Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Benazir ghost haunts Zardari

Islamabad: A pre-election deal brokered between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto continues to haunt her widower Asif Ali Zardari, co-chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that heads the ruling coalition, who finds his hands tied because of the pact. Zardari is “bound” by the deal to develop a “working relationship” with the president, The News reported on Tuesday. Quoting a key PPP source who was among those who played a role in bringing the two sides together for the deal, the newspaper said “important people” in Washington and Dubai had acted as guarantors to the agreement between the two sides. At the same time, PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babar admitted that the “present situation” was creating doubts in the minds of the people “but assured that Musharraf is not going to have the last laugh”, the newspaper added. “He hinted that the next few days are really important. He said foreign capitals also change their minds when they see the ground realities changing in the country,” The News said. At the root of the matter is the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that paved the way for the return from exile of Bhutto and Zardari by waving the corruption charges that stood against them in Pakistan. Musharraf promulgated the ordinance on Oct 5, 2007, a day before the presidential election that saw him winning a second term in office. According to Babar, Musharraf issued the NRO “to get some concessions from the PPP” and when he expressed his apprehensions on this score to Bhutto, she ticked him off. A PPP source said that the party’s reservation was only against the president in uniform and not in civvies. “He said with the blessing of the foreign guarantors, the PPP had agreed to develop a working relationship with Musharraf. He said present day politics of PPP has strong connections with the NRO and conditions agreed at that time,” The News said.

Hillary surges ahead in poll

Washington: Bolstered by the critical Pennsylvania results, Hillary Clinton has now turned the momentum further up, emerging decisively ahead of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in a new poll before upcoming contests in Indiana and North Carolina. The Democratic Senator from New York led McCain by nine points in what is perhaps the best news her campaign has seen or heard in the last several weeks, AP-Ipsos poll said. Equally importantly perhaps, her rival and Democrat front-runner Barack Obama, 47, remained virtually tied with McCain in the poll, giving credence to Clinton's contention that she is more "electable" than the Illinois Senator. The former first lady was leading McCain, 50 per cent to 41 per cent, while Obama remains virtually tied with McCain, 46 per cent to 44 per cent. Both Democrats were roughly even with 71-year-old McCain in the previous poll about three weeks ago. However, the downside to the new national numbers is for the Democratic Party with 30 per cent of Clinton backers and 21 per cent of Obama’s supporters maintaining that they will vote for McCain if their preferred candidate did not get nominated. Obama leads Clinton in pledged delegates, but she has the advantage among superdelegates with about a third yet to make up their minds; and the Chair of the Democratic National Convention. Some sections within the Democrats have lately said that either Clinton or Obama must drop out of the race after the primary season wraps up in June, so that the party can unite before the August convention. Meanwhile, yet another shot in the arm for the 60-year old New York Democrat came yesterday, when the Governor of North Carolina Mike Easley, a superdelegate, announced his support for her. mumbai news

How the kidney kingpin fooled Mumbai police

New Delhi: Kidney kingpin Santosh Raut, accused by the Mumbai police in two cases, had changed his name to Amit Kumar via a Maharashtra state gazette in 2001, yet the Mumbai police heard about it only in February this year when Raut’s Gurgaon case reached the CBI. In its charge sheet on the Gurgaon case filed in an Ambala court on Tuesday, the CBI mentioned that Raut had changed his name in 2001. Interestingly, when he changed his name, he was under trial as Santosh Raut in a 1994 case lodged at Khar. Interestingly, even four years after the name change, when the Mahim police booked Raut and four others in another kidney case, he was once again mentioned as Santosh Raut. Quite obviously the police knew nothing of his name change even then. What’s more, Raut, 40, had also changed his birth date in 2001. “We came to know about his name change only in February when the CBI arrested him in a Gurgaon case,” admitted an investigating officer at Mahim Police station requesting anonymity. Immediately after his arrest by the CBI, when this correspondent spoke to Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria, he admitted ignorance about Raut’s name change. At the time he had said the Mumbai police would seek a written confirmation from the CBI that Amit was indeed Santosh Raut. When asked why the police had not known about the gazette, the officer at Mahim police station said that they had never received a copy of the state gazette. Maria then suggested that police verification be made mandatory in all cases of name change. Meanwhile, the Mumbai police have obtained a production warrant for Santosh Raut alias Amit in the Mahim case and will soon be visiting Delhi to seek his custody. He is presently in judicial custody. Maria said they would seek cancellation of his bail in the Khar case on grounds of breach of bail conditions. He attended the trial in the Khar case till June 2005 and then disappeared. CBI officials told Mumbai Mirror that Santosh Raut had created a number of aliases to hoodwink investigating agencies and continue with his shady business of illegal kidney transplants. In all his paperwork related to bank accounts and in Canada where he has a plush bungalow he has spelled his name as ‘Ameet’. The CBI charge sheet says that Raut holds a degree in Ayurveda (BAMS) and was conducting kidney transplant surgeries illegally. His brother Jeevan Kumar, a co-accused in Gurgaon and Moradabad cases, on the other hand is only qualified to prescribe homeopathic medicines. Changing one’s name is easy The official procedure for changing one’s name at the Government Press at Charni Road is quite simple. All you have to do is to fill up a form and pay the required fee. An ordinary form costs Rs 120 while an urgent form costs Rs 620. In the first case, you will receive two original copies of the Government Gazette certifying your new name within one-and-half months. In the second case, the gazette will reach you in 8 to 10 days. After you get the original copies of the government gazette you can also approach a newspaper to publish a personal advertisement stating your name change. For people who intend to apply for a passport with their new name this procedure is mandatory.

Bush Says Pain From Economy Defies Easy Fix

WASHINGTON — With consumer confidence slipping and gasoline and food prices soaring, President Bush delivered an unusually dark assessment of the economy on Tuesday, saying the nation was in “very difficult times, very difficult.”There are no quick fixes, Mr. Bush said, to ease the pain Americans feel. Mr. Bush used a Rose Garden news conference to go on the offensive against the Democratic-controlled Congress, accusing lawmakers of being uncooperative on bills that would address pocketbook issues. Democrats pushed back, accusing Mr. Bush of trotting out old ideas and of favoring big oil companies at the expense of average Americans. The sharp exchanges struck a different tone from when the two parties joined forces on an economic stimulus package, including tax rebates that are being issued. Since then, the president and Congress have not agreed on addressing the economic troubles, and by Tuesday they mostly blamed each other. The paralysis is a product of election jockeying, as the parties avoid hard choices and try to inflict tough votes on the rivals. Although Democrats and Republicans came to terms on the tax rebates, neither has given way on bigger tax and spending issues. Both sides seem inclined to wait, hoping November shifts the balance in their favor. The gasoline price might be the most vexing problem for Congress, but after steady price increases, a quick solution seems elusive. “If there was a magic wand to wave, I’d be waving it, of course,” Mr. Bush said, referring specifically to gasoline prices, which have climbed $1.40 a gallon in 18 months. “But there is no magic wand to wave right now. It took us a while to get to this fix.” Instead of embracing new proposals, Mr. Bush mainly dusted off old ones. He called on Congress to address the cost of energy by opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for petroleum and expanding nuclear power, two plans that have long been on the legislative shelf. Mr. Bush also said, “Those who worry about recession, slowdown, whatever you want to call it” ought to make his tax cuts permanent. Mr. Bush was cool to proposals by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, a Democratic presidential contender, to give drivers a break by temporarily suspending the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal excise tax on gasoline. The other Democratic contender, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, on Tuesday dismissed the suspension of the gasoline tax as a gimmick. Mr. Bush similarly rejected an idea by a fellow Texas Republican, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, to stop making deposits in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. “If I thought it would affect the price of oil positively,” he said, “I would seriously consider it.” Mr. Bush has spent much of his presidency riding high on claims of unparalleled job growth, but with nine months left in office, he has to confront a new reality. In recent weeks, he has said the economy is in a “rough patch.” This month, he expressed optimism, saying, “I’m confident we’re going to come out of it.” But his tone on Tuesday was more somber, reflecting a new report that found consumer confidence plummeting as home prices have collapsed more rapidly than at any time in 20 years. “I will tell you that these are very difficult times, very difficult,” he said while continuing to avoid the word “recession.” “And we’ll let the economists define it for what it is.” Americans, Mr. Bush said are “looking to their elected leaders in Congress for action.” “Unfortunately,” he added, “on many of these issues all they’re getting is delay.” Democrats responded with a news conference where Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said: “He says he’s concerned with high gas prices and high food prices and student and home loan problems. But the truth is that the president has closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears as these crises have grown.” Mr. Schumer and other Democrats, including Senator Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, urged the administration to stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve temporarily and work to limit speculative trading in oil futures. “Why not deal with the unbelievable orgy of speculation that’s occurring in these futures markets?” Mr. Dorgan asked. “That’s what’s driving up prices.” Mr. Bush attributed high prices to the lack of refining capacity and said opening the Arctic refuge, a proposal that Democrats and environmentalists have long opposed, would enable the United States to produce a million additional barrels of oil a day. He called it an “intermediate term” solution, saying, “It sends a signal to markets that the United States is not going to restrict exploration.” On housing, Mr. Bush called on lawmakers to pass two measures that have long been in the works, one to overhaul the Federal Housing Administration and the other to revamp the government-sponsored mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But he did not address a proposal being drafted by House Democrats to expand the availability of federally insured mortgages. Mr. Bush also said Democrats were “considering a massive, bloated farm bill” that would fail to eliminate farmers’ subsidies as food prices skyrocket and the farm economy thrives. “It’s not the time to ask American families who are already paying more in the checkout line to pay more in subsidies for wealthy farmers,” he said. When Democrats won control of Congress in November 2006, Mr. Bush promised to work with them. But their cooperation has been limited at best, and with the presidential campaign in full swing, it will be difficult for them to agree on all but the most noncontroversial questions. On Tuesday, signs were evident that Mr. Bush’s criticism of Democrats might actually widen gaps between lawmakers who share similar policy goals. Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, has recently expressed support for aggressive measures to prevent foreclosures, a huge issue in his home state. But after Mr. Bush’s news conference, Mr. Martinez echoed the president, saying he was skeptical of the measure that the House Democrats are drafting. “I think the last thing we need to do is create a program that is going to go into effect after the crisis is over and then become a new bureaucracy,” he said. At another news conference, Senate Republicans blamed Congressional Democrats for blocking efforts to increase oil production in the United States, both off the shores of states like Virginia and in Alaska. The minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, noted that gasoline prices were $1.20 a gallon higher than when Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007. One area where Democrats and Mr. Bush might find agreement, however, is student loans, a sector of the credit market that is not nearly as troubled as the mortgage market. The House last week passed a bill sponsored by Representative George Miller, Democrat of California, to increase amounts that students can borrow through federal programs. Mr. Bush praised it. “I hope the Senate moves it, moves a version of it very quickly,” he said.

Obama’s Break With Ex-Pastor Sets Sharp Shift in Tone

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Senator Barack Obama broke forcefully on Tuesday with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., in an effort to curtail a drama of race, values, patriotism and betrayal that has enveloped his presidential candidacy at a critical juncture.At a news conference here, Mr. Obama denounced remarks Mr. Wright made in a series of televised appearances over the last several days. In the appearances, Mr. Wright has suggested that the United States was attacked because it engaged in terrorism on other people and that the government was capable of having used the AIDS virus to commit genocide against minorities. His remarks also cast Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, in a positive light. In tones sharply different from those Mr. Obama used on Monday, when he blamed the news media and his rivals for focusing on Mr. Wright, and far harsher than those he used in his speech on race in Philadelphia last month, Mr. Obama tried to cut all his ties to — and to discredit — Mr. Wright, the man who presided at Mr. Obama’s wedding and baptized his two daughters. “His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church,” Mr. Obama said, his voice welling with anger. “They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.” One week before Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, contests that party officials are watching as they try to gauge whether Mr. Obama or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the stronger nominee, the controversy surrounding Mr. Wright again erupted into a threat to Mr. Obama’s ability to show that he could unify the Democratic Party and bring the nominating contest to a quick and clean end. With Mrs. Clinton having shown particular strength among working-class white voters in recent big-state primaries, the racial overtones of Mr. Obama’s links with Mr. Wright have been especially troublesome for the Obama campaign. Asked how the controversy would affect voters, Mr. Obama said: “We’ll find out.” At a minimum, the spectacle of Mr. Wright’s multiday media tour and Mr. Obama’s rolling response grabbed the attention of the most important constituency in politics now: the uncommitted superdelegates — party officials and elected Democrats — who hold the balance of power in the nominating battle. Eileen Macoll, a Democratic county chairman from Washington State who has not chosen a candidate, said she was stunned at the extent of national attention the episode has drawn, and she said she believed it would give superdelegates pause. “I’m a little surprised at how much traction it is getting, and I do believe it is beginning to reflect negatively on Senator Obama’s campaign,” Ms. Macoll said. “I think he’s handling it very well, but I think it’s almost impossible to make people feel comfortable about this.” It was the second straight day that Mr. Obama had responded to Mr. Wright, a former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago whose derisive comments about the United States government have become a fixture of cable television. Saying that he had not seen or read Mr. Wright’s remarks when he responded to them on Monday, Mr. Obama said he was “shocked and surprised” when he later read the transcripts and watched the broadcasts, and he felt compelled to respond more forcefully. “I’m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Mr. Obama said. He added: “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.” The press conference came in what may well be the toughest stretch of Mr. Obama’s campaign as he grapples with questions about Mr. Wright as well as the fallout from his defeat last week in Pennsylvania. He set out this week to reintroduce himself but instead found himself competing for airtime with Mr. Wright and trying to bat away suggestions that he shared or tolerated Mr. Wright’s views. As he answered question after question here, Mr. Obama appeared downcast and subdued as he tried to explain why he had decided to categorically denounce his minister of 20 years. His decision to address reporters not only stretched the Wright story into another day but also marked at least the third time he has sought to deal with the issue, including his well-received speech on race last month in Philadelphia. “The fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me,” Mr. Obama said

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bhajii shouldn't have crossed Lakshman Rekha: Modi

New Delhi, April 29:: Indian Premier League Chairman and Commissioner Lalit Modi said they have sent a 'strong message' by banning Harbhajan Singh for 11-13 matches and penalising him for close to USD 600,000 (Rs 2.6 crore) for slapping rival pacer S Sreesanth after a match last week. "What has happened is Harbhajan did cross the 'Lakshman Rekha', he should not have done it... Harbhajan should not have crossed the line now that he did, we took immediate action," Modi said. "This is a strong message that we have sent out, we have banned him for close to 13 matches, 11 or 13 depending on how the Mumbai team performs. We have also fined him 100 per cent of his pay cheque and that is close to USD 600,000 dollars (approax Rs 2.6 crore)," he was quotes as saying in a TV channel. "It is not just any other tournament, it is a very serious tournament," he insisted. Asked if the slap incident had affected the tournament, Modi said it did not reduce the euphoria generated and in fact positives could be drawn from it. "I think it (euphoria) is more than enough... but there is a positive side to the incident because the players have taken this game as their own and they are actually fighting out for it as if they would have fought for team India, that's the positive side of it," he said. Modi said the footage of the incident would not be made public because the IPL inquiry did not think it was fair to do so. "It don't thik it is fair for us to put it to the rest of the world. We have decided not to show it to anybody," he said. On letting off Sreesanth with only warning, Modi said he was warned not for his role during the actual incident. "Actually, at the time when the slapping incident took place Sreesanth had not provoked Harbhajan at all but during the matches we heard that there was skirmishes between the players and also during another match in Jaipur, Sreesanth was very aggressive with (Mohammad) Kaif. So he was given a warning based on that," he said.

A New Mideast Paper Vows to Be Different

ONE of the Middle East’s wealthiest ruling families has a new asset: The National, a newspaper that promises independence from its royal owners.The paper, an English-language daily based in Abu Dhabi, published its first issue on April 17, under close scrutiny in the Middle East and abroad. With its pledge to emulate Western newspaper standards and to “help society evolve,” The National is an anomaly in the Middle East, where most media are tightly controlled by the government. “We aim to produce an excellent newspaper out of the region” that will set a new standard for other publications to aspire to, said Hassan M. Fattah, the deputy editor, who was a correspondent for The New York Times in the Middle East before joining The National. “Being government-owned does not equal being government-run,” he said. “There are no ministers sitting in my office” telling the paper what to write. Already, the paper has attracted some serious competition: on Monday, The Financial Times of London said that it was introducing a new edition for the Middle East, with editorial offices based in Abu Dhabi. The first issue comes out on Tuesday. “We have identified a strong and growing demand for high-quality global independent news and analysis across the gulf region,” Lionel Barber, editor of The Financial Times, said in a news release. “This demand reflects how the gulf has quickly become a financial and business powerhouse.” • Whether the region becomes a bastion for free speech is another matter. Until last September, journalists who wrote critical stories in the United Arab Emirates could be jailed for defamation, and the United Arab Emirates recently signed on to an Arab League charter asking media not to offend local leaders. The English-language channel of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcaster, recently lost some high-profile Western journalists, in part because of disagreements about coverage. Nevertheless, The National has built its staff of 200 from newspapers around the world, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Telegraph of Britain. The paper has had no problem hitting a start-up goal of 30 percent advertising in its pages (and 70 percent editorial content), and has had to turn away potential advertisers who wanted space in its first few issues, Mr. Fattah said. The National is owned by Mubadala Development Company of Abu Dhabi, an investment and venture capital arm of the government which is led by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The owners have given the paper’s executives five years to break even. Abu Dhabi, by far the largest of the seven royalty-ruled territories that make up the United Arab Emirates, has been raising its profile as an international center of investment, tourism and finance, and The National is seen as part of an overall movement of change to appeal to outsiders. The National, which aims at expatriate and local professionals in Abu Dhabi, has published a few articles with criticisms of the region, like one about severely overcrowded private schools, which limit companies’ abilities to attract new people. It has also printed controversial opinion pieces, one asking Arabs to welcome Jewish investors to the region and another warning that Emirate culture is disappearing. The National has delved into regional news, offering a detailed account of former President Jimmy Carter’s trip to Syria and a buildup of Syrian troops on the Lebanese border. It has also printed its share of fluff — the wife of the British ambassador to Abu Dhabi’s perfect day in the Emirate includes Starbucks, Pilates, a blow dry and a seafood dinner. The National is printing 80,000 copies, has 30,000 trial subscribers and has set a subscription rate of about $110 a year, but whether it can succeed in being independent and not attract the ire of the ruling families is unclear. Martin Newland, the editor in chief, has fielded numerous questions about the paper’s independence, particularly after a memo he wrote to the staff that noted “we are not here to fight for press freedom” was leaked to outside media. Reached by cellphone one evening as he was having dinner with his wife, he said, “This is good news for journalism and good news for the region, so let’s get the hell off censorship.” He added that he was tired of having “the whole issue of a multimillion-dollar launch of a newspaper constantly distilled down to issues of censorship.” Mr. Newland said the biggest difficulty in setting up the newspaper so far had been managing the logistics of getting 150 expatriate employees moved to an area where real estate prices are high and human resources and infrastructure are negligible. “If you come as an editor, you have to get loo paper for the bogs, sign off on taxi chits and listen to people 8,000 miles from home” who cannot find a place to live, he said. Then he returned to dinner. Attracting talented reporters to Abu Dhabi has been one of the biggest problems, said Mr. Fattah, the deputy editor. “It was very hard to convince Americans to come here,” he said, because they think of it as a scary place. “One reporter wanted to do combat training” before she came, he said, when in reality the biggest killer in Abu Dhabi is obesity. So far The National is drawing some guarded praise. “I looked very carefully to see if I could find any evidence that they were censoring themselves, and I didn’t see it,” said Josh Friedman, director of international programs at Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism. For example, the paper, which is available online at www.thenational.ae, referred to Hamas fighters as “militants,” Mr. Friedman said, a type of description that is rare in the Middle East. While the articles about Abu Dhabi government announcements were not “hard hitting,” Mr. Friedman said, the paper carried others that could be considered critical. Newspapers have thrived in the Arab-speaking world for decades; Al-Ahram in Egypt, published since 1876, has five million readers, for example. But freedom of the press has remained elusive. “If it doesn’t work, so what, and if it does work, it would be great,” Mr. Friedman said, “because that area of the world needs a free press.” More Articles in Business »