Monday, August 6, 2012

Ferry with some 350 aboard sinks off Papua New Guinea

Several people are feared dead after a ferry carrying as many as 350 passengers on board sank off the north coast of Papua New Guinea, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Thursday.

“There has been a boat go down in Papua New Guinea with, as we understand it, 350 people on board,” Ms. Gillard said.

“This is obviously a major tragedy... There is likely to be a very high death toll,” she was quoted as saying by the Australian news agency AAP.

Rescue workers have rescued 28 people from the water so far, according to a maritime official, who said hundreds of passengers were still unaccounted for.

“They have rescued 28 people who are now on board one vessel,” Rescue co—ordinator Captain Nurur Rahman said.

Captain Rahman said four merchant ships were diverted to the scene by Australian authorities to help with the rescue.

“I cannot confirm or deny the 350 missing number, it is hearsay. I have not seen the manifest as yet, but it is likely around 300.”

A distress signal was sent from the MV Rabaul Queen this morning when travelling between Lae and the West New Britain town of Kimbe in the east of the Pacific nation today, PNG’s National Maritime Safety Authority said.

“We have been asked to provide assistance to PNG and we are providing assistance to PNG... Australian diplomatic staff are monitoring the situation but there have so far been no reports of Australians on board,” Ms. Gillard said.

“But given the likely very high loss of life here, I think when this news comes to the attention of Australians around the country, they will be thinking about the people of PNG as they respond to this tragedy,” she said.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

3 policemen killed in Taliban attack in northwest Pakistan

Three policemen were killed and another injured when Taliban militants attacked a police van in Pakistan's restive northwest today, officials said.   The militants lobbed grenades at the van and then fired at it with automatic weapons in Lakki Marwat area of

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
District police chief Gulzar Ali confirmed that three policemen were killed and another injured.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out in retaliation for arrests made by security forces during a recent search operation.

The attack was the latest assault in a recent spike in Taliban violence in northwest Pakistan.

Parts of the volatile tribal belt have witnessed fierce fighting in recent days.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2G: 122 licences cancelled, but relief for Chidambaram

New Delhi In a big reprieve to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, the Supreme Court on Thursday referred the plea to probe him in the 2G scandal to the trial court but cancelled the 122 telecom licences that were granted by former Telecom Minister A Raja.
This would mean the court holds the view that the licences were handed out irregularly.

The apex court heard petitions seeking a direction for a probe into the alleged role of Chidambaram in 2G spectrum scam and for the cancellation of 122 radiowave licences.

The role of Chidambaram in the 2G scam was raised in the Supreme Court by the petitioners who had pointed out that there was evidence on record showing that the decision regarding pricing of spectrum was taken jointly by him and Raja.

A Finance Ministry note to the PMO signed by Pranab Mukherjee was also taken on record by the apex court in which it was stated that the scam could have been averted had Chidambram suggested the policy of auction instead of first-come-first-served policy on allocation of spectrum.

The Centre and CBI had vehemently opposed any probe against Chidambram who was the Finance Minister at the time of allotment of spectrum in 2008.

They had maintained that Chidambaram was not in direct communication with the then Telecom Minister A Raja in determining the price of the radio waves.

However, Swamy and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) had refuted the claims of CBI and the Centre that Chidambaram was not in the picture till January, 10, 2008, when the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) headed by Raja issued 122 Letters of Intent (LoIs) to telecom companies without following the policy of auction.

Swamy and CPIL's counsel Prashant Bhushan had contended Chidambaram was "consistently" informed of what was going on and "till November 30, 2007, Chidambaram was apprised of what Raja was up to".

Swamy and Bhushan said the Finance Ministry officials were for allocation of spectrum through auction but they were overruled by Chidambaram.

Swamy said there there were documents to show that Raja and Chidambaram met four times on the issue and had a meeting of minds in the commission of the offences.

It was also alleged by the petitioners that Chidambaram had advised Raja that it was legal to "dilute" the shares by telecom companies after getting licence though which Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless got huge profits by selling 45% and 60% respectively to two foreign firms Etisalat and Telenor.

Bhushan had said the facts stated a Finance Ministry note pointed to a "clear fact" that officials of the Finance Ministry repeatedly pointed out that spectrum allocation could not be determined by the entry fee of 2001.

"That it should be allocated through a market discovered price. It was impossible for Raja to move ahead without the concurrence of the then Finance Minister," he had said.

"Despite the fact that the Finance Secretary had taken such a strong view which had been recorded in the DoT's approach paper, Chidambaram chose to side with Raja on the issue of pricing," he had said.

In the case relating to cancellation of licenses, people from civil society also approached the apex court to reverse the decision taken by Raja for telecom licences during his tenure as Telecom Minister.

Former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh, T S Krishnamurthy and N Gopalaswami, along with former Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar, moved the SC along with CPIL and Swamy.

They alleged Raja's decision was marred by "multiple illegalities, corruption and favouritism".

The proceeding in the case had witnessed a virtual telecom war with the old service providers contending spectrum alloted to them are valid and they should not be compared with new players whose licenses are under the judicial scrutiny.

Friday, August 3, 2012

'Rape' victim enters poll fray

BHUBANESWAR: At a time when the alleged rape of a girl in Pipili area of Puri district has occupied media limelight, another alleged victim has created ripples in political circles by contesting the panchayat polls.

Sujata Jal, who was allegedly gang-raped by then Paikmal block chairman Mahesh Agarwal and his associates on May 10, 2008, is in the fray for a zilla parishad member seat from Rajboodasambar seat III from Padampur subdivision of Bargarh district, 400 km from the state capital. Bargarh district has 34 ZP member seats. Rajboodasambar is called Bargarh ZP Zone 31.

Agarwal and five of his aides allegedly raped Sujata after Agarwal promised her the job of an anganwadi worker. One of the accused includes Kunal Bariha, the nephew of former minister and Padampur MLA Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha of the BJD. The incident had created a huge political storm and all the accused were remanded in judicial custody.

"I drew inspiration from BSP chief and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati. I am thankful to the party for giving me a ticket," Jal said, adding that if she wins she will fight for justice and dignity for the downtrodden.

Pitted against the might of Sumitra Singh Seth of BJD, Saraswati Kalu (BJP), Manorama Gingra (Congress) and independent Panchami Suna, Jal hopes she will clinch the seat. "I have been receiving overwhelming response from people. They are fed up with the trio of BJP, BJD and Congress," she said. The area has been traditionally a BJD stronghold.

The constituency, reserved for women, goes to poll on February 11, the first date of polling for the three-tier panchayat elections in the state.

BSP spokesperson Sunil Agarwal said Sujata's entering the poll fray in itself has been a befitting reply on the perpetrators of the crime on her. "She will definitely win if people's response is any indication," Agarwal said.

Politicians of other parties are nervous. "The alleged crime on her definitely draws people's sympathy on her. But it is too early to predict where the votes will swing," said a former MLA in Bargarh district.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Atsuko Tanaka. The Art of Connecting" MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART TOKYO


Atsuko Tanaka (1932-2005) was a member of the avant-garde Gutai Art Association whose experimental work with nonphysical materials — such as light, sound and time — garnered her much attention during the mid-1950s.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo has joined forces with The Japan Foundation, Britain's IKON Gallery and Espai d'Art Contemporani de Castello of Spain to bring together more than 100 works representative of Tanaka's innovative, Abstract Expressionist style. Included are reproductions of her two most-famous works, "Work (Bell)" and "Electric Dress"; till May 6.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

U.S. bipartisan group urges upping military threat against Iran

The United States should deploy ships, step up covert activities and sharpen its rhetoric to make more credible the threat of a U.S. military strike to stop Iran's nuclear program, a bipartisan group said on Wednesday.

Former U.S. politicians, generals and officials said in a report that the best chance of stopping Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons was to make clear American willingness to use force, although it stopped short of advocating military action.

The report by a Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) task force of Democrats, Republicans and independents is to be formally issued on Wednesday and comes amid speculation about the possibility of an Israeli military strike against Iran.

There is little evidence to suggest that U.S. President Barack Obama has any significant interest in the possibility of a military strike against Iran, though his administration has repeatedly said that all options are on the table.

To a lesser degree there has also been debate about a U.S. attack, an idea advocated by former Pentagon defense planner Matthew Kroenig in his recent Foreign Affairs Magazine article, "Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option."

The BPC report's central thesis is that to persuade Iran to address questions about its nuclear program via negotiations, economic sanctions must be accompanied by a credible threat of military attack against Iran's nuclear facilities.

"The United States needs to make clear that Iran faces a choice: it can either abandon its nuclear program through a negotiated arrangement or have its program destroyed militarily by the United States or Israel," said the report, entitled "Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock."

Tensions between Iran and the West have grown as the United States and its European allies have tightened economic sanctions by targeting the oil exports that drive the Iranian economy.

The United States, and many of its European allies, suspect that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop the atomic bomb. Iran denies this, saying that its program is solely for civilian uses such as power generation.

The BPC is a nonprofit policy group founded by prominent Republicans and Democrats that seeks to promote policy-making that can draw support from both major U.S. political parties. Among its specific recommendations, the report calls for strengthening the United States "declaratory policy" to make clear its willingness to use force rather than permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons; To intensify covert activities by U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies to disrupt Iran's nuclear program; To bolster the presence of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman by deploying an additional carrier battle group and minesweepers off Iran, conducting broad military exercises in the region with allies, and prepositioning supplies for the possibility of military action against Iran; To strengthen the ability of U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, to ship oil out of the region without using the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to close in retaliation for Western sanctions, and to amplify U.S. efforts to strengthen the militaries of countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates through arms sales.

Should these steps fail to dissuade Iran from its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, the report urges the United States to consider a "quarantine" to block refined petroleum imports by Iran, which is heavily dependent on gasoline refined abroad.

As a last resort, the group asserts that the U.S. military has the ability to launch "an effective surgical strike against Iran's nuclear program."

Obama's broader foreign policy has sought to disentangle the U.S. military from its commitments in the Muslim world. He decided to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq last year and aims to wind up the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014.

Obama opposed his predecessor George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, a decision the Bush administration chiefly justified by citing intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were subsequently found.

Without explicitly calling for an attack on Iran, the report says such a strike would include an air campaign of several weeks to target key military and nuclear installations, accompanied by the U.S. special forces on the ground.

"A military strike would delay Iran's acquisition of nuclear capability but not eliminate it," the report said. "Still, policymakers need to consider whether delaying Iran's program in the short term would allow Washington to take advantage of that space to stop Iran's nuclear program altogether," it added without explaining how this might happen.

"It is also possible that the delays and increased costs that a devastating strike would impose on Iran's nuclear program might be followed by a different set of dynamics that would cause or compel the Iranian leadership to change course," it said.

The report acknowledged a strike would carry many risks, including higher oil prices, possible Iranian retaliation against U.S. military installations, support of "terrorist" operations against U.S. interests and potential attacks on Iraq.

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Robb, a Virginia Democrat, told Reuters the group chose not to explicitly advocate military action in part because it did not want to turn what he described as a "reasoned, thoughtful approach into, 'This is bombs away."

Having repeatedly said that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unacceptable to the United States, Robb said that to be unwilling to take military action would undercut U.S. credibility.

"Our credibility is very much on the line," he said. "We believe that we have to be credible with respect to the kinetic option. We need to provide evidence that we are preparing to take that option if necessary."