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NEWS DIARY

Pakistan Warns of New Floods, UN Says 800,000 Cut Off
Shameful Road to the Commonwealth Games
Nepal Hosts First International Gay Parade
Bye Bye, Vedanta
No to Toxic Ships
Growth to Double
Govt. in Limbo
Vow to Fight Terrorism
Aid Warning
Bangla Welcomes Iran Offer
Fonseka Slams Colombo

Pakistan Warns of New Floods, UN Says 800,000 Cut Off

Pakistani flood-affected villagers gather on higher ground after fleeing their homes in Khanpur village in Jamshoro district.

Pakistan is battling to save areas threatened by more devastating flood waters as the United Nations warned that 800,000 people in desperate need of aid had been cut off by the deluge.

The UN launched an urgent appeal for more helicopters to deliver aid to those people reachable only by air, after floods triggered by a torrent of monsoon rains washed away bridges and vital access roads.

"As monsoon floods continue to displace millions in southern Pakistan, an estimated 800,000 people in need across the country are only accessible by air," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Pakistan's worst humanitarian catastrophe has affected more than 17 million people, while officials warn that millions are at risk from disease and food shortages.

Around 1,500 people have been confirmed dead by Pakistani authorities, but UN officials have suggested the death toll could prove higher.

"These unprecedented floods pose unprecedented logistical challenges, and this requires an extraordinary effort by the international community," said John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Global pledges have topped 700 million dollars, but Pakistani and international relief officials have raised concerns about the slow pace of aid and Islamabad has warned that total losses could reach 43 billion dollars.

Some 4.5 million people remain in urgent need of shelter, the International Organization for Migration said.

Another two million left homeless by the floods were due to have received shelter materials such as tents and plastic sheets within the next couple of days, the IOM said.

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Shameful Road to the Commonwealth Games

A laborer works outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium constructed for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

India's Commonwealth Games have turned into the nation's biggest shame. At a cost of $7.5 billion, these will be the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever.

The cost — all laid to Indian taxpayers — has sky-rocketed because of terrible mismanagement and hugely inflated bills. Scandalous reports of financial corruption, nepotism and incompetence have tarnished India's image.

Sports stadiums are not yet ready, or if they are, there are growing fears of substandard materials having been used. The roof of the weightlifting stadium, part of the main venue, began leaking hours after its inauguration. The ceiling of the S.P. Mukherjee Swimming Complex came crashing down and a swimmer was injured. Before that, a roof at the Yamuna Sports Complex collapsed. The games village is not ready, nor are the living quarters for the hundreds of players due to descend on New Delhi.

The blame for all these rests squarely on the shoulders of Suresh Kalmadi, head of the Organizing Committee of the Commonwealth Games.

Mihir Bose, a former BBC sports editor said: "I do not understand how Kalmadi has come to acquire this position of influence in the Indian Commonwealth Games. He has no sporting credentials and he makes no international impression. The question is who is Kalmadi? Had it not been for the Commonwealth Games, would we have ever heard of him?

"The moot point is, why are Indians obsessed with politicians and have men like Kalmadi governing Indian sports? The answer is easy: Who governs has to do with class bias.

"In India, players tend to come from the lower classes, with the possible exception of cricket. They are not considered intelligent enough to run sports, never put in a position of power and always exploited by the babus and politicians."

All this spending in a country where 76 percent of the 1.3 billion population live in abject poverty, with less than 40 cents a day to spend.

Does the nation need the Commonwealth Games at all?

—excerpted from an article by Chennai-based journalist Gautaman Bhaskaran in Japan Times.

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Nepal Hosts First International Gay Parade

Gays, lesbians, transvestites and their supporters in a gay parade in Kathmandu Aug, 25.

Hundreds of gays, lesbians, transvestites and their supporters danced through the Nepalese capital in Kathmandu Aug. 25 in the country's first international gay parade.  The participants, dressed in colorful clothes, thronged the main streets of Kathmandu, led by Sunil Pant, a member of Nepal's parliament and the nation's most prominent gay activist.

Pant's gay rights group organized the parade to campaign for greater rights for sexual minorities in Nepal. "Our message is ending all forms of discrimination," Pant told reporters.

He said the parade participants were from India, Japan, Britain, Germany, Denmark and Norway, and a police officer at the scene estimated the crowd was around 2,000. Smaller such parades have been held in Nepal in the past.

Gay rights have improved dramatically in a country where just five years ago police were beating gays and transsexuals in the streets. Now, Nepal is issuing "third gender" identity cards and appears set to enshrine gay rights — and possibly same-sex marriage — in the constitution.

The new charter, however, has been delayed because of political bickering that has left Nepal with a caretaker prime minister since June. The improvements in gay rights have become a major marketing opportunity in a country where tourism is a main driver of the economy.

Government officials hope gay tourists will spend more money than the backpackers who travel on shoestring budgets. Pant's group has established Pink Mountain tour company, which caters to gay tourists and promotes Nepal as a safe destination for them. It offers gay honeymooners trekking trips in the Himalayas and has proposed same-sex wedding ceremonies at the Mount Everest base camp.

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Bye Bye, Vedanta

A protester dressed as a 'Na'vi' from James Cameron's film “Avatar” takes part in a demonstration as British mining giant Vedanta holds its annual general meeting in London in July 2010.

India's environment ministry Aug. 24 refused Vedanta Resources permission to mine bauxite for its alumina refinery in Orissa, citing violations of environmental and human rights laws, and said it is considering legal action against the London-based mining giant.

The rejection by the increasingly assertive ministry comes amid growing doubts among many Indians — both in the government and outside it — about the human and environmental costs of India's rapid economic growth.

"There has been a very serious violation of laws," Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters. "Therefore, the project cannot go ahead."

India is struggling to industrialize without alienating tens of millions of small farmers and tribal people. The environment ministry is taking a leading role in the fight against corporate abuses. In addition to taking on Vedanta, this month the environment ministry ordered a halt to all work on South Korean steel giant Posco's planned $12 billion steel plant in the state of Orissa because the government failed to take into account the rights of tribal people.

The ministry also said in its report that it has taken steps to revoke environmental clearances already granted for Vedanta's alumina refinery in Orissa, which the company set up in 2008 hoping it would be allowed to extract bauxite from the surrounding Niyamgiri hills.

Vedanta issued a statement saying it has not violated any regulations at its refinery, which employs about 10,000 people, and pledged not to start mining until it obtains required approvals.

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No to ‘Toxic’ Ships

Bangladeshi laborers work at a shipbreaking yard in Sitakundu, on the outskirts of Chittagong, in July 2008.

Bangladesh's Supreme Court has reimposed strict environmental controls on the country's ship-breaking yards, a lawyer said Aug. 23, in a verdict likely to trigger protests from the sector.

About a third of all ships worldwide are dismantled in sprawling yards on Bangladesh's southeastern coastline, where rights organizations say workers are exposed to a host of toxic chemicals and other occupational hazards.

All ships scrapped must now be certified toxic-free by the selling nation's environmental authorities, the court said, reinstating a January law the government was forced to abandon in April after lengthy strikes by shipyards.

"It is a victory of humanity over raw money and muscle power," lawyer Rizwana Hasan, who heads the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, the group that brought the case to the Supreme Court, told AFP.

The Supreme Court said the industry would be allowed to appeal the ruling, but not for four months.

The verdict is a major blow for Bangladesh's ship-breaking industry — the world's largest — which successfully lobbied in April for the right to import ships on their own declarations that the vessels are free from toxic materials.

"This latest court order could bring an end to the ship-breaking industry in Bangladesh. Thousands of workers will lose their jobs," said Anam Chowdhury, an advisor to the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association. "It's a victory for environmental groups. They want Bangladesh — a third-world country — to maintain European standards.”

Dismantling old ships is a key industry in the South Asian nation, providing more than two-thirds of domestic steel. "This is a good verdict, not a death blow for the industry," said Mohammad Ali Shaheen, Bangladesh head of the Global NGO Platform on Shipbreaking.

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Growth to Double

Sri Lanka’s economic growth rate is expected to double this year, with the country firmly on the road to recovery after decades of ethnic war, a top International Monetary Fund official said.

The island’s economy will grow by 7 percent this year, up from 3.5 percent in 2009, thanks to improved farm output in the previously embattled north and east, forecast Brian Aitken, head of the IMF mission to Colombo.

The strong economic performance meant there would be no difficulty for the IMF in releasing the fourth tranche of a $2.6 billion bailout approved in July 2009, Aitken said.

“We feel things are quite good,” Aitken told reporters following a 10-day visit to the  island.

“We are in a position to recommend to the IMF board approval of the next (loan) installment worth over $200m,”  he said.

With that payout, the IMF will have released $1.2b billion of  the loan.

Sri Lanka sought an IMF bailout to avert its first balance of payments crisis after the island’s foreign reserves slipped to under a billion dollars last year.

The loan was approved in July, two months after the military crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels and ended a 37-year conflict that claimed up to 100,000 lives, according to UN figures.

Aitken said the government has shown progress in cutting spending and boosting revenue to ensure that the budget deficit stays on track at 8 percent of GDP this year.

He said Sri Lankan authorities have promised to raise tax revenues, cut spending and step up fiscal reforms when the 2011 budget is announced in  November.

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Govt. in Limbo

Activists of Nepal's ethnic minority groups protest outside the constituent assembly building demanding consensus amongst Nepal's lawmakers to form a government in Kathmandu.

A power battle that has left Nepal's political system in limbo for months has also frozen efforts to solidify peace, write a constitution and push ahead with development in this desperately poor nation.

With no one in charge, plans to build badly needed rural roads, increase electricity generation in power-starved cities and move ahead on constructing Nepal's first rail line have all sat untouched.

Demands for new police officers to help fight rising crime have also gone unfilled.

"People are suffering. The monsoon rain has washed away roads, but repairs are not being done," said Sita Sharma, a government office worker in Kathmandu.

Since resigning in June, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and his cabinet have been running a caretaker administration, attending to little more than the most urgent functions of government.

None of the political parties has a majority in parliament. The former insurgents in the Maoist party say they should form the government since they have the most seats, but they have been unable to forge a coalition with the Marxist party or the Nepali Congress Party.

On Aug. 23, parliament failed in its fifth attempt to elect a new prime minister.

The political standoff has led many to lose faith with the leaders they backed during 2006 street protests that ousted a centuries-old monarchy and turned this Himalayan nation into a republic.

"They were supposed to bring the nation out of misery, instead they are so busy trying to grab power while the nation slides toward more chaos," said Ram Shrestha, an engineer.

"Development work has come to a complete halt," said Shreekant Regmi, an independent analyst, who fears the deadlock could turn the country into a failed state.

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Vow to Fight Terrorism

S.M. Krishna (l) with Zalmai Rassaoul

India and Afghanistan Aug. 25 wound up two days of talks during a visit to New Delhi by Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassaoul, saying they would work together to combat terrorism in the region.

Rassaoul met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and held talks with his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna on issues ranging from trade to the scourge of terrorism, a joint statement released after the talks said.

"They agreed that terrorism is the main threat undermining peace and stability in the region and reiterated their resolve to effectively combating and defeating it," it said.

Rassaoul and Krishna also discussed the possibility of transforming war-torn Afghanistan into a springboard for trade between central and south Asia, the statement added.

It did not mention whether Pakistan was raised during the talks. Both sides have troubled relations with Islamabad because of their suspicions of Pakistani funding and support for extremism within their borders.

But the statement said: "They also emphasized the need to ensure that terrorist and extremist groups targeting Afghanistan and other countries in the region are denied safe havens and sanctuaries."

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan are jostling for influence in Afghanistan, which analysts say could bring fresh instability to the country as US-led international troops eye their exit after mid-2011.

Since the U.S.-led invasion ended the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime, India has committed 1.3 billion dollars to Afghanistan — mainly aid for social services including health and education.

Some 4,000 Indians are building roads, sanitation projects and power lines in Afghanistan, and India is also building the new Afghan parliament.

In February this year, nine Indians were killed in a Taliban suicide attack on foreigners in Kabul, which claimed a total of 16 lives.

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Aid Warning

A Pakistani girl suffering from mosquito bites looks on at a camp set up for flood-affected people in Nowshera, Pakistan.

Pakistan will have to demonstrate it can spend relief funds transparently and well if it wants more help in rebuilding after its massive floods, the U.S. aid chief said, as officials in the northwest vowed Aug. 25 to stop banned Islamist groups from helping victims.

America has been the most generous contributor to the flood aid, rushing in emergency assistance to support a vital ally in the war against al-Qaida and Taliban. But rebuilding homes, roads, livelihoods and vital infrastructure will cost billions of dollars, and there are questions over who will pay.

The Pakistan government says about $800 million in emergency aid has been committed or pledged so far. But there are concerns internationally about how the money will be spent by the government, which has a reputation for inefficiency and corruption.

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the United States would continue to urge nations to donate.

"We are going to work at it, but these are tough economic times around the world and it will require a demonstration of real transparency and accountability and that resources spent in Pakistan get results," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The floods began almost a month ago with the onset of the monsoon and have ravaged a massive swath of the country, from the mountainous north through to its agricultural heartland. More than 8 million people are in need of emergency assistance.

Along with the government, local and international agencies and the U.S. military, a number of Islamist groups have been providing aid to flood victims. At least one of the groups is alleged to be a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned militant organization blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.

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Bangla Welcomes Iran Offer

Bangladesh has shown keen interest on Iran offer to join the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project, known also as the Peace Pipeline. Iran has suggested involving Bangladesh in its planned cross-border gas pipeline, which will guarantee supply to energy-deficient Pakistan and India.

"Since the tri-nation gas pipeline is supposed to reach up to the Indian city of Kolkata, Bangladesh can be linked to the grid to secure gas supply by Iran," a senior official with the Bangladesh Finance Ministry's Economic Relations Division said, Pakistan Views reported. The ERD official said Iran has indicated that the pipeline may stretch up to Kolkata and urged Bangladesh to explore the possibility of its inclusion. "It is really a great opportunity for Bangladesh as the country's recoverable gas reserve would start drying up from 2013," he said.

At present, Bangladesh has a shortage of nearly 300 million cubic feet (mcf) of gas supply per day against total demand of 2300 mcf of gas. Nearly 87 percent of Bangladesh's electricity is generated from natural gas a scarce resource state-run oil and gas corporation Petrobangla said could deplete by 2015. A senior Petrobangla official said the government should diversify its import sources in view of the country's limited reserves of 12-tcf and the demand for energy that is surging past 8 percent a year. He said, "I think gas import from Iran is a viable option for Dhaka." He said that the government should join negotiations with Iran, Pakistan and India for the proposed IPI pipeline. "Kolkata is very close to Bangladesh. It will be easier for the government to bring the pipeline to our border." The IPI gas pipeline is a proposed 2,775-kilometer pipeline to deliver natural gas from Iran to Pakistan and India.

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Fonseka Slams Colombo

The former Sri Lankan Army Chief and parliamentarian Sarath Fonseka said he expected to be jailed by the second court martial probing into the alleged irregularities in military purchases by the Army during his tenure as the Army Chief. At a news conference inside the Parliament complex, he denounced his indictment by the first court martial as one-sided and vindictive and said he was being prosecuted by the government for contesting in the January presidential election. “They have already made up their mind to put me in jail. But I am not worried as the whole process of the court martial is a sham. We would appeal against the first court martial in a higher court though we do not expect justice,” he said. At his first press conference after the verdict of the first court martial which stripped him of his rank and honors, the former general said the court martial was a sham where even his counsel was not heard. Asked if he was satisfied with the support of the main opposition the United National Party, he said the party could do more.

He came down on the former UNP leader and minister, Johnston Fernando, whose testimony before the first court martial led to his conviction. “There is foolproof evidence that Mr. Fernando had transported a cadre of the LTTE assigned to assassinate President Rajapaksa. Now he is being treated like a VVIP and all cases against him have been dropped,” General (retired) Fonseka said.

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COVER STORY
Ground Zero:
An All-Faith Center?

Human rights activist Partha Banerjee writes that peace activists should consider a campaign for an all-faith, peace center near Ground Zero in New York.


SUBCONTINENT
Peace Caravan:
Aman Ke Badhte Qadam

A 10-member India-Pakistan peace caravan went from Mumbai to Lahore, writes Sandeep Pandey, who was part of the team.


YOUTH PERSPECTIVE
Bangladesh: The Promise
And the Challenge

Bangladesh faces many challenges, but if it also has potential to change for the better, writes Zareef Anam, a high school student in Dhaka.


OTHER STORIES
EDITORIAL: Ground Zero Dilemma
NEWS DIARY: August
INDO-U.S. TIES: Clean Energy Research
SUBCONTINENT: India’s I-Day Celebration
COMMUNITY: Indian Americans Mark India's Independence Day in U.S.: Dil Hai Hindustani
COMMUNITY RIGHTS: SSA Loses Lawsuit
SUBCONTINENT: Blackberry Brouhaha
SUBCONTINENT: India’s ID Mess
TRAVEL: Las Vegas Hotels: A Kid's Eyeview
AUTO REVIEW: 2011 Toyota Sienna
RECIPE: Bhindi Jaipuri
BOLLYWOOD Review: Peepli Live
BOLLYWOOD: Guftugu
CINEMA: Hollywood Beckons: Chat with Fagun Thakrar
TAMIL FILM: Kadhal Solla Vandhen
PHILANTHROPY: Nobelist Ally
COMMUNITY: Sunnyvale Hasya Kavi Sammelan
COMMUNITY: News Briefs
INFOTECH INDIA: Briefs
HOROSCOPE: September

ENTERTAINMENT
IIFA Awards 2010: SRI LANKA: JUNE 2010



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