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Russia to deliver Nerpa nuke submarine to India before October


Russia will deliver on lease the nuclear powered K-152 Nerpa attack submarine to India before October this year, a Russian Navy Staff admiral said today.


"The submarine is completely ready for transfer. An Indian crew is currently training aboard with Russian instructors," the Navy Staff’s anonymous admiral told RIA Novosti news agency.


"The training course includes the launching of cruise missiles," he added.


"This should be completed before October: We're running late as it is,'' the admiral said.


Media reports had earlier said the K-152 Nerpa attack submarine had already been transferred to India on a 10-year lease.


Twenty sailors were killed onboard the submarine as the K-152 Nerpa was undergoing sea trials in the Sea of Japan in November 2008. A fire extinguishing system malfunctioned leading to the discharge of a toxic gas. The submarine is now fully operational after repairs.


The $ 900 million lease contract was drawn up after Moscow and New Delhi struck a deal in January 2004 where India agreed to fund part of the Nerpa's construction.


The Nerpa was originally scheduled to be inducted into the Indian Navy as INS Chakra by mid-2008.


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Bangladesh opposition politician Hossain dies


Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain passed away at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore today.


He was 81.


Hossain had been suffering from respiratory problem and other complications. He flew to Singapore for treatment by an air ambulance on March 4.


His son Akbar Hossain Bablu said his father died at 0544pm (Singapore time). His body will arrive in Dhaka tomorrow on completion of formalities.


Earlier, the veteran leader was admitted to Square Hospital in Dhaka in a critical condition.


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ONGC may get 20-25% in Russia's Bashneft: Board chairman


Russian oil company Bashneft today said the firm is currently holding talks on the possible sale of a 20-25 per cent stake in its capital to India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC).


"We are considering ONGC's participation as one of Bashneft's development options...We are discussing a 20-25 per cent stake," RIA Novosti news agency quoted Bashneft Board chairman Alexander Goncharuk as saying.


He said the firm is in talks adding ONGC was planning to acquire the stake in Bashneft not just for the development of the giant Trebs and Titov oilfields.


Goncharuk pointed out that if ONGC becomes one of Bashneft's shareholders, it will participate in all of the company's projects, including the development of the Trebs and Titov fields. He also said Bashneft could attract only one partner for the project.


"We are holding talks with LUKoil," he said, stressing the company had already mentioned this several times.


Bashneft became the only bidder for the Trebs and Titov fields during the auction on December 2 last year.


The Trebs and Titov deposits are among the most promising in the Timan-Pechora province with C1 reserves estimated at 78.9 million tonnes (578 million barrels) and 63.4 million tonnes (465 million barrels) of oil respectively.


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Volkswagen to expand dealership network in India

Volkswagen

Volkswagen, Europe's largest carmaker, says that its immediate aim is to expand dealership network in India to every nook and corner before launching any new car.

It also aims to increase production in the country.

This was stated recently by Mr Ulrich Hackenberg, member of the Supervisory Board of Management at Volkswagen AG and technical development, to visiting journalists from India, who were in Switzerland to witness the 81st Geneva Motor Show.

"We have strong brand awareness and that has catapulted into strong sales growth, but still we need to put more cars on Indian roads. Our cars vouch for our global quality that has been appreciated and will pave the way for our future expansion and investments. Volkswagen still has to go a long way to make its true image among 1.2 billion Indians. Our immediate aim is to increase dealership density, especially along the countryside, to take our brand to all corners," Mr Hackenberg said.

Volkswagen is a comparatively latecomer in India but its quality is enabling it to make a dent in the Indian market, one of the fastest growing in the world, which is increasingly becoming more and more competitive.

Mr Heckenberg said Volkswagen crafted a well-thought strategy for India, which is the first market in Volkswagen's history to have a sedan (Vento) on its Polo hatchback platform. This is an exception globally for the auto giant and has helped it to notch up top three positions in the slot.

He said the company will be launching its new small car "Volkswagen UP!" globally in September. However, it could be slightly expensive for an Indian customer. Thus, it is not far off that Volkswagen will launch a smaller car for the Indian market that suits the needs of the local market.

With its Indian headquarters in Pune, the Volkswagen Group is represented by three brands in India: Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda.

The group is completing 10 years of its Indian journey, which began with the entry of the Skoda brand in 2001, followed by Audi and Volkswagen.

Each brand has its own character and operates as an independent entity in the domestic market.

Volkswagen Group India, part of Volkswagen AG, is globally represented by nine brands--Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Scania, Seat, Skoda, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge) and Volkswagen Passenger Cars.

The product range extends from low-consumption small cars to luxury class vehicles and trucks. The Group operates 60 production plants around the world.

The highest volume brand of the Group is Volkswagen, Europe's most successful car brand, which has made successful inroads into the Indian market. Volkswagen presents itself in a variety of segments as a premium manufacturer of high-volume models.

As a first step, the Volkswagen brand launched the globally successful Passat in 2007. To expand its portfolio and cater to the mid-segment, Volkswagen launched one of the brand's best-selling models, Jetta, in India in July 2008. Both the sedans are being assembled locally.

The iconic New Beetle and the high-end Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) Touareg were introduced in December 2009. Also available is the high-end automobile Phaeton.

From December 12, 2009, the new Pune plant started rolling out the hatchback Polo, which was awarded "World Car of the Year 2010".

Recognising the importance of an extensive network towards scripting a long-term success story, the brands of the Volkswagen Group are setting up dealerships spanning the entire country with Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi having in total around 120 showrooms pan-India.

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Japan informs IAEA of explosion at nuclear power plant after Friday's quake

The UN atomic watchdog agency on Saturday reported that Japan's nuclear safety body has informed it of an explosion at one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was affected by Friday's massive earthquake, and that an assessment is under way.
Amidst Tsunami flood waters, burning houses and ships are piled in a mass of debris in Kisenuma city, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, on March 12, 2011. A magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit northern Japan on March 11. EPA/UNI PHOTO
Amidst Tsunami flood waters, burning houses and ships are piled in a mass of debris in Kisenuma city, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, on March 12, 2011. A magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit northern Japan on March 11. EPA/UNI PHOTO

The United Nations atomic watchdog agency today reported that Japan's nuclear safety body has informed it of an explosion at one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was affected by yesterday's massive earthquake, and that an assessment is under way.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Japanese authorities have extended the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to a 20-kilometre radius from the previous 10 kilometres, according to information provided to IAEA by Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

A UN press release said that, at the nearby Fukushima Daini plant, the evacuation zone has been extended to a 10-kilometre radius from the previous three kilometres.

Japanese authorities also reported that they are making preparations to distribute iodine tablets to residents in the area of both the plants. Iodine can be used to help protect the body from radioactive exposure.

The IAEA has reiterated its offer of technical assistance to Japan, should the Government request it. The agency said it will continue to liaise with the Japanese authorities, and is in full response mode to monitor the situation closely.

The earthquake, which struck at 2:46 p.m. local time yesterday, measured 8.9 on the Richter scale. Its epicentre was undersea, about 400 kilometres northeast of the Japanese capital, Tokyo.

The subsequent tsunami inundated towns, villages and farmland along the coast. Media reports indicate that at least 1,000 people were killed, with the death toll expected to rise significantly. Hundreds more people are missing.

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UN General Assembly suspends Libya from rights body for violations

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly at its special session on the crisis in Libya, in New York on March 1, 2011. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly at its special session on the crisis in Libya, in New York on March 1, 2011. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday suspended Libya from the UN Human Rights Council for "gross and systematic" human rights violations because of President Muammar Gadhafi’s violent repression of peaceful protesters demanding his ouster.

The vote by the 192-member Assembly, for which a two-thirds majority was required, followed a request last Friday from the Geneva-based Council itself that it suspend the North African country – one of the top UN rights body’s 47 elected members – and was passed by acclamation.

The suspension was the latest measure taken against Mr. Gadhafi’s regime by the UN, where the Security Council has already imposed sanctions and requested that the International Criminal Court investigate it for possible crimes against humanity.

Only Venezuela expressed reservations about Tuesday’s suspension on the grounds that an investigation was needed first – but it did not stand in the way of the vote, a UN press release said here.

Terming the Gadhafi regime’s actions "flagrant human rights violations," the President of the General Assembly, Mr Joseph Deiss, warned that there could be no security or development without respect for rights.

"The credibility of the international community, the United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council is at stake in ensuring that these rights are respected and that human rights violations are punished," he told Member-States before the vote.

"Today it is up to us, the General Assembly, to do our part. We must show unity and resolve in our determination to promote the fundamental values of the [UN] Charter," Mr. Deiss added. "This is our duty to all the men and women who are hoping and struggling to have their rights respected and who, today, are running the greatest risks. Their hopes must not be dashed."

Also addressing the Assembly before the vote, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced grave concern at the continued loss of life, "the ongoing repression of the population and the clear incitement to violence against the civilian population by Colonel Gadhafi and his supporters."

Mr. Ban said the actions taken by the various UN bodies send a strong and important message – "a message of great consequence within the region and beyond: that there is no impunity, that those who commit crimes against humanity will be punished, that fundamental principles of justice and accountability shall prevail."

The Human Rights Council was established in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, which had been considered ineffective. The 47 countries that make up the Council’s membership are elected by secret majority vote of the General Assembly based on geographical distribution, and serve for three years, with no more than two consecutive terms. Libya was elected last year with its term scheduled to end in 2013.

Mr. Ban warned of a crisis marked by on-going violence, a growing humanitarian emergency and a political situation that could quickly deteriorate further. He cited reports that government had opened arms depots and arsenals "to gangs who terrorize communities" and that its forces had fired indiscriminately on peaceful protesters.

The Secretary-General noted that the international community must recognize that any changes to societies in the region "must come from within."

"Above all, this means local ownership and local leadership, consistent with popular aspirations for dignity and justice," Mr. Ban said. "In this great and noble quest, the United Nations stands ready to assist in every way possible, should the people of the region and their governments request our help."

He noted that while the death toll from nearly two weeks of violence in Libya is unknown, it is likely to exceed 1,000, with thousands injured. "Credible and consistent reports include allegations of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture," the Secretary-General said.

Citing a growing crisis of refugees and displaced persons, with nearly 150,000 people already fleeing to Tunisia and Egypt, he warned that the violence could disrupt distribution networks and lead to food shortages.

"In these difficult and unpredictable circumstances, it is critical that the international community remain united," he said, citing his meeting yesterday in Washington, with United States President Barack Obama, and talks he plans to hold with other world and regional leaders in the coming days.

"Our collective challenge will be to provide real protection for the people of Libya – first, to halt the violence and, second, to deal with the growing humanitarian emergency," Mr. Ban said. "The arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze imposed by Security Council resolution 1970 [on Saturday] must be swiftly and effectively enforced. We need concrete action on the ground to provide humanitarian and medical assistance. Time is of the essence. Thousands of lives are at risk."

In the coming days, UN assessment teams will deploy to organize the humanitarian response, working on the ground where they can in the eastern and western regions of Libya, Mr. Ban said, adding that he would bring together the heads of UN humanitarian agencies and international and regional groups including the Arab League, the African Union and the Organization of Islamic Conference to consolidate the response, for which he plans to appoint a Special Envoy.

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India hopeful peace will return to Libya soon: Envoy to UN

File photo of Mr Hardeep Puri, India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
File photo of Mr Hardeep Puri, India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

India has expressed optimism that peace will soon return to Libya and deplored violence there, saying that the use of force against demonstrators is unacceptable.

"India has been following, with serious concern, the developments in Libya which have resulted in loss of numerous lives and injuries to many more," Indian envoy to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri told the UN Security Council last night as the 15-member powerful body unanimously imposed sanctions against Libyan authorities, which might take weeks in order to have some effect on the North African nation.

Expressing concern over the safety of foreign nationals, particularly Indians, the envoy urged the authorities in the country to let go those who want to go.

The 15-0 vote among other things referred Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC), because of the ongoing atrocities against civilian populations.

India is not a member of the ICC. Of the 192 members of the UN, 114 are members of the ICC. Five of the 15 members of the UN Security Council are not party to the Rome Statute, the other name for ICC.

"We would have preferred a calibrated and gradual approach (to the Libya referral issue to the ICC)," Mr Puri said.

He expressed confidence in other members' belief that such a measure would end violence in the trouble-torn nation.

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UN Security Council imposes sanctions on Libya in effort to stem violent represession


The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously today to impose sanctions against the Libyan authorities, slapping the country with an arms embargo and freezing the assets of its leaders, while referring the ongoing violent repression of civilian demonstrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC).


In its Resolution 1970, the 15-member Council obligated all UN Member States to "freeze without delay all funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories, which are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the individuals or entities" listed in resolution.


The Council imposed a travel ban on Libyan President Muammar Al-Qadhafi and other senior figures in his administration, including some members of his family and other relatives.


"All Member States shall immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from or through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related material of all types, including weapons and ammunition," according to the arms embargo clause of the resolution.


The Council directed the Libyan authorities to cooperate fully with the ICC in its investigations of the situation in Libya since 15 February 2011, while recognizing that the country is not party to the Rome Statute that created the Court.


In remarks to the Security Council soon after the resolution was adopted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the move, saying that while the measure cannot, by itself, end the violence and the repression, it is a clear expression of the will of a united community of nations.


"The actions taken by the regime in Libya are clear cut violations of all norms governing international behaviour and serious transgressions of international human rights and humanitarian law," Mr Ban said.


"It is of great importance that the Council in response has reached the consensus and is determined to uphold its responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security," he said.


He reiterated that peace and stability are at stake across the Arab world, adding that the world's collective challenge is to provide real protection and halt the ongoing violence.


"The text sends a strong message that gross violations of basic human rights will not be tolerated, and that those responsible for grave crimes will be held accountable.


"I hope the message is heard, and heeded, by the regime in Libya. I hope it will also bring hope and relief to those still at risk. The sanctions you have imposed are a necessary step to speed the transition to a new system of governance that will have the consent and participation of the people," said the Secretary-General.


He said he will continue to monitor the situation closely and remain in close touch with world and regional leaders to ensure their support for swift and concrete international action.


"I would like to take this opportunity to express my solidarity with the people of Libya as they brave the bloodshed and as they cope with possible shortages of food and medical supplies and other humanitarian impacts.


" As the Libyan people take their destiny into their hands, as is their right, I hope that the new future for which they yearn, peaceful, prosperous and democratic, will soon be theirs," Mr. Ban added.


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India named Global Host of World Environment Day 2011

UNEP logo
UNEP logo

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today announced that India would be for the first time ever the global host of World Environment Day 2011 (WED) on June 5 this year.

A UNEP press release noted that India had one of the fastest growing economies in the world that is embracing the process of a transition to a Green Economy.

It said the theme of this year's WED, "Forests: Nature at your Service" underscored the intrinsic link between quality of life and the health of forests and forest ecosystems. The WED theme also supports this year's UN International Year of Forests, it said.

The UNEP pointed out that India is a country of 1.2 billion people who continue to put pressure on forests especially in densely populated areas where people are cultivating on marginal lands and where overgrazing is contributing to desertification.

"But the Indian Government has also found solutions. While the socio-economic pressures on the country's forests are tremendous, India has instituted a tree-planting system to combat land-degradation and desertification, including windbreaks and shelterbelts to protect agricultural land," it said.

The release noted that, in conserving its critical ecosystem, India had successfully introduced projects that track the health of the nation's plants, animals, water and other natural resources, including the Sunderbans - the largest deltaic mangrove forest in the world, and home to one of India's most iconic wildlife species: the tiger.

It said India had also launched a compensation afforestation programme under which any diversion of public forests for non-forestry purposes is compensated through afforestation in degraded or non-forested land. The funds received as compensation are used to improve forest management, protection of forests and of watershed areas. Moreover, a government authority has been created specifically to administer this programme, it said.

"Over close to the 40-year history of WED, India's cities and communities have been among the most active with a myriad of events undertaken across the country each and every year - so it is only fitting that this rapidly developing economy is the host in 2011," Mr Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said.

"India is famous for its culture, arts, movies and world-beating information technology industries. Increasingly it is at the forefront of some of the 'green shoots' of a Green Economy that are emerging across the globe," he said.

"From its manufacturing of solar and wind turbines to its Rural Employment Guarantee Act which underwrites paid work for millions of households via investments in areas ranging from water conservation to sustainable land management, foundations are being laid towards a fundamental and far reaching new development path," he added.

UNEP said this was underlined by India's introduction of the Clean Energy Fund into its national budget which provides subsidies for green technology and has been the basis for a National Action Plan on Climate Change which sets specific targets on issues such as energy efficiency and sustaining the Himalayan eco-system.

"India is currently planning one of the largest green energy projects in the world that will generate 20,000 megawatts of solar energy and 3,000 megawatts from wind farms on 50,000 acres in Karnataka in southwest India. The first phase of the US$50 billion project will start next year," the release said.

In its report on the Green Economy launched yesterday, UNEP cites India and the $8 billion National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which underwrites at least 100 days of paid work, benefiting close to 60 million rural households.

"India's offer to host WED is another expression of India's strong commitment to work with the global community for sustainable development. This event will serve as the inauguration of a series of events leading up to the hosting of the 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. It will also flag off the celebrations of the international decade for biodiversity. This will in addition signal India's commitment to the biomass economy so dependent on the sustainability of our natural resources," Dr. T. Chatterjee, Secretary for Environment and Forests of the Government of India, said.

According to the release, Mumbai and Delhi will be the venue for this year's global celebration of the environment, with a myriad of activities over several days to inspire Indians and people around the world to take action for the environment.

The celebrations in India on June 5 will be part of thousands of events taking place around the globe.

"WED 2011 will emphasize how individual actions can have an exponential impact, with a variety of activities ranging from school tree-planting drives to community clean-ups, car-free days, photo competitions on forests, bird-watching trips, city park clean-up initiatives, exhibits, green petitions, nationwide green campaigns and much more," it said.

This year, UNEP plans to make WED 2011 into a bigger celebration than ever before, building on the unprecedented success of WED 2010 - when people in more than 112 countries registered activities on the WED website and WED was thrust into the blogo-sphere with the first-ever WED- blogging competition.

"The WED 2011 website will inspire, inform and involve people through unprecedented interactivity, offering daily tips, information and statistics on forest conservation, a platform where people around the world can register their activities, social networking campaigns and competitions to get people on every continent involved," the release added. .

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India, Malaysia sign Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Malaysian Minister for International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed at the signing of the India-Malaysia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, in the presence of the Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Najib Razak, in Kuala Lumpur on February 18, 2011.
Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Malaysian Minister for International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed at the signing of the India-Malaysia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, in the presence of the Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Najib Razak, in Kuala Lumpur on February 18, 2011.

India and Malaysia today signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) that envisages liberal trade in goods and services and a stable and competitive investment regime to promote foreign investment between the two countries.

The agreement was signed in Kuala Lumpur by visiting Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Malayasian Minister for International Trade & Industry Mustapa Mohamed in the presence of Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Najib Razak.

The agreement will come into effect on July 1, 2011 and the first review will be held within a year of its coming into force.

According an official press release, the goods package under the CECA takes the tariff liberalization beyond the India-ASEAN Free Trade Area (FTA) commitments on items of mutual interest for both the countries.

Under the agreement, India will get market access in the Malaysian market for goods including fruits such as mangoes, banana and guava, basmati rice, two wheelers and cotton garments. At the same time, protection continues to be provided for the sensitive sectors.

Under the services agreement, India and Malaysia have provided commercially meaningful commitments in sectors and modes of interest to each other which should result in enhanced services trade. Sectors such as accounting and auditing, architecture, urban planning, engineering services, medical and dental, IT & ITES, Management Consulting Services and so on would get Malaysian market access.

Malaysia has offered comparatively higher level of foreign direct investment (FDI) in key sectors of interest to India such as construction services (51%), computer and related services (100%), and management and consultancy services (100%).

The release said this was a breakthrough in investments, given that Malaysia has a Bhoomiputra policy which mandates 30% equity participation by local companies.

Malaysia is the third largest trading partner of India amongst the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries. India-Malaysia trade increased from $ 3.52 billion to $ 9.03 billion between 2005 and 2010 after reaching a peak of $ 10.65 billion in 2008.

Earlier, Mr Anand Sharma called on the Malaysian Prime Minister when they discussed the steady growth in the bilateral economic engagement and the excellent relations between the two countries.

Mr Sharma hoped that the bilateral trade target of $ 15 billion by 2015 set during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Malaysia in October 2010 would become achievable with the signing of the CECA.

During his meeting with Mr. Mustapa Mohamed, Mr Sharma discussed wide range of bilateral and regional matters including the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), the progress under the India-ASEAN Services & Investment Agreement negotiations and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA).

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UN rights chief urges Bahrain not to use excessive force against demonstrations

Navi Pillay
Navi Pillay

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has expressed alarm at the reported "excesssive use of force" by authorities in Bahrain, including the killing of two peaceful protesters, and urged the government of the Gulf state to respect the right to demonstrate.

A UN press release issued here Tuesday said Ali Abdulhadi al-Mushaima, 27, was shot on Monday and Fadhel Salman Matrook, 32, killed on Tuesday by members of Bahrain’s security forces.

"Too many peaceful protestors have recently been killed across the Middle East and North Africa," it quoted Ms Pillay as saying.

"Authorities everywhere must scrupulously avoid excessive use of force, which is strictly forbidden in international law. They must conduct prompt, impartial and transparent investigations where there have been breaches of this obligation," she said.

The High Commissioner stressed that lasting social stability could only be built on the foundations of the freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly, adding that Bahrain, as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, must fully respect its human rights obligations.

Ms Pillay, who paid an official visit to Bahrain in April last year, said her office had been working on establishing a dialogue with the authorities since the political crackdown that began in August 2010.

"I have been urging the authorities to curb the excesses of the security apparatus and to undertake serious investigations into allegations of torture and abuse of detention rights of hundreds of political and human rights activists," she said. "These activists, including numerous children as young as 10, were reportedly arrested and detained without meaningful access to lawyers and their families, and subjected to ill-treatment in detention."

"I urge the authorities to immediately cease the use of disproportionate force against peaceful protestors and to release all peaceful demonstrators who have been arrested," Ms Pillay added.

Last month, demonstrations in the streets forced the rulers of Tunisia to flee to Saudi Arabia and nearly three weeks of protests on the streets of Cairo this month saw Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak quit office after three decades in power. Bahrain and Yemen are among the other countries in the region which have seen unrest in recent weeks.

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India, Japan sign Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement

Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma meeting the Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, in Tokyo on February 15, 2011.
Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma meeting the Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, in Tokyo on February 15, 2011.

India and Japan signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the most ambitious such pact signed by India, covering trade in goods, services and investment.

The agreement was signed in Tokyo by visiting Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and is pursuant to a commitment made by the Prime Ministers of the two countries in October 2010.

An official press release said India stood to gain significantly through the agreement and 90 per cent of tariff lines were covered. Japan has covered 5 per cent more lines than India, it said.

The release said the agreement had ensured that sensitive sectors for India were fully protected, including agriculture, fruits, spices, wheat, basmati rice, edible oils, wines and spirits and also certain categories of industrial products such as auto and auto parts.

The agreement will ensure access to the highly developed Japanese market for the pharmaceutical sector and, for the first time ever, Japan has committed to give the same treatment for Indian generics as its domestic industry, the release said.

Apart from this, Indian agricultural produce, including instant tea and seafood, will find their way into the Japanese market. Textile products, including readymade garments, stand to gain significantly in terms of market access. The Japanese side have also lowered their tariffs for petrochemicals and chemical products, jewellery and cement, it said.

According to the release, in the services sector, India has obtained considerable concessions including commitments for providing greater access for contractual suppliers, professionals such as accountants, researchers, tourist guides and management consultants who will now be able to provide their services in Japan.

Japan has also committed to cover not only computer engineers but a whole range of engineering services such as mechanical, electrical, construction, industrial, design engineers and project management specialists. For the first time ever, Japan has agreed to grant additional category of instructors for yoga practitioners, classical musical and dance practitioners, chefs and English language teachers.

The agreement also envisages the conclusion of a social security agreement within three years and the negotiations have commenced in January 2011. The negotiations are also on for creating greater openings for Indian nurses and care givers. For bilateral investment, India has committed to the current national policy on foreign investment and this signals the greater participation of Japanese investors in the Indian economy. Similarly, the agreement also covers intellectual property rights for the first time and the parameters of our commitments on these are circumscribed by national legislation and agreement in trips.

In his meeting with Mr Maehara, Mr Sharma set a target of doubling bilateral trade to $ 25 billion by 2014 and reiterated his suggestion for establishment of a Joint Revolving Fund of $ 9 billion for kick-starting the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) Project.

Later in the day, Mr Sharma had bilateral discussions with Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Investment Banri Kaieda.

The two Ministers reviewed the entire spectrum of bilateral trade and investments relations and agreed that there would be significant enhancement in Japanese investment and technology collaboration, especially in infrastructure and value added manufacturing.

The two Ministers also addressed a Business-Government Dialogue, which has emerged out of the suggestion by Japanese Prime Minister at the Summit in October, 2010. This dialogue focused on the progress of DMIC Project and greater SME collaboration.

Mr Sharma also addressed CEOs from India and Japan at a business event organized jointly by CII and Nippon Keidanren.

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India, Japan to sign Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement on Wednesday

Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma meeting the Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, in Tokyo on February 15, 2011.
Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Anand Sharma meeting the Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, in Tokyo on February 15, 2011.

India and Japan will sign a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in Tokyo tomorrow as part of the efforts by both countries to forge even closer business and economic ties.

The agreement will be signed by Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who is currently in Tokyo on a two-day visit, and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, an official statement said here today.

Mr Sharma called on Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Tokyo today during which the latter expressed satisfaction on the conclusion of negotiations for CEPA.

Mr Kan underscored the significance of Indo-Japanese technology collaboration for research and innovation. He called for a partnership in development of India’s infrastructure, specifically referring to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project.

Mr Sharma highlighted the importance attached by India to the DMIC project, which has now moved to the stage of implementation.

The project will see investments of over $100 billion and is being seen as a flagship initiative of Indo-Japan partnership.

Mr Sharma proposed the establishment of a revolving fund of $ 9 billion with matching contribution from the Indian and Japanese sides to kickstart the implementation process.

The Japanese Prime Minister agreed to enhance the financial contribution of Japan and was positively receptive to the suggestion. Mr Sharma urged for greater Japanese investments in areas of core infrastructure and capital goods equipment including power generation, where he said Japanese companies had a technological edge.

During the 20-minute long meeting, Minister Sharma said India viewed a partnership with Japan as a "strategic engagement" in the region and in the global context. This would be central to the vision of Asian integration articulated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Mr Sharma is accompanied on the visit by a high-level official delegation including the Commerce Secretary and a CII CEOs' delegation led by CII President Hari Bharatia.

Tomorrow, Mr Sharma is due to hold substantive bilateral meetings with Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Investment Banri Kaieda.

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India urges international community to focus on promoting development for all

External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna at the UN Security Council meeting at New York on February 11, 2011.
External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna at the UN Security Council meeting at New York on February 11, 2011.

India has called upon the international community to focus on promoting development for all by encouraging economic activity and enhancing their livelihood security.

"Unevenness of the development process and disparities prevailing on a regional, national and global scale feed into a vicious cycle," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said in a statement at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in New York on Friday on "Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Interdependence between Security and Development".

"The international community, over the past two decades, has invested a large amount of human and material capital in peacekeeping operations and in peace building initiatives. Our collective experience in dealing with these conflicts shows that without peace, development suffers. At the same time, lack of development and of prospects for economic progress create fertile ground for violence and instability, which further sets back development," he said.

In a minor faux pas, Mr Krishna began his address by inadvertently reading out the first few paras of the speech of the Portuguese Foreign Minister, who had spoken just before him and copies of which had been distributed at the meeting. A copy had been placed on top of the Indian Minister's prepared text, which he failed to notice.

It is only after going through the salutations and other courteous references that the Indian delegation realised the mistake and the Minister moved to his own prepared text.

Asked about this, a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said the initial parts of all formal addresses contain salutation and courteous references.

"While addressing the UNSC yesterday, External Affairs Minister used such expressions from the address of the previous speaker before moving to his prepared text for substantive remarks. The Minister went on to make a well-received statement where he highlighted the relevance of the Indian success story to international efforts to meet the challenges of development, peace and security," the spokesperson added.

India has returned as a non-permanent member of the UNSC after 19 years, during which the country has transformed completely, Mr Krishna said.

"We believe that an effective and efficient Security Council is in our common interest and we will work towards strengthening it," he said.

Mr Krishna said India brought to the table almost 60 years of experience in overcoming many of the challenges of transforming a colonial legacy into a modern dynamic nation of a billion people who are trying to meet their aspirations within a democratic system dedicated to the rule of law.

"India has taken significant steps designed to accelerate the range and depth of welfare and social justice programmes. In recent years, these include the assurance of 100 days of employment to every person living in rural areas, the enactment of the Right to Information Act helping our citizens to become more aware and the Right to Education to help every Indian to share in the benefits of the country's economic progress and also to contribute to it, the initiative for reservation for women in Parliament and in state legislatures to ensure equal partnership of women in our progress and the increase in reservation for women to 50 per cent in local bodies," he said.

External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna meeting the Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado at New York on February 11, 2011.
External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna meeting the Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado at New York on February 11, 2011.

He said development had to be accompanied by inclusivity and tolerance. He said the lessons of inclusivity could also be applied to international efforts in the maintenance of peace and security.

"The process of implementing a peace agreement must run along with the provision of humanitarian and emergency assistance, resumption of economic activity, and the creation of political and administrative institutions that improve governance and include all stakeholders, particularly the weak and underprivileged," he said.

Mr Krishna said the international community needed to ensure a predictable and enhanced flow of resources.

"It is instructive to note that the peacekeeping budget of the UN, which is about $ 8 billion annually, is more than the combined budgets of UNDP and UNICEF. It is obvious that development expenditures need to be enhanced greatly if they are to make a dent on security problems.

"We also need to ensure that collective security mechanisms intersect with our collective efforts for economic progress to mitigate the causes of persistent insecurity at a global level," he said.

He said the international community could encourage, motivate and facilitate, but it could not impsoe solutions. "The temptation to create a new orthodoxy, of talking down rather than of listening, must be avoided at all costs," he said.

Mr Krishna said no country had contributed as many peacekeepers to as many peacekeeping operations as India.

"Our peacekeepers have been early peacebuilders. We are also committed to contribute, bilaterally and multilaterally, to development initiatives. To this end, we are working through the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) mechanism, with the African Union and with regional African groupings to promote South-South perspectives on development and security," he said.

He said the international structure for maintaining peace and security and peacebuilding needed to be reformed. "Global power and the capacities to address problems are much more dispersed than they were six decades ago. The current framework must address these realities," he said.

Mr Krishna said India understood the expectations that accompanied its Council membership.

"We are acutely conscious of the need for effective coordination between the P5 and the elected members, especially those whose credentials for permanent membership stand acknowledged. On issues concerning international peace and security, all of us are on the same page. I am happy to note that this process of closer cooperation is making headway," he said.

"In concluding, I would like to reaffirm India’s commitment to making its vast experience in over six decades of nation building available to global efforts towards greater development and improved security," he added.

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 Photos courtesy Ministry of External Affairs website

Thai foreign minister clarifies remarks on India


Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has informed Indian Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty that his remarks quoted in the media about India in the context of the Thai-Cambodian border clash were the result of insufficient information.


In a press statement, the Indian Embassy in Bangkok said the Thai foreign minister also expressed appreciation for the balanced and constructive position of India in this matter.


Thai media reports yesterday quoted Mr Kasit as saying at a meeting of a Thai Senate panel that "India, along with China and Russia, might have backed Cambodia's aggression against Thailand" on February 4.


Mr Piromya conveyed to the Indian Ambassador that the remarks were a result of insufficient information, the Indian Embassy statement last night said.


"India has close and friendly ties with both Thailand and Cambodia. It urges both sides to show restraint, prevent any further clashes and settle their dispute peacefully through dialogue," the statement added.


Meanwhile, the Thai foreign ministry in a statement said it was determined to resolve the border issue by peaceful means.


"The Government and people of Thailand harbour no ill-will towards the people of Cambodia.


"The Royal Thai Government therefore, calls upon the citizens of both countries to exercise patience and restraint in the face of any provocation that could lead to tension and armed clashes between the two countries," the Thai statement added.


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South Asia has high rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity: World Bank report


South Asian countries are facing a health crisis with rising rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDS), a new World Bank report has warned.


It said these diseases disproportionately affect poor families, with possible side effects of disability and premature death, and worsening poverty as people pay for medical treatment out of their own pockets.


According to the report?Capitalizing on the Demographic Transition: Tackling Non-communicable Diseases in South Asia?heart disease in the region is now the leading cause of death in adults aged 15-69, and South Asians suffer their first heart attacks six years earlier than other groups worldwide.


A World Bank press release said a recent study of 52 countries from all over the world, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, found that South Asians were six years younger (53 vs. 59 years) than those in the rest of the world at their first heart attack and had high levels of risk factors, such as diabetes and high lipids and low levels of physical activity and healthy dietary habits.


"This unfair burden is especially harsh on poor people, who, after heart attacks, face life-long major illnesses, have to pay for most of their care out of their savings or by selling their possessions, and then find themselves caught in a poverty trap where they can’t get better and they can’t work," the report's co-author Michael Engelgau, a World Bank Senior Public Health Specialist on secondment from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.


Dr Engelgau said that low birth weight—common among poor families in the eight countries of South Asia—was an important risk factor for NCDs in adults and that multiple risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and glucose, frequently occur in the same person.


The report said that, with average life expectancy in South Asia now at 64 years and rising, people were getting older without the better living conditions, healthier nutrition, rising incomes, and access to good healthcare that benefitted older people in developed countries in previous decades.


As a result, South Asians are becoming more vulnerable to heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and obesity, and are creating significant new pressures on health systems to treat and care for them, it said.


Although the region has recorded yearly average growth of 6 per cent over the last 20 years and reduced poverty rates, this performance has not been inclusive or fast enough to significantly reduce poverty and the risk factors for ill-health for the poor.


"South Asia is at a crossroads with rising inequality; poor people struggling to get access to quality health, education, and infrastructure service; a growing share of the population aging unhealthily; and with health systems that are failing to adjust to people’s needs," Mr Michal Rutkowski, the World Bank’s South Asia Director for Human Development, said.


Given existing health financing patterns in many low- and middle-income countries, Mr Rutkowski said that the costs associated with chronic NCDs were likely to weigh more heavily on those least able to afford them, increasing the risk of economic loss and impoverishment.


The poorer a country is, the more likely it that poor people will end up paying for their medical treatment themselves, he said.


"Tackling NCDs in South Asia early on with better prevention and treatment would significantly spare poor people the crushing burden of poor health, lost earnings, deepening poverty, and the risk of disability and premature death, which are becoming all too common in the changing demographics of the region," Mr Rutkowski said.


The report encourages the eight countries of South Asia to adopt and carry out a number of country and regional approaches to reduce both unhealthy risk factors in their general populations and control heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and other NCDs.


It said harmonizing health policies and strategies at a regional level boosted effective NCD prevention and control efforts, especially for tobacco and food.


"Indeed, failure to harmonize on tobacco may cause harm because the tobacco industry tends to target its marketing efforts at countries with fewer restrictions and where tobacco is taxed less and is easier to buy. Marketing from countries with fewer restrictions can therefore affect neighboring countries with more restrictive policies. Also, countries with low cigarette prices relative to their neighbors increase the incidence of smuggling," it said.


Expanding and harmonizing tobacco advertising bans through collective bargaining with media companies for advertising, and industry for tobacco labeling, would give countries more leverage, it said.


Most countries ban tobacco advertising for national media, though rarely try to with international media viewed within their borders. Standardizing and mandating food labeling policies would provide a much stronger negotiating position for countries vis-à-vis the food industry, as well as economies of scale (similar labels can be used for several countries).


Regional food labeling can also help local governments and their communities manage their rising obesity problems, through increasing awareness of calorie content, and, possibly, complement awareness campaigns for healthy foods, it said.


The report called for collaboration on group purchasing of essential medications. Increasing access and affordability of essential medications means that the negotiating power of drug procurement units would increase (especially in smaller countries), and bulk purchasing would reduce costs and help assure sufficient supplies, it pointed out.


It also suggested the establisment of a health technology assessment institution. It would be difficult for a single country to create and run such a body, yet a regionally funded and managed institution could provide critical guidance on policy development for intervention and treatment at the country level.


The report said regional education and training capacity should be synergized. With perennial shortages of trained medical staff, and the considerable "brain drain" effect of migrating doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, sharing NCD education and training capacity at the regional level is an attractive option, it stressed.


The report also recommended the establishment of a regional network of surveillance and burden assessment. Such a network would benefit from cross-country learning. It would also carry out a range of surveys across the region and from the collective bargaining with institutions that conduct such surveys, it added.


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Local employee of Indian consulate in Jalalabad escapes from abductors

A local employee of the Consulate General of India (CGI) in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, who was abducted from near his home on February 5 evening managed to escape yesterday morning, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs said here today.


In response to queries about the incident, the spokesperson, Mr Vishnu Prakash, said that the employee had suffered bullet injuries in the incident.


He said a search and rescue operation was immediately mounted by the Afghan authorities and the abductors were eventually located, in an area near Jalalabad.


"While a police operation was underway to secure his release, the employee managed to escape on 8th morning. He is currently being treated for his injuries. All possible assistance will be rendered to him by the CGI," Mr Prakash said.


"An investigation is currently ongoing. At this stage precise details of the abduction, search and rescue operation and identity or motive of the abductors are not available," he said.


The spokesperson expressed India's deep gratitude and appreciation to the Afghan authorities, especially Governor Gul Agha Sherzai of Nangarhar province, the Chief of Police and the Ministry of Interior in Kabul, for the professionalism, seriousness and alacrity, with which they acted against the abductors.


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UNESCO mission to assess damage to Hindu temple caused by Thai-Cambodian clashes


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organsation (UNESCO) has said that it planned to send a mission to assess the damage caused to the Preah Vihear Temple, a World Heritage site, by the recent armed clashes between Thailand and Cambodia.


The temple, which dates back to the 11th century, is located on the Cambodian side of the border. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO in July 2008.


UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on Tuesday reiterated her call for calm and restraint around the temple.


"World Heritage sites are the heritage of all humanity and the international community has a special responsibility to safeguard them. This requires a collective effort that must be undertaken in a spirit of consultation and dialogue," she said in a news release.


"Heritage should unite people and serve as an instrument of dialogue and mutual understanding and not of conflict," she said.


The temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is composed of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases over an 800-metre-long axis. The site is exceptional for the quality of its carved stone ornamentation and its architecture, adapted to the natural environment and the religious function of the temple, according to UNESCO.


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India reducing sensitive lists to boost trade among SAARC members: Krishna

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna addressing the 33rd Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers at Thimphu in Bhutan on February 8, 2011.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna addressing the 33rd Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers at Thimphu in Bhutan on February 8, 2011.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna today said that India was taking steps to reduce its sensitive lists, especially for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), to help boost trade in the South Asian region and hoped this would encourage others to respond, too.

"I am pleased that trade under SAFTA is growing and has crossed $ 1.2 billion. This is, however, still well below its potential," he said in his opening remarks at the 33rd session of the Council of Ministers of SAARC as part of the Inter-Summit Session in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Mr Krishna said the signing of the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS) in Thimphu last year was a big step forward in broadening the scope of trade in SAARC from goods to also include services.

He noted that four SAARC Member States had already ratified SATIS and urged others who had not yet done so to take steps towards this end soon.

Mr Krishna said that, as SAARC completed 25 years of its existence, the need of the hour was to identify ways and means for the Association to become a more dynamic component of the larger Asian resurgence, characterized by increasing inter-linkages and growing inter-dependence.

"We are, of course, fully committed to the SAARC processes. There has been progress in various fields in SAARC but I am sure my colleagues will agree that we face a continuing challenge to implement our agreed decisions. We need to move faster in executing the plans of action," he said.

Mr Krishna said terrorism was a very serious challenge facing the entire South Asian region. In this regard, he referred to the decisions taken by the Third SAARC Home Ministers Meeting took place in Islamabad in June 2010, including the adoption of the Ministerial Statement on Cooperation against Terrorism.

Other significant decisions, on the guidelines for the SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme and Standard Operating Procedures to prevent trafficking in women and children, were also taken, he noted.

In the area of transport, he expressed happiness that a demonstration container train run was being planned, initially from Bangladesh to Nepal via India. He said this would hopefully show the potential for reducing freight costs in the region and give an impetus to trade. However, some forward movement is still required with respect to the two draft Agreements on Motor Vehicles and Railways for the enhancement of intra-regional connectivity in South Asia, he said, and hoped progress could be made with regard to them.

Mr Krishna said the proposed Agreement on Promotion and Protection of Investments would give a fillip to trade in the region and hoped it could be signed at the next SAARC Summit in the Maldives later this year

He said India also welcomed the work being done by SAARCFINANCE to promote greater cooperation among the Central Banks of our countries, especially with regard to monetary coordination and harmonization of banking rules.

Noting that member-states were taking necessary steps for tapping the vast potential in the tourism sector with due regard to its impact on society, culture and environment, he said promoting intra-regional tourism through collective efforts would also contribute towards the shared vision of building a common South Asian identity.

Mr Krishna expressed happiness over the progress achieved to establish the South Asian University in New Delhi. He said it was heartening that the University had started functioning from August 2010 and 50 students from all over the region were already studying at the University.

"I am also glad that in September 2010 the Steering Committee of the SAU finalized all the modalities of the University and plans are now in place to convene the first meeting of the Governing Board of the University. We look forward to greater participation of students and faculty from all across the region as we work together to make this University a world class institution that can contribute in a significant manner to the larger objectives of our association," he said.

The Minister said India looked forward to more projects being developed by different member-states for the benefit of people at the grassroots level in the region through the SAARC Development Fund (SDF). He said India would provide all necessary help to the SDF in furthering this institution for regional development.

He said India remained fully committed to enhancing the prosperity of South Asia through implementation of social development projects.

He said that projects funded by the Government of India in Tele-medicine, Tele-education, Rain Water Harvesting, Seed Testing Laboratories and Solar Rural Electrification were being implemented in some SAARC Member States.

Mr Krishna said it was heartening to see that Bhutan had presented a common position for SAARC at the COP16 in Cancun.

He also noted that SAARC was accorded Observer status to the UNFCCC Secretariat during COP16 and said this should spur the member-states to work more closely to identify ways and means to tackle the challenges facing the region in the areas of climate change and global warming.

"SAARC belongs to all the people of South Asia and we have to ensure that its processes are so focused," he said.

"Demonstrating our commitment to make SAARC a people-driven process, India organized a series of cultural events since we last met here in Thimphu. I am pleased to say that the participation of people from all over the region in these programmes of folklore, heritage and music made them a great success. Indian delegations also participated actively in cultural events organized by other Member States during this period," he said,

Mr Krishna expressed happiness that India's proposal to create a South Asia Forum for the exchange of ideas on the future development of South Asia had been endorsed by all members.

"We now look forward to the early nomination of members to the Steering Committee of the Forum and to hosting the first meeting of the Forum in India before the 17th SAARC Summit in the Maldives," he added.

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Indian, Pakistan Foreign Secretaries hold "useful, frank discussions"

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao held "useful and frank discussions" with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu, Bhutan on Sunday evening on ways of carrying foward the process of dialogue between the two countries.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao meeting her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir at Thimphu in Bhutan on February 6, 2011.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao meeting her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir at Thimphu in Bhutan on February 6, 2011.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao held "useful and frank discussions" with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu, Bhutan yesterday evening on ways of carrying foward the process of dialogue between the two countries.

"The Foreign Secretaries had useful and frank discussions on the steps required to be taken in this context," a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said.

"They agreed on the need for a constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues. They affirmed the need to carry forward the dialogue process. They will brief their respective Governments on their discussions," the statement added.

The meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes, was held on the sidelines of the 38th Session of the SAARC Standing Committee, which the two Foreign Secretaries were attending.

The discussions were in pursuance of the mandate given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani after their meeting in Thimphu in April last year and the meeting of External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had with his Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad in July, 2010.

This was the first high-level meeting between the two sides after the meeting between Mr Krishna and Mr Qureshi, which did not quite produce the expected results.

Yesterday's meeting came ahead of a likely visit by Mr Qureshi to India in the next few weeks to take forward the process of talks between the two countries to rebuilt trust and narrow differences on various issues.

The talks between the two Foreign Secretaries were aimed at preparing the ground for the meeting between Mr Krishna and Mr Qureshi.

Last month, Pakistan had said that Mr Qureshi's visit to India would take place if the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries could evolve a "comprehensive agenda" for the resumption of the stalled dialogue.

Ms Rao and Mr Bashir had last met on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York in September.

Dr Singh has repeatedly said that India would like to engage Pakistan in a dialogue and that there was no alternative to talking to Pakistan, keeping it engaged and sorting out outstanding issues.

Mr Krishna said last month that, during his visit to Islamabad in July last year, there were a number of issues on which there was similarity of thinking between the two countries.

He said that India was ready to resolve all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a peaceful dialogue. At the same time, India expected Pakistan to fulfil its repeated assurances that it would not allow territory under its control to be used for fomenting terrorism aimed against India and to bring the perpetrators of the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks to justice expeditiously.

(Photo: Courtesy Ministry of External Affairs website)

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Scindia opens India Show in Turkey, calls for strategic partnership between two countries

Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia inaugurating the India Show, in Istanbul, Turkey on February 3, 2011.
Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia inaugurating the India Show, in Istanbul, Turkey on February 3, 2011.

Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia inaugurated the "India Show" in Istanbul yesterday and said Turkey presented the most compelling imperative for India to develop a strategic partnership in diverse fields.

He said such a partnership could cover areas such as energy security, infrastructure development, automotives and engineering industry.

More than 160 engineering companies are participating in the four-day show being held at the Tuyap Fair, Convention and Congress Centre in Istanbul.

Prominent participants in the event include Tata Motors, Bajaj Precision, HMT International, Ramakrishna Forgings, Noida SEZ and Mahindra World City.

The Department of Science & Technology, Ministry of Tourism, Coffee Board and Tea Board as well as the State Governments of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are also represented at the show.

The exhibition has been organised jointly by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC).

Mr Scindia said the partnership between the two countries had to be viewed from an overarching perspective that draws on strategic, political and economic consideration.

He said India was making concerted efforts to extend co-operation in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caspian region. He said India and the European Union had established an institutionalized EU-India Strategic Partnership.

Further, India and Turkey have themselves set up a Joint Study Group to look at the feasibility of a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries, he pointed out.

Mr Scindia said Indo-Turkey co-operation had many nodal points. "There are immense possibilities for economic collaboration, joint projects and joint investments in our regions which are of common interest to both countries," he said.

At a bilateral meeting with his Turkish counterpart Nehat Ergun, the two sides pledged to take bilateral trade and economic cooperation beyond the set target of $ 5 billion by 2012.

The bilateral trade between Turkey and India, growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 27%, reached $ 3.14 billion in 2009-10 from $ 1.2 billion in 2005-06. The bilateral trade target is $ 5 billion by 2012 and $ 10 billion in the next 10 years.

Mr Scindia also inaugurated an India Evening in Istanbul today, which was attended by captais of Turkish industry.

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India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on fishing to discuss attacks on fishermen

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa at Colombo on January 31, 2011.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao with President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa at Colombo on January 31, 2011.

India today conveyed to Sri Lanka its deep concern at the recent violent incidents in the waters between the two countries, which had resulted in the death of two Indian fishermen.

Fishermen from Tamil Nadu who had survived the incidents said they had been attacked by men of the Sri Lankan Navy, though Colombo has denied its personnel were involved.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met top Sri Lankan leaders, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and senior officials in Colombo in this regard today.

During the talks, the two sides decided that the next meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fishing would be convened at an early date, which would, inter alia, address various issues related to fishing by the two sides.

The Joint Working Group would also address the proposed Memorandum of Understanding on development and cooperation in the field of fisheries, the two sides decided.

Among others, Ms Rao met Minister of External Affairs, Prof. G.L. Peiris, the Secretary to the President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and External Affairs Secretary C.R. Jayasinghe.

The two sides also decided to enhance and promote contacts between the fishermen’s associations on both sides, since such contacts have proved to be mutually beneficial, a joint statement issued after the talks said.

During the discussions, Ms Rao stressed that the recent incidents should be fully investigated and all steps taken to prevent their recurrence in future.

The Sri Lanka authorities emphasized in this regard that it is the consistent policy of Sri Lanka to treat in a humanitarian manner all fishermen, including those from the Indian fishing community, who cross into Sri Lanka waters.

Given the very close bilateral relationship between the two countries, any development which impacts on the wellbeing of the Indian fishing community pursuing their livelihoods in the waters between the two countries, is of the utmost concern to Sri Lanka, the statement said.

"The Government of Sri Lanka is therefore committed to ascertaining the facts behind the incidents. While continuing with further inquiries, the Sri Lankan authorities have requested that additional information be made available by the Indian side. Both sides agreed that the use of force cannot be justified under any circumstances," it said.

The two sides noted that the Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements of 26th October 2008, which had put in place practical arrangements to deal with bona fide fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), had led to a decrease in incidents.

They agreed on the need to discuss arrangements based on the current situation so as to strengthen the safety and security of the fishermen, the statement added.

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India identifies 10 areas for closer cooperation with Italy

Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma today called for closer cooperation with Italy in the field of infrastructure and identified ten areas where the two countries could work closer together.


At a bilateral meeting with Italian Minister for Economic Development Paolo Romani on the first day of his visit to Rome, Mr Sharma listed these areas as infrastructure, manufacturing, design & innovation, information and communication technology, leather, textile, agro-processing, pharma, tourism, training and automobiles.


He said Italy is an important trading partner for India and is in the top six trading partners in the European Union.


The two ministers agreed to form a Joint Business Council (JBC) managed by FICCI from India and CONFINDUSTRIA from Italy. The JBC will meet once a year coinciding with the bilateral ministerial meeting, an official press release said here.

Making a strong pitch for cooperation in the leather industry, Mr Sharma said that this was an important labour-intensive sector in which Italy already had a good presence. He said India was keenly interested in upgrading technology and skills in this area. Both sides agreed to hold a Leather Show at Milan next year.


The two ministers discussed about the importance of small and medium enterprises and agreed that training in this sector was an important area of cooperation.


Recognising the Italian strength in design, both the ministers agreed for linkages between Italian Design Institute and National Institute of Design in India.

Mr Sharma said that India’s National Manufacturing Policy would come out very soon and added that it aimed to raise the contribution of manufacturing from 16% to 24%. He also raised the simplification of visa procedure for business leaders and professionals. He said he would raise this issue with the Italian Foreign Minister when they meet tomorrow.


Mr Sharma mentioned that bilateral trade between the two countries touched $ 7.36 billion during January – November 2010 as compared to $ 6.75 billion in 2009.


He expressed hope that both Governments would work together to encourage bilateral investment flows. Italy ranks 12th in FDI approvals during April, 2000 to November, 2010. Total FDI inflows from Italy are $ 0.92 billion during this period.


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Obama greets Indians around the world on Republic Day

File photo of US President Barack Obama
File photo of US President Barack Obama

United States President Barack Obama today greeted Indians around the world on the country's 62nd Republic Day and said the enduring lessons of the day could inspire the two countries to see a future of greater prosperity and opportunity for both their peoples.

"On behalf of the American people, I send my best wishes to the people of India and to those here in the United States and around the world who are celebrating India Republic Day," he said in a statement here.

"Michelle and I were honored to visit India in November as India marked the 60th year of its democratic constitution. As I said then, the United States and India are not only the world's two largest democracies, we are two pluralistic societies that believe in the potential and dignity of every human being," he said.

Mr Obama said these were the beliefs that inspire the nearly three million Americans who can trace their roots to India – and all of whom enrich American society.

"And they are the beliefs that have led Prime Minister Singh and I to make the U.S-India relationship one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. As we go forward together, the enduring lessons of this Republic Day can inspire us to seek a future of greater prosperity and opportunity for both our peoples," he added.

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Kerala Tourism wins best stand award at FITUR, Madrid

Mr. M. Sivasankar, Director, Kerala Tourism receiving the award for the Kerala Tourism stand, at FITUR in Madrid, Spain on January 22, 2011. Also seen in the picture are Ms. Ana Larranage, Director - FITUR, Mr. Jose Manual Matineiras, President - FITUR, and Ms. Lourdes Sierra, Commercial Manager - FITUR.
Mr. M. Sivasankar, Director, Kerala Tourism receiving the award for the Kerala Tourism stand, at FITUR in Madrid, Spain on January 22, 2011. Also seen in the picture are Ms. Ana Larranage, Director - FITUR, Mr. Jose Manual Matineiras, President - FITUR, and Ms. Lourdes Sierra, Commercial Manager - FITUR.

Kerala Tourism won the award for the best international stand at FITUR, the second largest tourism exhibition in the world, which was held in Madrid, Spain from January 19-23.

A press release from Kerala Tourism said this was the first time that an Indian destination had won this prestigious award at FITUR.

The 58.5 sq. m. stand, centred on the backwaters of Kerala, was designed by Stark Communications Pvt Ltd, Thiruvananthapuram, the release said.

"We are overwhelmed by the response received at the fair. The simple, yet classy stand was a major crowd-puller and gave the Spanish trade an endearing taste of God's Own Country," Mr. M. Sivasankar, Director, Kerala Tourism, said after receiving the award.

The award, which is based on the design of the stand, its ability to attract visitors, materials utilized etc. and so on, is given to the best three international stands. Colombia and Portugal are the other international destinations which won the award this year.

"Our aim was to offer visitors an authentic experience of the land; and the backwaters, which is one of Kerala's most sought-after attractions, was a natural choice for the theme," said Mr. Shelton Pinheiro, Creative Director, Stark Communications.

Chinese fishing nets, country boats and lanterns added to the rustic charm of the stand built with eco-friendly materials.

Kerala Tourism regularly participates in major international trade fairs and Spain is one of the emerging markets for Kerala Tourism.

The Kerala team at the event also included four trade participants - CGH Earth, Pioneer Personalized Holidays, Isola Di Cocco and Travancore Heritage.

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