council is to start meeting in mid-June.
Electing Members of Newly-established Human Rights Council on 9 May 2006
The US voted against setting up the council when the General Assembly approved it in March, saying it risked being too much like its predecessor - a point US Ambassador John Bolton raised after Cuba won a seat.
"It signals that the tendency of the previous commission may very well now be carried over, as we sadly predicted when we opposed the resolution" that created the council, Bolton said.
He predicted that the US, which did not run for the council, would have more influence as an outsider.
Ahead of the vote, the human rights group UN Watch warned that some of the most "egregious and systematic human rights violators" would likely be elected to the council.
It published a list of 28 countries it described as abusers of human rights unfit to sit on the council. The General Assembly voted for 17 of the countries on the list, including Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China, Indonesia and Pakistan.
Putting those countries on the council, UN Watch said, would be an "ominous sign" that the new council is "nothing more than the same old commission by another name".
The General Assembly decided the terms for the 47 elected members, ranging from one to three years.
African States: Algeria (1 year), Cameroon (3 years), Djibouti (3 years), Gabon (2 years),
Ghana (2 years), Mali (2 years), Mauritius (3 years), Morocco (1 year), Nigeria (3 years),
Senegal (3 years), South Africa (1 year), Tunisia (1 year) and Zambia (2 years)
Asian States: Bahrain (1 year), Bangladesh (3 years), China (3 years), India (1 year),
Indonesia (1 year), Japan (2 years), Jordan (3 years), Malaysia (3 years), Pakistan (2 years), Philippines (1 year), Republic of Korea (2 years), Saudi Arabia (3 years) and Sri Lanka (2 years)
Eastern European States: Azerbaijan (3 years), Czech Republic (1 year),
Poland (1 year), Romania (2 years), Russian Federation (3 years) and Ukraine (2 years)
Latin American & Caribbean States: Argentina (1 year), Brazil (2 years) , Cuba (3 years), Ecuador (1 year), Guatemala (2 years), Mexico (3 years), Peru (2 years) and Uruguay (3 years)
Western European & Other States: Canada (3 years), Finland (1 year), France (2 years), Germany (3 years), Netherlands (1 year), Switzerland (3 years) and United Kingdom (2 years)
The US decided not to run this year. One reason given by Washington was that a US candidacy would have to compete with the nine Western European states for the seven seats.
The Assembly adopted the new council under rules that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called disappointing. Annan led the push to require a two-thirds majority vote, or 126 votes, for admission, but the Assembly lowered the bar to 96 votes.
But the performance of new panel members on the council will be subjected to peer review, and if they fail to uphold high human rights standards, they can be ejected by a two-thirds majority vote by assembly members present at the meeting.
Bhopal, May 10 (IANS) Ever heard of an entire population vacating their village to ward off evils? Sounds strange but it's true. Nearly 5,000 residents of a village in Madhya Pradesh will move out of their homes Thursday, bag and baggage, for their prosperity.
The villagers of Kajlaas in Sehore district will, however, return to their homes after 10 hours as part of a tantrik ritual to ward off evil spirits.
The entire area will be a mute witness to the three-day ritual during which village deity Thuni Mata - a form of Mahalaxmi (goddess of wealth) - will be installed for the return of health and wealth to the villagers.
"There has been a steady decline in the fortunes of the villagers for the past two decades. The village had been hit by water shortage, affecting crops, peace and prosperity. We consulted elders and priests who told us about the ritual that is being observed since Tuesday", said village headman Kishore Patidar.
The rituals are being carried out under the supervision of tantriks who have come from far off places to the village located 115 km from the state capital.
The village has a mixed population of Meher Balais, Muslims, Mahajans and Brahmins.
"On Thursday morning, the villagers will have to break all their earthen vessels, abandon old mats and leave their homes with their cattle and other domesticated animals before 4 a.m. through a passage provided out of a cotton yarn perimeter made by them," Patidar said.
The tantriks would then perform various rituals and the villagers will have to repaint their houses after their return at 2 p.m.
After rights win, India eyes Security Council seat
New Delhi, May 10 India's ability to secure the highest number of votes among all countries - 173 out of 191 - in elections to the first UN Human Rights Council has boosted its bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
"India scored a major success at the UN when it was elected to the UN Human Rights Council securing the highest number of votes," external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna told reporters here Wednesday.
"This is recognition of India's diplomatic standing and its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights," stressed Sarna, capturing the mood of enthusiasm in South Block following the huge win.
"It is also a recognition of the success that India has had with its diplomatic demarches made in New York through the UN and Indian missions all over the world," he added.
India will serve on the newly established council, which replaces the dysfunctional Human Rights Commission, for one year and will play a leading role in devising its rules of procedure. It will work with 47 other countries that were also elected, at the council's first meeting due in Geneva June 19.
Besides an acknowledgment of New Delhi's credible record in human rights, the overwhelming victory also brings to the fore substantial support for India's UN Security Council ambitions, a top official told IANS.
Indeed, the initiative of G4 (Japan, Brazil, Germany and India) for permanent seats on the UN body has got a big boost, the official said.
All other G4 member countries - Brazil (165 votes), Japan (158 votes) and Germany (154 votes) - have done exceedingly well at the elections to the council held Tuesday.
India played a leading role in creating the HRC and was instrumental in persuading members to settle for a compromise between the US demand for a small council with just 35 members and those seeking a large body having at least a third of the General Assembly as its members.
The victory also highlights India's stock with the non-aligned countries, which voted in large numbers for New Delhi.
"This is a reflection of non-aligned solidarity. India's solidarity with the G77 group comprising developing nations is intact," said the official who did not wish to be named.
Most importantly, New Delhi's showing at the council elections reaffirmed and reinforced India's "composite approach to human rights" that includes social, economic and cultural rights.
"It's a broad based approach that does not believe in finger pointing but in a participatory, collaborative non-fractious approach. We believe in working in a non-discriminatory manner and carrying everybody along," the official added.
The term of 47 member countries was decided by draw of lots. Britain, Japan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will serve in the council for two-year terms.
There are other countries such as China, Russia, Germany and Saudi Arabia that will serve for three years.
The new council seeks to repair the faults of its predecessor Human Rights Commission, which was widely criticized for giving space to known human rights abusers like Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Candidates for the new council were required to pledge to uphold human rights standards, and the newly elected members will undergo a periodic review of their performance in upholding freedom.
Dhaka, May 10 (IANS) Bangladesh and seven other Muslim nations, which are part of a group called the Developing-8 (D-8), will cut import tariffs on 531 items each and remove non-tariff and para-tariff barriers.
A trade agreement is to be signed during the group's fifth summit in Bali, Indonesia, which begins Thursday, according to the Bangladesh Observer.
A draft was finalised at the sixth meeting of the High Level Trade Officials (HLTO) in Bali May 3-4, preparing the ground for the commerce ministers to sign the preferential trade agreement (PTA), officials said in Dhaka.
A multilateral agreement on administrative assistance in custom procedure will also be signed at the D-8 summit.
The member states will reduce import tariffs of eight percent products out of total tariff lines of 6,637 items. The tariff cuts will be applicable for products having more than 10 percent tariff rates, said a senior official Tuesday.
Set up on June 15, 1997 in Istanbul, Turkey, the D-8 is a mechanism for development cooperation among the eight member countries -- Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Morshed Khan said his country would remove the non tariff barriers (NTBs) and para tariff barriers (PTBs) within three years of signing the PTA while other members are scheduled to implement them immediately after signing the agreement.
PTBs stand for imposing taxes on imports, which are not applicable for the domestic production. Bangladesh has PTBs, namely supplementary duty that varies product to product and infrastructure development surcharge at a rate of four percent. An official said the removal of PTBs from the items would not affect revenue earning substantially.
The PTA would be more or less similar in framework with that of trade preference system (PTS) of the 56-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) A delegation of the Pakistan People's Party-Parliamentarians (PPPP) led by Amin Fahim met Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh here Wednesday.
"The purpose of our visit to India is to create a congenial atmosphere between Pakistan and India and improve links between the two countries," Fahim said.
He said that the meeting with Advani and Singh was held in a cordial atmosphere.
The BJP leaders stressed the need for an early solution of all disputes between Indian and Pakistan, including the Kashmir issue, Fahim said.
The delegation includes the party secretary-general Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, minority wing member Ramesh Lal, Senator Anwar Baig, (Pakistani) Punjab unit president Qasim Zia and Nisar Khoro, the party's parliamentary leader in the Sindh assembly.
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) The Delhi High Court Wednesday restrained all public schools in the capital from calling children and their parents for interviews for admission to nursery and primary classes.
A division bench comprising judges Vijender Jain and S.N. Aggarwal in their brief order said: "No public school shall call children and their parents for interview for admission to nursery and primary classes without prior permission from the court."
The bench passed the direction when counsel for the petitioner, Social Jurist, said public schools were still continuing with interviews despite a categorical direction by the court that they were not allowed for admissions to nursery and primary classes.
The bench also observed that the procedure of interviewing small children for admission to these classes was arbitrary.
The court had in several orders earlier directed public schools to chalk out alternative methods for admission to these classes. But the schools have failed to suggest any other method other than interviews.
The matter will now come up for further hearing in July.
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Agra, May 10 (IANS) Major repairs are being carried out at the world heritage site of Fatehpur Sikri, the 16th century fort built by Mughal emperor Akbar near the city of the Taj.
The mausoleum of Akbar's spiritual guru Sheikh Salim Chisti is getting a face-lift for the first time. The ceiling, which had developed cracks and was in danger of collapsing, is being replaced with new stones. The supervisor at the site said the Archaeological Survey of India had initiated work on the site six months ago.
"It will take another six months for all the ageing stones to be replaced, as the work is tricky." Entry inside the tomb has been restricted for the moment.
Chisti's tomb is a major attraction round the year for people from across the globe who believe that wishes are fulfilled if one visits the shrine with a pure heart. Presenting chadars (spreads - made also of flowers) and tying kalavas (threads for wish fulfilment) at the shrine are popular with tourists.
Stones being used to chisel and carve out structures are from Dholpur in Rajasthan as the local Fatehpur Sikri stone is not considered of good quality, said masons engaged in repair work.
Murari, a mason, said there was no dearth of good craftsmen and given an opportunity people like him could re-create another Taj Mahal. "The Agra Fort has recently been renovated and repaired by people like us," he added.
Meanwhile, concern over illegal mining in the area has been expressed by several environmental groups. The Supreme Court two years ago had completely banned mining in the area as dynamite blasts posed serious threats to the fragile monuments. However, the mining activity continues clandestinely in the cover of night.
Braj Rakshak Dal, an eco-group crusading for environmental conservation in the Braj area of the state, has now moved the Rajasthan High Court on the matter. The court has directed the Vasundhara Raje government of Rajasthan to stop mining in the Aravali ranges. Bharatpur and Dholpur districts neighbouring Fatehpur Sikri are the major focus of mining activity.
[photo by Marc Shandro]
Washington, May 10 (IANS) The first region-wide test of the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific, called Exercise Pacific Wave '06, will be carried out May 16 and 17.
The exercise, sponsored by UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), is intended to increase preparedness, evaluate response capabilities in each of the 28 countries and improve coordination throughout the region.
The IOC established the warning system more than 40 years ago to monitor seismological and tidal stations throughout the Pacific Basin, evaluate potentially tsunami-generating earthquakes and disseminate tsunami warning information.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, is the operational centre of the IOC Tsunami Warning System.
"To be effective, warning systems must maintain a high level of readiness," said UNESCO/IOC Executive Secretary Patricio Bernal.
"This means emergency agencies should regularly practise their response procedures," he added, "to ensure that vital communications links work seamlessly and that agencies and response personnel know the roles that they will need to play during an actual event."
Coordinating the exercise is a task team chaired by Australia that includes representatives from NOAA's PTWC and West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, the IOC Northwest Pacific Tsunami Advisory Center and the International Tsunami Information Center.
Country representatives from Australia, Chile, France, Fiji, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Russia, Samoa and the US are also on the task team.
The simulation will be carried out in two stages, beginning with a mock tsunami bulletin from the NOAA PTWC May 16.
The bulletin will be transmitted to designated contact points and national emergency authorities responsible for tsunami response in each country.
In the second stage, conducted that day or on the following day, government officials will disseminate the message in each country to local emergency management and response authorities, simulating what would happen in a real situation.
Notifying authorities of at least one coastal community is set as a sufficient measure for testing the end-to-end process of an entire country for the first exercise.
By Baldev S. Chauhan
Shimla, May 10 (IANS) Organic farming is the only way for the apple farmers of Himachal Pradesh to make an impact in the global market as their output has been dropping due to the use of chemical fertiliser.
So says a team of Swiss and Indian experts who have just ended their field trip to the hill state to raise awareness about the need for adopting organic farming.
Apple is the main cash crop of Himachal Pradesh and, along with neighbouring Jammu and Kashmir and Uttaranchal, the state accounts for almost the entire apple production of the country.
But the Indian apple is not able to compete with the best in the international market as its quality is far behind the fruit grown by organic methods particularly in countries like Switzerland.
"The heavy use of chemical fertiliser and pesticide by Himachal apple farmers has degraded the soil of the orchards and damaged the ecosystem. Because of that the inputs have been going up, but the output has been dropping steadily for farmers," said Samuel B. Moser, a Swiss expert.
"The pattern is the same in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttaranchal as well," Moser added.
"During our weeklong awareness campaign we surprisingly found 80 farmers already practising organic farming on the orchards with good results. But this is only a microscopic minority," said Tej Pratap Singh, executive director of the International Competency Centre for Organic Farming in Bangalore.
"Actually the advantage of adopting organic farming is twofold as it reduces cost and raises production," Singh said.
"Even though the state government has done little to promote and manufacture organic fertiliser, farmers can take the initiative and produce organic manure on their farms," said Singh.
The experts said the Indian apple must be produced organically instead of chemically on a large scale in order to compete in the international market.
This would not only fetch higher returns but help in greatly restoring the eco-system damaged due to the use of harmful chemical fertiliser and pesticide.
"China, the world's largest producer of apples, has already started producing the fruit with the help of organic farming in a big way as it is more in demand in the international market. So must India," said Singh.
[photo by Johann Rela]
New York, May 10 (IANS) India is on track to surpass the US and Russia in mobile phone user base, thanks to the accelerating growth of the wireless communications network in the country, says a study by a leading research firm.
"Adding five million subscribers per month, India will become the world's second largest mobile phone market by 2008," says the study - "India's Wireless Market: Model for the Next Phase of Global Wireless Expansion".
The report, authored by wireless expert Chetan Sharma and conducted for Datacomm Research Company, says India's wireless boom is largely the result of government decisions on competition.
Its regulatory mechanism can serve as a model for both developing and rich nations.
"India passed Japan in total subscribers last month. In the next few weeks, it will break through the 100 million subscriber barrier," Sharma says in the 86-page report released by the St. Louis, Missouri-based research firm.
"The number of mobile phone subscribers added each month in India has more than tripled over the past year," Sharma adds.
Another conclusion of the study is that India will spend several billion dollars on wireless infrastructure to accommodate the subscriber growth, improve rural coverage and add advanced services.
"India's consumers require low-cost handsets. Handsets are now available for as little as $40. But Indian consumers will spend a little more for enhancements such as the ability to download and play music and games," it says.
The study says that as a result of low per-minute charges of under $0.03, most Indian users pay less than $10 per month for voice service, while wireless data yields higher margins with incentives for affordable text, music and video services.
Kashmir scandal: lawyers protest, court calls police chief
Indo-Asian News Service
Srinagar, May 10 (IANS) The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Wednesday ordered personal appearances of state chief secretary and director general of police May 12 while looking into a sex scandal even as lawyers protested against their petition coming up before a particular judge.
Passing the order, Justice Hakim Imtiyaz Hussain asked state chief secretary Vijay Bakaya and director general of police Gopal Sharma to be personally present in the court with all communications that the state government had exchanged with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) regarding the alleged racket.
Members of the Kashmir Bar Association Wednesday went on a lightning strike, demanding an immediate hearing of their petition filed in the high court regarding a probe into the scandal.
Speaking to IANS here, Mian Qayoom, president of the association, said the petition should have been listed before a division bench of the court, but was instead listed for hearing before a single judge.
"We have asked for the constitution of a special probe by the high court into the racket with progress monitored regularly," Qayoom said.
So far five people, including a woman - Sabina - alleged to be the mastermind behind the prostitution racket, have been arrested.
The scandal is also said to involve several top politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats.
By F. Ahmed
Srinagar, May 10 John Brass, a Dutch floriculturist, has come here all the way from the famed tulip fields of his country to plant lily bulblets in Jammu and Kashmir.
Through an ambitious Rs.3 million pilot project, envisaged by the state government and a leading cut flower company of Holland, more than half a million lily bulblets have been imported for planting in the Kashmir soil which experts believe is ideal for growing bulbs and cut flowers.
The authorities and local flower growers are optimistic the experiment - initially only meant to grow the bulblets into bulbs - will make Kashmir the lily capital of India.
"These bulblets have been shipped in air-conditioned containers from Holland to India and then brought to Kashmir in special refrigerated vans. All the planting machinery and technology has also been imported from my country to make the experiment a grand success," said Brass.
"If your place succeeds in producing lily bulbs of the right quality, as I am confident it would, then sky is the limit for the local flower industry."
The planting process is on at the Nuner Floriculture Farm, 25 km from summer capital Srinagar. Asiatic and oriental lilies come in 200 varieties and in a riot of colours, and it is the oriental species that are being planted here.
As hundreds of Kashmiris Tuesday watched the Dutch flower grower sow bulbs in the specially prepared soil at the farm, there was the dream of a million cut flowers in their eyes.
The bubbling optimism of the Dutch expert seemed to have provided wings to those dreams.
Naeem Akhtar, the secretary for agriculture who has played an important role in envisaging the project, said: "Kashmir's potential as a major producer of cut flowers and bulbs is acknowledged by experts, but it has never been actually explored and exploited.
"With this beginning we could have turned the tide in this field."
The idea is to grow the imported lily bulblets to a commercial size, in which case the value addition would be 100 percent. The flowers have a huge market in Europe.
"We are sowing them now and they would be ready for transplantation in October this year. Once ready for the markets outside and inside India, these bulbs would again be transported in refrigerated vans to ensure their vitality," Brass said.
The flower expert said Kashmir was the natural habitat for wild tulips and its potential to grow world class lilies, tulips, iris and other species of cut flowers was mind boggling.
Asked why instead of cut lilies, the pilot project intended to export bulbs only, Akhtar said, "Because of the distance from the main markets we have decided to start the experiment by exporting bulbs this year. Of course, we shall diversify into cut flower export soon."
[photo by Anne Norman]
By Saeed Khan
Ahmedabad, May 10 (IANS) A vegetable seller in an Uttar Pradesh village has developed a two-seater "homemade helicopter", which if approved will be made available for just Rs.100,000, claims an association of innovators here.
According to the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), 24-year-old Mustakeem Ali from Ratool village in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, has made the helicopter with help from friends and other vegetable sellers.
The 3.5 metre craft, which weighs 200 kg, was made using parts from a tractor, scooter and auto rickshaw at a cost of Rs.100,000, Anil Gupta, an NIF official, told IANS.
After a hard day's work, Mustakeem would spend the evenings working on his model. He developed it after more than a thousand nights of labour, said Gupta.
However, on May 2 when he was about to test the copter, Mustakeem was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police for not having taken permission.
"He was made to sit in the police station for four hours and allowed to go only after the villagers requested that he be released. Police also wanted to seize his helicopter but the villagers didn't let them do so. They have kept the model safe," said Gupta.
The Ahmedabad-based NIF learnt about the innovation from local news reports and sent a team to visit Mustakeem. It inspected the helicopter on Sunday.
Mustakeem, after completing his school studies, went to New Delhi and did a short-term Cabin Crew Course and a computer course. He got inspired to make a helicopter when he visited a trade fair in New Delhi's Pragati Maidan a few years ago, said Gupta.
He didn't get a job and began selling vegetables for a living.
NIF plans to approach the National Aerospace Laboratories in Bangalore for expert opinion on whether the helicopter is actually airworthy.
"The helicopter is made with crude technology," said Gupta.
Mustakeem and his friend Arif cannot fly the helicopter as they don't have a pilot's licence, said Gupta.
The NIF plans to call professional pilots only after the Bangalore-based laboratory verifies the machine. A letter has already been dashed off to the laboratory, said Gupta.
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) Civil society groups and representatives of HIV/AIDS patients Wednesday opposed US pharma major Gilead Sciences' move to seek an Indian patent for AIDS drug Tenofovir as this would "deprive millions of affordable treatment".
The Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+) and the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNPP) filed an opposition to Gilead's application at the Delhi Patent Office Tuesday.
"For many of us living with HIV/AIDS, drugs like Tenofovir offer new hope of continuing treatment. With patents interfering with our lives, we have no choice but to oppose them," DNPP's Loon Gangte told reporters here.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the importance of Tenofovir and recommends the drug for use in first and second-line drug regimens for treatment of HIV/AIDS.
With India emerging as a hub for generic medicines, leading civil societies and humanitarian organisations like Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) are keen that India does not grant the patent to the US company as it would make the drug unaffordable for millions globally.
"The first generic version of the drug (manufactured by Cipla) has been marketed in India since 2005. If the patent application filed by Gilead Sciences is granted, generic production of the drug will be blocked till 2018," said Hans van de Weerd, head of the MSF mission in India.
"If the drug is patented, it would mean we can do less for people with HIV/AIDS. It is not just MSF but all those trying to upscale the treatment for HIV (that) would be impacted," said Weerd.
Anand Grover of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit warned that granting the patent would set a "dangerous precedent" for global access to newer essential drugs as in most cases companies like Gilead are "not seeking patents for new chemical entities but for frivolous claims".
"Granting of the patent would block the generic competition that is needed to bring down the prices," he said.
Under the Indian Patents Act, anyone can submit comments in opposition of a patent before the patent office decides to grant or reject it. The process has to be initiated within a month.
The civil society representatives warned that allowing patent monopoly can stand in the way of making essential drugs accessible to all, particularly in developing countries like India with a heavy disease burden.
Islamabad, May 10 (Xinhua) The world's largest Quran, with a weight of 9,000 kg, has been displayed in Pakistan's Punjab province for public view, local media reported.
The 202-page holy book, made of stainless steel, is eight feet long and four feet wide, and the weight of each page is about 70 kg, the newspaper Daily Times said Wednesday.
It took the maker Javaid Iqbal, an engineer from Gujranwala, Punjab, two and a half years to prepare the book in collaboration with local philanthropists at a total cost of Rs.8.5 million (about $142,000), the report said.
The book is displayed in Sialkot city by the district government, and will be used as a gift to Saudi Arabia, it said.
Islamabad, May 10. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz appealed to the nation Wednesday to pray to God for rains as drought is becoming imminent in Pakistan.
Aziz asked the Ulema (clerics) and religious scholars to organise special Istasqa prayers for rain in their areas, Friday prayers and other religious congregations for Allah's blessings to bring an end to the persistent dry spell.
He said prayers should continue till the time the country receives rain.
Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhary, director general of the meteorological department, said Tuesday that the water level in various dams of the country had declined.
He added that the dams in the vicinity of Rawalpindi and Islamabad like the Simli, Rawal and Khanpur Dams are facing a water shortage.
Chaudhary said that if there is not enough rain in the next two months the situation could lead to further shortage of water.
Islamabad, May 10 (DPA) Pakistan and the UN will soon begin registering an estimated 2.6 million Afghan nationals residing in the country to devise ways to manage them and help them repatriate.
A pilot registration project is to start in July or August with the help of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) while the full-fledged process is to commence in the final quarter of the year, Saleem Ahmed Moeen, chairman of Pakistan's national database and registration authority, said Wednesday.
"Everything has been lined up to enrol the Afghan nationals, " he said of the project that will cost an estimated $5.2 million.
UNHCR signed an agreement with the Pakistan government early this year for the project to be executed by Moeen's authority.
Until the defeat of the Taliban in December 2001, Pakistan had been hosting millions of Afghans who had fled their country after the 1979 Soviet invasion.
Under a UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme started in March 2002, about 2.78 million Afghans have gone back home, but there are more than 2.6 million still residing in Pakistan, a majority of whom have lived in the neighbouring country for decades.
The UN agency Tuesday held a donors conference in Islamabad attended by diplomats from the US, Germany, Australia, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and other countries to brief them about the objectives of the registration process and raise the required funding.
"It will help have a complete profile of Afghanis who will be left in the country after the five-year voluntary repatriation programme ending in December 2006," UNHCR official Atif Shezad said.
A census jointly conducted by the Pakistan government and UNHCR in February 2005 had estimated about 3.3 million Afghan nationals were in the country.
Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) Pace spearhead Irfan Pathan Wednesday said he would strive to give India early breakthroughs on the upcoming tour of the West Indies starting this month.
"I will be more happy if I am known as a bowler. I will try to give early breakthroughs all the time," said Pathan at a press conference called to launch a new 'Don't Stop Mobile' service by Tata Indicom.
Giving early breakthroughs have been Pathan's speciality, and the hat-trick he took at the beginning of the Pakistan's first innings in the third Test in Karachi this year speaks of his ability.
"I'm happy I have been able to contribute (to the team's cause) and will further try to work hard," said the 21-year-old who leaves for the West Indies with the Indian team Thursday.
India will play five one-day internationals and four Tests in the Caribbean islands starting May 18.
Pathan made his Test and one-day international debuts on the 2003-04 tour of Australia and has taken 89 wickets in 24 Tests and 102 in 59 one-day internationals.
He, however, said he had always got a thrill while batting, even when he was a child.
"I have always enjoyed batting. When I bat, I consider myself a batsman. I play the way I play. And I would like to continue doing that," said the Vadodara-based player.
Pathan's top score in Tests is 93, made against Sri Lanka in the second Test in Delhi last year. In ODIs, his highest is 83, also against Sri Lanka in Nagpur last year.
It will be his first tour to the West Indies, and he said he was looking forward to it.
"I have been doing normal things, preparing for the tour. I am just going to give my 100 percent. It's going to be a good and tough series," he said, adding that he had never bowled on the Caribbean pitches.
"I have also heard they have a different culture. I am going to have fun as well."
Indo-Asian News Service
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) India's electoral system will be greatly harmed if religion is allowed to dominate the campaign theme, says former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in his posthumously published book.
"Religious faith in India, if allowed to be used as an electoral issue, is much too tempting a short cut to votes," says Rao in his book "Ayodhya 6 December 1992", which has been released by Penguin/Viking.
Rao, who was prime minister when the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was demolished, had stipulated that the book - an account of the events leading to the razing and the immediate aftermath - should be published only after his death.
Once the religious card is played in elections, "it will be impossible to set things right after allowing this trend to continue for a long time, bringing in signal successes again and again on the basis of a grossly unfair and impermissible advantage to one party.
"Having taken full advantage of religion in some elections, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) may lose in later ones for other reasons; that is always possible and may even happen with equally surprising unexpectedness.
"Nonetheless, the legitimacy of religious sentiment as an accepted and practiced means in a secular electoral process would still remain intact. And before we realize what is happening, our cherished constitutional pillar of secularism will become and remain little more than an empty shell.
"It is time to pause and think whom history will hold responsible for this complacency and its disastrous consequences."
In the book, the late Rao hit out at the BJP, whose emotive campaign led to the Babri mosque's razing, saying to it "goes the dubious credit of not only hijacking the political process right into the religious ambit, but to some extent dragging other parties along with itself on the same path, if only to counter the BJP attack.
"The net result, however, has been that the admissibility as well as the respectability of the communal card have both been accepted, at least by necessary implication, on both sides, obviously for opposite reasons.
"And once the admissibility of the issue was accepted, everyone was stopped to some extent from disowning it."
Rao said he tried to explain all this to his colleagues in the Congress but "they had already made up their minds that one person was to be made historically responsible for the tragedy...
"They could loudly proclaim later that the Muslim vote did not come to the Congress after the demolition of the Babri Masjid solely because of me."
Dhaka, May 10 (IANS) SAARC countries have planned a regional police grouping SAARCPOL, on the lines of Interpol, to combat terrorism and other security threats.
Bangladesh's Inspector General of Police M.A. Quayyum told the 5th conference on cooperation on police matters here Tuesday: "If this decision is implemented, the police forces and people in SAARC countries will benefit."
He said the meeting, attended by top police officials from seven SAARC countries, also deliberated on networking arrangements, organised crime, abuse of narcotics and money laundering, the Daily Star reported.
He said the meeting decided to make effective the SAARC Terrorist Offence Desk (TOD) through consultations at the expert level and added that a final decision on it would be taken at the 6th meeting to be held next year in India.
The meeting also decided to further strengthen cooperation amonglaw enforcing agencies of member states and agreed on more frequent visits of police delegations and increased exchange of ideas.
Besides a 10-member Bangladesh delegation led by Quayyum, another 23 delegates from member countries attended the conference.
New Delhi, May 10 The Supreme Court Wednesday jailed Maharashtra minister Swarup Singh Nayak and bureaucrat Ashok Khot for one month for flouting its orders and permitting six sawmills to operate in the state.
A bench of Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and judges Arijit Pasayat and S.H. Kapadia held the duo guilty of contempt of court and said exemplary sentences were called for.
"Custodial sentence of one month's simple imprisonment in each case would meet the ends of justice," the bench contended.
Writing the judgment, Pasayat noted: "Everyone whether individually or collectively is unquestionably under the supremacy of law. Whoever he may be, however high he is, he is under the law. No matter how powerful he is and how rich he may be."
In March 1997, the apex court had ordered closure of all unlicensed saw mills. In October 2002, it directed that no state government would permit the operation of a sawmill without the permission of a committee of experts.
The Maharashtra government sought permission in July 2003 for opening sawmills but this was refused. Despite this, the minister and the bureaucrat permitted the opening of six sawmills and thereby committed contempt of court, the bench held.
Nayak, now the transport minister was then the forest minister. Khot, currently the additional chief secretary, was then principal secretary in the forest ministry.
Though both said there was no wilful contempt on their part, the bench rejected their explanation.
It said: "There is one factor which shows the brazen manner in which facts have been distorted and without any manner of doubt wilfully... The inevitable conclusion is that both the contemnors deliberately flouted the orders of this court in a brazen manner. It cannot be said by any stretch of imagination that there was no 'mens rea' (criminal intention) involved."
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) The Supreme Court Wednesday dismissed a public suit challenging the legality of Muslim personal laws relating to marriage.
A bench of judges Ruma Pal and Markandey Katju rejected the plea of the petitioner, advocate Lily Thomas, seeking a direction to the central government to lay down uniform marriage laws for all communities including Muslims.
"Go to parliament. It is for parliament to change or amend the law and judges must exercise judicial restraint," the bench advised Thomas.
The petitioner maintained that customs like polygamy and divorce through triple talaq were irrational anachronisms that denied Muslim women their fundamental rights and ought to have been wiped out long ago as "indecent practices".
Thomas maintained that personal laws for different communities on the basis of religion went against the principles of secularism and national integration.
[photo by Steve Evans]
Shimla, May 10 (IANS) As the Supreme Court dismissed the corruption case against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, the veteran Congress leader's critics have been silenced.
Tuesday's verdict is seen as a setback for the opposition Bharatya Janata Party (BJP), which has been attacking Singh ever since the case was registered years ago. Singh was serving an earlier term as chief minister at that time.
Singh had been charged along with three state government officials of favouring a private firm, Sagar Katha Udyog, by allotting 25 percent 'khair' wood quota without the approval of the cabinet.
Singh and the officials had also been accused of changing the original file noting, which amounted to criminal breach of trust, forgery and cheating.
Political observers say the verdict is also likely to strengthen his position within the Congress.
There are two factions in the Congress, one led by Singh and the other by Power Minister Vidya Stokes.
In the past few months, Vijay Singh Mankhotia, former tourism minister and Congress legislator, had accused Singh and his personal staff of corruption. The Supreme Court verdict is also expected to put an end to Mankotia's tirades.
Bhopal, May 10 Two families in Madhya Pradesh have been ostracised by their village for marrying off their daughters outside their community.
While villagers have been asked to break ties with them, shopkeepers have been warned of dire consequences if they sell anything to them. They are not even allowed to fetch water for their daily chores.
These two families belong to the Korku tribe, in the state's Burhanpur district bordering Gujarat.
"Seeking a happy married life for their daughters, Makhanlal and his neighbour Jamuna Bai of Panch Imli village solemnised the marriages of their daughters in Gujarat in April, only to be confronted with a host of problems created by the village headman Champalal", a police official said.
Champalal, who was against inter-community marriages, convened a panchayat meeting soon after the families returned. Despite being told that the girls were happy with their grooms, the panchayat ruled that both families be ostracised.
A village official who came out in support of the families also had to face the ire of the villager.
The district administration of Burhanpur also proved to be of little help. The families have been running from pillar to post for over a month to seek justice.
They have filed a complaint with District Collector Suraj Damore but no action was taken against the panchayat.
"The sarpanch was summoned and he denied having ostracised anybody. We are, however, watching the situation and the sarpanch and the panchayat members would be booked in case they do not mend their ways," Superintendent of Police D. Srinivas Varma told IANS.
New Delhi, 10 May. (IMI) The most awaited results of the year, the UPSC results were declared today. For Indian Muslims the highlight of this yearÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s result is Zuhair Bin Saghir who is ranked fifth in the list of successful candidates. The next Muslim candidate Rafiul Alam Laskar appears on rank number 106.
Zuhair is a graduate of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), he did his B.Tech in Electrical Engineering in 2002.
It will be interesting to note that of the 425 (210 general) successful candidates, there are 12 Muslims. This shows that 2.87% of the total candidates are Muslims. This is near the average percentage intake of Muslims for the last 20 years (3.15%). This is on the backdrop of only 1.45% of graduates in the Muslim male population and 0.8% female Muslim graduates nationally. Even though the literacy rate among the Muslim population is 59%, as we can see very few go on to become graduates and qualify to sit UPSC exams.
Total number of 425 candidates recommended for appointment include 210 General (including 06 Physically challenged candidates), 117 Other Backward Classes ( including 03 Physically challenged candidates), 57 Scheduled Castes (including 02 Physically challenged candidates) and 41 Scheduled Tribes(including 01 Physically Challenged candidate) candidates.
List of successful Muslims for UPSC 2005:
5 ZUHAIR BIN SAGHIR
106 RAFIUL ALAM LASKAR
141 ABDUL HAMID
181 SK ZAFARUL HAQUE TANWEER
201 AKHTAR RASHID
255 MD SHADAB AHMED
310 ABDUL AHAD
312 ABID SHAMIM
334 SHUJA MAHAMOOD
357 MD FAISAL
386 SALMA K FAHIM
405 MUSTAQ AHMAD
New York, May 10 (DPA) The US will give Palestinine $10 million worth of medical and other supplies, said secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in Washington's first such offer since Hamas came to power.
The US and EU cut off direct aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas began governing the Palestinians in March, but pledged to continue humanitarian aid through non-governmental organisations and the UN.
"No one wants to see the Palestinian people suffer," Rice said after a meeting of the Security Council in New York. "We intend to keep humanitarian aid flowing to the Palestinian people."
Hamas was elected in January, but has rebuffed international demands to recognise Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and accept previous agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The end of direct aid has left the Palestinian Authority unable to pay 130,000 security forces and other government workers.
"Saying that you will give up violence is a necessary step to being able to have a peace agreement," Rice said. "And Hamas has a choice to make to live up to those requirements."
The demands on Hamas drafted by the US, UN, Russia and the EU - the so-called quartet that drafted the now stalled "roadmap" peace plan. The US has said it will have no contact with the Palestinian government until it meets the demands.
"No one wants to have to deal with a Palestinian government that when there is a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, finds that reason to celebrate," Rice said.
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia joined Rice, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, in the talks at UN headquarters.
European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero Waldner and Austria's Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik were also at the table.
The UN recently said the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has reached a potentially dangerous level.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership urged the quartet to continue aid to the Palestinians despite the boycott.
"We hope the quartet will take the decision to continue with aid," said Saeb Erekat, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chief negotiator.
He called on the quartet to give the Palestinian government "the chance it needs", adding, "We are doing everything we can to convince the government to accept international decisions".
Hamas has refused to moderate its policies toward Israel and its ascension to power has seen inter-Palestinian tensions rise, with activists battling it out with supporters of the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas that was voted out of office.
Renewed clashes between the two movements saw 10 people, most of them schoolchildren, injured in early fighting in Gaza City on Tuesday.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, a senior Hamas leader, called on the groups to show calm and self-restraint, and instructed his interior minister to launch an inquiry to investigate the "sorrowful incidents".
[photo by Nila Gurusinghe]
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) In a significant move ahead of elections in Uttar Pradesh next year, Muslim leaders from the state are joining hands to take the community's significant vote away from Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari of the Jama Masjid here is the architect of the polarisation that could end up benefiting the Samajwadi Party chief's most bitter enemy -- Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP) leader and former chief minister Mayawati.
Some 25 leaders of 13 Muslim groups - big and small - from Uttar Pradesh gathered at the 17th-century mosque complex Tuesday and made blistering attacks on Yadav, who for long has enjoyed the support of large sections of the country's largest minority.
The leaders have decided to set up a joint Muslim forum to fight the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections due in February next year while opening its doors to Dalits, Brahmins and "other oppressed groups".
The outfits that gathered Tuesday included the National League (Uttar Pradesh), National Lok Tantrik Party (Arshad group), Muslim Forum, Momin Conference, Muslim Majlis (Uttar Pradesh), Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (Uttar Pradesh), Rashtriya Awami Dal, Haksar Tehreek and All India Muslim League (Secular).
"Some of these groups enjoy support in just one district of Uttar Pradesh and others in three or four," Bukhari told IANS, underlining that the 20 percent of Uttar Pradesh's 166 million people were a solid vote bank.
Bukhari, who campaigned extensively against the Congress in the Assam assembly elections, made it clear that the proposed Muslim grouping would not be communal even though it advocated the community's interests.
Some of the participants wanted to make Bukhari, whose family has for centuries managed the historic Jama Masjid, the chairperson of the new forum but the Shahi Imam said he turned down the request.
"I told the delegates that I was ready to support them, to back them, as I did in Assam, but I would not hold any post. The important thing was to come together, which we did, and to set up a forum, which we have decided to.
"Most political parties calling themselves secular have only exploited Muslims for votes. We kept voting everyone else to power and never got anything in return, not even power sharing. The time has come to end this, to chart a new course.
"But I told the delegates, and there was agreement on this, that it will be a front that will take care of the interests of Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins too."
Asked why, he explained: "We cannot walk alone in this country. If we decide to fight injustice, then we should fight for everyone. If we talk about rights, we need to talk about everyone's rights. Our fight is against the government, not against Hindus."
The common thread binding the delegates was that the time had come to dump Mulayam Singh Yadav. Most delegates also sounded sympathetic to Mayawati, whose party, too, has significant following among Muslims in Uttar Pradesh.
"We cannot trust Mulayam any more," said Bukhari, a long-standing critic of the chief minister. "Muslims had considered him their leader. But they now think that there is a big gulf between what he says and what he does.
"He talks about secularism but has secret contacts with BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). He just cannot be trusted."
[photo by Saad Akhtar]
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) A week after harsh weather conditions impelled by soaring temperatures across north India, weather officials Wednesday said that the widespread rains in hilly areas could make Delhi and adjoining areas cooler by a few degrees.
Weather officials said here that Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and some of the northern areas of Punjab had received heavy showers in the past 48 hours.
"Some of the areas in Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal have received heavy showers measuring up to two cm," said B. Lal, director general of the India Meteorological Department.
He said that the rains have been widespread and have successfully provided the much-needed respite to north India.
Lal also said that Wednesday would be no exception as more rainfall is expected in these areas, including Srinagar.
"We have predicted more showers in northern India in the next 48 hours and the temperatures in these areas would also fall," said Lal.
He added that in comparison to the past few days the temperatures in the north have fallen considerably.
"Earlier the day temperatures were recorded at four to five degrees above normal but it has now fallen to one degree above normal," said Lal.
Delhi is expected to record temperatures around the 40-degree mark and there is a possibility of dust storm in the evening, he added.
He also said that Chandigarh could receive some showers in the evening and the temperatures would be recorded around 36 degrees Celsius.
"Harsh weather and heat wave would continue in Jaipur although a slight fall in the day temperature is possible," said Lal. He said that the day temperature in Jaipur would be recorded around the 43-degree mark Wednesday.
An official also said that Lucknow would also face a dust storm during the day and the temperature in the city could fall by a degree, swinging around the 39-degree mark.