Sunday, February 28, 2010

eastern Europe, killing over 50...

The violent winter storm, dubbed as "Xynthia," has lashed most eastern European countries as of Sunday with heavy rain and strong gust, leaving over 50 deaths and massive devastation on its routes.

Developed in the Atlantic off the Portuguese island Madeira, storm Xynthia landed on France's western coast late Saturday after causing three deaths in Spain, and went on to Germany via Belgium on Sunday afternoon.

France, the worst hit country, recorded at least 45 victims and several disappearances, mainly in Vandee and Charente-Maritime, the two western coastal departments which registered the biggest toll.

Most victims died from drowning or impacts from falling trees and buildings. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is going to visit the worst hit areas on Monday morning, the presidential office said.

Over 500,000 households remained in the dark and power supply is not expected to resume at least three days later, said the national power company Electricity of France.

Paris was also affected by the storm as the gust speeded up to over 100 km per hour in the day. Air France announced Sunday the cancellation of more than 100 flights at the Paris-Charles de Gaulle international airport as well as some delays and diversions.


President Obama, 48, passed his exam...

President Obama, 48, passed his physical exam Sunday, though the results show he should watch his diet and keep up his efforts to quit smoking.

"The president is in excellent health and 'fit for duty,' " said a report from Jeffrey Kuhlman, the president's doctor. "All clinical data indicate that he will remain so for the duration of his presidency."

Obama underwent his first physical as president at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Kuhlman said the president could wait until he's 50 (in 2011) for his next physical. After the 90-minute exam, Obama visited with wounded soldiers who are being treated at the facility.

Kuhlman recommended changes to Obama's diet to reduce his cholesterol level and urged him to "continue smoking cessation efforts." Last June, Obama acknowledged he had sometimes "fallen off the wagon" and occasionally still smoked, despite efforts to quit.

POLICY: Obama set for 'up or down vote' on health care

The president is "doing the right things," says Cam Patterson, a cardiologist and professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "The stress of being president hasn't made his weight go up."

Obama's weight, blood pressure and resting heart rate are all much lower than average, suggesting he is very physically fit and is exercising regularly, Patterson said. He estimates that the president is in the top 25% of men his age in terms of health.

"That doesn't mean he's without risk," Patterson said. "It means he's taking care of himself."

Obama does have several factors for heart disease, including being a man, a history of smoking and moderately high "bad cholesterol," or LDL, Patterson said. If this number continues to rise, Patterson said, Obama's doctor might consider prescribing drugs to lower his cholesterol, known as statins.

Screening tests for prostate cancer and colorectal cancer found nothing suspicious, the medical report said. Obama's mother and grandmother died of cancer.


The U.S. Supreme Court is about to take dead aim at the fierce debate over gun...

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to take dead aim at the fierce debate over gun regulations in cities and states across the country, with California's strict gun-control laws squarely in the cross hairs of the legal showdown.

The justices on Tuesday will hear arguments in a challenge to a Chicago area ban on handguns and semiautomatic weapons, weighing for the first time whether the Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to local and state gun regulations. For a state such as California, which has long been a target of gun rights advocates for a slew of firearms regulations, a Supreme Court ruling extending Second Amendment protections to cities and states could open the floodgates to a new generation of lawsuits.

Experts generally agree that whatever the Supreme Court decides, it will not erase many of California's gun laws. But gun rights groups already are gearing up for lawsuits that would renew challenges to California laws, including its assault weapons ban, on the grounds they trample on the fundamental right to bear arms.

The case also could have implications for local efforts to regulate gun possession and sales, including a direct impact on a long-running legal battle over Alameda County's ordinance banning gun possession on county property. That case is on hold in a federal appeals court, awaiting the outcome in the Supreme Court. San Mateo County also recently considered gun limits before tabling the idea.
has a lot at stake," said Dennis Hennigan, vice president of law and policy for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which rates the state first in gun control laws. "You could certainly see increased litigation over all these laws."

Chuck Michel, a lawyer for the National Rifle Association in California, adds: "There will be lots of stuff, especially the stuff that's really extreme and high-profile, that will be challenged as vulnerable."

The Supreme Court case is the second in the past two years that takes on a legal debate over the Second Amendment that went unresolved for more than 100 years: how much, and whether, constitutional protection restricts government's ability to regulate gun ownership, possession and sales.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in the District of Columbia, a federal enclave, concluding that it trampled on the Second Amendment. Left unresolved was whether the Second Amendment would likewise invalidate similar state and local laws, prompting an immediate challenge to Chicago's regulation.

A federal appeals court upheld the law, in large part by finding that the Supreme Court had not established a Second Amendment right that applies to cities and states.

Legal experts say the fallout from the Chicago case will depend on how far the justices go in their decision. In the 2008 ruling, the 5-4 majority, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, did make clear that certain areas of gun regulation were "presumptively valid" for government, such as firearm sales.

"I think there will be questions about specific regulations and whether they fall out of those categories," said Sayre Weaver, one of the lawyers defending Alameda County's ordinance.

Many states have joined in the case, arguing that the Second Amendment should extend to the states. California is in a unique position, being one of just six states that does not have the equivalent of the Second Amendment in its state constitution.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown weighed in on the Supreme Court case, taking the position that the federal right should apply to the states — a position that disappointed gun control advocates. However, Brown's office also urged the justices to take the case to "provide guidance on the scope of the states' ability to reasonably regulate firearms."

Gun rights groups predict that ability could be curtailed, although they concede California will still be able to maintain a menu of anti-gun laws. Experts, meanwhile, say the only guarantee is that the latest Supreme Court case will keep judges across the country busy on gun rights issues for years to come.

"The case will kick down the line the really hard questions," said Doug Berman, an Ohio State University law professor following the case closely. "We're in uncharted territory. No one is quite sure where we're going, and I'm not even sure anyone knows where we should be going."


In occupied Kashmir, Eid Milad-un-Nabi

In occupied Kashmir, Eid Milad-un-Nabi was celebrated on Saturday with religious enthusiasm and solemnity. People prayed special prayers and were seen thronging to the mosques and shrines in various parts where they offered respects to prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The biggest congregation was held at Hazratbal shrine where nearly 100,000 devotees offered Zuhr prayers. The holy relic of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was also displayed. Similar congregations were also held at Asari Sharif Kalashpora, Jenab Sahib Soura, Lal Bazar, Pinjura Shopian, Islamabad, Qaimoh, Bandipore, Charar-e-Sharief and Baramulla areas. People on the occasions prayed for early liberation of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian bondage.

On the other hand, police and paramilitary personnel beat up and injured participants of the Milad processions at Aabiguzar in Srinagar and Qazigund in Kulgam and arrested several youth. Senior APHC leader, Agha Syed Hassan Al-Moosvi led a procession from Zadibal to Gulshanabad while other processions were taken out from Gaw Kadal, Barbarshah and Maisuma to Dargah Hazratbal.


When you smoke you inhale over 4000 chemicals.. (New anti-smoking)

When you smoke you inhale over 4000 chemicals.

That's the straight up message to be carried in ads that will start on Sunday and run nationwide for more than three months, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said.

"While smoking prevalence in Australia has declined over time, rates of daily smoking remain too high at 16.6 per cent of those aged 14 or older," Ms Roxon said on Saturday.

"The 2010 stage of the National Tobacco Campaign will reach a broad age-range, but focuses on young adults."

Ms Roxon said at least 43 of the 4000 chemicals can cause cancer.


Hindu festival of Holi in India...

A chronic water shortage will put a dampener on the Hindu festival of Holi in India today after revellers were warned not to use dangerously low drinking supplies for traditional rain dances.

Water consumption in Mumbai soars during the annual festival of colours. The causes are twofold: first comes the celebratory soaking that accompanies dancing in the streets; later, millions of gallons are used to wash away the coloured powders flung at each other by worshippers marking the arrival of spring.

Last year India suffered its worst monsoon rains since 1972. Water levels in the six lakes that supply the commercial capital plunged and Mumbai, like many other cities, now only receives mains water for part of the eachday.

“As the city is reeling under a water shortage people should avoid using drinking water for non-potable purposes, especially rain dances,” a local government official said.Mumbai’s Mayor, Shraddha Jadhav, called for a change in the law to make the misuse of water a criminal offence. The authorities plan to send out teams to monitor Holi parties.

Experts fear that such crisis measures will become more common. India’s water needs are expected to double by 2030 as the population expands, the agricultural sector strains to supply enough food and more people acquire proper plumbing.

A study published in Nature, the science journal, warnedthat shortages could trigger social conflict. Already, street skirmishes regularly occur in Mumbai as crowds wait for tankers with daily supplies.

In December one person died in the city during a protest calling for an end to water cuts. Only a fifth of households have their own mains supply, a recent study found.

Similar shortages blight much of the country. In the northern state of Rajasthan officials are preparing to send emergency tankers to 10,000 villages in the coming weeks.

The issue also holds geopolitical implications: last month, Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the resolution of water disputes between India and Pakistan was one of the most pressing concerns in the region.


makes these best Winter Games....

What were the odds that two teams of mercenary, millionaire pros from the U.S. and Canada would breathe new life into those hopelessly romantic words that helped revive the modern Olympics more than a century ago? The ones about how competing honorably was even more important than winning?

But they made it happen.

At least for one afternoon.

Had the local heroes lost, everyone in this land of 33 million might have called in sick Monday morning. They might anyway, judging by the celebration that erupted right after rising star and soon-to-be-cast-in-gold icon Sidney Crosby pounced on a loose puck and slipped it underneath lunging U.S. goalie Ryan Miller to seal the hockey gold medal with a 3-2 win in overtime.

"It doesn't even feel real," Crosby said. "It feels like a dream."

But as more than a few of his French-speaking, sometimes-contrarian countrymen are shouting to the rooftops still: "Au contraire!"

It no longer matters here what anyone outside Vancouver — or Canada, for that matter — thinks. Best games or not, the 600,000 residents of this jewel of a city on the country's far western edge will be stuck paying off the debt for a decade.

And nothing will erase the tragic death of a young Georgian luger even before the torch was lit. Ultimately, that will be the Vancouver Olympics' enduring legacy.

But there was never a more-fitting ending to any Winter Games than this one. The crowd in Canada Hockey Place was on its feet in a full-throated roar for the final minute of regulation, then again as alternating chants of "USA! USA!" and "Go, Canada, Go!' echoed around the building to accompany the presentation of the gold and sliver medals. That's respect.

It's easy to be cynical about two teams of NHL all-stars donning their national colors for two weeks and putting forth one grand, no-holds-barred effort.

But these two squads already did that a week ago, in a preliminary-round game that was stolen by the Americans and still turned out to be the most-watched television program in Canada's history. Who knew they could play harder still this time around, even with gold on the line?

"It certainly doesn't feel good right now, but from where we came in August, when people were making fun of how many Johnsons and Ryans and everything else we had," U.S. forward Chris Drury said. "No one knew our names. People know our names now."

Man, do they ever.

But that's only one measure of how much this one mattered.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a hockey historian, stayed to the very end. Musician Neil Young turned up in the stands to watch the hockey version of his old group — not Crosby, Stills and Nash, but Crosby, (Eric) Staal and (Rick) NashActor William Shatner even beamed himself down to take in the game.

If nothing else, it's going to be tough for those who played to come down.

Barely 24 hours after the medals were doled out, players on both teams were scheduled to be back in the NHL. They'll be working and practicing alongside and against one another in different combinations. Some will be depending on former enemies as teammates for their livelihoods.

In some cases, teammates will become enemies once more. U.S. defenseman Brian Rafalski and center Paul Stastny, for example, will be on opposite sides of the Detroit-Colorado game Monday night. Making it more interesting still, Canadian coach Mike Babcock will be back at his day job, behind the Red Wings bench.

Yet the next time their paths cross, everyone who played in this game will be able to look one another in the eye and remember the magic they created. That will make even a meaningless NHL game, in the middle of a long, drawn-out season, something special.

"I just barely saw it," U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik said about Crosby's game-winner, "but I've seen him score many goals for us in Pittsburgh.

"It's disappointing," he added, "but if we were going to lose, I'm glad he's the guy that won it."

Rafalski understood what Orpik meant. Someday, the silver medal hanging from his neck might mean more than it does now.


Pakistan is a friendly countryPakistan is a friendly country

“Pakistan is a friendly country. Anytime one sees a dangerous trend in a friendly country, one is not only sorry but worried,” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal told Indian journalists after a meeting with visiting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It was the duty of all political leaders in Pakistan to unite to ensure that extremists did not achieve their objectives, he said.

Answering a query, he said: “There is no relation between Saudi Arabia and Taliban. Our relationship was abrogated when Taliban gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda. Since then and till today we have no relations with Taliban. That will give you an indication of how seriously we look at the issue.”

Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Talmiz Ahmed told reporters that Prime Minister Singh during his meetings with the Saudi leadership was expected to stress the need for Pakistan to dismantle the ‘terror infrastructure’ on its soil. He said a Saudi initiative to rehabilitate extremists by enlightening them about the non-violent principles of Islam would also be discussed.

He said there was deep concern both in India and Saudi Arabia about the sense of insecurity and instability across West Asia and parts of South Asia, from Palestine to Pakistan.


Security forces have killed 25 militants in Peshawar’s frontier region.....

PESHAWAR: Security forces have killed 25 militants in Peshawar’s frontier region in the first four days of in ‘Operation Spring Cleaning’, according to officials.

Addressing a joint press conference in the Spina Thana near Darra Adamkhel on Saturday, city police chief Liaqat Ali Khan, Frontier Constabulary Commandant Safwat Ghayur, the Frontier Corps’ (FC) Brigadier Faiz and the army’s Col Qaiser said the operation was launched on the basis of intelligence reports that around 300 militants were setting up a “command-and-control system” in Pastowany area of Peshawar’s frontier region, intimidating the local population and using the area in a bid to mount an attack on Peshawar.

The officials said that operation was jointly launched on February 24, and would continue until the elimination of militants form the area. They said one a FC troop had been killed in fighting and five others injured.

The officials said while several militants had been taken into custody, they put up “tough resistance”. They said the arrested militants belonged to Darra, Peshawar, Bannu, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan and Fateh Jang.

They said huge caches of arms and ammunition and eight suicide jackets had been seized during the operation and “militant headquarters and hideouts destroyed”. They said “training material” and “literature” had also been confiscated.

According to the APP news agency, police said on Sunday 17 bullet-riddled bodies of suspected militants had been found in Darra Adamkhel.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tendulkar is also a man of the people

Everyone cranes forward to get their first glimpse of their hero.

Slowly, the noise returns as seemingly every individual at the ground roars as they get their first sight of the world's most prolific batsman.

The incredible din continues until he reaches the crease, and then grows louder still with every run and boundary that flows from his seemingly impossibly wide blade.

But more often than not, the dream ends with his dismissal.

And when it does, the stadium takes on a totally surreal atmosphere as the pulsating noise suddenly ceases as soon as the fans realise that he's out.

For a few seconds it is as if all the air has been sucked out of the stadium, but after a few seconds the rumble starts again and by the time Sachin is halfway back to the dressing rooms the sound is every bit as loud as when he first appeared as the crowd, together as one, pays homage to the maestro.

For Tendulkar it's the end of an innings.

For the fans it is the end of a dream with many of those in attendance witnessing him live for the first and only time in their lives.

Tendulkar is more than just a marvellous cricketing practitioner, for he is also a man of the people.

Despite the demands that his celebrity has wrought on him he has never turned his back on his legion of fans.

Through all the public scrutiny, the thronging crowds and the lack of personal space he is always gracious, never losing his cool or heard uttering a harsh word.

The grace he displays on the field is mirrored by the way he conducts himself away from it.

Within months of his 37th birthday, he is arguably in a vein of form as rich as any in his 20-year international career.

He has produced a century in each of the four Tests he has played this year, taking his world record tally to 47, having scored 13,447 runs from his 166 Tests.

His imperious and historic double century in Gwalior was his 46th at one-day level, with his 442 matches producing a staggering 17,598 runs.

Early next year Tendulkar will feel even more weight on his shoulders when India hosts the One-Day World Cup.

By the time it ends, the baby-faced assassin will likely have registered his 100th international century.

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Shahbaz Sharif especially went to election office of Shakil Awan to felicitate him on his historical victory.

Chief Minister Punjab, Muhammad Shahbaz on Thursday thanked the Pindiites for sending PML (N) candidate to the Parliament and reposing confidence into leadership of Mian Nawaz Sharif. He alleged that all their political rivals supported Sheikh Rashid but the people of Rawalpindi cast their votes in favour of PML (N) candidate.

He made these remarks while addressing party workers and citizens here at central election office of Malik Shakil Awan who defeated Sheikh Rashid in by-election of NA-55.

Shahbaz Sharif especially went to election office of Shakil Awan to felicitate him on his historical victory.

MNA, Muhammad Hanif Abbasi, Begum Tahira Aurangzez, MPAs, Ziaullah Shah, Sheharyar Riaz, Malik Yasir Raza, Chaudhry Sarfraz Afzal, Raja Hanif Advocate and a large number of party workers and citizens were also present.

Expressing gratitude to elders, brothers and sisters on this great success, he said this achievement was result of great affection and love of Pindiites with Mian Nawaz Sharif.

He said this success was against the corruption, disloyalty and falseness adding, “Sheikh Rashid had promised to give his two seats to Mian Nawaz Sharif he won in the Election 2002.”

Shahbaz Sharif assured the people that he would come up to the expectation of the people and will continue to serve the masses.

He asked the PML (N) members of National and Provincial Assemblies to untiringly serve the people of Rawalpindi. On the occasion, he announced to set up a 150-bed Mother and Child Hospital in Benazir Bhutto Hospital which will be completed even by this June.

Earlier, the Chief Minister visited Benazir General Hospital where Secretary Health, Punjab, Fawad Hassan Fawad, Principal Medical College, Dr. Mussadaq and the Incharge Gyny Department gave him special briefing for setting up of Mother and Child Hospital.

The Chief Minister said that under construction Institute of Cardiology will be completed by December and its standard will be equal to that of Punjab Institute of Cardiology, Lahore.

He also directed to upgrade Mother and Child ward in Holy Family Hospital and preparation of a comprehensive plan for providing modern medical facilities to patients.


The Dubai police claim that 26 visitors entered

The Dubai police claim that 26 visitors entered and exited the emirate over the past year on false British, Irish, Australian, German and French passports. Some or all were involved in the assassination of senior Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who also entered Dubai under a false identity. The Dubai police chief has accused the Mossad of the January 19 hit. He has presented no proof, but more than half of the fake passports in Dubai bore the names of Israelis.

The European Union and the countries whose passports were counterfeited have criticized the misuse of their identity documents without mentioning the names of those responsible. French President Nicolas Sarkozy termed the assassination utterly unjustified - "nothing more than a murder." Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in Mabhouh's killing or in falsifying the documents, but former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Halutz said that such actions attributed to Israel "deter terror organizations."

It is unclear whether terrorist groups are more deterred than in the past. What is clear is that the plot is thickening as more suspects are uncovered. If the claims of Israel's respThe main question pertains to the planning of the operation, or operations, in which the 26 holders of false passports were involved. It seems that the planners did not take into consideration Dubai's ability to cross-reference information from surveillance cameras in the airport, hotels and malls with computerized information from its passport control. Even if none of the suspected agents were caught in the act, clearly they will have difficulty taking part in similar actions in the future. It's also possible that the investigation will lead to the exposure of other suspects or other operations. A week before the hit on Mabhouh, a nuclear scientist was killed in Tehran, and Iranian leaders accused Israel.

The group that took out Mabhouh was exposed due to one weak point: the use of false passports from Western countries bearing the identities of real Israelis with dual citizenship. From now on, it will be much more difficult to use such passports, and all Israelis with dual passports will be suspected of being intelligence agents. There is no doubt that this revelation endangers, or at least complicates, other operations.

Did Mabhouh's assassination justify taking such a risk? Was there negligence or contempt for the adversary on the part of the planners, the commanders and those who approved the operation (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to foreign reports)? Were other operations compromised, that were even more essential than the killing of a Hamas weapons smuggler? Is criticism by countries whose passports were falsified just for the record, or will it limit operatives' freedom of action in other hits? Will the affair increase Israel's international isolation and present it once again as a lawless state?

If foreign reports are true about Israel's responsibility for the Mabhouh hit and the forged passports, then a thorough clarification is warranted, which can lead to conclusions about both organizations and individuals.onsibility are correct, what appears to be cumulative damage is getting worse.


business for American defence firms.

The newspaper noted that although the US had stayed out of the Indo-Pak rift, it was pursuing deals with both to strengthen its relationship and create business for American defence firms.

The US has made billions of dollars in weapons deals with India, which is in the midst of a five-year, $50 billion push to modernise its military. At the same time, American military aid to Pakistan would nearly double next year, the leading financial daily noted.

This would allow Islamabad to acquire more US-made helicopters, night-vision goggles and other military equipment.

The paper said that Pakistan had sought a nuclear deal with the US on the lines of the Indo-US atomic pact.

During a late January trip to Islamabad, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US would for the first time give Pakistan a dozen surveillance drones, a longstanding Pakistani request.

The newspaper noted that India and Pakistan have each been irked when the US made big-ticket weapons sales or transfers to the other. India lobbied against recent US legislation giving Pakistan billions of dollars in new non-military aid; the measure passed.

A top Pakistani diplomat warned last week that a two-year-old civilian nuclear deal between the US and India could threaten Pakistan’s national security by making it easier for India to covertly build more nuclear weapons.

Washington’s relationships with the two nations were very different, the Journal said, noting: “India, which is wealthier and larger than its neighbour, pays for weapons purchases with its own funds.

“Pakistan, by contrast, uses American grants to fund most of its arms purchases.”

A new US counter-insurgency assistance fund for Pakistan is slated to increase from $700 million in fiscal year 2010 to $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2011.

“For 2010 and 2011, India could well be the most important market in the world for defence contractors looking to make foreign military sales,” Tom Captain, the vice-chairman of Deloitte LLP’s aerospace and defence practice told WSJ.

The Obama administration is trying to persuade New Delhi to buy American jet fighters.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

American troops take our women and daughters in another place and ....

American troops knocked on the door, and before the Afghan family could find the key to let them in, the soldiers broke it down.

There was no time to take women in the home to another place, said 77-year-old Mohammad Nabi. And that's what troubled the retired school teacher most about the intrusion in the southern town of Marjah.

''If they ask us to take our women and daughters in another place and then they do the search, we have no problems,'' Nabi told an Associated Press reporter. ''We will cooperate with them. But they just enter the house and start searching and they don't care who is there.''

A new directive, confirmed Wednesday by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, aims to limit such nighttime raids on civilians. It was prompted by a storm of complaints from Afghans who, like Nabi, who were enraged over foreign soldiers bursting into their homes.

The move is the most recent by coalition forces to woo the Afghan public away from the Taliban.

''We didn't understand what a cultural line it was,'' McChrystal said during a luncheon with a group of young Afghans involved in a leadership program, part of a series he regularly holds to hear Afghan public opinion.

''We are trying to change the way we do these,'' he said.

Such raids emerged as the top concern by Afghans after McChrystal limited the use of airstrikes, which were responsible for the bulk of civilian deaths. He said the directive, whose details remain classified, was issued in late January. The AP had been told last month that NATO forces would limit night raids, but the change was only confirmed Wednesday.

A number of groups, along with the Afghan government and civilians, had been pressuring NATO to rethink the nighttime operations.

''Night raids cause tremendous trauma within Afghan communities, often alienating the very people whom international forces are supposedly trying to protect,'' said a 15-page report this week by the New York-based Open Society Institute, which promotes democracy, and an Afghan organization focusing on social development, The Liaison Group.

Raids can often turn violent, with detainees being kicked or beaten while handcuffed, the report said. It cited a U.N. report that said 98 civilians were killed during night raids in 2009.

Among the public, night raids by international troops raise anger because of cultural sensitivities, said Hamid Mohammad, head of the local chapter of a worldwide student leadership organization.

''If a foreign soldier goes into an Afghan house and if they even search boxes of the women's clothes, the men get very angry,'' he told McChrystal. ''This is the thing that creates problems for international forces and destroys the perception of (NATO) among the local people.''

Mohammad said the best way to conduct such searches would be to use Afghan forces because ''they just know what to do and they know what kind of behavior is acceptable.''

NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said he could not give specifics on the directive but that it does not limit the ability of troops to operate.

''It simply reiterates the commander's directive to consider other points of view and to consider other cultural sensitivities,'' he said, adding that night raids remain a necessary tactic.

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because a declassified version of the order had not been released said the directive instructs commanders to let Afghan troops knock on doors or forcibly enter Afghan homes and compounds at night.

It also tells NATO troops to determine whether anything would be lost by waiting until daylight, the official said.

Public outrage over civilian deaths prompted McChrystal last year to tighten the rules under which NATO forces operate, restricting the use of airstrikes and other weaponry if civilians are at risk.

Afghan civilian deaths soared to 2,412 last year -- the highest number in any year of the 8-year war, according to a U.N. report. But the deaths attributed to allied troops dropped nearly 30 percent as a result of the new rules, according to the report.

In the current NATO-Afghan assault on the Taliban haven of Marjah, NATO has focused on a counterinsurgency strategy that makes protecting civilians the priority over killing insurgents. NATO has limited the use of airstrikes and set strict rules when troops can open fire -- moves that have slowed the advance but probably spared many civilian losses.

Nevertheless, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said Wednesday it had confirmed 28 civilian deaths in the Marjah fighting. Thirteen children were among the dead. Another 70 civilians were wounded, 30 of them children, the commission said.

NATO has reported at least 16 civilian deaths.

Though night raids are less deadly as a whole than airstrikes, they can be equally lethal in terms of turning public opinion, said human rights lawyer Erica Gaston, who co-authored the Open Society Institute report.

''It's such an inflammatory tactic. It's considered incredibly offensive to Afghan communities. It's such a long-standing issue with them,'' she said.

The often aggressive conduct during raids and the lack of accountability afterward only help fuel propaganda against international forces and the Afghan government, the report said.

For troops in Marjah, in southern Helmand province, the tightened rules on night raids are already in use.

''We're trying to strictly limit the number of raids at night to ensure the population as a whole remains on our side,'' said Capt. Nolan Rinehart, an intelligence officer with the 5th Stryker Brigade. ''It's not to say it can't be done, it's just to say, if you're going to do it, you have to have good reason.''


Canada, US primed to meet for women's hockey gold (sports)

British Columbia -- This border rivalry has raged for two decades now, since even before women's hockey was an Olympic sport.

Canada and the U.S. team have won every gold medal, every world championship, every big international prize their sport offers. Most of the time, they've faced no real competition except each other.

Heck, only Sweden has broken through to the big finale - four years ago in Turin, where the Americans made an Olympic mistake they hope to remedy Thursday. In front of a raucous crowd cheering for the home team, the Americans will meet Canada again in the long-anticipated gold-medal match of the Vancouver Games.

"This is our Stanley Cup final, our Super Bowl, our Final Four all rolled into 60 minutes on the ice," said U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympian. "This is what we prepare for, what gets us through all those practices and all those months away from our families and friends and careers. It's probably the best rivalry in women's sports for the people who know about it."

With ample funding, innovative training and a deep talent pool that expands each year, North America has dominated women's hockey to the point its viability as an Olympic sport has been questioned. Anybody who watches their passing, speed and shooting can see the Canadians and Americans are simply playing a different game than the rest of the world - yet they're playing it in tandem, constantly pushing each other to improve, to get deeper, to work harder.
Although this familiarity breeds more respect than contempt, it also doesn't spark many friendships, as evidenced by the scrums and scraps in their most recent meetings leading up to Vancouver. A few players have crossed paths at American colleges or on Canadian pro teams, but most have strictly a working relationship.

"I don't know if I can be friends with them," whispered Jenny Potter, another four-time U.S. Olympian. "I mean, they're Canadian."

They're meeting in the final after two of the most dominant runs in Olympic history, made even more impressive by the rest of the world's strides. Sweden, Finland and the also-rans are getting better, but North America is pulling away even faster.

Starting with an 18-0 thrashing of Slovakia, Canada outscored its four opponents in Vancouver 46-2, while the Americans ran up a 40-2 advantage. Neither team won a game by fewer than five goals, and no opponent scored more than one.

And here's perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this rivalry: Neither team has really pushed past the other. After 20 years, they're still neck-and-neck, still fighting for every loose puck and each victory.

"We live to push those guys, and I'm sure they feel the same way," Canadian forward Jayna Hefford said. "You always want to test yourself against the best, and we're both at the top of this game."

Although Canada won the first eight world championships starting in 1990, the Americans won plenty of other matches and usually kept the finals close. When women's hockey finally made it to the Olympics in 1998, the Americans upset the Canadians for the sport's first gold medals. The disappointment that still fuels Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser, the world's most visible player and the captain in her fourth Olympics.


London Fashion Week might finally be waking up

Last weekend it looked as though London Fashion Week might finally be waking up to what real women want when designer Mark Fast sent plus-size models down the runway.

Had the fashion world learnt its lesson - that most of us cannot identify with hollow-cheeked, twiglet-legged, coat hanger models? Had it hell.

How do I know? Because our family has first-hand experience of the fashion world's dogged obsession with 'thin' - not slim, not healthy but the sort of bone protruding skinniness that makes people turn around and do a second take.

It should have been a highlight of our 17-year-old daughter Madeline's young life. Amid choruses of car horns and wolf whistles from passers-by, this stunning 6ft tall schoolgirl, a whisker under 9st, went bouncing into her modelling agency, Profile in Covent Garden, buzzing at the prospect of the string of castings she was due to attend for her first London Fashion Week, with several of the agency's other teenage new faces.

The girls, all tall, leggy and faun-like, slipped on their high platform shoes and body-hugging mini-dresses (regulation wear for castings) and began a catwalk training session, coached by two experienced Profile models and Madeline's cheerful, motherly model booker Sam Cookson.

Madeline was on a high after a shoot at the weekend in London with a cuttingedge Welsh photographer, Grant Thomas, and influential stylist Debbie Lerner. The eye-popping images had been posted on his website and brought more offers of work, boosting our once painfully shy teenager's confidence.

So, as she strutted down the Profile catwalk, hips forward, shoulders back, listening intently as she was taught to hold the pose on the turn, Madeline looked to my untutored eye to be a natural.

She was rangy and graceful after years of netball training, with endless legs and a hint of haughtiness (which was actually a slight frown of concentration).

Next moment, however, an anxious-looking Sam beckoned her into a side room. Out of sight of the other girls, she talked quietly, a consoling arm round Madeline's slight shoulders. Her face fell. I could tell she was trying desperately not to cry and I knew something was wrong.

It's no good,' Sam was saying. 'There's absolutely no point in you doing London Fashion Week. You're gorgeous, you've got the 'wow' factor and photographers love you, but you've put on weight since the summer.

'It's quite natural - most 16 and 17-year-olds' weight fluctuates because of hormonal changes - but if you're an inch over size 8, you'll be torn to shreds. Those queeny designers and their scouts would make your life hell and it could destroy your confidence.'

Seeing my crest-fallen daughter, another model stepped in to try to comfort her. 'The fashion world is awful,' she said. 'They all demand size zero models - what they really want is surrogate boys. It's not just the camp male designers. Some of the women are just as hard.

'However young a girl is, they don't just say "Thanks but no thanks" if they don't want to use you. They're incredibly insulting and personal and can make even very promising models feel utterly worthless.'


China,United,Nations,Dubai,Iran Axis

Although Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered the increase of uranium enrichment to 20%—bringing Tehran much closer to weapons-grade nuclear material—China still opposes new United Nations sanctions. The responsibility for stopping the Iranian bomb thus rests with a "coalition of the willing." The attitude of Germany—Iran's most important Western trading partner—will be critical to the success of such a coalition. But while the recent announcement by Siemens and Munich Re to exit the Iranian market have garnered headlines, hundreds of German manufacturers remain determined to continue doing business as usual with Tehran.

Much of that business goes undetected via Dubai. Iran's Mullahs use the United Arab Emirates as a back door through which to funnel goods that cannot be brought in through the front door because of existing sanctions. The role of the German-Emirati Joint Council for Industry & Commerce, founded only last year, on May 20, raises serious questions about the German government's commitment to meaningful sanctions.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the German economics minister at the time (who has since become defense minister), considered the Joint Council so important that he took time from his busy schedule to attend the founding festivities. Partly financed by German taxpayers, the council announced just a few months ago, on Nov. 5., the formation of an "Iran Working Group" to assess "how new trade and investment flows can be created—including [for] German companies—using the United Arab Emirates as a gateway to the Iranian market."

This state-funded institution thus directly contradicts official German government policies. Berlin publicly says it wants to deter or dissuade German firms from doing business with Iran. Chancellor Angela Merkel even declared in November 2007 that "We have to do all we can to ensure that trade routes do not simply take a diversion to get to Iran." But this is precisely what the Iran Working Group is trying to facilitate under the authority of the German economics ministry. Has the Chancellor been informed?

Dubai is in fact already the "gateway to the Iranian market"—and not only for German companies. The tiny emirate is considered to be the hub for much of the world's illegal trade with Iran. Virtually nothing is produced in Dubai and yet, its activities have somehow catapulted the UAE to the top of the list of countries exporting to Iran in 2009. An astounding 80% of all Emirati imports are re-exported, one-quarter of which goes to Iran via Dubai.

Some 8,000 Iranian firms and 1,200 Iranian trading companies are registered in the emirate. Every week, about 300 flights shuttle between Dubai and Iran. Dubai has one of the world's largest artificial harbors, Jebel Ali, a mere 100 miles away from the Iranian container port of Bandar Abbas. Between 2005 and 2009, the value of goods exported from Dubai to Iran tripled, reaching $12 billion. In 2008, total German exports to the UAE reached $11 billion, an increase of 40% over the previous year. In the vehicle construction and mechanical engineering sectors, exports rose by more than 60%. The desire of the German-Emirati Joint Council to open the "gateway to Iran" even wider is therefore rather worrisome.

On Nov. 17, 2009, the Joint Council's Iran Working Group met at Dubai's Monarch Hotel. The minutes of the meeting, which I have before me, describe the proceedings and the mood of the 15 participants. There were many complaints about the obstacles the U.S. has created to prevent them from doing business with Iran. At the same time, the working group members encouraged one another with statements like "Iranians have always respected and appreciated German products" or Iran is like a "sleeping giant."

The document notes that "Iranian residents are ready for business," urging members "to establish relationships, calculate risks, and use the Iranian presence here in Dubai." This needs "to be done very tactfully due to the sensitivity of the subject," warns the council's managing director, Peter Göpfrich.

The founding of the Iran Working Group only three months ago is not just of anecdotal interest. With a crucial round of international sanctions negotiations upcoming, the German government has a choice to make. It can feign seriousness about sanctions in order to impress the Israelis and Americans and discourage them from taking further action, or it can put real pressure on Tehran in order to prevent the Iranian bomb.

Let's hope it's the latter. If Berlin's assurances are sincere, then it must close this "gateway to the Iranian market." This means as a first step bringing about the end of the Iran Working Group and the dismissal of the executive officers of the semi-governmental German-Emirati Joint Council for Industry & Commerce. Unless this happens, Mrs. Merkel's assurances to be counted among the "coalition of the willing" mean nothing.


India and Pakistan resume peace talks on the thorny issues

Few major breakthroughs are expected when India and Pakistan resume peace talks on the thorny issues that have led the nuclear-armed neighbours to three wars over six decades.

India wants the talks to focus on complaints that Pakistan has not done enough to crack down on militant groups who have carried out attacks in the country, especially those behind the November 2008 siege of Mumbai.

Pakistan is calling for wide-ranging negotiations that will focus on long-standing issues, including the conflict in disputed Kashmir and tensions over their shared water sources.

"We want to discuss and resolve all disputes with India," Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said in Lahore as he prepared to head to New Delhi to meet his counterpart, Nirupama Rao.

Indian officials, unsatisfied with Pakistan's efforts against militants, have been careful to say the meeting does not represent a resumption of a full-scale peace process.

The talks are a political risk for New Delhi as the public does not trust Pakistan. However, the government does not want to write off diplomacy and wants to keep tensions low between the countries.

The US, which is intent on eliminating all distractions from Pakistan's fight against militants along its frontier with Afghanistan, has been pushing for a resumption of the talks.

The US hopes that a reduction in tensions would help Pakistan shift its focus from the Indian border to the offensive against Taliban militants in the north west of the country.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lady Gaga To Venture In Fashion Designing World

After Madonna now it’s ‘Poker Face’ singer Lady Gaga who wants to launch her career in fashion designing world. The singer revealed that she is planning to start her own clothing line. The 23-year-old singer who is known for her outrageous outfits and crazy hairstyles has planned to design a wacky collection. The singer said, "I'd love to have my own collection. It's something I want to accomplish. I find Donatella a fashion icon and in many ways fashion and music go together." According to sources close to the singer, Lady Gaga was very affected by tragic death of Brit designer Alexander McQueen and that inspired her to sketch a few designs. A source said, "GaGa is a workaholic." "She is always coming up with new ideas. The death of Alexander really affected her. She's always loved fashion and it just seems natural for her to create her own collection. For her everything is about art. Whether its music or fashion, to her it's about expressing an art form," added the source.


Hero Honda FIH World Cup starting at the.....

Hockey fans can watch 'live' action of the 12-nation Hero Honda FIH World Cup starting at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi from February 28 on Ten Sports, the Essel Group-owned sports channel said on Tuesday. South Africa will take on Spain in the opening match next Monday while hosts and 1975 champions India are to start their campaign by playing the last match on Day One against arch-rivals and four-time winners Pakistan. "We are delighted to telecast Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010. World Cup 2010 will serve as an ideal preparatory platform for the Commonwealth Games, to be held in India in the same year. The tournament will herald an exciting year in Indian sport," said the group's Sports Business CEO Atul Pande. "Ten Sports will be telecasting the matches with pre and post programming, user friendly graphics to make the viewing experience a delight. We hope the telecast of Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010 will greatly contribute to the success of the hockey in the country," he added.


Mr. Obama left “frustrated that while he was putting out ways to bridge the problem

Tempers were fraying in the White House Cabinet Room as night turned into morning on Jan. 15. President Obama had been cloistered nearly all day with House and Senate Democrats, playing "marriage counselor," an aide said, as he coaxed, cajoled and prodded them on a health care overhaul As the clock neared 1 a.m., the two sides were at an impasse. Mr. Obama stood up. " ‘See what you guys can figure out,’ " one participant remembers him saying, adding that the failed effort left the president mad. Another Democrat who was there, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, said Mr. Obama left "frustrated that while he was putting out ways to bridge the problem, we hadn’t reached a conclusion." Ever since his days as a young community organizer in Chicago, Mr. Obama has held fast to the belief that by listening carefully and appealing to reason he can bring people together to get results, an approach that in Washington has often come up short. He is not showing any signs of changing his style. But he is facing perhaps the toughest test yet of his powers of persuasion: winning the votes he needs, in the face of unified Republican opposition and a deteriorating climate for Democrats, to push his health care measure through a skittish Congress. Mr. Obama has not been the sort to bludgeon his party into following his lead or to intimidate reluctant legislators. And while he has often succeeded by relying on Democratic leaders in Congress to do his bidding — the House and Senate, after all, both passed versions of the health legislation last year — it is not clear whether his gentle, consensus-building style will be enough. "I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more toughness here or there," said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat, who contends that if Mr. Obama had pushed the Senate harder last year, the bill would have been law by now. Like many Democrats in Congress, she praises Mr. Obama as intellectually gifted and a generous listener. But "if you are asking me if he dominates the room," she said, "I would have to say no." White House officials strongly resist any suggestion that Mr. Obama is not tough enough, and they say the days are gone when a president can simply browbeat his own party into submission, especially on an issue as complex as health care. "If the president weren’t tough, if the president weren’t committed, if the president didn’t believe that this was an imperative for the future of American families, businesses and the sustainability of our budget, this thing would have been dead six months ago," David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said in an interview. "I would love to live in a world where the president could snap his fingers or even twist arms and make change happen, but in this great democracy of ours, that’s not the way it is." One of the most persistent criticisms of Mr. Obama, especially on health care, is that he has given Congress too much latitude to engage in backroom deal-making and expedient trade-offs. His critics suggest that they want him to step forward more assertively to put his stamp on the process and the legislation. But his defenders and some historians say that perhaps more than any modern president since Lyndon B. Johnson, Mr. Obama has been aggressive in trying to work his will with Congress. During his 13-month-old presidency, he has had countless one-on-one meetings with lawmakers — a technique that some scholars and strategists say evokes memories of Johnson, though their styles could hardly be more different. "People make the L.B.J. analogy," said John D. Podesta, who worked as chief of staff in the Clinton White House, "but the world is a lot different than it was during the 1960s. The president actually has to bring people along because they think it’s the right thing to do, because they think it’s in the interest of the country but also their own self-interest. His style is to convince people, not threaten them." If Johnson was a physical force — an arm around the shoulder, a full-body lean, a finger poking into the chest — Mr. Obama is an intellectual one. Members of Congress do not find him intimidating; they are more apt, said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, to view him as "a friend." And while he shows occasional flashes of anger — "There is a sort of steel in his voice," said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the House Democratic leader from Maryland — his emotions are always contained. While courting Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, on the health care bill last year, Mr. Obama kept her in the Oval Office for an extraordinary 90 minutes. (She voted no.) When Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, hinted that he would vote against the Finance Committee’s health bill, Mr. Obama laid the personal attention on thick. During their private Oval Office meeting, they sat side by side, the senator said, in front of the fireplace and underneath a portrait of George Washington, in the blue and beige striped chairs Mr. Obama uses when he meets with foreign leaders. Mr. Obama briefly rested his hand on the senator’s arm when making an important point — the same kind of gesture, Mr. Rockefeller said, that he uses to connect with voters back home. He made no promises, but Mr. Obama got his vote. "Un-dictatorial, un-Caesar-like," he said, describing Mr. Obama’s style. Gerald Kellman, who trained Mr. Obama as a community organizer in Chicago and taught him


Iran reaffirms nuclear swap terms US rejected

The document, seen by the Associated Press yesterday, says Tehran is ready to hand over the bulk of its stockpile, as called for under a deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency and endorsed by the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany. But Iran adds that it must simultaneously receive fuel rods for its research reactor in return, and that such an exchange must take place on Iranian territory. The Iranian offer was sure to be rejected by the six powers, which have waited for nearly six months for such an official answer. The United States and others fear Iran’s nuclear program is geared toward making nuclear weapons, while Tehran says it is simply to provide more power for its growing population. The United Nations has slapped sanctions on Iran for its defiance on nuclear issues. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the chief Iranian delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the AP that the letter, to IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, was "formally reflecting’’ his country’s position, which has been expressed to the IAEA and to the news media in various forms. The United States and its allies have previously said there can be no significant deviation from the original deal, which would commit Iran to shipping out its nuclear material first and then waiting up to a year for it to be turned into fuel for its reactor, which makes medical isotopes. US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington that Iran’s counterproposal was unacceptable. "It doesn’t say anything new,’’ Crowley said. "We’ve heard this before. We think that the arrangement that we put on the table in Geneva is the right one. The Iranian response in essence is, in our view, a red herring.’’ Nor was the British Foreign Office impressed by the new document. "We continue to support the original deal,’’ the Foreign Office said a statement. "Iran has continually failed to respond fully to that proposal.’’ "It is clearly for the interested parties to respond but it is hard to see how this latest ‘offer’ properly addresses these issues,’’ said the statement. The statement was issued after Amano met in London with British officials, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband. The letter to Amano, dated Feb. 18, says Iran is "still seeking to purchase the required fuel in cash.’’ But it was unclear how Iran would do that, because there are no stockpiles of fuel specifically made for its reactor. Iran is ready to exchange its low-enriched uranium for the fuel rods "simultaneously in one package or several packages in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran,’’ the letter says. World powers insist that Iran ship out most of its enriched uranium first, then wait for the fuel rods, because that would delay Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon by leaving it with too little material for a warhead. Iran continues to enrich in defiance of the UN Security Council, saying it has a right to do that to make nuclear fuel.


Turkey's front pages yesterday.

In a country where military coups were once an accepted part of political life, and military influence over elected ministers taken for granted, the spectacle of venerable generals carted to prison in dawn raids has sent shockwaves through the system. Some 45 retired and active officers detained on Monday, and questioned yesterday, include senior commanders serving in the first years of the ruling AK party government, when a moderate chief of general staff struggled to check secularist dissent against politicians with Islamist roots. Many of those detained have been linked to the so-called Sledgehammer plot, detailed in documents leaked last month to the Taraf newspaper, which claimed they dated from 2003 and contained internal army plans to stage a coup. "Turkey has taken its biggest step yet to ridding itself of a semi-military regime in which coups have never been treated as a crime and it was normal that they should not be punished," Yasemin Congar, Taraf's deputy editor, wrote yesterday. Ilker Basbug, chief of general staff, has made no public comment on the detentions. He previously denied that the Sledgehammer papers contained coup plans, but authorised a military investigation to run alongside the civilian court probe. The general staff said yesterday that all serving generals and admirals had met in Ankara to discuss what it called a "serious situation". But the detentions could trigger a more serious confrontation between prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK party and its traditional antagonists in the secularist bastions of the military, judiciary and Kemalist opposition. A row last week between factions in the judiciary has fed rumours that Turkey's chief prosecutor could be preparing a new closure case against the AK party in the constitutional court, a move that would probably trigger early elections. Mr Erdogan has made little comment on the detentions, perhaps aiming to underline that the government has played no part in the investigation. Although Turkish assets have been hit by the developments, analysts such as Ahmet Akarli, at Goldman Sachs, suggest that neither General Basbug nor Mr Erdogan stands to gain from tensions, "as this would risk a more serious political crisis with highly unpredictable consequences for all parties involved". But the AK party has found in the past that its run-ins with the army worked in its favour at the polls. After military intervention failed to prevent Abdullah Gul's appointment to the presidency in 2007, the AK party won re-election with 47 per cent of the national vote, a landslide by the norms of Turkish elections. Now Gen Basbug is likely to come under pressure from his staff to toughen his approach, though he has stressed that the era of military coups is over. Mr Erdogan, meanwhile, is threatening a fresh push for constitutional reforms that the AK party has attempted before . Develet Bahceli, leader of a nationalist opposition party, said he would not support constitutional change before the next elections, meaning that the AK party's only option would be to call a referendum and seek a popular mandate. The latest developments have underlined both the need for constitutional change, and the difficulties of pursuing reforms in a polarised political climate. "What I see is an unravelling . . . We have to reconstruct the regime in Turkey and there is not the minimum degree of consensus as to what the primary rules, principles, institutional changes ought to be," said Soli Ozel, an academic at Bilgi university. Henri Barkey, a visiting scholar at Washington''s Carnegie Endowment, warned the biggest challenge could come when Gen Basbug's term ended this summer, as he was set to be replaced by a hardliner. "Turkey is at an inflexion point," he said. "Either it will face political instability in the near future or it will have to make a serious attempt at changing the constitution. Doing nothing is not an option." Timeline Feb 2010 Former chiefs of navy and air force among more than 40 retired and serving officers detained for questioning in connection with Sledgehammer Jan 2010 Taraf publishes details of "Sledgehammer" documents, claiming generals drew up scenarios for military coup in 2003 2008 AK party narrowly escapes closure by constitutional court for undermining secularism. Trial begins of so-called Ergenekon network, accused of planning violent attacks to destabilise government 2007 Army interference and secularist rallies fail to stop Abdullah Gul's appointment to presidency and AK party's re-election with 47 per cent of vote


Pakistan making progress in war against terrorism

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has made some ‘real progress’ in the war against terrorism and it is committed in securing its long border with Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday. Gates said this while addressing a press briefing at the Pentagon. The defence secretary said that the recent arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and two ‘shadow’ Taliban governors was a positive development. "What we are seeing is the importance of operations, on both sides of the border and a manifestation of real progress on the Pakistani side, said Gates. Separately, at a Congressional hearing on Afghanistan operations a prominent US senator and a top Pentagon policy adviser praised the role of Pakistan’s ISI, in the arrests of Afghan Taliban leaders. "What I would say is that the ISI has, in many cases of counter terrorism operations, been a very important partner for our intelligence agencies and actually contributed substantially to the capture of a number of high-level people from terrorist organisations," Michelle Flournoy, undersecretary of Defence for Policy said. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut appreciated the role of ISI in the recent capture of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Gasoline prices edge down in California, jump in U.S.

Gasoline prices had drifted as low as they could go in recent weeks, those analysts said, because some recent refinery outages had limited supply -- and demand is expected to go up. Experts were expecting a surge in demand as motorists returned to driving after harsh storms dropped large amounts of snow in parts of the Eastern U.S. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in California fell 0.8 cents to $2.918, its lowest level since Dec. 21, according to the Energy Department's weekly survey of filling stations. Nationally, the average rose for the second straight week, up 4.7 cents to $2.655 a gallon. "We saw the national bottom on prices about a week ago," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey. California prices were sure to bounce as well, Kloza added, noting that the trading price for unfinished CARBOB, California Reformulated Gasoline Blendstock for Oxygenate Blending, had risen about 25 cents to $2.12 in recent weeks. The experts were less certain about the short-term direction for oil. Phil Flynn, an analyst for PFGBest Research in Chicago, said oil could drop $10 or more a barrel after a strike by refinery workers in France and concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions failed to result in more than a slight nudge above $80. Crude oil futures for March delivery settled 35 cents higher at $80.16 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Other analysts, such as Kloza, saw momentum gathering for a rise in oil prices, based on sentiments that the recovery from the global recession was strong enough in Asia to build demand for crude in spite of the continuing sluggishness of the U.S. economy. "Energy traders are confident and oil will be going up. It's like watching a speech and seeing the dynamics of the crowd when you know they are about to give a standing ovation


London Fashion Week

London Fashion Week kicked off with size 16 model Crystal Renn taking to the catwalk in a Mark Fast dress.The Canadian designer, who claims to be the saviour of larger ladies, did the striking and statuesque Miss Renn no favours by turning her out in this red Lycra frock which was stretched over every inch of her voluptuous body. Even Kate Moss would have thought twice about wearing it.Modelling," he says, "should be about personality and variety. It is about beautiful women. Size should not come into the equation."It wouldn’t, if he’d made his model look goddess-like, not gargantuan.


Security and stability in the Islamic world and distort the image of Islam.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Monday called for confronting all elements of division and extremism which threaten security and stability in the Islamic world and distort the image of Islam.In his address at the inaugural session of the 22nd conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs read out by Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Mubarak warned that the spread of extremism and bigotry among youths not only obstructs the Islamic world's development but also distances Muslims from working for the progress of their nation."We (Muslims) need an enlightened religious discourse based on Sharia in terms of tolerance and acceptance of the other," he said.He called on the Islamic nation to seek progress armed by science and knowledge in a race against time to provide its people a decent life and contribute to the stability and security of the world."The regrettable criminal acts committed in some Islamic nations every now and then under the banner of Islam affirm the pressing need for an enlightened religious discourse based on the Sharia and backed by the media and the system of education," Mubarak said.The four-day conference was held in Cairo, attracting religious leaders and some representatives from 80 countries.


Final of the National One-day Cup (Pakistan)

After opting to bat first, SNGPL reached 297-6 in their 50 overs with opener Naeemuddin, skipper Misbah-ul-Haq and Khurram Shahzad contributing bulk of the runs. The left-handed Naeemuddin, later adjudged Man-of-the-Match, smashed an 87-ball 90 that included a dozen boundaries. The opener added 89 for the third wicket with Misbah who struck five fours and three sixes in making 87 off 107 deliveries. Khurram then ensured SNGPL get a substantial total by blasting 70 off only 53 balls with the aid of five fours and a brace of sixes. National Bank, despite boasting a number of current players, subsided to a paltry score of 116 inside 30 overs. Skipper Kamran Akmal, the beleaguered Pakistan wicket-keeper/batsman, was the top-scorer for them with a 41-ball 42 (five fours and one six).Paceman Imran Ali inflicted most of the damage on the bankers by returning figures of four for 26 in 7.2 overs. SNGPL will face Sialkot Stallions in Tuesday’s final at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Scoreboard SNGPL: Ali Waqas lbw b Asif 5 Naeemuddin c Mansoor b Sarmad 90 Raza Ali Dar b Wasim 11 Misbah-ul-Haq c sub b Qaiser 87 Umar Akmal c Kamran b Sarmad 2 Khurram Shahzad lbw b Qaiser 70 Imran Khalid not out 14 Adnan Akmal not out 1 EXTRAS (B-1, LB-6, W-10) 17 TOTAL (for six wkts, 50 overs) 297 FALL OF WKTS: 1-24, 2-63, 3-152, 4-161, 5-277, 6-289. DID NOT BAT: Imran Ali Samiullah Khan Niazi, Asad Ali. BOWLING: Mohammad Asif 10-0-58-1 (7w); Wasim Khan 10-1-65-1 (1w); Sarmad Bhatti 10-0-38-2 (1w); Umar Amin 2-0-14-0 (1w); Irfanuddin 5-0-37-0; Qaiser Abbas 7-0-42-2; Mansoor Amjad 6-0-36-0. NATIONAL BANK: Nasir Jamshed b Sami 8 Salman Butt c Misbah b Asad 20 Kamran Akmal lbw b Imran Khalid 42 Umar Amin c Raza b Sami 4 Naumanullah c Umar b Imran Ali 0 Qaiser Abbas run out 14 Mansoor Amjad c Adnan b Imran Ali 1 Sarmad Bhatti b Imran Ali 25 Wasim Khan lbw b Imran Ali 0 Mohammad Asif c and b Imran Khalid 0 Irfanuddin not out 0 EXTRAS (LB-1, NB-1) 2 TOTAL (all out, 29.2 overs) 116 FALL OF WKTS: 1-12, 2-51, 3-60, 4-75, 5-79, 6-82, 7-105, 8-105, 9-106. BOWLING: Samiullah Khan Niazi 8-0-44-2; Asad Ali 7-0-31-1 (1w); Imran Ali 7.2-1-26-4; Imran Khalid 7-1-14-2. RESULT: SNGPL won by 181 runs. UMPIRES: Saleem Badar and Ghaffar Kazmi. MATCH REFEREE: Musaddeq Rasool Khan. MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Naeemuddin.


WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama's health-care proposal reject

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama's health-care proposal is a victory for those in the White House who want to press ahead with ambitious legislation over those who counseled scaling it back. The proposal, unveiled Monday, reaffirmed Mr. Obama's support for the policy's sweeping objectives: expanding health-care coverage to some 30 million Americans, new efforts to control health spending and new rules for health insurers. Continued pursuit of a comprehensive health-care overhaul had been uncertain following the victory last month of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate election. Mr. Brown won partly by campaigning against the health bill, which was proving increasingly unpopular with voters. "People were in shell shock after Massachusetts," said one person close to the White House deliberations. Advocates of a "skinny bill," including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, made headway after that defeat, according to people involved in the discussions. This camp argued for a slimmer measure that would include provisions from the pending Democratic legislation—such as forcing insurers to cover pre-existing conditions—in a bid to attract Republican support or reduce the risks if Democrats pushed it through Congress on their own. Mr. Obama himself publicly suggested such a step. A day after the Massachusetts election, he signaled he might support a smaller measure. "I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on," Mr. Obama told ABC News. Mr. Emanuel, who had long advocated for a smaller health-care bill, argued that the state of play in Congress did not favor the Democrats' sweeping legislation, which was helping drive down Mr. Obama's approval ratings, one person involved in the talks said. "Rahm strongly believes that incremental reform is all that can (and should) be done," this person said in an email Monday. White House senior adviser David Axelrod led the counterargument, according to Democrats familiar with the debate. He saw the Obama legacy as intertwined with revamping health care and didn't relent after Massachusetts. The president explored a scaled-back approach and asked his staff to examine areas of broad political agreement, according to congressional aides involved in the process. The exercise quickly pointed to a practical problem: You could not make incremental changes that were politically popular without pursuing the whole package. For instance, Republicans and Democrats agree they should prevent insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. But without a mandate requiring healthy people to buy coverage, insurers would wind up with a slew of sick customers without healthy ones to balance them out. That would likely lead to either soaring premiums or a bankrupt industry. After a series of conference calls and meetings, the White House was left with a list of policies that looked very similar to the House and Senate bills. "The practical problems all lead back to themselves," one knowledgeable Democrat familiar with the debate said. White House aides say Mr. Obama tipped his hand at a town-hall meeting Jan. 22 in Elyria, Ohio, when he discussed the results of trying to tease out insurance regulations. "A lot of these insurance reforms are connected to some other things we have to do to make sure that everybody has some access to coverage." Despite Mr. Obama's resolve, the White House may still wind up supporting a scaled-back bill if congressional Democrats are unable to rally enough support for the comprehensive measure. Aides left the door open to that approach. Inside the White House, the calculations involved both politics and policy. "There is a growing realization that we are still so very close," one person involved in the talks said Monday. "Today was a big victory for the comprehensive advocates."


NATO forces believed the three vehicles

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan - Swaying with the weight of their human cargo, two overloaded minibuses and a truck crept through a steep mountain pass, heading in the direction of Kandahar, the southern Afghan city the Taliban movement regards as its spiritual home. With an eye-in-the-sky view of the road and the surrounding terrain, NATO forces believed the three vehicles, closely trailing one another, were a convoy of insurgents preparing for an attack on coalition forces -- perhaps in neighboring Helmand province, where a huge offensive is underway, led by U.S. Marines. Afghan officials said they were innocent travelers, many of them women and children. Now at least 27 of them are dead and more than a dozen hurt, some severely, and the government of President Hamid Karzai is outraged -- all at a particularly delicate and potentially decisive moment in a battle for Afghan hearts and minds. The incident, the worst single episode of civilian casualties in six months, threatened to overshadow what coalition forces had billed as an important milestone in Marja: the first visit to the town by the newly appointed civilian chief, who will preside over a municipal government created essentially from scratch. Sunday's airstrike in Oruzgan province coincided with the war's biggest coalition offensive, centered on the town of Marja, in the Helmand River Valley. Both Helmand and Oruzgan provinces are part of a troubled arc of southern Afghanistan, one that will absorb the bulk of the 30,000 new U.S. troops President Obama has committed to the conflict. Militarily, the Western aim of the 10-day-old Marja campaign is to seize the town from insurgents who had made it their home turf for more than two years. But politically, the goal is to win over ordinary Afghans living in the Taliban heartland, bringing them around to the belief that order and governance will improve their lives in a way the insurgency leaders cannot. Western military officials said the Oruzgan airstrike was under investigation, an inquiry undertaken jointly by coalition and Afghan officials. But U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, immediately conveyed "sorrow and regret" to Karzai, a highly vocal critic of civilian casualties. In Washington, senior Defense Department officials also expressed regret, but avoided discussing details. "I would remind everyone of an essential truth: War is bloody and uneven," said Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It's messy and ugly and incredibly wasteful, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth the cost." The day before the airstrike, Karzai, speaking to lawmakers, made an emotional appeal to foreign military forces to take greater care in keeping civilians out of harm's way. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization did not identify the nationality of the Western troops involved in the strike. U.S. Special Forces operate there, as in most provinces, but most of the soldiers serving there are from the Netherlands, which is set to pull out this year after a bitter political showdown over Afghan policy brought down the Dutch government on Saturday. Military officials said the Oruzgan strike was not connected to the Marja assault. But the sprawling offensive, involving 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops, has engendered a hair-trigger sensibility across much of Afghanistan's south, extending well beyond the immediate conflict zone. A statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed that "airborne weapons" were used against the three vehicles in Oruzgan, in the belief that they carried insurgents. Arriving ground forces, however, found women and children, the military said. Afghanistan's Cabinet -- which condemned the attack as "unjustifiable" -- said at least 27 people died in the strike, including at least five women and children. A spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, Zemari Bashary, said 14 people were hurt. In Marja, the arrival of Haji Zahir, a native of Helmand who has spent the last 15 years in exile in Germany, represented the first Afghan government presence in at least two years in the town, which had become the largest Taliban sanctuary in Helmand province. Insurgents had operated freely in Marja and its environs, turning the agricultural center into a hub of bomb making and narco-trafficking -- that is, until thousands of coalition troops, with U.S. Marines acting as the tip of the spear, launched a massive and much-publicized effort Feb. 13 to retake the town. In advance of the Marja campaign, Western commanders promised to take all possible measures to safeguard civilian lives. The Marines have been fighting under stringent new rules laid down last summer by McChrystal -- regulations so strict that troops on the ground believe they are putting their own lives on the line to follow them. Coalition troops are not supposed to fire on insurgents unless they are wielding a weapon or are observed discarding one. Buildings and homes -- even those being used as sniper posts -- are not to be fired on if there is a possibility that civilians are present, unless it is the only way to save troops' lives. Even with these precautions, NATO says at least 16 civilians have been accidentally killed by Western forces in the course of the Marja offensive -- 12 of them in rocket fire on a family home on the second day of fighting. That incident is under investigation as well. After days of intense clashes, Marja was quieter Monday, said Marine spokesman Capt. Abraham Sipe. The hazards were what has become the norm: buried bombs and sniper fire. "I don't know if it's a trend," said Sipe. "But it's good to see our Marines get a break, after so much firefighting."


Sunday, February 21, 2010

42 Dead as Teams Search Flooded Madeira

Rescue workers dug through heaps of mud, boulders and debris on Sunday on the Portuguese island of Madeira, searching for victims buried by flash floods and mudslides that had already killed at least 42 people in the popular tourist area. More than 120 others were injured and an unknown number were missing, possibly swept away or smothered, the authorities said, adding that the death toll could still rise. About 250 people were forced to flee their homes and go to shelters. The storm was the worst to hit Madeira, an island in the Atlantic off northwest Africa, since 1993. It lashed the capital, Funchal, on Saturday and turned some streets into raging torrents of liquid brown mud, water and debris. "We heard a very loud noise, like rolling thunder," said Simon Burgbage of Britain. "The ground shook, and then we realized it was water coming down." The flash floods were so powerful they carved paths down mountains and through the city, churning under bridges and even tearing some down. Residents had to cling to railings to avoid being swept away. Cars were consumed by the force of the water, and the streets were littered with the battered shells of overturned vehicles that had been swept downstream. "It was horrible," said Andreas Hoisser, a German tourist. "There were cars on rooftops, there were vans and trucks that had fallen and been totally crushed." The water swept even a heavy fire truck downstream, slamming it into a tree. The death toll "will likely increase, given the circumstances of this flood," said Francisco Ramos, a regional social services spokesman. He added that there were still "great difficulties" with communications on the island because phone lines had been ripped out by the deluge. Firefighters used pumping equipment to try to drain an underground parking garage at a downtown department store close to where the flooding was heaviest. The local authorities feared that shoppers might have been trapped below ground. "The store is totally destroyed, damaged, full of slurry," said the owner, João Andrade. A medical team backed up by divers and rescue experts arrived Sunday on Madeira, the main island in an archipelago of the same name about 550 miles southwest of Lisbon. The plane was also carrying telecommunications equipment.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Woman who suffered 18 miscarriages finally gives The Sun

Angie Baker, 33, and her partner Lee Gibson spent 13 years trying to have a child before their daughter finally arrived weighing a healthy 7lb. Raiya, who was born on December 9 last year, is now a thriving 10-week-old girl. "She's my little miracle. I can't explain how I feel. I'm overwhelmed. It seems like a dream and I still have to pinch myself. She's perfect in every way," said Miss Baker, from Peacehaven near Brighton. "I absolutely love it. I enjoy every moment. It's so precious. I can't believe she's here and she's mine and Lee dotes on her. She's his little princess." From the age of 20, Miss Baker's miscarriages took place one after another, between five and eight weeks after conception. Doctors told her it was "just one of those things" and with Mr Gibson, 31, a martial arts instructor, she considered the possibility of adopting. She said: "Emotionally it was a roller-coaster. Every time I got pregnant I was hoping this was the one and it wasn't going to end in a miscarriage. "I never gave up. I was desperate for a baby so I persevered." The breakthrough came after the mother of her best friend read a newspaper article about Dr Hassan Shehata, who specialises in treating multiple miscarriages, and his work at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. She contacted him for help in 2006 and was referred for treatment. Dr Shehata said: "Eighteen miscarriages is a huge number. This is the most unusual case I've come across. "You're more likely to win the lottery than have 18 miscarriages through bad luck. Therefore there must be an underlying cause." A specialist test, available only at Epsom, in Liverpool and in Chicago in the United States, showed she was suffering from a fairly common problem, thought to affect about 15 per cent of women. Miss Baker had high levels of a subtype of white blood cell, known as Natural Killer (NK) cells, which are responsible for protection from foreign viruses. But because her NK cells were too aggressive they mistook the foetus for a foreign body and attacked it. Dr Shehata's treatment, using steroids, starts before conception and the doses involved are higher than previously used. Miss Baker fell pregnant for an 18th time but her troubles were not over. During the pregnancy it was discovered she was diabetic and the high sugar levels caused by the steroids resulted in another miscarriage. Dr Shehata was able to adjust her levels of insulin and the next time her pregnancy was successful. Miss Baker's stepmother, Janet Nobbs, 46, said: "When she lost the last one after the diabetes even my husband Graham was asking me when I was going to have that all-important talk with her and recommend it's time to give up. "We still look at Raiya and think 'Is this real?"' Dr Shehata and his team of six doctors have treated about 1,000 patients both on the NHS and privately since beginning the process in 2004. His treatment resulted in an 80 per cent success rate for women suffering from high NK cell levels, he said. The laboratory equipment to carry out the testing costs between £150,000 and £200,000, with each test an additional £200. But the treatment itself – one 25mg tablet a day for two weeks before conception and 12 weeks after – costs just £20.


Room at the top in football

For a brief period in each half it looked as if Chelsea might stumble as badly as Manchester United had done earlier in the day on Merseyside. Wolves nudged and then pushed them, huffing and puffing all the while, but the leaders remained on their feet and once Didier Drogba scored his second goal midway through the second half they were able to stroll. Celebrations at the finish to mark a four-point lead at the top of the table could even have been described as a London knees-up, except that no fewer than five players were missing with knee injuries, as well as Frank Lampard – a rare absentee – and Ashley Cole. So it was a demonstration of depth of squad, something that Wolves cannot hope to match in their first season back in the big league.Chelsea were even able to rest Ricardo Carvalho, who should return against Internazionale on Wednesday, and bring back a man we must now refer to as a former England captain; John Terry's return after some quality time with the family in a Dubai swimming pool was greeted with much predictable ribaldry from the home crowd, to which he responded with a generally solid performance, twice clearing off the line.Wolves supporters have to make their own entertainment, for their team are the League's lowest scorers at home. Kevin Doyle worked hard as a lone striker, but sitting opposite the Steve Bull Stand prompted thoughts of what Mick McCarthy would give for a scorer of Bull's quality – if he had the funds. The extra midfield personnel deployed behind Doyle did surprisingly well for over an hour against the seasoned internationals they were up against before class, as it tends to, began to tell. McCarthy's satisfaction at the performance was diluted by his annoyance at the way that second goal was conceded to a goalkeeper's punt down the middle of the pitch. "We should have got something out of the game," he said. "Chelsea are the champions-elect and we've matched them. We let them off the hook. We were on top and gave them a goal to a really bad, bad piece of defending. It was dire and it demoralised us all so much." It was true that while Petr Cech could reasonably claim the individual honours ahead of Drogba, Marcus Hahnemann in Wolves' goal had little to do other than pick the ball from his net twice; until half-time his team's efforts were far more threatening than the leaders'. Doyle's doughty run from the touchline to the far side of the penalty area before shooting at Cech typified their endeavour. He then set up Kevin Foley for a shot into the side-netting and saw Cech push his effort for a corner when Foley returned the compliment. Matt Jarvis had a low shot held and David Jones's free-kick did not quite swing sufficiently. Amid all this, Michael Ballack's volley over the bar was the one uncomfortable moment, so it was all the more cruel that Chelsea should take the lead five minutes before half-time. In a move that flowed all the way from the back, Yuri Zhirkov was involved twice, swapping passes with Ballack and then crossing low to the far post, where Drogba forced himself ahead of Stephen Ward to jab in his 24th goal.A 25th would follow, though not until after the home side's most convincing spell of the game, in which Adlene Guedioura, on loan from Charleroi, was denied by Cech's fine save and Terry redeemed himself following a miskick by hacking clear, after Cech did well again to beat out Foley's shot. Soon afterwards, more cruelty as Cech became goalmaker. His huge kick downfield caught out Christophe Berra and Drogba was able to run away from him and dribble round to decide the match.