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Rickshaw Puller New Bangla Music Idol | Bombing Onslaught | UN Lauds Nepal | Child Wedding Halted | U.S. Missiles Kill 27

Rickshaw Puller New Bangla Music Idol

Omar Ali

Omar Ali is Bangladesh's unlikely new music star — he's a white-bearded rickshaw puller from an impoverished village a day's drive from the capital, Dhaka.

But his voice is golden and millions of viewers voted for him to win a television "Pop Idol"-style talent show, which has just reached its climax.

Magic Tin Chakar Taroka, or Three Wheel Star, was only open to the riders and drivers of Bangladesh's one million-plus three-wheelers - its cycle- and auto-rickshaws.

Their work is badly-paid and back-breaking and they seldom have anything to cheer about.

But Omar Ali's final performance of the Bengali folk song “Lovers Never Drown” was so powerful it had the audience, which included many of Bangladesh's leading pop stars who have backed the show and coached the rickshaw-men, dancing in their seats.

With the release of a CD and DVD — and prize winnings of nearly $2,000 - the wiry Ali can now afford to abandon his rickshaw cart, with which he used to transport goods to market.

He is now hoping for a career in music in Dhaka.

"It is not about the money I have won, but my devotion to music," the 45-year old said.

The hit show was aired on the channel ATN Bangla.

All 10 finalists, who together received 10 million text message votes from Bangladeshi viewers around the world, were awarded at least $300, enough for them to at least buy their own rickshaws.

One of the finalists said that he planned to invest the money in a small business. "I'll buy a poultry farm and then use the earnings from that to pay for my sister to go to school," he said.

Abdul Rahman Khokon, who came third, said he would use his winnings to discover the fate of his 80-year-old mother. She disappeared suddenly from their one-room home on the southern edge of Dhaka three years ago.


Bombing Onslaught

A National Security Guard soldier collects samples from the wreckage of a bomb explosion near a court in Guwahati Oct. 31.

It's hard to keep the insurgent groups straight in India's far eastern region: the United Liberation Front of Asom, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, the Gorkha Tiger Force and many more.

But despite years of violence, no one had seen anything like the 13 coordinated bombs that killed 77 people and wounded hundreds in four towns Oct. 30 — raising the possibility that better-armed, better-trained militants have joined the fray.

The groups are battling for power, for ethnic pride and for control of drug routes in India's northeast, an isolated collection of seven states and hundreds of ethnic groups and subgroups. They fight the government and they fight each other in a region crippled by poverty and political chaos.

Many of the movements are small and poorly armed. A couple of the larger ones can put together fairly well-armed assaults and bloody bombings. Over the past decade, the violence has killed more than 10,000 people.

The United Liberation Front of Asom, which wants an independent state for the region's ethnic Assamese, is the largest of the northeast's myriad militant groups and the main suspect in Thursday's attack.

Few here, though, believe the group is capable of carrying out such a sophisticated attack, at least not on its own.

Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, head of the Assam state police, said the United Liberation Front of Asom was the main target of the investigation. But he added that the complexity suggested local rebels were "assisted by a force who has adequate expertise in such attacks."


UN Lauds Nepal

Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (r), also known as Prachanda, shakes hands with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Marking a major diplomatic victory for Nepal's Maoist government, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Oct. 31 said the Himalayan republic has earned the admiration and respect of the entire international community.

Arriving in Kathmandu Oct. 31 evening on a two-day visit in the course of his four-nation trip to Asia, the UN chief said he was "proud that the UN has been a close partner in Nepal's development effort, in its struggle to end the 10-year conflict, in the fight to promote and defend human rights, and in the implementation of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement."

The UN chief is the first international dignitary to arrive in Nepal since the former communist guerrillas formed the new government in August.

His visit sends out the message to the world that the 10-year-old insurgency that killed over 13,000 people in Nepal has ended and that the Maoists, once banned as a terrorist organization, are now a mainstream party that has renounced violence.

Ban, who flew in from New Delhi on a special UN aircraft, was met at the Tribhuvan International Airport by Nepal's Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav and Tourism And Civil Aviation Minister Hisila Yami.

Ban held parleys with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda over the integration of the Maoist guerrilla army, the People's Liberation Army, with the state army and whether the UN's political wing the UN Mission in Nepal, that is managing the arms and combatants of the PLA, would have its tenure extended.


Child Wedding Halted

Police in southern Pakistan have arrested two people for attempting to wed a seven-year-old boy to a four-year-old girl, officials say.

It is believed to be the first time they have broken up such a marriage as the wedding was taking place.

The arrested men — the father of the groom and a cleric who performed the ceremony — say the wedding was meant to end a feud between the two families.

Child marriages are more common in remote tribal areas of Pakistan.

In the latest case, family members of the children involved argued that they wanted them to get married in advance of their real wedding which will be held when the pair reach the marriageable age of 18.

Child marriages are strictly against the law in Pakistan.

Acting on a complaint, the police raided the ceremony in a northern neighborhood of the port city of Karachi.

It is suspected that the girl was being married off by her father for about 500,000 rupees ($6,138).


U.S. Missiles Kill 27

Suspected U.S. missiles slammed into two villages Oct. 31, killing 27 people including foreign fighters in the latest strikes inside Pakistan, intelligence officials said.

One of the raids targeted an Arab militant identified as Abu Kasha Iraqi, but it was unclear if he was killed, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Suspected U.S. unmanned planes have fired at alleged militant targets in Pakistan at least 17 times since mid-August, putting pressure on extremists accused of planning attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan - and perhaps terror strikes in the West.

But the increased frequency of the missile attacks is straining America's seven-year alliance with Pakistan, where rising violence is exacerbating economic problems gnawing at the nuclear-armed country's stability.

Scores of foreign Al Qaeda members are believed to be hiding out in the lawless border area, which is considered a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden.

Locals frequently say civilians, sometimes women and children, are among the dead.

The first attack happened in Mir Ali village in North Waziristan after drones had been flying overhead for several hours, the intelligence officials said.



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Over the Moon: Launch of Chandrayaan-1
In the midst of a financial gloom, the launch of India’s first unmanned spacecraft bound for the Moon has brought some cheer, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj.

A Mendacious Denial: Police in Chhattisgarh
Chhattisgarh police chief Vishwa Ranjan continues to make mendacious claims about ‘misguided’ critics, write Sanjeev Mahajan, Ra Ravishankar, Preeti Shekar and Chukka Srinivas.

Khuda Hafiz, Faraz Sahib: Requiem for Ahmed Faraz
Ras H. Siddiqui bids an affectionate, sad farewell to the greatest living Urdu poet Ahmed Faraz.

IIFA Awards 2008
A Siliconeer Exclusive Photo Essay

EDITORIAL: India’s Moon Mission
CONCERT: Habib Wahid
CONCERT: Music for Polio
DIASPORA: GOPIO in New Zealand
MUSIC: Pandit Jasraj Live
REAL ESTATE: Relief for Homeowners
GAY RIGHTS: Love and Acceptance
CINEMA: South Asian Film Festival
TRAVEL: Point Richmond, Calif.
AUTO REVIEW: 2009 Acura RDX Tech
RECIPE: Gujarati Patra
TAMIL CINEMA: Kadhalil Vizhundaen
BUSINESS: News Briefs
FESTIVAL: Diwali in Cupertino
FESTIVAL: Diwali in Sunnyvale
COMMUNITY: News in Brief

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