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Nepal PM Asks Maoist Chief to Form Government | Pakistan Ruling Party to Clip Musharraf’s Power | Bird Flu Case | Rajasthan Violence | Gujarat Relief | Fresh Fighting | Bootleg Booze | Father Held

Nepal PM Asks Maoist Chief to Form Government

(Right): Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda in Kathmandu on May 3, 2008. Nepal’s Maoists said Saturday the country’s prime minister has asked Prachanda to form the country’s next government.

Nepal’s prime minister has asked former rebel Maoist leader Prachanda to form the country’s next government, an aide to the prime minister said.

The ex-rebels emerged as surprise winners in landmark polls last month, grabbing more than twice as many seats in a new constitution-drafting assembly as their nearest rivals.

“Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala met with Maoist chairman Prachanda and asked him to officially form the next government,” Gokarna Poudel, the premier’s personal aide, told AFP.

The Maoists, known formally as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), waged a deadly decade-long revolt to topple the monarchy and install a communist republic, but have since embraced democracy and vowed to work with their former foes in building a coalition government.

“The prime minister asked our chairman to get ready to form and lead the government,” senior Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel said.

“We will form the government within few days,” said Gajurel, adding the prime minister promised to support the Maoists in forming the government.

Debate has raged in Nepal’s mainstream parties about whether to join a coalition led by the ultra-leftists who in 2006 ended their insurgency that killed at least 13,000 people.

“We’ve already started consultations with other parties over the formation of a coalition government. It’s essential to have a coalition as it is the people’s verdict,” said Gajurel.

He did not however rule out the possibility that the Maoists might form a single-party government if other parties refused to join them.

“A coalition government is the need of the hour. But some leaders are saying they won’t join our government. If that happens, we might have to form the government by ourselves,” Gajurel said.


Pakistan Ruling Party to Clip Musharraf’s Power

(Right): Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Pakistan’s main ruling coalition party has unveiled a proposed package of constitutional amendments designed to clip the wings of key U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf.

Announcing the package, Pakistan People’s Party leader Asif Ali Zardari told a news conference that the amendments would remove the president’s powers to dismiss the government and would strengthen the parliament.

He said the government would open talks with Musharraf, the former army chief, on the package and would also discuss it with all political parties.

“We intend to walk him away, rather than impeach him away,” Zardari said when asked if his government wanted to remove the former military strongman who became a civilian head of the government last year.

Zardari said the proposed bill, which would require a two-third majority in the parliament for approval, will be presented to the parliament as soon as possible.

Zardari, widower of slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said dozens of judges deposed by Musharraf last year would be restored via a mechanism provided in the package.

The dispute over reinstatement of the judges had caused strains on the coalition government which was formed after Musharraf’s allies were defeated in February elections.

Bhutto’s party emerged as the single largest party but did not win enough seats to form the government on its own in the 342-member national assembly.

Under the proposed bill the president’s powers to appoint the chiefs of the army, navy and air force would be transferred to the prime minister and parliament will appoint the chief election commissioner.

The bill also proposes renaming North West Frontier Province as Pakhtunkhwa, to reflect the ethnic character of the sensitive region bordering Afghanistan and inhabited mostly by Pashtu-speaking people.


Bird Flu Case

(Right): Chickens up for sale in Dhaka. Bangladesh reported its first confirmed case of human bird flu, but said the 16-month-old victim had now recovered from the virus.

The World Health Organization has confirmed the first human case of bird flu in Bangladesh, a baby boy who has recovered, bringing the number of countries which have recorded human infections to 15.

Bangladesh authorities announced the case, and WHO said it had been confirmed by a laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“The case was confirmed by CDC in Atlanta. It is the first in Bangladesh,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told Reuters.

The 16-month-old boy was infected in January and has since recovered, he said.

Bangladesh authorities informed the United Nations agency promptly about the case but it took time for the international laboratory testing to be completed, Hartl said.

The H5N1 virus was first detected in Bangladesh in March last year and since then the authorities have culled around 2 million chickens and destroyed more than 2 million eggs.

Avian influenza has spread through 47 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, causing losses of about 45 billion taka ($650 million) for the growing poultry sector, which accounts for 1.6 percent of the impoverished nation’s gross domestic product.

“When a disease is so widespread in poultry, it is really a matter of time before you get a human case. It shows the need to control the disease in animals if you are going to reduce the chances of transmission to humans,” Hartl said.

The virus rarely infects people but experts fear it could mutate or combine with the highly contagious seasonal influenza virus and spark a pandemic, which could kill millions of people.

Prior to the Bangladesh case, 14 countries had reported 382 cases including 241 fatalities since 2003, according to the WHO.


Rajasthan Violence

(Right): Rajasthan police personnel man a checkpoint in Jaipur May 14.

The death toll in two days’ of clashes between police and an ethnic group demanding special government aid in Rajasthan has gone up to 31, a minister said.

While 16 people were killed in a day, another 15 died the following day as the unrest spread, Rajasthan state Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters in the provincial capital Jaipur.

Another dozen people were injured in the protests by thousands from the local Gujjar community, who want the government to classify them as “Scheduled Tribes” entitled to government jobs and education benefits.

“Police fired on protesters who turned violent and set fire to a police station in the afternoon,” Kataria said.

“In the police firing, 15 people were killed,” he said, noting that extra security personnel had been rushed to the affected areas to restore order.

Authorities have restricted people from gathering in large numbers in 11 of the state’s 32 districts to quell the protests, Kataria said.

The Gujjars, traditionally shepherds who make up about five percent of Rajasthan’s population, called off massive protests last year after the government promised to form a panel to study their case.

The panel rejected their demand to be included in the category but recommended the formation of another board to give them special assistance.

The 2007 unrest claimed 28 lives.


Gujarat Relief

(Right): A Muslim woman cries while praying near her destroyed home near Ahmedabad March 2, 2002. Over 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in India’s worst religious strife in a decade. The Indian government has announced an $80 million relief package for riot victims.

The Indian government has announced an $80 million relief package for the victims of anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002. The package is expected to benefit the families of 1,169 people who were killed in the riots, say officials.

Over 2,500 people, who were wounded, will also be compensated.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the violence sparked by an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing 59 of them.

The state’s Bharatiya Janata Party government was heavily criticized for doing little to stop the violence.

“The cabinet has approved a proposal to give additional compensation to victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots,” Finance Minister P. Chidambaram was quoted by The Indian Express newspaper as saying.

Under the compensation package, the families of those who died in the riots will get 350,000 rupees ($8,333).

Each of the 2,540 wounded will receive 150,000 rupees.

Some analysts say the relief package is politically motivated — an attempt to woo the Muslims in an election year.

India’s Congress Party-led coalition government has just completed four years in office and general elections are due to be held next year.

In the Gujarat state assembly polls held in December last year, the BJP won a big majority.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was also heading the state administration at the time of the riots, swept the elections.


Fresh Fighting

\(Right): A Sri Lankan Army soldier patrols along the de facto frontline at Nager Kovil in the Jaffna Peninsula At least 13 rebels and one soldier has died in a recent clash.

At least 13 rebels and one soldier have been killed in fresh fighting in Sri Lanka’s restive north, the Defense Ministry said.

The latest reported deaths followed rebel accusations that government forces had killed 20 civilians in separate attacks in the north.

The Tamil Tiger rebels said the government attacks included the detonation of a mine that blew up a minibus packed with civilians near the rebels’ base of Kilinochchi, killing 16 people.

The military denied the accusation that it had targeted civilians and accused the rebels of trying to “tarnish” the army’s image to win international sympathy.

But the rebels’ political arm, the Tamil National Alliance, accused the government of carrying out attacks against civilians.

“We vehemently condemn the cowardly and brutal attack of the Sri Lankan government on civilians. The government has again clearly proved that it never gives up its anti-democratic violence against Tamils,” the TNA said.

The deaths of the 13 rebels and one soldier occurred in ground fighting across the north, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The reported deaths brought to 3,834 the number of rebels the government says it has killed since the start of the year when it pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the Tigers.

The ministry has said 295 soldiers have died during the same period.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting to carve out an independent homeland in the island’s north and east for minority Tamils since 1972 in the majority Sinhalese country.

Tens of thousands of people have died on both sides in one of Asia’s longest running ethnic wars.


Bootleg Booze

(Right): Moonshine brews in an Indian home. At least 160 people have died after drinking contaminated alcohol.

At least 160 people have died after consuming contaminated alcohol in southern India rose with people still drinking the lethal brew after the first reported deaths, police said.

The number of dead in Karnataka state has risen sharply from 53 to 115, with neighboring Tamil Nadu accounting for 45 deaths, said Sanjay Arora, a senior Tamil Nadu police officer.

Karnataka’s capital Bangalore accounted for 89 deaths, the state’s top police officer R. Srikumar told AFP.

“The toll could go up as victims, mostly casual workers and construction laborers, are battling for life at state-run hospitals in Bangalore and other districts,” Srikumar said.

In Tamil Nadu, Arora said law enforcement officers had “held detailed discussions with top (Karnataka) officials and shared intelligence on locations where distillation of the brew is taking place.”

The illegal distilleries were operating close to the border between the two states, and were frequented by farm laborers and other daily wage earners, he added.

The three-phase provincial polls currently underway in Karnataka were also pushing up demand for cheap liquor with distillery owners mixing methyl alcohol with water for quick profits, Arora said.

Politicians supplied their workers with food and cheap country-made alcohol for organizing election meetings and helping with door-to-door campaigning, Arora said.

Meanwhile, S.R. Nayak, who heads Karnataka’s human rights panel, blamed the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments for not cracking down on the distillers.

“It is a lapse on the part of the authorities, who have not checked the illicit brewers,” he told AFP by phone.

Deaths from cheap alcohol are frequent in India and most victims are poor.


Father Held

Police in India say they have arrested the father of a teenage girl in connection with her murder and that of their male servant.

Arushi Talwar’s body was discovered at her house in Noida, a prosperous suburb of Delhi.

She stayed there with her parents, both of whom are well known dentists.

The murder has generated huge media and public interest with questions being raised about how the Noida police have been handling the case.

Police initially suspected the Nepalese servant of killing the girl and issued his picture to the public saying he was wanted for questioning.

But they soon discovered that he too had been killed, at about the same time as the girl.

The bodies of the two bore similar injury marks and police said the murders were carried out with great precision.

The arrest of the girl’s father Dr Rajesh Talwar followed intensive questioning by the police.

“The prime accused is Dr Rajesh Talwar... On the basis of investigation by the police in Noida he has been arrested but other details will come out after further investigation,” a police spokesman said.

This is not the first time that Noida has been in the news for a high-profile crime.

Nearly two years ago more than 30 people, many of them young children, were killed and their body parts found in a drain at the back of a house there.

Critics accused police of being slow to act in part because the victims were all poor.

Many say the local police need to be modernized to keep pace with a growing crime problem.



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