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Pakistan Seizes Key Pro-Taliban Cleric | IMF approves $2.6 bln loan for Sri Lanka | India Launches First Nuclear-powered Submarine | Ambanis Slug it Out | Gurkhas Welcome Lumley | Bangla BOP Soars | Court Backs Probe | Lanka Pressure | Blast Verdict Due | New Lizard Species | Leopard Cub Freed

Pakistan Seizes Key Pro-Taliban Cleric

Sufi Muhammad

A pro-Taliban cleric who helped negotiate a short-lived cease-fire between the militant organization and the Pakistani government was arrested in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.

Sufi Muhammad, the head of the banned jihadi organization Tehreek e Nifaz e Shariat Muhammadi—which translates as the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Sharia Law—was detained in the town of Seethi, near Peshawar, intelligence and police sources told CNN.

Muhammad's two sons, Rizwanullah and Ziaullah, and one friend, Maulvi Tahir, were also arrested. North West Frontier Province officials confirmed Muhammad's arrest, though not the reason for his detention, at a news conference in Peshawar.

In February, Muhammad acted as an intermediary between the government and the Taliban in negotiations over a cease fire in return for the imposition of Sharia law in the Swat Valley.

However, the agreement was short-lived and in April he withdrew his support, claiming that the government was not holding its side of the agreement.

Muhammad had been jailed by Pakistan authorities previously and was released in 2008 after agreeing to renounce violence and work towards peace.

He is also the father-in-law of Maulana Fazullah, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

Violence in the Swat Valley has had a devastating effect on the region's residents.

The United Nations estimates that 375,000 Swat Valley residents fled their homes during the fighting. In all, 2.5 million Pakistanis were displaced in what was said to be one of the largest human migrations in recent history.


IMF approves $2.6 bln loan for Sri Lanka

A vegetable vendor in Colombo. The International Monetary Fund recently approved a 2.6-billion-dollar loan for Sri Lanka.

The International Monetary Fund has approved a 2.6-billion-dollar loan for Sri Lanka to support its economic reform program and help the country weather the severe global downturn.

The IMF executive board approved the loan as the Asian country emerges from a 37-year civil war.

The so-called Stand-By Arrangement is in an amount equivalent to 1.65 billion Special Drawing Rights, an IMF asset that is based on a basket of currencies—the dollar, yen, euro and pound—and calculated daily.

The 20-month loan is worth about 2.6 billion dollars, the IMF said.

A first instalment of about 322.2 million dollars is immediately available to Sri Lanka, while the remainder will be phased in "subject to quarterly reviews," the multilateral institution said.

"The key objectives of the authorities' economic reform program supported by the fund are to strengthen the country's fiscal position while ensuring the availability of resources for much needed post-conflict reconstruction and relief efforts."

The IMF said the program also was intended to rebuild international reserves and strengthen Sri Lanka's domestic financial system, "and to protect the most vulnerable in the country from the burden of the needed economic adjustment."

Britain abstained from voting on the loan after politicians indicated they could not support it.

British Financial Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Timms said it was "not the right time for the program," in light of the political situation on the island threatening its success.

Britain wanted to "secure long-term peace and prosperity" for Sri Lanka through reconciliation between its communities, Timms wrote in a letter to the multi-party parliamentary groups on Sri Lanka and Tamils.

"While we remain determined to help Sri Lanka avoid a damaging balance of payments crisis that would disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable, we judged that the immediate risks of a Sri Lankan default have recently diminished in the light of recent capital inflows and an improved reserve position."


India Launches First Nuclear-powered Submarine

India launched the first nuclear-powered submarine built on its soil, asserting itself as a world power by joining just five other countries that can design and construct such vessels.

The 367-foot-long submarine, named "Arihant" or "Destroyer of Enemies," was sent for sea trials at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It will be capable of launching nuclear weapons, said Rahul Bedi, an analyst with Jane's Defence Weekly.

That would complete India's strategic triad for nuclear weapons—giving it the ability to deliver them from the air, ground-based mobile platforms and the sea, he said.

Singh called the project a "historic milestone in the country's defense preparedness."

India is upgrading its armed forces as part of efforts to match its military strength with its growing economic and political clout. The plans include a proposed $9 billion purchase of 126 new fighter jets.

Singh insisted that the nation does not seek to threaten anyone.

"Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us to take all measures necessary to safeguard our country and to keep pace with technological advancements worldwide," he said at the launching ceremony in the southern port city of Vishakhapatnam.

Previously, only the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China had developed nuclear submarines.

There was no immediate comment from Pakistan, India's neighbor and longtime rival. The submarine's development is likely to rattle Islamabad, which has fought three wars with India, two of them over control of the Kashmir region, since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

But India is looking beyond the old rivalry, asserting itself as a power on the Asian and international stage, according to Uday Bhaskar, a former naval commander and director of the National Maritime Foundation.

The U.S., in particular, has encouraged India's role as a possible counter to China, stepping up exercises with the Indian navy and selling the South Asian nation an American warship for the first time in 2007.


Ambanis Slug it Out

Indian workers setting up a huge billboard featuring the logo of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group in Kolkata.  The Ambani brothers are embroiled in a bitter dispute over gas price.

India's billionaire Ambani brothers are at loggerheads again—this time over a rich gas field—and the row has taken a political twist with the government intervening in the bitter dispute.

At stake is the price at which tycoon Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries Ltd will sell gas from an offshore block in the vast Krishna-Godavari basin to a company owned by his younger brother Anil Ambani.

The seeds of the latest battle between two of India's biggest corporate names lie in a deal carving up the Reliance empire after the 2002 death of their wheeler-dealer father Dhirubhai Ambani, who left no will.

In that family pact in 2005, Mukesh Ambani agreed to sell 28 million cubic meters of gas per day to his brother's company Reliance Natural Resources Ltd at 2.34 dollars per million British thermal unit (mBtu) for 17 years.

Later, Mukesh's Reliance Industries Ltd, India's largest private company, sought to change the sale price.

It cited a 2007 government order which said gas from the field, one of Asia's largest fossil fuel finds, can't be sold below 4.20 dollars per mBtu—44 percent higher than the price set out in the brothers' pact.

Anil, who wants a part of the gas for his group's power plants, won a ruling from the Bombay High Court saying the pact should be upheld.

But now the case is before the Supreme Court and the government, which controls fuel prices, has stepped in, insisting the supply agreement be cancelled.

The government has asked the court to annul the deal on grounds the siblings cannot set a price for the gas, a scarce resource in energy-hungry India.

"We cannot leave the industrial development of the country at their mercy and have contractors of gas fields decide on their own on the utilisation and price of gas," a government official said.

But in a court affidavit, Anil's firm accused the government of "blatantly and openly supporting" RIL's "unlawful design" to wriggle out of its commitment.


Gurkhas Welcome Lumley

British actress and Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumley waves to supporters as she arrives at the Tribhuvan international airport in Kathmandu.

British actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley arrived in Nepal to a raucous welcome from hundreds of Gurkha veterans and their families.

A huge cheer went up when the 63-year-old star of TV show Absolutely Fabulous, who spearheaded a campaign for the British army veterans to be allowed to settle in Britain, arrived at Kathmandu airport on a six-day visit.

Lumley was presented with flower garlands and a traditional Nepalese shawl known as a khada as she stepped through the airport gates, before being engulfed by her cheering fans and the gathered media.

Gyanendra Rai, an ex-Gurkha who was seriously wounded in the 1982 Falklands campaign, was at the front of the queue to meet the television star.

"I don't have the words to describe how happy I am that Joanna Lumley is coming to Nepal," he said. "She is like a goddess to the Gurkhas."

Lumley, who will meet the president and prime minister and travel to three towns with large Gurkha communities during her visit, said she was "delighted" to be in Nepal.

Punching the air, she shouted "Ayo Gorkhali" as she left the airport—echoing the fighters' traditional war cry, "The Gurkhas are coming."

Crowds of supporters had waited hours for her to arrive, braving the monsoon rain and carrying banners that read "Welcome Joanna, daughter of Nepal," and "Gurkha heroes welcome our British heroes."

The actress's impassioned lobbying in Britain earned her the adoration of the Gurkhas, who have described the trip—her first ever visit to Nepal—as a "homecoming."

The British government announced in May that all Gurkha veterans who had served at least four years in the army could apply for residency after a climbdown in the face of Lumley's campaign.

Previously, only those who retired after 1997 had been eligible to apply.

"We are proud and honoured to have her in our country. She is truly a daughter of Nepal," said Krishna Kumar Rai, vice-president of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Organisation, ahead of Lumley's arrival.

"She has done us, the British army veterans, an unforgettable favour—she has given us justice."


Bangla BOP Soars

Bangladesh's balance of payments rose to a surplus of $1.327 billion in July-April from a $75 million deficit a year earlier, due to a slowdown in import growth, central bank officials said.

Demand for key Bangladeshi garment exports and the inflow of remittances, two mainstays of the impoverished country's economy, were not much affected by the global financial squeeze, the officials said.

The current account showed a surplus of $1.32 billion during the period, compared with a $278 million surplus previously.

Imports for July-April increased by 9 percent from a year earlier, while exports rose 12.6 percent, shrinking the trade deficit to $4.46 billion from $4.47 billion in the same period of last year.

Bangladesh's foreign exchange reserves rose to a record $7.47 billion at the end of June.

Remittances from more than 6 million expatriates totalled $9.68 billion in the year to June, 22 percent higher than the previous year.

The central bank's latest monetary policy announcement said it would spend a portion of the reserve money on development of infrastructure, one of the key constraints on growth, as the global economy is starting to show signs of recovery from its worst recession since 1930s.


Court Backs Probe

A court in Gujarat has rejected a bid to delay a probe into the role of the chief minister in communal riots in 2002.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the riots which began after 60 Hindus died in a fire on a train.

The cause of the fire has never been clearly established.

Hindu groups alleged that it was started by Muslim protesters, but an earlier inquiry said it was an accident.

Justice D.H. Vaghela ruled that the probe against the chief minister and 62 others should not be delayed.

The rejection of the petition means that a Special Investigation Team is now free to summon Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues and question them about their role at the time.

The petition was filed in June by a former legislator of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Kalubhai Maliwad, who is also listed for investigation.

The SIT's remit is to investigate the riots which followed the killing of 59 people in a fire on a train at Godhra after a skirmish with locals at the railway station.

A former member of the Indian Parliament, Ehsan Jaffri, was also killed in the rioting in Ahmedabad. His widow, Zakia Jaffri, had filed a different petition alleging that the chief minister and 62 of his colleagues and officers were involved in the riots.

In the past the Supreme Court has criticised the government of Gujarat for failing to protect its Muslim citizens.

Modi's supporters have always said he could have done little under the circumstances to prevent the violence.

Last year, a commission of inquiry set up by the state government exonerated Modi over the riots.


Lanka Pressure

Relatives of murdered aid workers in Sri Lanka say they do not want to press for more compensation from the French charity that employed them.

They say the Sri Lankan government has given them letters to sign seeking more money from Action Against Hunger.

The authorities deny the letters exist, but the BBC has seen copies of them.

There was an outcry when the 17 aid workers were killed in 2006. Critics say Sri Lanka has a long history of failing to prosecute rights abuses.

The aid staff—all but one of them ethnic Tamils—were working on tsunami relief projects in the north-eastern town of Muttur when they were killed on 4 August 2006.

“ Money will not help us - we cannot get our relatives back anyway ”

Nordic monitors overseeing a truce in the country's civil war at the time blamed security forces, who denied the charge.

Earlier this month, Sri Lanka's top human rights panel cleared the army, pinning the killings on Tamil Tiger rebels or Muslim home guards.

The commission of inquiry also said compensation already paid to victims' families of about 400,000 Sri Lanka rupees (about $3,480) was "totally inadequate."

A number of relatives of the murdered aid workers say they do not want to sign the government's letters.

"Money will not help us. We cannot get our relatives back anyway," one family member of the victims told the BBC.

Some relatives refused to comment due to what their lawyers described as fear of intimidation.

The BBC has seen three letters seeking more compensation from Action Against Hunger (Action Contre La Faim, ACF).

The letters were handed to the victims' families on July 19 at a government administration office in the eastern town of Trincomalee. They were due to be signed and handed back by July 25.


Blast Verdict Due

A special court in Mumbai is set to deliver a verdict on the explosions that killed 55 people in the city in 2003.

Three people were charged with causing the twin blasts near the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar, which also injured 180 others.

The accused were charged under India's Prevention Of Terrorism Act.

It will be the biggest verdict in a terror case since 2006 when 100 people were convicted of Mumbai's 1993 blasts.

The three accused are Haneef Sayyed, his wife Fahmeeda and Ashrat Ansari.

Two other accused, Mohammed Ansari and Mohammed Hasan, were discharged after a review by the special court last year.

The prosecution said the blasts were planned in Dubai by Pakistani nationals at the behest of the Islamic militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The blasts caused devastation in Mumbai at the Gateway of India, one of the country's most famous landmarks. There was also carnage left at the Zaveri Bazaar gold market.


New Lizard Species

Scientists have discovered a new species of lizard in the lush Western Ghats mountain range in Maharashtra.

The small reptile is a form of gecko and was found by taxonomist Varad Giri in the Kolhapur district. It has been named Cnemasspis kolhapurensis.

Giri and his co-workers published their findings in this month's edition of the Zootaxa journal.

It is the third new species of lizard recently discovered in the area.

Giri, a curator at the Bombay Natural History Society, told the BBC that the Western Ghats has never been surveyed for amphibians and reptiles.

"A gecko of this particular character has not been recognised elsewhere in the world," he said.

Giri said he first noticed the lizard in 2005 during a survey of one of the forests in the area.

"When I first stumbled across it, the lizard looked like a normal specimen," he said.

"It was basically a form of gecko but then I saw that it was interesting because its scales were shiny."

He said that when the gecko was held up in a certain light, the tail dorsum exhibited an "iridescent sheen."

Iridescence is commonly reported in a variety of reptiles—but not geckos.

Once Giri and his co-workers had analysed the specimen, they realized it was a previously unknown species.

They then enlisted the help of Dr Aaron M. Bauer, an expert on lizards based at Villanova University in the U.S., to confirm the discovery.


Leopard Cub Freed

A clouded leopard, previously thought to be extinct in Bangladesh, has been released after being caught by tribes people in a remote area of the country.

Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh chief executive Mohammed Anwarul Islam said that that the leopard cub is now in the jungle on the border with Burma.

It had been caught by tribespeople after being separated from its mother.

Professor Islam said that the cub was released only after villagers were satisfied it could survive on its own.

"They made sure that the cub was eating meat before releasing it. The locals feel that it is now able to find food and survive in the forest," he told the BBC.

Professor Islam said that the cub was found by indigenous villagers near the town of Rangamati in the south-eastern Chittagong Hill Tracts in June.

"The villagers were understandably concerned that if they released it too soon, it would die in the jungle without its mother."

Professor Islam said that the last time a clouded leopard had been spotted in Bangladesh was in 1992.

He said that the cat was considered extinct in the country because of habitat loss.

Local people reportedly saw the cub's mother and one of its siblings as they were feeding on a monkey.

They chased the leopard family away, but captured one of the cubs.

Clouded leopards used to live in forests around Mymensingh, Sylhet, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

They are solitary, nocturnal and arboreal cats. They are also one of the least studied leopards, principally because of their secretive and timid nature..”



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Rebel with a Cause:
Tribute to Bhagat Singh Bilga

In his death the country lost a voice for the masses, a living history, since he was the last surviving member of the legendary Gadar Party, writes Ved Prakash Vatuk.

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