Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pressure mounts on Libya's Gaddafi

Internal and international pressure is mounting on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to stand down from power as protests continue against his 42-year rule.

Within the country, anti-government protesters said the demonstrations were gaining support, and footage believed to be filmed on Friday appeared to show soldiers in uniform joining the protesters.
The footage showed soldiers being carried on the shoulders of demonstrators in the city of Az Zawiyah, after having reportedly turned against the government - a scene activists said is being repeated across the country.
Al Jazeera, however, is unable to independently verify the content of the video, which was obtained via social networking websites.
Our correspondent in Libya reported on Friday that army commanders in the east who had renounced Gaddafi's leadership had told her that military commanders in the country's west were also beginning to turn against him.
They warned, however, that the Khamis Brigade, an army special forces brigade that is loyal to the Gaddafi family and is equipped with sophisticated weaponry, is currently still fighting anti-government forces.
Our correspondent, who cannot be named for security reasons, said that despite the gains, people are anxious about what Gaddafi might do next, and the fact that his loyalists were still at large.

Crackdown after prayers
Those worries were compounded as security forces loyal to Gaddafi reportedly opened fire on anti-government protesters in the capital, Tripoli, after Friday prayers.
Follow more of Al Jazeera's special coverage here 
Heavy gun fire was reported in the districts of Fashloum, Ashour, Jumhouria and Souq Al, sources told Al Jazeera.

The offensive came after Gaddafi appeared in Tripoli's Green Square on Friday, to address a crowd of his supporters.
The speech, which also referred to Libya's war of independence with Italy, appeared to be aimed at rallying what remains of his support base, with specific reference to the country's youth.

An earlier speech, on Thursday evening had been made by phone, leading to speculation about his physical condition. But the footage aired on Friday showed the leader standing above the square, waving his fist as he spoke.

In the rooftop address Gaddafi urged his supporters below to "defend Libya".
"If needs be, we will open all the arsenals. We will fight them and we will beat them," he said.
International condemnation
The eastern region of the oil-rich North African nation is now believed to be largely free of Gaddafi control since the popular uprising began on February 14, with protests in the city of Benghazi inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
Hundreds of people have been killed in a brutal crackdown on the protests, though the official death toll remains unclear.
The crackdown has sparked international condemnation, with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, becoming the first world leader to openly demand Gaddafi's ouster.

Meanwhile, as Western governments scrambled to craft a collective response to the unrest, the United States said it was moving ahead with sanctions against the regime.

Barack Obama, the US president,  issued an executive order, seizing assets and blocking any property in the United States belonging to Gaddafi or his four sons.

In a statement, Obama said the measures were specifically targeted against the Gaddafi government and not the wealth of the Libyan people.

The European Union also agreed to impose an arms embargo, asset freezes and travel bans on Libya.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said on Friday that decisive action by the Security Council against the crackdown must be taken, warning that any delay would add to the growing death toll which he said now came to over 1,000.
The official death toll in the violence remains unclear. Francois Zimeray, France's top human rights official, said on Thursday that it could be as high as 2,000 people killed.

Ban's call, as well as an emotional speech by the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations, prompted the council to order a special meeting on Saturday to consider a sanctions resolution against Gaddafi.

Britain, France, Germany and the United States have drawn up a resolution which says the attacks on civilians could amount to crimes against humanity. It calls for an arms embargo and a travel ban and assets freeze against Gaddafi, and members of his government.

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Libya unrest: India begins evacuation

India today started evacuation of its citizens from strife-torn Libya.
India has been allowed by Libya to fly in special planes to Tripoli to collect Indian citizens, who want to return to their country. . Currently 18,000 Indians are in Libya.
India is also sending ships to Bengazi to evacuate Indian citizens.
From today till March 7, India can land two planes a day in Tripoli for its evacuation operations.
Ministry of External Affairs personnel and a medical team will be on board to assist the evacuees.
According to a statement issued on Thursday by the MEA "Evacuation is being arranged by sea and air."
Ships are expected to reach Benghazi by the February 27 to evacuate Indian citizens to Alexandria, from where they will be brought back to India by special Air India flights.
"In Tripoli the focus will be on air evacuation. Aircrafts are on standby for this purpose. Libyan landing clearance is awaited. Preparations are also in hand for evacuation of the nationals from cities where air access is possible subject to Libyan clearance", the statement said.
According to the MEA, Indian companies, working in Libya for decades have also offered to work with the Indian Embassy in Tripoli to facilitate the evacuation.
The statement said that the MEA is coordinating closely with other Ministries, including Defence, Overseas Indian affairs and Shipping in making evacuation arrangements. (ANI)
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Libya: AI begins evacuation of nationals

New Delhi: In a bid to evacuate Indians stranded in strife-torn Libya, an Air India plane arrived in the capital Tripoli on Saturday.

India has mapped out elaborate plans to evacuate most of its 18,000 nationals from the North African nation on a war footing.

The plane, expected to arrive back in India this evening, is one of the two such daily Air India flights that will operate till March 07.

Officials of the Indian embassy in Tripoli are in touch with Indian community associations and will be at the airport to facilitate their departure.

The move to send the planes came after Libyan authorities gave clearance for the flights to land in Triploi.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao held a meeting with senior officials to review the evolving situation in Libya that focused on the nitty-gritty of evacuating Indian nationals from the violence-torn country.

Giving details of the evacuation plans, the External Affairs Ministry said Scotia Prince, the passenger ship chartered by the Indian government, is now expected to dock at Benghazi on Monday and bring ferry over 1,200 people to Alexandria on March 02. Air India flights will thereafter fly them to India.

Another ship, which has a capacity of around 750, will be deployed to carry Indians from Benghazi to Alexandria, from where they will be flown home, sources said. The Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) is in the process for chartering the ship.

The Indian Navy troop carrier INS Jalashwa and the destroyer INS Mysore are expected to leave Mumbai shortly for Libya to assist in the evacuation operations, the ministry said. The ships will take 10-11 days to reach Alexandria, government sources said.

An Indian Air Force IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft is also on standby to meet additional transportation requirements wherever needed, the ministry said.

Around 150 Indian nationals from Tobruk in Libya are likely to travel by road to Salloum which is near the border with Egypt. They are being assisted by the Indian embassy and are likely to cross over in two batches on February 26 and 28. At Salloum, they would be met by Indian embassy personnel from Cairo. Arrangements are being made for their travel onwards by road to Cairo and then by air to India.

The Indian embassies in Tripoli, Cairo and Tunis are working round-the-clock and the government is doing its best to assist in the safe return of Indian nationals at the earliest, the ministry assured.

Libya has been hit by a wave of anti-government protests seeking the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, the country's ruler for over four decades.

Even as the Indian government goes ahead with firming up logistical details of evacuating Indians from Libya, there were reports of "unscrupulous elements" trying to fleece Indians stranded in the country.

Against this backdrop, the External Affairs Ministry on Friday clarified that it was not charging Indian nationals who are being evacuated and stressed that cases of cheating should immediately be brought to its notice.

"It has come to notice that some unscrupulous elements are asking for payments/handling charges/facilitation fee etc., for arranging evacuation of Indian nationals, through the embassy of India in Libya," the ministry clarified.

"These activities are completely illegal and individuals engaged in them should be immediately reported to the law enforcement authorities," the ministry said.

"It is further emphasised that no payment or charge of any kind is being levied by the government, for the evacuation/assisted departure of any Indian national in Libya," the ministry added.
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NCP suspends legislator over rape charge

NCP MLA from Pachora Dilip Wagh Mumbai,  An embarrassed Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Saturday suspended party legislator Dilip Wagh, who is accused of raping a 22-year-old woman, an official said.
An NCP spokesperson here confirmed Wagh's suspension but declined to comment on the issue further.

Wagh, the legislator from Pachora in Jalgaon district, and his secretary Mahesh Mali have been booked for allegedly raping a woman at a government guest house in Nashik Feb 21.

Wagh, son of Omkar Wagh -- a senior politician and a two-time legislator from the same constituency -- is now on the run, and this has prompted the party to initiate the disciplinary proceedings against him, NCP sources said.

This is the second major loss of face for the NCP in recent months after its MP Padamsinh Patil was arrested on the charge of murdering his cousin and Congress leader Pavan Raje Nimbalkar in 2006. He is currently out of jail on bail.

According to Nashik police, Wagh and Mali are said to have lured the girl from Aurangabad to Nashik on the pretext of giving her a job.

When she reached Nashik Feb 21, Wagh and Mali raped her in a guest house where they were staying. The next day, the girl registered a police complaint and the law enforcers swung into action.

With the budget session of the legislature starting here in a fortnight, the NCP has moved into damage control mode by suspending Wagh.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena opposition combine flayed the Democratic Front government of attempting to shield the legislator, Home Minister R.R. Patil said the police were probing the case and it would be done impartially.
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New Delhi: In line with expectations, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday presented a populist Rail Budget 2011-12. Over 100 new trains have been announced while passenger fares as well as freight rates have been kept unchanged.

Also, in a move to attract passengers from higher strata of the society, Mamata announced that the Railways will introduce new Super AC class of travel beginning this year.

She further proposed a reduction in e-ticket booking rates by Rs 10 for AC class and Rs 5 for non-AC class.

The Railway Minister told Lok Sabha, while presenting her third Rail Budget, that the age for concession under senior citizen category for women is being reduced from 60 years to 58 years, while male senior citizens will get additional 10% concession over and above the existing 30%.

Mamata told Parliament that this year’s Rail Budget has a strong economic focus as well as social inclusion, with human face. The main focus is on common man, she added.

The minister emphasized that passenger safety will be among top priorities. According to her, anti-collision devices will be installed in three more zones. She also stated that the Railways will build 172 rail-over-bridges (ROBs) and 240 Rail Under Bridges (RUBs) this fiscal.

In an important announcement, considering the increasing incidences of sabotage and ‘rail-rokos’, Mamata proposed to grant two new projects and two new trains each for states where trains run “trouble-free”.

Mamata said 1,500 trains were cancelled while 3,500 others were re-scheduled last year due to protests and other reasons.
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More licences with strict regime

Finance Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, arrives to address the media after Economic Survey being tabled. - Photo: Kamal NarangMUMBAI: Corporate houses that  were anticipating some new accelerated directions from the Government on the issue of allowing them to enter banking sector clearly had all the reasons to be happy about. The Economic Survey, tabled by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in parliament on Friday, has suggested that more banking licenses should be granted with a caveat that the regulatory frame work has to be tightened. Addressing the specific proposed move, the survey specified that industrial houses should be given banking licenses to promote the goal of financial inclusion, however very strict provision for avoiding conflict of interest should be put in place.Justifying the proposed new guideline, the 2010-11 Survey said that the move was very important considering that banking facilities is one of the main objectives of the inclusive development agenda.“While providing banking access, the issue of regulatory robustness for the banking sector should not be compromised, therefore, the issue of providing eligibility norms for new entities to operate as banks is of paramount importance,” the survey said.The move to allow private industrial houses including NBFC’s to apply for banking license was mooted by the Pranab Mukherjee in the last budget, after which the Reserve Bank of India had brought out a discussion paper and invited comments from interested groups. Industry bodies had overwhelmingly supported this move and stressing that all industrial houses irrespective of their main business should be given a fair chance to apply for licenses for new banks. Swati Piramal, President of ASSOCHAM recommended a liberalized approach to RBI to award licenses for new banks to mop up funds that are needed to cover the large number of Indian citizens who do not currently have access to banking services.There are a few others who are opposed to the idea. According to Cherian Varghese, former chairman of Union Bank of India, allowing industrial houses to set up new banks will result in corporates dominating the economy and influencing policy.Leading corporate groups like Reliance Capital, Aditya Biral Financial Services Group, IDFC, IL&FS and several others are eagerly awaiting to enter the banking sector.
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U.N. rights body recommends suspension of LibyaU.N. rights body recommends suspension of Libya

Adel Shaltut (L) Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Ambassador to the Human Rights Council recites the Sourat Al Fatiha during his statement at a Special Session on ''The situation of human rights in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya'' at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva February 25, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse The United Nations Human Rights Council has unanimously passed a resolution recommending suspension of Libya from the Geneva-based body and decided to conduct an independent probe into violations by the Qadhafi regime, which has launched a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The 47-nation body’s recommendation to suspend Libya needs to be approved by a two-thirds majority at the 192-member United Nations General Assembly here.
The U.N.’s top rights body also decided to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry... to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya.”
“It (the move) must now go further,” Gerard Araud, French envoy to the U.N., said here on Friday.
“We call on the president of the General Assembly to convene as soon as possible a session of the General Assembly to confirm its (Libya’s) suspension (from U.N. Human Rights Council).”
As the U.N. body in Geneva passed its resolution, the Libyan envoy there made an emotional public announcement of his defection. “We in the Libyan mission have categorically decided to serve as representatives of the Libyan people and their free will,” the diplomat, who wished not to be named, told the Council, according to media reports. “We only represent the Libyan people, we will serve as their representative in this august body and in other international fora.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the move by the U.N. Human Rights Council, condemning human rights violations and violence committed by the Libyan government against its own people. “We strongly support the Council’s establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate these violations with a view towards ensuring that those responsible are held accountable,” Ms. Clinton said in a statement.
The United States is working with other countries at the U.N. General Assembly to build support for a resolution to do so, she said.
“These steps underscore the international community’s profound concern about the abuses in Libya, and we urge all nations to speak with one voice in support of universal human rights,” Ms. Clinton said. “That includes an immediate end to Libyan government’s violence against the Libyan people and support for the universal rights of peaceful assembly, free speech, and self-determination,” she added.
The Libyan people should be able to determine their own destiny, she said.
“Today’s vote (at the UN human rights body) must be followed by sustained commitment and consistent action, and I will discuss this challenge with my colleagues at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday,” Ms. Clinton said.
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Vidya Balan getting engaged to Siddharth Roy Kapoor?

Vidya Balan and her rumoured boyfriend Siddharth Roy Kapur are said to be thinking of getting engaged.

The actress has been spotted with the head honcho of UTV Motion Pictures on more occasion than one, thereby sparking the rumours that something is indeed brewing between them. The latest was their outing together on the sandy beaches of Goa. The duo was clicked in casual beach wear while holidaying together.

Apparently, Sid and Vid have been friends for some time since he stays in her neighbourhood.

But the couple are wary of being linked together because Siddharth’s divorce from his wife is yet to come through. Naturally, they are likely to play down the reports of their engagement.

Vidya’s spokesperson says just because Vidya is friendly with someone doesn’t mean she will get engaged to him.

We, however, will wait to see how this ‘love story’ unfolds.
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Apple to host event, iPad 2 in the wings

Ipad: what do you want changed? SAN FRANCISCO - Apple Inc (AAPL.O) is hosting a media event next week to show off the next-generation of the iPad, as it prepares to take on new rivals in the fast-growing tablet market.
Apple, which sent an invitation to reporters on Wednesday via email, will host the March 2 gathering at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, the same venue where Apple unveiled the original iPad in January 2010.
The characteristically succinct invitation featured an image of a calendar page with a giant "2" emblazoned in the center, peeled back just slightly to reveal the familiar form of an iPad. The invite teased, "Come see what 2011 will be the year of."
Given the sheer crush of competing tablets coming on the market, Apple will face a bigger challenge to wow consumers with the new iPad, which is expected to go on sale in April.
The iPad has completely dominated the nascent tablet computer market, but literally dozens of new devices are set to launch this year, so Apple will have to prove it can stay one step ahead of its pursuers.
Apple's rivals include Motorola Mobility (MMI.N), Research in Motion (RIM.TO) and Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N), all of which are aggressively promoting their tablets.
Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads last year, when it had the market largely to itself. Analysts expect the company to at least double that figure this year, as the overall market explodes to more than 50 million units.
Industry watchers expect Apple to show off a thinner, lighter and faster version of the 10-inch touchscreen tablet, and also add a front-facing camera to enable video chatting using the company's FaceTime application.
Many analysts believe Apple may also add a chip that allows the iPad to run on CDMA networks like that of Verizon Wireless .
There is also the question of who will lead the event, with Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs out on indefinite medical leave. As Apple's master showman, Jobs typically presides over major product launches.
If not Jobs on stage, other potential emcees include Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook and marketing chief Phil Schiller.
With the original iPad priced starting at $499, investors will also be watching to see if Apple plans to creep farther down the price chain to broaden the iPad's appeal.
Apple's rivals has so far been unable to match the iPad on price. But Apple has pinched its own gross margins by pricing the tablet lower than its serious competitors. (Additional reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Steve Orlofsky)
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Indian-origin woman doctor jailed for healthcare fraud in US

An Indian-origin doctor has been sentenced to eight years in prison for committing healthcare fraud along with her husband by a US court, which also ordered the couple to forfeit over $43 million in cash and property they gained through their 10-year scam. Kiran Sharma, 56, had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of healthcare fraud last year.
Her husband, Arun Sharma, also a doctor, was sentenced to 15 years in prison earlier this month for fraudulently billing government insurance programme Medicare, Medicaid and various private healthcare providers for medical procedures that were not performed, US Attorney Jose Angel Moreno said in a statement.
The Texas couple have been ordered by US District Judge David Hittner to forfeit more than 43 million dollars, including their 700,000 dollar home in Texas, more than 700,000 dollars in cash found during a search of their home, over 800,000 dollars in cash found in two safe deposit boxes and a number of investment accounts funded with the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme.
Sharma has been remanded into the custody of the US Marshals Service to begin serving her eight-year sentence.
The couple had pleaded guilty in April 2010.
Arun Sharma too is in federal custody following his sentencing pending designation and transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility.
During 1998-2009, the couple owned and operated multiple medical clinics under the name Allergy, Asthma, Arthritis Pain Centre.
Kiran Sharma, who maintained an allergy practice, would sign patient procedure forms and superbills, falsely indicating that she had administered injections to the patients when in reality she did not.
She also hired several foreign medical graduates who helped add fictitious patient examination information to the blank progress/procedure notes.
Her husband also made patients sign blank procedure notes and then billed insurance companies for injection procedures for days when the patient was not in the clinic.
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Malinga fit to face Pakistan


Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga is improving from a back strain and is fit to face Pakistan in the World Cup but whether he will play or be rested for later matches is a different matter.

Malinga fit to play - CRICKET - World Cup The 1996 world champions left out strike bowler Malinga for their opening World Cup Group A match against unfancied Canada on Sunday, citing a sore back.
"He is 100 per cent fit to be selected," Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara said in Colombo.
"There are not any injury worries. Lasith is improving but we don't want to rush him."
When asked, team manager Anura Tennekoon said a decision was yet to be taken.
"The management and the selectors have to decide whether to play Lasith in the earlier games," Tennekoon told Reuters.
Malinga was one of the leading performers in the last World Cup, taking four wickets in four balls in a match against South Africa. Sri Lanka lost in the final to Australia.
Sangakkara said his team wants to win their first match against Pakistan in a World Cup after six defeats spread between 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1992.
"It's time to change history," he said. "We are looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully if we can do our basics better than the Pakistan team can we have a great chance.
"I think Pakistan is a great side, very balanced. They've got match-winning cricketers, not just one but quite a lot of them.
"So, any opposition is wary of them and we are not going to take anything lightly or for granted. We are going to go out there and do the best that we can do and hope that is enough."
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Sri Lanka wary of "dangerous" Pakistan

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's captain and vice-captain respectively, have both warned that Pakistan are a dangerous side that other teams will be wary of in the World Cup.
Not too many people have tipped Pakistan to win the tournament, after a tumultuous year for them in which they have been plagued by off-field issues, but Jayawardene said he was surprised by the lack of hype around them.
"I find it surprising that their name is not bandied about in the mix of potential World Cup winners as they have brilliant match winners with both bat and ball," Jayawardene wrote on his blog.
Sangakkara echoed that sentiment, saying Pakistan's batsmen were dangerous.
"Any opposition is wary of them and we're not going to take anything lightly or for granted," he said.
He was, however, confident that his bowlers would be up to the task, particularly with what he described as a "vastly improved" pace attack.
Lasith Malinga has been Sri Lanka's most successful bowler in the one-day format over the past year, and Thisara Perera, who seemed to have added a couple of yards of pace to his bowling in Sri Lanka's opening match against Canada, has been the second highest wicket-taker.
"We understand how dangerous the Pakistani batsmen are and that's the beauty of playing a side like them," Sangakkara said.
"Those challenges I think the bowlers will enjoy.
There's been a vast improvement for us actually to have good fast bowlers in our squad.
We've got guys who bowl over 140[kph] and we've got guys who swing it as well.
Both sides have good pace and good spin and I think it's going to be a battle between two teams who are looking forward to a very keen contest.
Every side has a different approach and we've got our own, which we're trying to fine tune as we go along.
" Sri Lanka, along with co-hosts India, are being touted as one of the favourites to win the World Cup, but Jayawardene said even though Pakistan may not be hosting any games, they still know the conditions well.
"Pakistan are just as familiar with the conditions, so they pose a huge danger to any side, especially in the knockout stage and it should be a good match," he said.
"Despite what people may write or not write, we certainly are fully aware of what this Pakistan side can do to any team with seemingly little effort." One possible setback for Sri Lanka is that there are still doubts over the readiness of Malinga for the game.
He missed the match against Canada with a back strain, though Perera and Nuwan Kulasekara did the job in his absence.
"Lasith is improving very fast and we'll have to look at him," Sangakkara said.
"We don't want to rush him into a big tournament like this.
He is the most important player for us so we want to make sure that he is comfortable and everyone is comfortable with the decision." The pitch at the R Premadasa has been completely re-laid ahead of the World Cup, but Sri Lanka's players have the advantage of having played on it during the domestic one-day tournament in January.
Sangakkara, who praised the new pitch in Hambantota, said he thought the wicket in Colombo would be as good for batting.
"In the match against Canada the wicket was good and we think even this surface will act the same," he said.
"We don't' want to think too much about the pitch."
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Didi's budget leaves state leaders fuming

Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee interacts with media after presenting Railway Budget for the year 2011-12 at the Parliament House in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt BHUBANESWAR: Several MPs, cutting across partylines, slammed the railway budget presented by Mamata Banerjee on Friday.

"Mamata did injustice to Orissa. Even the requests by us (Congress MPs) yielded little result," Congress MP from Kalahandi Bhakta Das said. "We had met her much before the presentation of the Budget and conveyed the state's wish list for overall development of railway sector. But the state's hopes were dashed," Das said.

Equally vocal was BJD MP Baishnab Parida. "The Railway Budget indicates the step-motherly treatment of the Centre towards Orissa. It was purely a West Bengal-centric Budget," Parida remarked.

Expressing concern over the tardy progress of the ongoing rail projects in state, BJD MP Prasanna Patsani said the Railways should act in a "time-bound" manner. "Work on the Khurda Road-Balangir and the Haridaspur-Paradip rail links has been going on since years. Mamata made no commitment regarding the completion of the projects," Patsani said.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who described the Budget as "extremely disappointing" said, "Money sanctioned for the ongoing projects is getting diverted due to non-receipt of project specific sanction and poor execution. Money sanctioned for the projects should be fully utilized."

Mamata proposed to set up a Central Organisation for Project Implementation (COPI) to ensure proper monitoring of the projects across the country. "COPI will monitor and ensure the funds allocated to different projects are fully utilized and not surrendered or diverted and projects completed in time-frame. COPI will also ensure accountability and fix responsibility for non-performance," Mamta said while tabling the Rail Budget.

Taking potshots at her, Naveen said, "The railway budget is disturbingly silent about our proposal of expanding rail network in Maoist-hit areas." BJP MP Rudranarayan Pani said, "Orissa was neglected again. Mamata gave little stress on track safety."

"Mere introduction of new trains and pro-passenger initiatives does not reflect a please-all Rail Budget. Tracks should be maintained properly and repaired in time for the safety of pilgrims," Pani said.

Meanwhile, passengers here expressed happiness as Mamata did not hike the fares. They, however, laid stress on the need to keep the train compartments and stations shipshape.
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SHRC seeks report

Members of National Alliance of People's Movements, Andhra Pradesh chapter on Friday sought the intervention of the State Human Rights Commission to stop mass arrests of people for staging peaceful protests against the construction of a 2400-MW thermal power plant in Srikakulam district. The petition submitted by the joint convener of NAPM, Saraswati Kavula, stated that the police had resorted to illegal arrests. The farmers were staging a peaceful protest against the power plant when police, without any warning, opened fire, causing injuries to eight persons.

The thermal power plant is an undertaking of East Coast Energy Private Limited in Naupada wetland at Kakrapalli village of Srikakulam district. The farmers have been demanding a halt to the construction of the power plant since August 2010 by using peaceful methods like relay hunger strike, as they fear that the project would deprive thousands of local fishermen and farmers of their livelihood. Demanding an independent investigation into the incident, the petitioner sought withdrawal of the police from the area with immediate effect.

The SHRC sought a report from the deputy inspector general of police, Visakhapatanam, and the superintendent of police, Srikakulam, on the incident by March 3.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Gaddafi blames al-Qaeda for revolt

Embattled Libyan leader says protesters being manipulated as pro- and anti-government forces clash across the country.
 Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's leader, has said that al-Qaeda is responsible for the uprising against him, amid attacks by pro-Gaddafi forces against anti-government protesters in several cities.
In a speech made via telephone and aired on state television on Thursday, Gaddafi claimed that the protesters were young people who had been manipulated by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's leader, and were acting under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.
As he spoke, troops loyal to Gaddafi launched a counter-offensive on Thursday against anti-government protesters, striking at two cities near the capital, Tripoli.
The worst violence was seen in the town of Az Zawiyah, about 50km west of Tripoli, where troops opened fire with automatic weapons and an anti-aircraft gun on a mosque where protesters had been taking shelter.
In his speech, Gaddafi argued that he was a purely "symbolic" leader with no real political power, and that citizens had "no reason to complain whatsoever". He hinted that he would be prepared to raise salaries, but warned that protesters would be tried in the country's courts.
On Friday, state television announced that every family in Libya would receive 500 dinars ($400), and that wages for some categories of public sector workers would increase by 150 per cent.
Our correspondent in eastern Libya reported on Friday that army commanders who had renounced Gaddafi's leadership had told her that military commanders in the country's west, which Gaddafi still largely maintains control over, were beginning to turn against him.
They warned, however, that the Khamis Brigade, an army special forces brigade that is loyal to the Gaddafi family and is equipped with sophisticated weaponry, is currently still fighting anti-government forces.
Pro-democracy protesters attacked
On Friday morning, our correspondents reported that the town of Zuwarah was, according to witnesses, abandoned by security forces and completely in the hands of anti-Gaddafi protesters. Checkpoints in the country's west on roads leading to the Tunisian border, however, were still being controlled by Gaddafi loyalists.
In the east, similar checkpoints were manned by anti-Gaddafi forces, who had set up a "humanitarian aid corridor" as well as a communications corridor to the Egyptian border, our correspondent reported.
Fierce clashes were reported from various cities in the country on Thursday. Some residents of Az Zawiyah fought back against army troops with hunting rifles. A doctor at a field clinic set up at the mosque that came under attack there told the Associated Press news agency that he saw the bodies of 10 people, in addition to around 150 injured people.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera the deatht toll in the violence there estimated to be close to 100.
"The people here didn't ask for anything, they just asked for a constitution and democracy and freedom, [the protesters] didn't want to shoot anyone," Ali, a witness in Az Zawiyah, told Al Jazeera. He said that despite the risk of more shooting, he and other protesters would continue to demonstrate against Gaddafi's rule.
Follow more of Al Jazeera's special coverage here 
Thousands massed in Az Zawiyah's Martyr's Square after the attack, calling on Gaddafi to leave office, and on Friday morning, explosions were heard in the city. Witnesses say pro-Gaddafi forces were blowing up arms caches, in order to prevent anti-government forces from acquiring those weapons.
Clashes were also reported in the city of Misurata, located 200km east of Tripoli, where witnesses said a pro-Gaddafi army brigade attacked the city's airport with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
They told Al Jazeera that pro-democracy protesters had managed to fight off that attack. "Revolutionaries have driven out the security forces," they said, adding that "heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns" had been used against them.
Mohamed Senussi, a resident of Misurata, said calm had returned to the city after the "fierce battle" near the airport.
"The people's spirits here are high, they are celebrating and chanting 'God is Greatest'," he told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
Another witness warned, however, that protesters in Misurata felt "isolated" as they were surrounded by nearby towns still in Gaddafi's control.
Protesters and air force personnel who have renounced Gaddafi's leadership also overwhelmed a nearby military base where Gaddafi loyalists were taking refuge, according to a medical official at the base. They disabled air force fighter jets at the base so that they could not be used against protesters.
Similar clashes between pro- and anti-government forces were also reported on Thursday in the towns of Sabha in the south and Sabratha, near Tripoli.
In Tripoli itself, witnesses said security forces had fired upon residents of the Tajoura neighbourhood.
Protesters control east
Pro-democracy protesters appear to remain in control of much of the country's eastern coastline, running from the Egyptian border, through to the cities of Tobruk and Benghazi, the country's second largest city.
They also say they are in control of the western cities of Misurata and Zuwarah. Libyan army forces in many cities in the country's east say that they stand with the anti-government forces against Gaddafi.
Protesters in Benghazi have held people they claim are mercenaries contracted by Gaddafi [Reuters]
Pro-democracy protesters say they have established committees to manage the affairs of the cities they are in control of.
Our correspondent reported that army commanders had told her that there were "cracks [appearing] in the whole system that Gaddafi has put in place and his whole grip in power is melting away by the hour".
She said that pro-democracy protesters in the east had overrun military barracks and now had access to heavy weaponry.
On Thursday, about a dozen people were held in Benghazi by pro-democracy protesters on charges of behind mercenaries working for Gaddafi.
Tripoli, the capital, meanwhile, remains under lockdown, amid reports that protesters have called for anti-government forces to march on the city after Friday prayers.
Libya has been in the grip of turmoil since anti-Gaddafi protests began on February 15. Two days later, the government launched a violent crackdown on protesters, with witnesses reporting that mercenaries had been hired to patrol the streets and fire on citizens indiscriminately with machine guns and heavy weapons.
The use of air attacks against civilian targets has also been reported by witnesses and air force personnel who have refused to carry out those orders.
Security forces have also been launching raids on homes and firing into the air on the streets of Tripoli. A witness told Reuters that security forces had also raided a hospital, searching for injured anti-government protesters.
Violence has ramped up after Gaddafi appeared on state television on Tuesday calling on his supporters to take back the streets and "cleanse" Libya.
Gaddafi increasingly isolated
 Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for 41 years, is growing increasingly isolated both from foreign governments, but also from elements within his government and military.
On Thursday Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, a cousin who is one of Gaddafi's closest aides, announced that he was renouncing Gaddafi's leadership in protest against "grave violations to human rights and human and international laws".
Al-Dam is one of the highest level renouncals to hit the regime, with many ambassadors, as well as the justice and interior ministers, either resigning or announcing that they are standing with protesters. The country's chief prosecutor and chief judicial investigator have also resigned.
Mustafa Abdel Galil, who earlier resigned as justice minister, spoke to Al Jazeera at a meeting of tribal leaders and representatives of eastern Libya in the city of Al Baida. That meeting was also attended by military commanders who refused orders to fire on protesters.
"We want one country. There is no Islamic emirate or al-Qaeda anywhere. Our only aim is to liberate Libya from this regime and then people choose the government they want." Abdel Galil said.
He warned that Gaddafi has biological and chemical weapons, and will not hesitate to use them.
UN meeting planned
The United Nations Security Council was to hold a meeting on the situation in Libya on Friday, with sanctions the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over the country under Article 7 of the UN charter on the table.
The UN's highest human-rights body was also holding a special session to discuss what it's chief had earlier described as possible "crimes against humanity" by the Gaddafi government.
The Swiss government, meanwhile, has ordered a freeze of any assets belonging to Gaddafi in the country. Libya's foreign ministry has denied that any such assets exist, and said that it would "sue" Switzerland.
The death toll since violence began remains unclear, though on Thursday Francois Zimeray, France's top human rights official, said it could be as high as 2,000 people killed.
Earlier, Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, said a number of 1,000 was "credible". The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights put the figure at 640 as of Wednesday.
Foreign governments are continuing to evacuate their citizens from the country, with thousands flooding to the country's land borders with Tunisia and Egypt.
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Mouse heart 're-grows when cut', study shows

ZebrafishScientists in the United States have found newborn mice can re-grow their own hearts.
The mice had a large chunk of their heart removed a day after birth, only for the heart to restore itself within three weeks.
Fish and amphibians are known to have the power to re-grow heart tissue, but the study in Science is the first time the process has been seen in mammals.
British experts said understanding the process could help human heart care.
Narrow window The researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center surgically removed what is known as the left ventricular apex of the heart (about 15% of the heart muscle) from mice just a day after birth.
The heart was then quickly seen to regenerate and was fully restored after 21 days. After two months, the organ still appeared to be functioning normally.
But when the same procedure was tested on mice aged one week, the heart failed to regenerate, suggesting this power of self-repair is extremely short-lived in mice.
The belief is that heart cells within the mouse have a narrow window after birth within which they can continue to replicate and repair. Subsequent tests suggested that these repair cells were coming from within the heart muscle.

Start Quote

There's no reason to believe that the same window would not exist in the human heart”
End Quote Professor Eric Olson University of Texas
"What our results show are that the new heart muscle cells which repair the amputated region of the heart came from proliferation and migration of pre-existing heart muscle cells," said Professor Eric Olson, who worked on the study.
"We have no evidence they came from a stem-cell population."
Many amphibians and fish, most famously the zebrafish, have the ability to renew heart muscle right into adulthood.
This new study suggests mammals too have such capacity for self-repair, if only for a limited time after birth.
Professor Olson believes future research will show humans have a similar capacity, although no experiments involving human heart tissue are currently planned.
"There's no reason to believe that the same window would not exist in the human heart.
"Everything we know about development and early function of the mouse heart is comparable to the human heart so we're quite confident that this process does exist in humans, although that of course still has to be shown."
Heart attacks The team's focus is now on looking at ways to "re-awaken" this capacity to self repair in adult mice, with the ultimate ambition to do the same in humans to repair damage sustained during heart attacks.
"We've identified a micro-RNA (a small piece of genetic material) which regulates this process so we're tying to use that as a way of further enhancing cardiac regeneration later in life and we're also screening for new drugs which can re-awaken this mechanism in adult mice," he said.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said the study showed heart regeneration was not the exclusive preserve of zebrafish and newts, but said more work needed to be done to understand what was actually going on inside the healing heart.
"This exciting research shows for the first time that young mice, like fish and amphibians, can heal their damaged hearts," he said. "It strengthens the view that understanding how this happens could provide the key to healing adult human hearts."
Professor Olson concedes there will be problems ahead. What works in the low-pressured heart of a zebrafish, might not work in the high-pressured multi-chambered heart of humans.
Meddling with heart muscle cells could, for instance, trigger arrhythmias in the heart, he said.
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BCCI asks media to keep off Indian players

BCCI asks media to keep off players
NEW DELHI: As if gagging the players is not enough, the Indian Cricket Board on Friday asked the media to "refrain" from contacting Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men for interviews as the team wants to "concentrate" on its World Cup campaign.

"The members of the med
ia are requested to refrain from constantly contacting the members of the Indian Cricket Team on phone/SMS for interviews/bytes as players would like to concentrate on the ongoing World Cup matches," Board Secretary N Srinivasan said in a statement.

The Indian team won its opening match against Bangladesh and is currently training in Bangalore for the second Group B match against England on Sunday.

Every move of the Indian cricket team is making national headlines in the ongoing World Cup with reports ranging from the colour of their jerseys to minor niggles picked up during practice making for breaking news on television channels.

Before the World Cup started, the BCCI told the players not to write any syndicate columns for newspapers to avoid creating any controversy in the middle of the campaign.

Meanwhile, the BCCI also clarified that opener Virender Sehwag is expected to be fit for the game against England despite a minor injury scare after being hit on the ribs during practice.

"Virender Sehwag was hit on the left ribcage in the nets earlier today. He is currently under medication; however he is expected to be fit for the match against England on Sunday," the BCCI statement read.
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Railway Budget 2011: Mamata recites Lata's song

Railway Budget: Mamta Banerjee eyes 'common people'NEW DELHI: A gentle nudge from Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar made Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee recite the famous Hindi song sung by Lata Mangeshkar about the contribution of the defence forces that had made India's first prime minister shed tears.

As Banerjee, wearing a white coloured sari with green border, announced sops for the defence personnel in her third rail budget, Meira Kumar gently reminded her: "Don't miss the beautiful couplets." Banerjee smiled and said: "I will fir
st read the couplet."

Then in her heavily accented Hindi, she started off: "Koi Sikh, koi Jaat, Maraatha, koi Gurakha, koi Madaraasi, sarahad pe maranevaala har veer tha Bhaaratavaasi. (Some Sikhs, Jaats, Marathis, Gurkhas, Madrasis, all who fought on the border were Indians.)

She went on to add from the song: "Jab ghayal hua Himaalay, khatre mein padi aazadi, jab tak thi saans lade vo phir apni laash bichha di (When the Himalayas were in danger, they fought till they died)."

The minister then reminded the Lok Sabha that the famous song "Ae mere watan ke logon" (Oh my countrymen!) was sung by Lata and had made Jawaharlal Nehru emotional. Before this, the confident looking Banerjee recited an Urdu couplet. The opposition, which disrupted her budget speech, for once listened quietly.

Banerjee, before she started reading out the rail budget from the written text, had said that she would be leave out some portions from the text and they should be considered read.
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Railway Budget 2011: Passengers spared hike in fares for third year

Duronto Express
NEW DELHI: For the third successive year, the Railway Budget for 2011-12 spared the passengers of any increase in fares and proposed no hike in freight rates while introducing 56 new trains, including nine non-stop Duronto trains and three Shatabdis.

Presenting her third budget in UPA-II in the Lok Sabha, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a slew of concessions including reducing the eligibility age of senior women citizens from 60 to 58 years and the fare concession for men above 60 from 30 to 40 per cent.

Apparently with an eye on the coming assembly polls in West Bengal, where she is projected as the Chief Minister candidate of Congress-Trinamool combine, she came out with a number of projects for the state, including a metro coach factory in Singur, Rail Industrial Park in Jelligham, an integrated suburban network for Kolkata and 34 new services for the Kolkata metro.

Her announcements for the state evoked protests from members including those from Bihar, UP and Kerala, but she appealed to them to be patient for her other announcements.

The Minister also extended the concession for physically- challenged persons and Kirti and Shaurya Chakra awardees to travel in Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains, besides extending facility of card passes to parents of unmarried posthumous Paramvir Chakra and Ashok Chakra gallantry award winners.

She also proposed to induct 16,000 ex-servicemen in the Railways by March.

The budget proposes the highest-ever plan outlay of Rs 57,630 crore for 2011-12. The gross budgetary support has been projected at Rs 20,000 crore, diesel cess Rs 1,041 crore, internal resources Rs 14,219 crore and market borrowing at Rs 20,954 crore.

The budget estimates for 2011-12 projects a freight loading of 993 million tonnes and a passenger growth of 6.4 per cent.

Gross traffic receipts has been estimated at Rs 1,06,239 crore, exceeding the Rs one lakh crore mark for the first time, despite pressure on finances on account of Pay Commission payout.

Ordinary working expenses have been assessed at Rs 73,650 crore and appropriation to depreciation reserve fund pegged at Rs 7,000 crore.

Provision of Rs 6,735 crore has been made for dividend payment and the excess for Railways for the new fiscal has been projected at Rs 5,258 crore, with an operating ratio of 98.1 per cent.
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CBI questions Arun Shourie in 2G Spectrum scam

Arun Shourie appears before CBI on 2G caseThe Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today questioned former Telecom Minister Arun Shourie as part of its ongoing 2G Spectrum scam probe to find out possible criminal aspects and irregularities in the telecom policy since 2001.
Shourie appeared before the CBI to explain his role in awarding licenses on the 'first come first serve' basis and other crucial policy decisions taken during his term.
Shourie had held the telecom portfolio between January 2003 and May 2004 during the NDA regime.
Earlier this month, Shourie had been approached by the CBI, asking him to appear before it in connection with the Preliminary Enquiry (PE) registered by the agency following the Supreme Court's direction.
Officials said that the PE was registered against "unknown persons" with an aim to ascertain whether the "first-come-first-serve basis" provision passed by the then Cabinet led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was followed or not.
Last year the Supreme Court had directed the agency to widen the scope of its investigation to cover the grant of licenses by both the NDA and the UPA regimes between 2001-2007 and submit a report.
Shourie is expected to explain his role in awarding licenses to operators on the first come-first-serve basis and other important telecom policy decisions taken during his term.
According to the CBI, nearly 50 licenses were given on the first-come-first-serve basis and Bharti, Vodafone and Idea were among the beneficiaries of the policy.
The CBI will look into the documents of the companies who have been awarded the contracts as part of the investigation and is likely to go over the minutes of the meetings held by successive telecom ministers, which include the late Pramod Mahajan, Arun Shourie and DMK's Dayanidhi Maran.
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Economic Survey: How do experts view it?

Amit Mitra, Secretary-General , FICCIThe Indian economy is expected to grow at 8.75-9.25% in financial year 2012 according to the Economic Survey for the year 2011-12 announced on Friday.
Robust growth and steady fiscal consolidation have been the hallmark of the Indian economy in the year 2010-11 so far. The growth rate has been 8.6% in 2010-11 and is expected to be around 9% in the next fiscal year.
The growth has been broad-based with a rebound in the agriculture sector which is expected to grow around 5.4%. Manufacturing and services sector have registered impressive gains. Savings and investment are looking up while exports are rising.
However, food inflation, higher commodity prices and volatility in global commodity markets have been a cause of concern underscoring the need of fiscal consolidation and stronger reserves.
In an interview with CNBC-TV18, Siddhartha Sanyal, Chief India Economist, Barclays Capital, Sonal Verma, India Economist, Nomura and Amit Mitra, FICCI, speak about the Economic Survey and give their outlook going forward.
Below are excerpts of the interview. Also watch the accompanying videos.
Q: Did you get anything different so far?
Sanyal: Actually the survey is pretty much on expected line. To some extent, everyone expected this one to be on optimistic assumptions. You can see that in the growth numbers, in the tax revenue numbers as well as in case of the overall fiscal deficit number.
Q: Fiscal consolidation plan is on track this financial year. The fact that it is on track is not good enough, when you get too much of one off, isn’t it?
Sanyal: Basically this year was a bonanza year. What will happen in the next year? Our own assessment says though the government is coming out with 4.8% kind of a number, we are penciling a number as high as 5.3% of the GDP. This is on the new revised very high nominal GDP. Had that not been the case, it would be somewhere in the range of around 5.6% on the old GDP basis. And that would mean a significant slippage compared with full 4.8% target.
Q: What are you penciling in by way of a nominal GDP growth, is it around 15-16%? What is the kind of tax revenue that you are expecting? What is the exactly fiscal deficit number that you are looking at?
Sanyal: In terms of the nominal GDP growth, we are taking a number around 14.5% to 15% kind of a growth. So, the nominal GDP for the next fiscal year comes to around Rs 90 trillion or Rs 90 lakh crore.
In terms of the fiscal deficit, the 5.3% number is somewhere around Rs 4.73-4.74 lakh crore. Out of that, we think that net borrowing requirement will be as high as Rs 4,20,000 crore. Next year will be a year where the small saving will not be a significant chuck any more of financing fiscal deficit because already the bank deposit rates are higher than the small savings rate. That at times has rescued the government, but that is not going to be the case.
The joker in the pack for tomorrow is perhaps whether the government manages to carry forward a significant part of the surplus which they are maintaining today, whether they can carry it forward and reduce the borrowing.
Q: You had enough time to read through, key parts of the economic survey. Is there anything to give you a feeling that the fiscal issue is going to be better tackled, more responsibly? I saw some nervous statements like auto fuel prices will also to be capped, if crude oil spurts which means they are not going to be entirely passed on right away?
Verma: Looking at the document, it does say that the medium-term prospects for fiscal consolidation look bright. This financial year, they will be able to better the fiscal deficit number because of an inflation tax because of the higher nominal GDP growth that we have seen.
We will be very surprised if they don’t show the 4.8% number, that the thirteenth finance commission has talked about. The other part is achieving fiscal consolidation in reality versus fiscal consolidation on paper, which are two different things. But on Monday, we do think they will show fiscal consolidation.
Q: Anything key that you picked up from the economics survey which gives you a feeling that reform could be back in the budget agenda?
Mitra: Very importantly, skill development which is a significant area for human capital formation and promotion of innovation, these have been two demands of FICCI for a long time. We haven’t seen it in this survey before but primacy has given to this and that will create the long-term sustainable growth engine of this country. We don’t want demographic dividend replaced by demographic deficit. These two are very significant in that direction.
The second area which is of interest to us is the primacy given to agricultural sector which calls for greater attention and most interestingly for higher investment in farm sector. This investment has significantly fallen in India compared to China asking for greater investment in farm sector and ushering in a second green revolution.
As a critique, yes, fiscal consolidation is okay but not squeezing out the growth potential. The survey speaks about fiscal consolidation. We hope that that does not mean that you go ahead aggressively like in developed economies where markets are complete, where there are no structural changes happening, you go tong and have a fiscal consolidation.
If push down the fiscal deficit quickly, you will definitely get a great hit on growth and that will lead to huge employment issue. Twelve million Indians joined the labour force; nine fresh ones and three who have not got jobs before. Every year we have to create 12 million jobs. Now, fiscal consolidation should not squeeze out the potential for job development in the future.
Q: Did you pick up anything which is seriously anti-inflationary in the budget? From the survey, would you say that the budget may be an anti-inflation budget or a pro-growth budget?
Verma: If the economic survey is talking about a baseline GDP growth forecast of 9%, between growth and inflation, inflation is the bigger focus. Now, one of the things that the survey accepts is that this inflation is because of structural factors, because of the big push that the government has given on the rural side, which means that the solution to inflation that this budget may try to tackle is also through structural measures.
Those measures primarily would include the reforms mentioned, in terms of agricultural development. Other than that there is not much that the budget can do in tackling inflation apart from supply side focus on agriculture and fiscal consolidation.
There are areas on infrastructure, agriculture and on education which the government needs to focus on. The question is quality of expenditure and the amount of spending on subsidies etc which to be rationalized, which is what we are going to look at.
Q: What would be the one or two things that you can expect from the budget given the mood that the survey has created? What would you very much want the budget to do?
Verma: It is very important for us to recognize that last year there was a lot of excitement on reforms out of the survey. Interestingly, in the budget there was very little of it. I am somewhat concerned that does the survey point to the nature of the budget at least in the last year or two years experience?
We found that it is not necessarily a big connect. The survey is a big vision document. I personally think that the headroom is very little and within that headroom you can’t see big reforms where it should be done but I don’t see that in the survey and I don’t expect it in the budget. What we need is a steady state budget which maintains growth, which controls inflation to the degree of supply side possibilities.
On the whole, I would expect better to preserve growth, preserve employment, contain a bit of the inflation and let the economy run its course at this point in time. The survey I think last year was a disappointment vis-à-vis what came later in the budget. This year it is more restrained, more realistic and we are thankful for that.
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Mamata doesn't hike fares, announces new trains

New Delhi: Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee had her eyes firmly on West Bengal assembly election when she presented the Railway Budget 2011-12 in Parliament on Friday. For the third successive year, the Railway Minister refused to increase passenger fares and freight rates even as she announced many projects for her home state.
Presenting her third budget in United Progressive Alliance-II in the Lok Sabha, Mamata also announced a slew of concessions including reducing the eligibility age of senior women citizens from 60 to 58 years and the fare concession for men above 60 from 30 to 40 per cent. She also announced the introduction 56 new trains, including nine non-stop Duronto trains and three Shatabdi trains.She started her speech by announcing that Railways are aware of the acute sense of social responsibility and will take all steps to fulfill it. But she barely attended to the mounting deficit of the transportation institution and instead yielded to a gimmick that befits a politician eyeing the polls.
The sops for West Bengal include 34 new services for the Kolkata metro, 50 more suburban services, a coach factory in Singur and a Rail Industrial Park in Jelligham. West Bengal will get another railway project with a track-machine industry being proposed to be set up at Uluberia in West Bengal. A 700 MW gas based power plant is to be set up at Thakurli in Maharashtra.
Her announcements for the state evoked protests from members including those from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, but she appealed to them to be patient for her other announcements.
The Minister also extended the concession for physically- challenged persons and Kirti and Shaurya Chakra awardees to travel in Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains, besides extending facility of card passes to parents of unmarried posthumous Paramvir Chakra and Ashok Chakra gallantry award winners.
She also proposed to induct 16,000 ex-servicemen in the Railways by March.
The budget proposes the highest-ever plan outlay of Rs 57,630 crore for 2011-12. The gross budgetary support has been projected at Rs 20,000 crore, diesel cess Rs 1,041 crore, internal resources Rs 14,219 crore and market borrowing at Rs 20,954 crore.
The budget estimates for 2011-12 projects a freight loading of 993 million tonnes and a passenger growth of 6.4 per cent.
Gross traffic receipts has been estimated at Rs 1,06,239 crore, exceeding the Rs one lakh crore mark for the first time, despite pressure on finances on account of Pay Commission payout.
Ordinary working expenses have been assessed at Rs 73,650 crore and appropriation to depreciation reserve fund pegged at Rs 7,000 crore.
Provision of Rs 6,735 crore has been made for dividend payment and the excess for Railways for the new fiscal has been projected at Rs 5,258 crore, with an operating ratio of 98.1 per cent.
"To meet the demand for coaches, rail based industries will be set up under Vision 2020. There is a proposal to setup a rail industrial park at Nandigram. Railways will set up a bridge factory in Jammu and Kashmir considering need for large number of bridges on railway projects in the state. A diesel locomotive industry will be setup for the first time in Northeast in Manipur," she said.
She announced that first coach from the Rae Bareli Rail coach factory will roll out in the next three months. Congress President Sonia Gandhi is the Lok Sabha MP from Rae Bareli.
She said that there is strong economic focus with equal consideration of the common man's needs to give the Railway Budget a common man's face.
Informing that greater thrust will be given on new lines next year, she said, "New railway line capacity will be raised to 700 kms,"
"We have made railway traveling for poor possible. The Izzat ticket has been a success" she said. "Railways to give 10,000 shelters to shelterless people," she further informed.
"The Railways has a Rs 57,630 crore investment plan for the year and additional Rs 10,000 crore will be raised through tax free bonds," informed the minister.
A proposal to set up new railway lines in difficult and underdeveloped areas has also been made in the Budget.
"We propose to remove all unmanned crossings across the country," said the minister, while appealing people to stop rail roko agitations.
A special package was also proposed for the states that would run trouble free railways. "We will give special projects and two new extra trains for good performance," said Mamata and claimed that rail accident rate has declined from 0.29 per cent in 2009-10 to 0.17 per cent in 2010-11.
Giving thrust on modernisation in this year's budget, Mamata said, "Multi-purpose Go India smart card for passengers travelling long distance will be introduced."
Special provisions were also made for physically challenged people to travel by train.
Ticket booking charges have been reduced by Rs 10 for AC and Rs 5 for non AC class.
Informing that the Railways is passing through a difficult phase, Mamata said, "For implementation of 6th Pay Commission, we are facing a lot of financial problem. Railways has saved Rs 3,700 crore by austerity drive in the previous financial plan."
"Railways earnings are likely to exceed Rs 1 lakh crore," she further said.
While a sports cadre will be setup by Railways to promote sports, 16,000 ex-servicemen are to be inducted in Railways by next financial year.
"Physically handicapped persons will get concession in Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains," announced Mamata.
The three new Shatabdi trains will run on Pune-Secunderabad, Jaipur-
Agra and Ludhiana-Delhi routes, said Mamata. New Duronto trains will be introduced on Allahabad-Mumbai, Pune-Ahmedabad, Sealdah-Puri, Madurai-Chennai, Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram and Mumbai Central-New Delhi routes.
The budget comes at a time when the railways are facing financial crunch with its operating ratio inching close to the 100-level mark. The Railway administration, which is coping with gloomy numbers has to deal with task of delivering what Lalu Prasad promised in his stint as the railway minister.
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Sensex dips 55 points; metal, realty drop

File photo shows investors watching a large screen displaying stock prices on the facade of the Bombay Stock Exchange building. The Sensex on Wednesday dropped by 44.79 points to 18,251.37 points in opening trade.The Sensex post railway budget and economy survey dropped on the back of profit taking. Metal stocks fell the most followed by realty and IT, while FMCG gained.
All railway stocks were hammered badly due to disappointing Railway Budget. Kalindee Rail Nirman (7.15%), Kernex Microsystems (3.11%), Texmaco (3.44%), BEML (2.25%), Titagarh Wagons (5.7%) and  Stone India (5.59%).
At 1.57 p.m., the Sensex was trading down 54.56 points or 0.31% at 17,577.85 with 23 components falling. Meanwhile, the Nifty was trading lower by 5.75 points or 0.11% at 5,256.95 with 34 components falling.
The 30-share benchmark index, BSE Sensex opened with a gain of 142.67 points or 0.81% at 17,775.08, while the broad based NSE Nifty started with a rise of 58.35 points or 1.11%, at 5,321.05.
Sensex Movers
Larsen & Toubro contributed fall of 22.11 points in the Sensex. It was followed by Hindalco Industries (14.54 points), H D F C Bank (12.36 points), Mahindra & Mahindra (9.39 points) and Tata Consultancy Services (9.22 points).
However, I C I C I Bank contributed rise of 41.54 points in the Sensex. It was followed by I T C (25.42 points), Tata Motors (16.19 points), State Bank Of India (11.14 points) and Bharti Airtel (4.58 points).
Biggest gainers in the 30-share index were Tata Motors (3.00%), I C I C I Bank (2.92%), I T C (2.51%), State Bank Of India (1.17%), Wipro (1.02%), and Bharti Airtel (0.86%).
On the other hand, Reliance Communications (6.00%), Reliance Energy (5.62%), Hindalco Industries (4.29%), Mahindra & Mahindra (2.43%), Sterlite Industries (India) (2.36%), and Larsen & Toubro (2.04%) were the biggest losers in the Sensex.
Mid & Small-cap Space
The BSE Mid and small caps underperformed their larger counterparts declining -0.83% and 0.46% respectively.

The major losers in the BSE Midcap were A B G Shipyard (3.59%), A2Z Maintenance & Engineering Services (1.67%), Alstom Projects India (1.61%), A I A Engineering (1.05%) and Aban Offshore (0.06%).

The major losers in the BSE Smallcap were Reliance MediaWorks (4.87%), Provogue (India) (1.86%), Aarti Industries (1.64%), A K Capital Services (0.21%) and Action Construction Equipment (0.11%).
Sectors in Limelight
The Metal index was at 15,084.14, down by 276.17 points or by 1.8%. The major losers were Hindalco Industries (4.29%), Hindustan Zinc (3.05%), Bhushan Steel (2.97%), Jindal Steel & Power (1.85%) and JSW Steel (1.58%).
The Realty index was at 1,924.61, down by 30.12 points or by 1.54%. The major losers were Anant Raj Industries (2.45%), Indiabulls Real Estate (2.38%), Mahindra Lifespace Developers (1.59%), D L F (1.38%) and Ackruti City (0.74%).
The IT index was at 6,090.80, down by 60.6 points or by 0.99%. The major losers were Mphasis (26.91%), Tech Mahindra (1.93%), Oracle Financial Services Software (1.01%), Core Projects and Technologies (0.75%) and Infosys Technologies (0.44%).
On the other hand, the FMCG index was at 3,270.98, up by 55.91 points or by 1.74%. The major gainers were United Spirits (4.57%), Godrej Consumer Products (3.76%), I T C (2.51%), Dabur India (0.41%) and Colgate-Palmolive (India) (0.4%).
Market Breadth
Market breadth was negative with 1,169 advances against 1,574 declines.
Value and Volume Toppers
Abc Gas (International) topped the value chart on the BSE with a turnover of Rs. 0.00 million. It was followed by Mphasis (Rs. 1,503.59 million), StateBank Of India (Rs. 1,394.20 million) and Tata Steel (Rs. 744.60 million).
The volume chart was led by Cals Refineries with trades of over 10.68 million shares. It was followed by Comfort Intech (5.04 million), Kalindee Rail Nirman (Engineers) (4.96 million) and Spicejet (3.71 million).

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Foreigners flee Libya as world leaders seek resolution to crisis

Benghazi, Libya (CNN) -- World leaders will meet Friday to discuss sanctions against Libya as nations braved rough seas to whisk citizens away from the escalating violence in the north African nation.
A British ship left Benghazi -- the second-largest city -- with 207 people on board. A United States ferry with at least 275 people safely onboard was expected to follow suit later Friday.
The State Department said that the ferry's departure from Tripoli to Malta would be within the "next several hours" depending on the weather.
Dena Drotar said her mother, who was on the U.S. ship, told her that passengers were being fed, but were anxious and having difficulty sleeping.
"So they're also getting a little bit giddy," Drotar said.
As the standoff between protesters and the nation's long-term ruler, Moammar Ghadafi, continued, unrest seemed to be spreading toward Tripoli. The capital has been a government stronghold, and has managed to quash the protesters calling for the ruler to step down.
The coastal town of Zawiya -- about 55 kilometers (35 miles) west of Tripoli -- was the epicenter of violent protests Thursday. Doctors at a field hospital said early Friday that 17 people were killed and 150 more wounded when government forces attacked.
Gunfire erupted as throngs marched down city streets chanting "Allahu Akbar," (God is Great) while they carried a body wrapped in white sheets.
Anti-government forces said they had gained control of the city, prompting Ghadafi to accuse followers of Osama bin Laden of adding hallucinogenic drugs to residents' drinks to spark the unrest.
"They put it with milk or with other drinks, spiked drinks," he said. After taking the tablets, "they attack this police station or that one so they can steal from there the criminal records."
Gadhafi called for the al Qaeda leader to be prosecuted.
"He's responsible for any acts of murder or sabotage," he said Thursday. "How can such lunatic youth cause such anarchy?"
Ghadafi sent condolences to the victims' families , and urged the protesters' mothers to track them down and take them home.
"These are our children," he said in an address to Zawiya residents. "We are quite upset about the senseless loss of lives."
A resident of Tripoli who said she was too afraid to give her name called Gadhafi's speech "crazy."
"We're all in our houses like we're sitting in jail," she said. "We can't go outside or we get shot. We hear the bullets."
Gadhafi said Libya has peaceful ways for its citizens to address their grievances.
"We are not like Egypt or Tunisia," he said, referring to two countries that have ousted their leaders in recent weeks. "Here, the authority is in the hands of the people. You can change your authority, just make committees. And if you think they are corrupt, take them to court."
As violence occurred elsewhere Thursday, a formerly pro-government newspaper in Libya reported that mercenaries were shooting unarmed civilians in Tajura, about 25 miles east of Tripoli.
CNN could not confirm reports for many areas in Libya. The Libyan government maintains tight control of communications and has not responded to repeated requests for access to the country. CNN has interviewed numerous witnesses by phone.
Gadhafi faces international pressure as protests escalate. The U.N. Human Rights Council will meet Friday afternoon to discuss a resolution that would include suspending Libya from the council. The resolution would condemn "the massive and unacceptable violence currently being perpetrated in this country," French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Thursday.
The Russian foreign ministry said early Friday that sanctions against Libya will be ineffective.
"While (sanctions) might work in some situations, you can hardly say that they are an effective method of international action," the foreign ministry said.
The international fallout has spread as the protests rage on.
Switzerland has ordered Ghadafi's assets frozen, the foreign ministry said.
A stream of Libyan diplomats have also defected over the unrest, including the ambassador to Jordan, Mohammed Hassan Al Barghathi.
A cousin of Gadhafi who serves as a top security official and is considered one of his closest aides also resigned.
Underscoring the growing distance between the Gadhafi regime and Libyan diplomats, the flag hanging outside the Libyan Mission to the United Nations in New York was the opposition flag; the regime's flag had been taken down.
However, state television reported that Libyan diplomats and staff in Saudi Arabia had sent a cable of support "paying their respective loyalty to the leader of Libya."

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SRK dons new role with Mughal-E-Azam

Shah Rukh Khan.jpg
It looked as if it was a Don 2 event. The sassy dialogues from the film stylishly mouthed, the sexy stubble combined with an unkempt pony-tailed look and his inimitable wit thrown in between, Shah Rukh Khan was literally coerced to give glimpses of what was coming in the forthcoming Don 2 ... But hang on. It wasn't Don 2 event. So SRK skillfully turned around the focus from him to the actual event, the documentary launch of K Asif's classic Mughal-E-Azam , this time by mouthing his favorite dialogue from the classic Salim tumhe marne nahin denge Anarkali, aur hum tumhe jeene nahin denge and there it was .....the evening rolled out and how!

To commemorate the fifty years of the classic, SRK's company put together this 22 minute documentary that presented clippings of the colorized version of the film. Actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Shahid Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Randhir Kapoor threw in their bits of suggestions, views and appreciations along with the family members of K Asif who spoke about the need of preserving this all time classic.

The stage was set and SRK, who flew down from Malaysia where he was shooting for Don 2 , assumed the role of the narrator and took the audiences through the making of the documentary and film with some personal anecdotes thrown in between.

This film was special to him, he said. And not just because of its majestic execution and exploration of a unique love story, but also because King Khan's father, Taj Mohammed Khan, shot for the film! "My father was cast in the role that Ajit played, but later K Asif saab decided against taking him. Maybe Asif saab thought my father would be good at producing children than act in movies," said King Khan amidst laughter.

Though SRK didn't understand the film when he first saw it as a child, he fell in love when he saw it again years later. "The grandeur and magnificence, the vision with which the film was shot and the purity of love and passion shown between the lovers enamored me".

SRK feels Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese inspired him at initiating the thought of movie preservation. "Martin was keen on preserving some old Hollywood classics, but what I found amazing was his interest in preserving some of our films of Ritwick Ghatak and Satyajit Ray. I thought `why can't we do it?' and that's how it all started," explained the actor.

Any plans for any of his movies to be documented. "Aree I have many more years to do many films. Lets see how things go. Maybe Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ....I know it's not a classic and nowhere near any great classics we have in our legacy. But no harm in thinking", he said with a wink. The actor also urged that nobody should think of remaking Mughal-E-Azam . "It's the mother of all films, and Maa ki remake nahin hote ".

Other than SRK's wit, the evening also saw one of Sa Re Ga Ma's singer croon the eternal song Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya , from the film.
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