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David Cameron meets Indian PM Manmohan Singh

Nov 152013
 

David Cameron meets Indian PM Manmohan SinghUK PM David Cameron has met his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in a visit to Delhi ahead of the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka.

Mr Cameron reported on Twitter that the two leaders had made “extraordinary progress” on trade and investment since his first visit in 2010.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Cameron had said he aimed to “cement Britain as India’s partner of choice”.

It is the prime minister’s third visit to the country since taking office.

He has said the UK is starting to “reap the benefits” of his push to secure trade deals with India, and sought to reassure Indian nationals about his drive to cut immigration to the UK.

Mr Cameron said he wanted to counter the “myth” that the immigration crackdown was “freezing out” new arrivals from the sub-continent, but he accepted there was a “challenge” to persuade people that the UK remains “open for business”.

He has also said he is a “huge fan” of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who is playing his 200th and final Test match before retirement.

The PM said he regretted not being able to attend the farewell match on Mr Tendulkar’s home ground in Mumbai.

But he sent a message to the record-breaking sportsman on a framed photo given to the “Little Master”, saying: “From the first of 100 centuries to your 200th and final test – congratulations on a career that will inspire millions for generations to come.”

Mr Cameron’s party includes Conservative MP Priti Patel, whom he has appointed “Indian diaspora champion” with a remit to improve the government’s links with British Indians.

He said the UK had “failed to make the most of what they have to offer” and he wanted them to “play a vital role forging this strong relationship”.

Mr Cameron has unveiled a string of potential business deals between Indian firms and British companies during his visit, as well as plans for a British business centre in Mumbai to match those in Delhi and Bangalore

But the prime minister risked upsetting his Liberal Democrat partners in government when he told an audience of business leaders that being in coalition sometimes meant making compromises that were against the national interest.

“We have shown it can work,” he told the group in New Delhi.

“There are some good parts to coalition. You have to proceed in quite a rational basis – that is good.

“I think what’s bad about it is that sometimes you have to make compromises that are not necessarily in the long-term interests of the country.”

Mr Cameron did not give any examples of decisions made by the present administration, but he said the British public shared his desire for “more decisive” government.

“I prefer a more decisive form of government,” he added.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg hit back at Mr Cameron’s criticisms, telling the BBC: “Clearly you need to make compromises in coalition government.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve made the first proper coalition government in many many years in this country work.

“It’s provided good, strong, stable government.”

Any comprises, he added, had been taken “in the national interest”, as for as his Liberal Democrat party was concerned, he added.

“For instance when the Conservatives suggested employers should be able to fire employees at will, we said, no, we didn’t think it was in the national interest.

“When they suggested a ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ we said no we didn’t think that was in the national interest, or making profits in state-run and state-funded schools.”

India’s Tendulkar in final Test appearance

Nov 152013
 

India's Tendulkar in final Test appearanceSachin Tendulkar, the Indian cricket legend, has taken to the pitch for his 200th and final Test, bidding farewell to his adoring public and basking in tributes from fellow players, politicians and fans.

The 40-year-old is ending an international career spanning nearly a quarter of a century during which he became the all-time leading Test and one-day batsman and the only man to score 100 international centuries.

The end of the Little Master, who has almost God-like status in his cricket-mad country, has been met with nationwide nostalgia for his sporting feats since his international debut in 1989.

Tendulkar, who led the team out onto the field in his home city of Mumbai on Thursday, said the last 20 years had been “marked by some of the most challenging, exhilarating, poignant and memorable moments of my life”.

“The game has seen so much change over the last two decades – from advances in technology, new formats, yet the basic spirit and passion surrounding the game remains the same,” he wrote in a front-page Hindustan Times article.

“Sachin mania” in the run-up to the game against the West Indies has been building since he announced his intention to retire last month, with highlights of his innings and interviews looping on news channels.

Empty stadium seats

Many followers have expressed disappointment that only 5,000 out of 32,000 seats were for the general public, with the rest reserved for VIPs such as sponsors and cricket club members.

About half were empty after the match began.

Such was the demand for the publicly available tickets that the main website selling them crashed within minutes of sales opening on Monday.

Before the match started, the Mumbai Cricket Association presented Tendulkar with a enlarged photograph of a postage stamp released by the government in his honour.

Footage broadcast on Indian television showed the toss taking place with a specially minted coin bearing his image on one side.

“We will be very fortunate if we get another Sachin,” Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian captain, said at the toss.

“So it is important that we learn from the great man.”

Twitter message

Despite Tendulkar’s glowing reputation, his cricketing powers have waned in recent years and some suggested that he should have retired earlier. The latest of his 51 Test centuries was back in January 2011 against South Africa.

Since 16-year-old Tendulkar made his debut in Karachi in 1989, he has racked up an astonishing 15,847 runs in 199 Tests, helping India win the 2011 World Cup and reach the top of the world rankings.

On the eve of his final match, he thanked his fans on Twitter “from the bottom of my heart for 24 years of support”.

Along with Tendulkar murals, banners and billboards that have sprung up in the countdown to the match, Mumbai’s tattoo parlours have reportedly seen a surge in requests for designs of the sporting icon.

On a beach in the eastern state of Odisha, an artist created a huge sand sculpture of 200 cricket bats and Tendulkar’s face.

The star’s wheelchair-bound mother Rajni is due to watch her son bat for the first time, after a special ramp was built for her at the south Mumbai stadium, despite her previous fears that her presence at matches could bring him bad luck.

Somali region appeals for aid after cyclone

Nov 152013
 

Somali region appeals for aid after cyclone Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland has declared a state of emergency and is appealing for international aid after floods triggered by a cyclone killed at least 300 people and left hundreds missing.

The United Nations said some 30,000 people were in need of food, water, shelter and medical supplies, according to government estimates. Puntland’s government has described the situation as a “disaster”.

Puntland forms the tip of the Horn of Africa and has its own government, but unlike neighbouring Somaliland, it has not declared independence from Somalia, which has been unstable since 1991 when President Siad Barre was overthrown.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Puntland, said the situation was “grim” and that entire villages had been washed away by “raging floods”.

He said the death toll was likely to rise as most of the affected villages were still cut off by the water.

“Aid is not reaching affected villages because of the damage done to infrastructure. [There are] long queues of stranded vehicles” on both sides of the road between the capital Garowe and the key port city of Bossaso.

Our correspondent said large stretches of the road had been damaged and that officials had been sent on foot to try to reach affected areas.

‘Livestock lost’

“Torrential rains, high wind speeds and flooding has created a state of emergency, with 300 persons feared dead, hundreds others unaccounted for, and countless livestock lost,” the government said in a statement.

The death toll could not be independently verified, but weather experts from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) confirmed flooding was severe.

“Given that Puntland is a semi-arid region, it rarely rains but when it does, to an extent we have seen… the impact is devastating,” said Hussein Gadain, a senior FAO technical advisor.

Infamous pirate hotspots such as the port of Eyl – from where Somali gunmen have launched attacks far out into the Indian Ocean – are some of the worst affected.

“Many fishermen are missing and feared dead, the storm has destroyed entire villages, homes, buildings, and boats,” the statement added.

The World Food Programme said it was “working closely” with local authorities “to assess the needs in Puntland in the aftermath of the cyclone”.

N Korea denies giving military aid to Syria

Nov 152013
 

N Korea denies giving military aid to Syria North Korea denied it was sending military aid to the Syrian government, in its battle against opposition forces after media reports said that Pyongyang had sent advisers and helicopter pilots.

“Some foreign media are floating misinformation that the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) supplied war equipment to Syria, its airmen are directly involved in air-raids on insurgent troops in Syria,” the North’s state run KCNA news agency said late on Thursday.

The Jerusalem Post reported in October that 15 North Korean helicopter pilots were operating in Syria “on behalf of President Bashar Assad’s regime” and said the report had been confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Other reports have identified North Korean artillery officers as being in Syria, although they were said not to be directing fire.

North Korea has long-standing ties with Syria and constructed a plutonium reactor there that was destroyed by an Israeli strike in 2007. It also has links with Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

Under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States, Assad agreed to destroy all Syria’s chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people on Aug 21.

Japanese media reports in August said Turkey had intercepted a shipment of gas masks and small arms from North Korea to Syria.

The North is under United Nations sanctions for its nuclearweapons and missile programme and its role in proliferating nuclear and missile technology.

Brazil Amazon destruction rises 28 per cent

Nov 152013
 

Brazil Amazon destruction rises 28 per cent Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon region has risen 28 percent over the past year, the country’s environment minister says.

Making the announcement in the capital Brasilia on Thursday, Izabella Teixeira said she was calling an emergency meeting to try to remedy the situation.

“We confirm a 28 percent increase in the rate of deforestation, reaching 5,843sq km,” she said quoting provisional statistics for August 2012 through July this year.

Extensive farming and soya-bean production in the northern state of Para and the central-western state of Mato Grosso were key factors behind the rise, Teixeira said, citing increases for the two states of 37 and 52 percent respectively.

Teixeira said she would meet Amazon regional environment secretaries of state next week to demand explanations and measures to deal with the situation on her return from a UN climate change summit in Warsaw.

She also criticised the apparent ineffectiveness of monitoring by federal state authorities.

“The Brazilian government does not tolerate and does not accept any rise in illegal deforestation,” Teixeira said, insisting the country was firmly committed to drastically reducing deforestation.

Although large in percentage terms, the rise in absolute terms is the second smallest in recent years as 2012 saw 4,571sq km of deforestation, following an even more disturbing 6,418sq km in 2011.

The worst year on record was 2004, when 27,000sq km of forest was lost.

Environmentalists blame the increase on a loosening of Brazil’s environmental laws. They also say that the government’s push for big infrastructure projects like dams, roads and railways is pushing deforestation.

Paulo Adario, coordinator of Greenpeace’s Amazon campaign, said that it was scandalous that there was such a spike in the destruction.

“The government can’t be surprised by this increase in deforestation, given that their own action is what’s pushing it,” he said.

“The change in the Forest Code and the resulting amnesty for those who illegally felled the forest sent the message that such crimes have no consequences.”

Brazil, a major global agricultural producer, is caught between environmental pressures and the interests of large-scale farmers.

The country’s forestry code requires landowners in the Amazon to devote 80 percent to native forests. But enforcement has been lax.

Philippines defends typhoon relief response

Nov 152013
 

Philippines defends typhoon relief responseThe Philippine government has defended its efforts to deliver assistance to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, many of whom have received little or no assistance since the storm struck one week ago.

The response comes as some government officials estimate that the final toll, when the missing are declared dead and remote regions reached, will be more than 10,000.

At least 600,000 people have been displaced, with authorities struggling to meet their immediate needs.

“In a situation like this, nothing is fast enough,” Mar Roxas, Philippine interior secretary, said on Friday in Tacloban city, most of which was destroyed by the storm one week ago.

“The need is massive, the need is immediate, and you can’t reach everyone.”

Government officials have given different death tolls, both actual and estimated, as a result of the storm.

Given the scale of the disaster, and infrastructure and communications problems, this is not unusual.

The spokesman for the country’s civil defence agency, Major Reynaldo Balido, confirmed early on Friday that the toll had risen to 2,360, hours after the UN issued conflicting reports on how many people had died.

On the ground in Tacloban, authorities handed out a situation report stating that 3,422 people had been killed on Samar and Leyte islands, the two most affected areas.

Communication woes

Al Jazeera’s Veronica Pedrosa, reporting from Ormoc, west if Tacloban City, said that the extent of the destruction was enormous.

She said that government’s department of health’s contingency plan had become obsolete because reserve aid for such disasters, which had been held up in Tacloban, had been destroyed in the typhoon’s destruction.

She said that communication remained a probem as well with communication between central Philippines and outlying areas, like Ormoc.

“Some of the outlying areas have not heard from the central government as yet.”

Pedrosa said that because the government systems were not as developed as in other countries, officials were grappling with the magnitude of the situation.

“But,” she said, “local governments are getting on with it and trying to organise themselves.”

The pace of the aid effort has picked up over the last 24 hours, according to reporters who have been in the region for several days.

Foreign governments are dispatching food, water, medical supplies and trained staff to the region.

Lorries and generators have also begun to arriving.

A US aircraft carrier was moored off the Philippine coast, as it was preparing for a major relief mission.

The fleet of helicopters on board is expected to drop food and water to the worst affected areas.

India’s Gurgaon set to unveil metro

Nov 132013
 

India's Gurgaon set to unveil metroThe suburb of Gurgaon near the Indian capital, Delhi, is set to launch a long-awaited metro rail service.

The 5.1km (3.16-mile) stretch of elevated track has six stations and is the first one in India built by a public-private partnership.

The journey through Gurgaon’s congested business district will take 13 minutes – residents hope it will ease traffic congestion in the area.

Gurgaon is home to a number of multinational companies.

The metro was planned in 2009 and work began on it in 2010.

The first section of the metro is part of a proposed 12km (7.45-mile) network with an equal number of stations which is due to be completed by 2015.

Gurgaon is already connected to the capital, Delhi, by the capital’s metro service.

Described as India’s “millennium city”, Gurgaon has been transformed from farming fields to a bustling technology hub, thanks to the call centre and outsourcing industries.

However, its success has come with little support from government and the city lacks adequate public transport and sanitation facilities.

Officials say more than 200,000 vehicles enter and exit Gurgaon every day crowding the existing connecting roads and an expressway linking the suburb with Delhi.

They say about a third of the existing traffic will shift to the metro resulting in the decongestion of the city’s roads, reduction in travel time and road accidents.

Maldives court postpones presidential runoff

Nov 132013
 

Maldives court postpones presidential runoff The Supreme Court in the Maldives has suspended a presidential runoff vote, a day after former president Mohamed Nasheed won the first round of voting but failed to win a clear majority.

It was the third time in two months that authorities stepped in to prevent polls taking place, leaving the Indian Ocean island nation in political limbo.

The runoff had been scheduled to take place on Sunday but the court delayed it until November 16, in line with demands from Nasheed’s two biggest rivals.

“All relevant state authorities are informed that today’s election cannot take place,” the Supreme Court said in a pre-dawn decision that came just hours before the re-run was due to begin.

Incumbent Mohammed Waheed Hassan had been due to step down on Monday, but the Supreme Court on Saturday ruled that he could remain as a caretaker.

A September 7 vote was annulled based on a secret police report which found vote rigging while an October poll was halted by police after a Supreme Court ruling.

International concern

Nasheed, who was ousted from power last year in circumstances that his supporters say amounted to a coup, won 46.9 percent of Saturday’s vote, the official results showed.

Nasheed’s main opponent is Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the islands for 30 years and was considered a dictator by opponents and rights groups.

Yameen won 29.7 percent of the vote, while resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, a finance minister under Gayoom, secured 23.3 percent.

The United States and the Commonwealth had both warned against delaying the runoff vote.

“It is now imperative that the second round take place immediately and in line with Elections Commission directions in order to ensure the Maldivian people are led by an elected president of their choice,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The 53-member Commonwealth bloc’s special envoy to the Maldives, Don McKinnon, said: “It is important now that the electoral process move forward swiftly to its conclusion, with the holding of the second round.

“It is unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continue to demand changes to an agreed election date,” he added.

Israeli soldier killed in bus stabbing

Nov 132013
 

Israeli soldier killed in bus stabbing A 16-year-old Palestinian has stabbed an Israeli soldier to death on a bus in an attack apparently motivated by the jailing of his relatives in Israel, police said.

 The killing, in the northern Israeli town of Afula, follows a surge in violence in the nearby occupied West Bank, where 10 Palestinians have been shot dead by troops and three Israelis killed since peace talks resumed in July.

“The Israeli soldier who was stabbed this morning by a Palestinian on a bus at the Afula bus station has died of his wounds in hospital,” Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said on Wednesday.

The suspect was detained by passengers and security forces on the bus, Rosenfeld said.

“We consider this incident to be a terrorist attack motived by nationalism,” he said.

According to police, the Palestinian youth did not have a permit to be inside Israel.

They said he boarded the bus on the Nazareth-Afula route and attacked the 20-year-old soldier as the vehicle arrived at its destination.

Army radio cited the Palestinian as saying he stabbed the soldier because  his uncles were in an Israeli jail.

Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, congratulated the suspected attacker.

“Congratulations to the Palestinian West Bank hero who killed an Israeli  soldier in Afula this morning,” Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, wrote on his Facebook page.

“This is a heroic act of resistance showing that all methods of oppression and terror have not and will not succeed in stopping our people from carrying  out jihad and resistance.”

There violence of the last few weeks has increased tensions and prompted speculation about the outbreak of a third  intifada, or uprising.

The first Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation ran from 1987 to 1993, and was followed by a second one from late 2000 to 2005 in which rights groups estimated 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israeli civilians and soldiers died.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, was in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories last week in a bid to rescue peace talks that are already faltering  after just three months of meetings.

Egypt and Russia due to hold talks

Nov 132013
 

Egypt and Russia due to hold talks Egypt is due to hold talks with the most senior Russian officials to visit the country in years.

Weapons will be high on the agenda as Moscow tries to bring back its influence to a region where it suffered many setbacks.

A high level delegation including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu followed a naval vessel that docked in Alexandria.