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Jamaat Chief, Deputy to be Tried in Bangla | Communists Join Nepal Government | Sorry, No Dollars | Zardari Blames Pak | Tata Ahead | Bhutan Votes | Fatal Stampede | Engineer Killed

Jamaat Chief, Deputy to be Tried in Bangla

The chief of Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami, his deputy and seven others are to be tried for murdering two freedom fighters in 1971 in a case that harks back to the liberation movement against the then Pakistan government.

Jamaat's Amir Motiur Rahman Nizami, Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and seven members of the country's largest Islamist party are accused of killing Osman Gani and Golam Mostafa alias Tukub Ali on Nov 25, 1971, barely three weeks before the country was liberated.

Mozaffar Hossain, a former army officer who fought the liberation war and is now chief of Dhaka district unit of a freedom fighters' organization, lodged the complaint at the Keraniganj police station.

He did it after a chief judicial magistrate's court in Dhaka in compliance of legal procedures asked him 15 days back to file a First Information Report with the police before it could take up the case for hearing.

Police station officer-in-charge Mallick Ruhul Islam told The Daily Star newspaper that he had started investigations.

Political analysts said this was part of a concerted move by former freedom fighters, supported by many of the mainstream political parties, including the Awami League, to take on the JeI. The step is aimed at blocking its recognition by the Election Commission and eventually to debar it from contesting elections.

JeI, that leads an Islamist front, had 18 members in the last National Assembly and had won over four percent of the total votes polled.

In alliance with former prime minister Khaleda Zia, the JeI shared power during 2001-06. Nizami and Mujahid were ministers in the Zia government till October 2006.

Communists Join Nepal Government

Nepal's rebel leader Baburam Bhattarai (l) , looks on as Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala speaks to reporters after swearing in former communist rebels in the cabinet.

Four former communist rebels were sworn in as Cabinet ministers in Nepal Dec. 31, ending a political crisis that began when the ex-guerrillas walked out of a coalition government three-months ago.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala administered the oath of office.

“Now we will all concentrate on the election,” Koirala told reporters after the ceremony.

The twice-postponed elections for a Constituent Assembly to draw up Nepal's new constitution will take place in early April, political leaders announced earlier this month.

Five members of the former rebel group, widely known as Maoists, were appointed as ministers. One was out of town and unable to attend the ceremony.

“Our main agenda now will be to make sure elections are held on time,” the Maoists' deputy leader Baburam Bhattarai said after the swearing-in ceremony.

Bhattarai said the communists would leave the government again if elections were not held by April 12, 2008 — the end of the Nepali calendar year.

The ex-rebels agreed to rejoin the interim coalition government after the country's seven main political parties agreed last week to abolish the country's monarchy immediately after elections now scheduled for April.

The Maoists withdrew from the government on Sept. 18 demanding electoral reform and the immediate removal of the king, plunging Nepal into a political crisis and forcing the government to postpone elections initially planned for November.

The communist rebels gave up their decade-long armed revolt last year after more than 13,000 people died in the fighting against government forces.


Sorry, No Dollars

Taj Mahal

In yet another troubling sign for the greenback, at least one of the seven wonders of the world is now off limits if you have only U.S. currency in your pocket.

India's tourism minister said today that the dollar will no longer be accepted at the Taj Mahal and other national tourist sites.

For years tourists visiting most sites in India were charged either $5, or 250 rupees.

After falling 11 percent in 2007, hitting nine-year lows to hover around 39 rupees, the dollar is out.

Charging only rupees now seems more practical and will save tourists money because “the dollar was weaker against the rupee,” Tourism Minister Ambika Soni told the CNN-IBN news channel.

“Before the dollar lost its value, there was a demand to have (admission tickets) just in rupees,” he added.

The Taj Mahal, India's famed white marble monument to love, began refusing dollars in November.

It means just one more place where American tourists will have to shell out more money — now nearly $20.

And it's likely to get worse in booming India.

“We expect a slight appreciation of the rupee to continue, although it won't be as dramatic as last year,” said Agam Gupta, head of foreign exchange trading at Standard Chartered Bank in India.


Zardari Blames Pak

Asif Ali Zardari sitting next to a picture of his wife Benazir. Zardari says Pak govt befitted from Bhutto's death.

Accusing the Pakistan government of trying to spin its way out of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, her husband and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari has said that the Pervez Musharraf regime had the most to gain from the former premier's death.

“I think whoever has to gain from her death, and definitely the sitting government has to gain from her death, they should be held responsible...,” Zardari, who was named the co-chairman of his Pakistan People's Party, said.

He described as “too far-fetched” government's claims that the Taliban and al Qaeda were behind Bhutto's killing and called on U.S. President George W Bush to ensure that an international investigation is carried out into the Dec. 27 slaying of his wife.

“The government has been trying to put a new spin on it every day, but the latest piece of evidence that has come on the television is Channel 4 report of the exact way the assassin hit Benazir and the exact position and everything is now very clear that she was shot.

“I had maintained from the first day that she was shot either point blank or by a very high-powered sniper rifle. Now it seems that she was shot nearly point blank by a pistol,” Zardari said, debunking the government's assertion that Bhutto died due an injury from the sun-roof lever of her car.

“It just proves they've just been trying to muddy the water from the first day,” he said in a telephone interview with CNN.


Tata Ahead

The Jaguar statue on the hood of a car.

The U.S. automaker Ford Jan. 3 named Tata Motors of India as the preferred buyer for Ford's luxury Jaguar and Land Rover car brands.

“Ford is committed to focused negotiations at a more detailed level with Tata Motors concerning the potential sale of the combined Jaguar Land Rover business,” Ford executive vice president Lewis Booth said in a statement.

Tata in another statement confirmed that talks had begun, describing them as complex and expressing hope the transition could be completed in the coming weeks.

Tata for the past several weeks has been considered well placed to acquire Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford, notably as Unite, the largest British union, has voiced backing for the deal.

Reports have said the offers put forward so far range from 1.5 to 2.0 billion dollars (1.0-1.4 billion euros), figures that a Ford spokesman declined to confirm on Thursday.

If Tata succeeds in acquiring Jaguar and Land Rover, it would mark a further strengthening of the group's stature in Britain.

Tata Steel last January outbid the Brazilian group CSN to take control of Corus, formerly British Steel, for 6.2 billion pounds.

Bhutan Votes

A Royal Bhutan Army soldier walks past voters waiting in a queue to cast their vote at a polling station in south east of capital Thimphu.

Bhutan announced the first 15 members elected to the upper house following the tiny Himalayan nation's first national poll as it shifts to democracy after a century of absolute monarchy, election officials said.

Winners included three women and a 26-year-old fresh out of college, the Election Commission said.

The commission, which announced the results late Jan. 1, has not yet said how many voters turned out for the Dec. 31 elections for the National Council, as the upper house will be known. But it said it was happy with how things went.

“The National Council elections were a success. The voting passed off well as it was planned,” Kunzang Wangdi, chief election commissioner, said by phone from Thimphu, the capital.

More important polls are expected to take place in February and March with elections to the lower house, when newly formed political parties will be able to take part.

Many of the candidates are young, partly the result of a rule that all candidates must be university graduates, a young demographic in Bhutan.

For 26-year-old Tshewang Jurmin, sitting in the upper house will be his first job since college, election officials said.

This mostly Buddhist country has been preparing for democracy since former monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to hand power to an elected government, even as many of his citizens said they were quite happy with the way things were.

The monarchy, now headed by Wangchuck's 27-year-old Oxford graduate son, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, remains popular in Bhutan. Some citizens have confessed to being nervous that their country may be spoiled by the changes to come.

Others are excited that the country, where televisions only arrived in 1999, is beginning to shed its cocoon and join the modern world.


Fatal Stampede

Five adults and an 8-year-old boy were trampled to death and at least 12 people injured in a stampede at a Hindu temple in southern India Jan. 3, a state government official said.

The stampede happened before dawn at a hill-top temple devoted to the goddess Durga near Vijayawada, a city about 150 miles from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh state.

Around 100,000 people had gathered at the temple for the last day of a three-day religious festival, Sundara Kumar, a senior state government official, said by telephone from the site.

“There was a sudden rush of people on a narrow platform between two hillocks,” he said.

Kumar, who was leading an inquiry into the incident, said no one was being blamed for now.

Media reports said there was insufficient security to control the crowds.

In 2005, about 265 pilgrims were killed at a stampede near a temple in the western state of Maharashtra.


Engineer Killed

A suicide bomber killed six police and an Indian engineer in southeastern Afghanistan, a provincial official said.

The Indian Foreign Ministry, however, said two Indian security guards were killed and made no mention of the engineer.

The bomber attacked a convoy carrying a group of Indian road engineers in a district of Nimroz province, Governor Ghulam Dastagir Azad told Reuters news agency.

“In this attack, six Afghan police and an Indian engineer have been killed,” he said.

Eleven Afghan police and two Indian engineers were wounded in the incident, he said, adding the attack was the work of “terrorists,” a term often used by Afghan officials to describe Taliban insurgents.

A statement from the Indian Foreign Ministry said two Indian security guards were killed and several others injured in the attack on a convoy of India's state-run Border Roads Organization.

“The government of India strongly condemns this act of terrorism aimed against its aid and humanitarian program in Afghanistan and reiterates its determination to continue to work for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan and the well-being of Afghan people,” it said.



Unsung Heroine:
Agnes Smedley

American feminist Agnes Smedley played a key role in assisting Indian freedom fighters in the U.S. and in Europe in the beginning of the 20th century, writes Ved Prakash Vatuk.

Humble Heroine:
Mukhtar Mai in Sacramento

Mukhtar Mai was declared Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year for her fearless stand against sexist oppression. She recently visited Sacramento, and our reporter Ras H. Siddiqui was there.

Midair Near Misses:
Air Traffic Crisis in India

India’s exponential growth in air traffic is now the cause of a missed mid-air collision every 15 days, writes Siddharth Srivastava.

EDITORIAL: Unsung Heroine
NEWS DIARY: December
PHOTO ESSAY: 2007: Year in Review
TRIBUTE: Goodbye, Benazir
SCIENCE: A Close Relationship
ETHNIC ISSUES: Study in Contrasts
SUBCONTINENT: India’s New Boom
TRAVEL: Bear Valley, Calif.
HEALTH: Pregnancy 101
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
MUSIC: Kal Ki Yaadein Concert
AUTO: 2008 Acura MDX
BOLLYWOOD: Taare Zameen Par
RECIPE: Hot Kachri
HOROSCOPE: 2008 Yearly Forecast

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