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Minister Warns against Panic as Prices Hit 13-yr Peak | Nepal Maoists Quit, Demand PM’s Resignation | Sri Lanka Threatens to Nationalize Indian Oil | Bangladesh Announces Local Election Dates | Floods Displace Millions | Reliance to Open Plastic Plant in U.S. | Bomb Kills Five | Envoy Urges Patience | Tiger Beaten to Death | Crackdown in Nepal | CPM Slams Accord | Baby Girl Deaths | Quota Deal

Minister Warns against Panic as Prices Hit 13-yr Peak

Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram

India’s finance minister warned June 21 against “panic” and promised more measures to tame prices, a day after the country’s inflation rate shot to a 13-year high.

“We should not give room for panic. We should take steps to quell inflationary expectations,” said Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram after meeting the head of India’s central bank to discuss steps to tame inflation.

Data on June 20 showed annual inflation in the world’s second fastest-growing economy jumped to 11.05 percent for the week ended June 7 from 8.75 percent a week earlier, stunning economists who had expected it to be in single digits.

The rate, which sparked headlines in newspapers such as “Double-digit shock” and “It Hurts,” was driven by a sharp rise in state-set fuel prices and rises in basic foods.

“We expect the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) to take some monetary measures,” finance secretary D. Subba Rao told reporters separately in the capital.

“Demand management has to be part of the solution and the first line of defense is monetary policy action,” Rao said, without elaborating.

Rao said the government was sticking with its economic growth forecast of 8.5 percent for the current fiscal year to March 2009, down slightly from last year’s 9.0 percent, “for the time being.”

But he said if it came to a trade-off between taming inflation and boosting growth, priority would be given to checking prices, which is seen as hitting India’s poor the hardest.


Nepal Maoists Quit, Demand PM’s Resignation

Communist Party of Nepal Maoist supporters in Kathmandu.

Nepal was thrown into political limbo June 21 after the Maoists quit the interim government of the newly republican nation and demanded the prime minister’s resignation.

Nepal’s former Maoist rebels stormed out of the government late June 20, accusing a rival party of clinging to power despite being defeated in landmark elections in the Himalayan country two months ago.

“Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala must resign to open the way for the formation of a new government,” senior Maoist official Dinanath Sharma told AFP after the ultra-leftists announced their resignations.

Nepal abolished its monarchy three weeks ago, but the country’s two most powerful parties — the Maoists and the prime minister’s Nepali Congress party — have been unable to reach a deal on power-sharing.

The Maoists, who dominate the new assembly elected in April, say they have the right to lead the government and choose a new president.

They say the wrangling is preventing the assembly from starting work on its chief task of rewriting Nepal’s constitution.

“The constituent assembly has not been able to begin drafting a new constitution because of these power-sharing problems,” said Sharma.


Sri Lanka Threatens to Nationalize Indian Oil

An Indian Oil gas station in Colombo.

Sri Lanka has threatened to nationalize the local unit of Indian Oil unless it reduces the retail price of diesel, local officials said.

Petroleum Minister A.H.M. Fowzie said the government will take over the 160 fuel retail depots operated by Lanka IOC, the local subsidiary of India’s state-owned Indian Oil Corporation, unless it makes the reductions.

Diesel is commonly used by public transport.

“Steps could be taken to re-vest the filling stations given to the IOC,” the minister was quoted as saying in the state-run Daily News.

Sri Lanka sold a third of its petroleum distribution network to the IOC in 2003 as part of a move to end the monopoly on retail sales.

While the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation sells diesel at 110 rupees (1.02 dollars) a liter, the IOC sells it at 130 rupees. The CPC diesel is subsidized by the state.

The government argues more motorists are buying the subsidized diesel and as a result increasing losses incurred by the state.

Lanka IOC said they were not able to absorb losses by selling diesel at the same price as CPC.

“The minister... wrote to us yesterday, asking us to reduce our diesel prices to the same (level) as CPC or face sanctions,” Lanka IOC managing director K. Ramakrishnan told AFP.

“We have told the minister that we can reduce diesel prices if the government removes taxes.”


Bangladesh Announces Local Election Dates

Bangladesh chief election commissioner A.T.M Shamsul Huda.

Bangladesh’s military-backed government June 20 announced plans to hold local body elections despite opposition from the country’s two main political parties.

Chief election commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said that local council polls will be held in four major cities and nine towns on Aug. 4.

They will be the first elections to be held since a state of emergency was declared in January 2007.

Commerce and Education Minister Hussain Zillur Rahman said the government will also ease some of the emergency restrictions during the lead-up to the elections.

Under the emergency, protests, rallies and public gatherings have been banned.

The interim government, which took power after general elections were cancelled and the emergency imposed because of political instability and violence, is keen to hold the local polls before it stages parliamentary elections in December.

The country’s two major political parties — the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League — have said they will not accept the results of the local body polls and have called for a complete lifting of the emergency.

They say the current government should first stage the parliamentary elections and allow an elected authority to hold local polls.

The BNP says it will hold nationwide demonstrations if the local polls go ahead.

Awami League senior leader Sajeda Chowdhury told AFP the party was opposed to the local elections but would still meet with the government July 3 to discuss the general election.

Both parties had refused to hold talks to plan for December’s general election because their leaders — fierce political foes — have been in detention on corruption charges.


Floods Displace Millions

A couple wades through a flooded road at Sabang, 126 miles west of Kolkata.

The death toll from monsoon flooding in eastern India climbed to 26 June 20, with hundreds of villages cut off and an estimated four million people displaced, officials said.

Bridges were washed away and roads and railway tracks submerged by the swirling waters in West and East Midnapore districts, said West Bengal state’s Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta.

“Telephone lines were snapped and electric poles uprooted. Nearly 2.5 million people were forced from their homes by flood in over 300 villages during the past four days,” Dasgupta said.

“The death toll has risen to 26 as 15 people drowned during the past 24 hours,” he said.

Helicopters were airdropping food and essentials as army personnel and aid workers struggled to reach the growing number of people marooned, he said, adding there also appeared to be no let-up in the heavy rains.

Defense spokesman R.K. Das said thousands of people were taking shelter on rooftops and elevated areas but were running short of food and drinking water.

In neighboring Orissa, nearly a million people were cut off in the neighboring eastern coastal state of Orissa, Disaster Management Minister Manmohan Samal said earlier.

Further to the northeast, in Assam state, more than 350,000 people had taken shelter in government camps to escape from rising waters, the government said earlier this week, before flood waters started receding.

Every year the monsoon causes the Brahmaputra river to flood, submerging paddy fields, washing away villages, drowning livestock and killing people in Assam, a remote state of 26 million people.


Reliance to Open Plastic Plant in U.S.

Reliance Industries USA, an India-based company, plans to open its first North American plant in Kinston, N.C., and create more than 200 jobs in the area over the next five years.

Reliance said it plans to invest $215 million in a plant where 204 people will eventually be employed. The company makes resin used in the manufacture of plastic containers and specialty polyester yarns.

State Department of Commerce spokesman Charles Winkler said the company could get as much $2.2 million in benefits if it meets all the requirements in its state contract. Those requirements include creating the jobs within five years and maintaining them for nine years, beginning in 2009.

Gov. Michael Easley said the average annual wage will be $46,500, not including benefits. The yearly average wage in Kinston’s Lenoir County is $27,040.

The company chose Lenoir County over other locations because of the existing facility, the area’s history in the polyester business and state and local incentives, said president Thakur Sharma, in a prepared statement.

Lenoir County in April got another bit of positive employment news: Sanderson Farms, a Mississippi-based chicken producer, announced plans to build a processing plant, feed mill and hatchery in Kinston, creating about 1,500 jobs by 2010.


Bomb Kills Five

Afghan soldiers walk in Arghandab district of Kandahar province June 20. Five U.S.-led soldiers were killed June 21 in a bomb and gunfire attack just outside the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar.

Roadside bombs killed five foreign troops in Afghanistan June 21, military officials said, extending a series of daily attacks that have lifted the death toll for foreign forces this year to more than 100.

Officials also reported that two Afghan soldiers died in a bombing and several militants were killed in each of three separate clashes with U.S.-led coalition forces, including one close to the capital.

Violence continues unabated in Afghanistan, despite the presence of thousands of extra U.S. and NATO troops and fresh pledges of financial aid to the struggling government under President Hamid Karzai.

Last year, more than 8,000 people were killed in insurgency-related attacks — the most since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion — and violence has claimed more than 1,700 lives so far this year.

In the deadliest incident on June 21, a bomb killed four coalition troops and seriously wounded two others in the southern province of Kandahar, a coalition statement said. It provided no details.

To the east, a Polish soldier from the separate NATO-led force died when a bomb hit his patrol shortly after midnight in the Dila district of Paktika province. Jacek Poplawski, a Polish military spokesman in Warsaw, said four other soldiers were wounded, but their lives were not in danger.

The bombings cap a particularly bloody week.

NATO and Afghan troops backed by warplanes on attacked up to 400 Taliban militants who had seized Arghandab, a strategic valley dotted with orchards within striking distance of the main southern city of Kandahar.

According to the Defense Ministry, 56 fighters and two Afghan soldiers died during the overnight operation, though the provincial governor put the militants’ toll at over 100.


Envoy Urges Patience

Husain Haqqani, new Pakistani Ambassador to the United States

Pakistan’s new ambassador to the United States is urging patience for those in Washington frustrated with his government’s pursuit of peace deals with tribes along the lawless Pakistani-Afghan border.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani said in an interview with Associated Press reporters and editors that the United States should judge the outcome of talks being conducted by Pakistan’s “fledgling democracy,” not the often contentious process of negotiating.

That may be difficult advice for U.S. critics who say peace talks have removed military pressure from the region and allowed terrorists to regroup and stage attacks on U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan.

Haqqani said Pakistan’s government, which won elections in February against the party of President Pervez Musharraf, a staunch U.S. ally, is working to strike agreements that would require the tribes to give up their weapons, withdraw support for foreign fighters in their midst and “end attacks inside Pakistan, across the border and around the world.”

“These are our own people,” added the ambassador, once an adviser to former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. “We cannot, just because somebody in the United States wants us to, just go and start bombing them, without at least going through the process of showing our desire to negotiate in good faith.”

Tensions between the United States and Pakistan have been high since a U.S. airstrike last week killed 11 Pakistani border troops.

U.S. and Afghan officials say remnants of Afghanistan’s Taliban militia are sheltering in Pakistan, which Pakistan denies.

Robert Hathaway, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia program, said ties between Pakistan and the United States are “very troubled.”

“Suspicions between the American military and the Pakistani military are the highest they’ve been in many years, and there’s a great deal of uneasiness in the United States because the new government in Pakistan seems to be bogged down and incapable of dealing with many of the serious issues confronting the country,” Hathaway said in an interview.


Tiger Beaten to Death

A Royal Bengal tiger in Dhaka zoo in May 2003.

Thousands of villagers armed with sticks and machetes beat to death a Royal Bengal tiger June 21 after it killed three people in southwestern Bangladesh, police said.

The critically endangered animal, one of about 600 in the Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, was lassoed after entering a village and killing three people June 20 night, police chief Abdur Razzak said.

“More than 3,000 angry villagers spent the night looking for the tiger and when they learnt it had killed three goats early this morning (June 21), they surrounded the area and caught it with a lasso,” the local official said.

“They strung up the eight-feet-long tiger and beat it to death,” he told AFP.

A forest official said it was the first time in more than four years a tiger had been killed by people living near the 2,320 sq mile portion of the Sunderbans in Bangladesh.

“It was responsible for about half a dozen other deaths in recent months. It became a man-eater and every now and then it entered villages to look for prey,” assistant forest conservator Rajesh Chakma said.

Chakma said the increasing human presence in the dense western part of the forest was mainly to blame for the growing number of tiger-related deaths.

Human beings are not natural prey of tigers. Some wildlife experts say the tigers turn to attacking people if they are incapacitated by injuries or old age. Tigers kill about 20 people every year in Bangladesh, officials say.

According to a UN-funded census, the 10,000 square kilometers Sunderbans mangrove forest, which straddles India and Bangladesh, is home to at least 668 Royal Bengal tigers, with some 420 living on the Bangladesh side.


Crackdown in Nepal

Nepal police detain a Tibetan activist during a demonstration in Kathmandu June 21.

Nepalese police have detained three refugee community leaders in a significant hardening of its position against Tibetan refugees.

It says it will hold them for up to three months without trial.

The trio were picked up early in the morning and later in the day scores of Tibetan demonstrators were arrested while staging rallies.

Police said they were leaders of an agitation program which was being conducted “very aggressively.”

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Yam Bahadur Gurung, told the BBC that those arrested included two women, Ngawang Sangmo and Tashi Dolma, who lead the Tibet Women’s Association.

The third person to be detained was Kelsang Chung, the director of the Tibetan Refugees Reception Centre.

The commissioner said the agitation campaign conducted by the trio violated the state rules of Nepal.

He said that they would be held for a maximum of three months under the country’s Public Security Act, which allows for detention without trial.

Nepal, a small country between two huge neighbors — China and India — has repeatedly said it will not allow anti-Chinese activities on its soil.

It has spent several months declaring its support for the forthcoming Olympics in China.

Tibetans here have been demonstrating against Beijing regularly since March and until now the authorities have been detaining them for up to one night and sometimes beating them.


CPM Slams Accord

The Communist Party of India-Marxist  June 21 accused the government of mounting a “massive disinformation campaign” to promote a “bad” nuclear deal, which it said, was only a cover to promote strategic ties with the U.S.

“The Congress leadership and the UPA government are propagating that the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal is absolutely essential for India’s energy security.

“A massive disinformation campaign has been mounted that nuclear energy is a solution not only to the shortage of electricity in the country but also an answer to the oil price rise. This is nothing but a cover to promote the strategic ties with the U.S.,” the CPM Politburo said in a statement.

It said as it was difficult to promote Indo-U.S. strategic ties directly, “therefore the recourse to false claim that nuclear energy at one stroke (will) reduce not only our oil consumption but also remove our power shortages.”

The party also accused the government of “dragging its feet” on the Iran gas pipeline project “at the behest of the U.S. and in consideration of the Hyde Act.”

Maintaining that the Indo-US nuclear deal was “not about India’s energy security,” the major Left party said: “Mythical energy claims are being made in order to promote a bad nuclear deal. Energy is just a cover. The real intent is India-U.S. strategic ties.”

The CPM said energy security could be achieved by using indigenous resources, like coal, and “ensuring our future energy supplies from Iran and other countries in West and Central Asia.”


Baby Girl Deaths

The number of girls born and surviving in India has hit an all time low compared to boys, ActionAid says.

A report by the U.K. charity says increasing numbers of female fetuses were being aborted and baby girls deliberately neglected and left to die.

In one site in the Punjab state, there are just 300 girls to every 1,000 boys among higher caste families, it says.

ActionAid says India faces a “bleak” future if it does not end its practice of cultural preference for boys.

ActionAid teamed up with Canada’s International Development Research Centre to produce the Disappearing Daughters report.

More than 6,000 households in sites across five states in north-western India were interviewed and statistical comparisons were made with national census date.

Under “normal” circumstances, there should be about 950 girls for every 1,000 boys, the charity said.

But it said that in three of the five sites, that number was below 800.

In four of the five sites surveyed, the proportion of girls to boys had declined since a 2001 census, the report said.

The research also found that ratios of girls to boys were declining fastest in comparatively prosperous urban areas.

ActionAid suggested the increasing use of ultrasound technology may be a factor in the trend.

The document says that Indian woman are put under intense pressure to produce sons, in a culture that predominantly views girls as a burden rather than an asset.

It says many families now use ultrasound scans and abort female fetuses, despite the existence of the 1994 law banning gender selection and selective abortion.


Quota Deal

The Rajasthan government and leaders of the Gujjar community say they have reached a deal over access to jobs and education, reports the BBC.

More than 40 Gujjars have been killed in clashes with the security forces in the past month as the tribe has protested over the issue.

Under the terms of the deal, the politically influential Gujjar tribe will be put into a special category.

Officials say this will provide them with better employment opportunities.

The deal has been welcomed by most Gujjars, even though they did not get their central demand, which was to be granted tribal status.

This would have given them even better access to jobs and education than the special category status which the state government awarded them.

Under the terms of the deal, millions of Gujjars in Rajasthan will be in the same category as the gypsy community — known as Banjaras — and the shepherd community — known as Rebaris.

In recent weeks Gujjar demonstrators have disrupted rail services between Jaipur and Delhi.

Last month, the Rajasthan government announced an aid package worth $60 million for the community but this was rejected.

The Gujjar community leader, Kirori Singh Bainsla, said he was fully satisfied with the outcome of the latest talks.



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EDITORIAL: Obama and South Asians
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