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Saeed Ajmal, the Pakistan offspinner, has been reported for a suspect bowling action. Asad Rauf and Asoka de Silva, the umpires for the second ODI between Pakistan and Australia in Dubai on Friday, said they had concerns over Ajmal's action and hence requested the ICC to review his action.

The third and fourth umpires Zameer Haider and Nadeem Ghauri were also part of a report submitted to the ICC in which it was stated that, having monitored Ajmal's action over two ODIs, there was reason it be scrutinised further under the relevant ICC process. The ICC will obtain three copies of the relevant footage, one of which will be kept by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

"Ajmal has played against four countries and nobody raised any finger on his action and suddenly this decision comes," Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam told AFP. "I think they [ICC] are lacking consistency in this process. He bowled exceptionally well and suddenly they decided that he has a problem with his action."

Alam said that Ajmal was "all right, not disappointed". "His morale is high and we will play him. No pressure on him as he is a gutsy young man and I hope he will take it lightly."

Ajmal's doosra is under scrutiny but Alam was confident of him being cleared. "Murali bowls such a delivery and he was cleared, Harbhajan was cleared, and there is no difference between these two and Ajmal. I don't agree that Ajmal bowls a different doosra, there is only one kind of doosra. Ajmal has hyper-mobility in his arm and I hope everything goes well for him."

Ajmal will undergo an independent analysis of his action by a member of the ICC panel of human movement specialists, appointed in consultation with the PCB. If his action remains suspect during the analysis, he faces a ban and will have to remedy his action.

If the analysis confirms the umpires' suspicions of only a specific delivery, Ajmal can continue to bowl in international cricket but faces a ban if reported again.


What’s In Store?

Breezy feel
Rocia has introduced a chic collection of summer footwear — Summer Breeze. The collection aims at sustaining a minimal chic and contemporary look and feel with sandals and flip flops for women in a wide range of colours and embellishments. It's got trendy ankle straps on every kind of sandal, including the flats; as well as sandals with ankle collars and cuffs. Rocia's men's range comprises of loafers, slip-ons, sandals, and flip-flops in a variety of colours; in soft durable leather with a high-density foam insole, and a rubber sole for traction completes the summer look. The collection is available in outlets all across India.

Price: Rs. 1099 onwards.



Speedo has launched its new Spring/Summer 2010 collections.

The new Originals collection:

The range features statement swimsuits in bright, primary colours, cute bikinis and retro-inspired swimsuits in summery prints and contrasting colours while relaxed apparel includes soft cotton t-shirts and shorts.

Speedo's Watershorts feature silicon dots on the side, making it easy to wipe hands clean and remove sand or sweat. Speedo has developed a fun range of five water-friendly beach games, including a lightweight frisbee designed using the latest technology to make it easy to catch and fold away, assorted balls and a paddle bat & ball game. Price: From Rs. 399 to Rs. 3499.

Learn to Swim Collection:

Learn to Swim collection features both swimwear and equipment created to help children develop their water skills and swimming techniques. Start Splashing, includes everything needed to take a baby to the pool, such as aqua nappies, swim seats and baby towels; Start Swimming features a range of buoyant swimming aids and products designed to help the child adopt the correct position in the water and begin swimming. Get Confident, helps children improve their swimming strokes and develop their technique with products including mini kick boards and dive rings and sticks.

Also featured is a range of colourful and practical junior footwear and swimwear for boys and girls and sun protection pieces.

Price: From Rs. 499 to Rs. 1999


Chanel Iman at Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring Summer

Chanel Iman at Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring Summer

Chanel Iman looks elegant and exquisite in her heavily-embroidered and beaded seafoam/turquoise dress by John Galliano for Christian Dior haute couture spring/summer...


Chanel Iman Absent at Victoria's Secret 2010

It's unfortunate that top model Chanel Iman missed the final lineup on this year's Victoria's Secret fashion show.
Some of the models who made this year's cut were: Heidi Klum, Alessandra Ambrosio, Maryna Linchuk, Karolina Kurkova, Sessilee Lopez, Selita Ebanks, Carmen Kass, Angela Lindvall and more.

Maybe next year, Chanel?

Read More......
Posted by Bryanboy at 9:54 AM 1 comments

Labels: victoria's secret


Being fashionable in Lahore

The first Lahore Fashion Week showed the city at its liveliest, belying every Pakistan cliché. The clothes, the collections, the pounding music had a rhythm like no other.

The e-mail says, ‘Please do not disclose the venue. Please carry your pass at all times’ – not for front row, for security. And days after arrival, troopers in black commando fatigues smile benevolently and follow us to and from the venue.

I am in Lahore. And this is the first Lahore fashion week. In a gated, high walled club, the tents – yes – there are tents in every part of the world, almost at every fashion week, have come up. There are swathes of black cloth, not so anorexic models and lots of wispy, and not so wispy, Dunhill smoke.

Everyone looks good, talks smooth, smells nice. One or two, to start with, look apprehensive. This is fashion of courage.

Attending a fashion week in Pakistan brings out the schizophrenic best in me. Should I ask if people are afraid? Should I applaud the resilience? Should I burst the bubble?

This is the unseen Pakistan. This is the Pakistan to break every Pakistan cliché. I am here to see the city of the restless night and in Lahore, Noor Rahman, with her kohl and cocky comeback, educationist and sushi and meethi pan connoisseur, opens doors to parties that last till 10.00 a.m., and says she wants to come to Delhi.

I ask, everyone, do you party to forget? Is the runway your escape route? There is no one answer to that.

Sadaf Malaterre, she of inescapable gentility and Sweeney Todd hair, makes dresses that slip by like Amelie in Wonderland. Her mischief dyes and delectable cut and fall elicit gasps, even applause, from that editor from hell, my acerbic dearest friend, Xpoze editor Andleeb Rana.

Sadaf tells me she is not sure how to react with the “Pakistan fashion defies Taliban” headlines. “This is my life. I wake up everyday. I go to work. I work hard. I come home. I try to have a nice life. I do not wake up every morning and think I am defying terrorists. I don't think anybody does.” And so they do.


What women want!

Touch, feel and own a piece of royalty at the expo

“Have you felt silk lately” Cadbury's hoarding in the city gets a befitting reply at the ongoing Silk Sutra exhibition at Kamma Sangham hall in Ameerpet.

One can have a glimpse or touch, feel and own a piece of royalty at the expo. The neatly arranged Maheshwari silk saris at a stall near the entrance have an interesting story to tell. As you admire the sheer delicacy and fine drape of the fabric, the woman manning the stall exclaims, “The border on the saris has been designed like the Maheswar fort. Earlier, queen Ahilya Bai got such saris created with an alluring design of the ‘qila' on the border. Such saris were her popular gifts.”

Delhi shines soft with its mogga, tussar and ghicha silk with a printed collection. Pure silk duppattas are priced here between Rs. 450 and Rs. 950.

Tussar silk is quite a common fabric but there is nothing like the range available at a stall from Champa. “This tussar variety is handmade and not from a machine,” says the salesman. Check out saris, plain material, dupattas and a range with tribal prints. There are stalls from different states with a rich collection of silk saris. However, it is not only silks oozing style as there is lot for college-going youngsters too.

Soak yourself in a stall from Belgaum and check out funky long chains, payal, bracelets, key chains, ear studs and small mirrors. Another alluring feature of this all-purpose variety (made of copper and silver) is that one can wear it with either a sari, salwar suit or a casual kurti and jeans. Also look out for bags (made of cotton and jute) priced at Rs. 200.

The exhibition is not just about what women want. As women go on a shopping spree, men can spend their time at a stall from Chattisgarh. Terrocata comes in the form of Lord Ganesha, tea cups and pen stands here. Decorative pieces like masks, deer, candle stands, ‘adivasi' music set can be ideal for your drawing room.


IPL franchises will recover their money: Modi

IPL franchises will recover their money: Modi
New Delhi: Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi did not expect Sunday's bidding to generate an amount so staggering but he assured the franchise owners that there is no reason why they cannot make a profit.

Sahara ($370 million) and Rendezvous ($333.33 million) paid a total of $703 million — nearly Rs. 3,235 crore — to bag the Pune and Kochi franchises respectively and the amount is bigger than the collective worth of Rs. 2,840 crore of the original eight franchises.


“I was indeed a little bit surprised by the amount. Honestly speaking, I thought the winning bid would be $300-320 million. So it was $40-50 million higher than my expectation. The bidders must have done their numbers well,” Modi said.

He, however, assured that the franchisees can make enough money out of the league.

“We are just two years old and every team that has been run well must be making profit. If not, they are probably marginally short of making profit,” he told the CNN-IBN channel.

Buttressing his case, Modi said, “Sports is one of the leading businesses of the world today. English Premier League, NFL, NBA, Spanish League, Bundesliga — these capture the imagination of the youth and the people. Build a strong base and your future is defined.

“We already have some pluses. Across the world, the major cost is of infrastructure and players' salary. Here you get the stadium pretty much free and there is a cap on players' salary as well,” Modi said.

“Merchandising and ticketing are two other revenue sources. The ticketing revenue of all teams have gone up six-seven fold. With YouTube and Google in the picture, fan base is increasing across the world,” Modi added.

With 10 teams in the fray, IPL, from its fourth season, will feature 94 matches and Modi felt the players can handle this much workload.

“See, you have 300 matches in IPL every season. I don't see any fatigue factor. Currently every team plays 14 matches, they will play 18 from next year. We are cutting down on the travelling. It's travelling which is the biggest issue, not playing matches,” Modi justified.

The IPL mastermind said time is not far when the Twenty20 league would be seen at par with NBA or NFL.


Firecracker in plane sparks scare

On high alert:Security personnel take positions at the Thiruvananthapuram airport complex after a firecracker was found in a Kingfisher aircraft which arrived from Bangalore on Sunday.

Thiruvananthapuram: A packet containing a firecracker was recovered from the rear cargo hold area of an aircraft that arrived at the international airport here from Bangalore on Sunday, sending security officials into a tizzy.

The firecracker, weighing 10 to 15 gm., was found wrapped in a Malayalam newspaper and bound with a string. It was detected by airline security officials during a routine check after the baggage was offloaded from the Kingfisher (KF 4731) aircraft. The flight with 27 passengers on board had arrived at 8 a.m.

The Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad took it to a cooling pit and made sure it was harmless.

The aircraft was taken to an isolated bay and subjected to a thorough security check by airline, airport and security officials. It was released around 3 p.m. after mandatory checks as per procedures, and left for Bangalore by 3.45 p.m.

Police officials said the firecracker might have been placed inside the aircraft at the originating point (Bangalore), possibly by the loaders who had access to the cargo hold.

City Police Commissioner M.R. Ajith Kumar and Deputy Commissioner (Administration) Jolly Cherian are leaving for Bangalore for further investigation.

Meanwhile, airport sources said security was beefed up in view of the incident. A review meeting is to be held on Monday. The city police also questioned the loaders engaged by the private agency that is handling the cargo of the airline.

Investigations initiated

K.V. Subramanya/Raghava M. report from Chikkaballapur/Bangalore:

The Central Industrial Security Force, responsible for security at the Bangalore International Airport (BIA), has initiated investigations into how the packet containing the firecracker reached the aircraft.

CISF commandant-in-charge of the BIA Digvijay Singh told The Hindu that the packet “looks like [a] firecracker wrapped in a newspaper.” As it was not connected to any detonator, the metal detector could have missed the object during the screening, he said.

Mr. Singh said the object could have reached the aircraft through the cargo hole or some passenger could have carried it in his personal baggage and the object could have slipped out and fallen in the aircraft.

Meanwhile, Bangalore Police Commissioner Shankar M. Bidari said as the aircraft was on a regular flight between Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram, it was not sure when the explosive material entered the rear baggage hold.


Love the hospital(ity)

The patient-friendly measures adopted by hospitals and clinics are popular with patients as it helps them conquer their fear

When three-year-old Armaan was advised a root canal treatment, his mother wondered how to make him agree for the anaesthesia, which needed to be injected on his gum. But Armaan does not dread the word hospital nor is he scared of the doctor now. In fact, he jumps with joy the moment his mom takes him to a hospital. Well, for one, his ‘armaan' to play gets fulfilled even in a hospital.

The sights, smells and even the sounds of a hospital can make even the toughest wince in queasiness. For long they have been associated with painful pricks, rough white-robed nurses and colourless white walls adorned with pictorial posters of either the human body or some disease.

Not anymore. Things are slowly changing with some hospitals creating an ambience to suit the palate of their clientele. Walls of children's hospitals adorn their popular comic icons Spiderman or Batman or even a Mermaid. Well, some even have play stations and igloos, something that the kids love.

Today, for most children, going to a hospital is akin to visiting a park or a playground with loads of fun elements incorporated into the design and interior décor of the hospital. Take Lotus Children Hospital for instance. Walk into the hospital and one gets completely transformed into a kids' world. Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria — the Madagascar characters welcome you. The longer the wait the better, for children get extra play time in the space station-themed waiting room in the hospital.

“All this is to keep the child distracted. Diagnosis is best when they speak. We talk and also play with them to gain their confidence. The white robe too is given a miss so that children consider us as ‘uncles' and not an injection wielding doctor,” says CEO, Dr. V.S.V. Prasad.

It is not just the ambience in these hospitals that make them unique. “It is also the friendly attitude of the staff that makes Lotus Hospital environments pleasant,” Dr. Prasad adds.

But it is not just children who need to be put at ease with their doctor. Adults too need this pleasant break.

At Oasis, a woman's clinic in Jubilee Hills, it's the décor and attitude of the doctors and staff that takes away the stress of the patients. “Waiting for your turn to see the doctor is like waiting for your turn at the hairstylist. You look forward to it. The place with its comfortable furniture, wallpapers, paintings, flowers and curtains completely relaxes you. The doctors too aren't in a hurry to prescribe medicines and show you the door,” says Pallavi Kumar, software professional. Pallavi's workplace is close-by and her colleagues who also go to the same clinic agree with her.

However, these facilities are not restricted to exclusive private clinics. At L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, unmindful of the bandaged eye a child is busy with an indoor coloured slide. When asked if the child wants to go back home, her mother says, “These things are new for her. In the village they don't get all this so she is very happy and wants to stay back here,” she smiles.

Play areas and plush interiors might not be a common thing. However, paintings substituting medical posters are a pleasant change.

“If need be we can explain stuff to patients, medical posters and diagrams at times confuse and scare the weak hearted. Paintings and soothing interiors on the other hand are chosen with the idea to relax the mind. Patients these days need to be carefully explained and told every detail about the procedures and treatment suggestion so that they don't imagine things. Delicate cases need special attention and that's what modern treatment is all about,” says gynaecologist Dr. Durga Rao.


What's your story?

Now your love story could be on your palm. Mehendi designers say sceneries or the love story of the couple as patterns is the latest trend for brides. Mehendi patterns change with every season. Madonna sported an Arabic pattern in her music video Frozen, making the pattern an instant hit with girls worldwide.

Then came the trend of mehendi tattoos, followed by the trend of black hena mehendi or mehendi with black borders. MehendiThen came the trend of kundan mehendi. mehendi So what's new? “I mostly do the Indian and Arabic patterns. For brides the patterns are always special. When customers started demanding new patterns, I started doing patterns to match their outfit. It could either be the pattern in the lehenga or the jewellery, says mehendi designer Jigna Mehta.

Jigna is now working on patterns to tell a short love story of the couple. “We draw abstracts like exchange of flowers, gifts or meeting of the couple in the garden. When girls ask for something more feminine the picture of a bride behind a veil with flowers being showered on her is what we mostly suggest,” says she.

The classic dulha-dulhan pattern too has been given a twist. Mehendi designers now do the pattern of a bride with a garland in hand or either sitting pretty with the veil on. With the wedding season on brides are doing a lot of brain-storming with friends on what should go in their hands, “I will be doing a scenery for my legs, on my palms I will have bride on a palanquin ,” says Aishwarya Rao, a lawyer.


Rich taste of Kerala

Food has always been an important part of the Syrian Christian home. Lathika George's The Suriani Kitchen gives you glimpses of another lifestyle.

Food, in any Syrian Christian home, is a lifestyle. And the rich, fertile land provided the community with not only vegetables and fruits but also spices. The lure of the spices was so strong that historical evidence has it that even before the time of Christ there were Greeks, Arabs, Romans, Jews and Chinese merchants trading with Kerala.

As Latika George, author of The Suriani Kitchen, says, “Meals are a celebration of the spices, herbs, seafood, meats, pulses, grains, nuts, and every edible leaf and seed that grows in this fertile land.”

Visits to Kerala bring to mind lush green paddy fields, waterways, rides in canoes, old tharavads and, of course, the food. The taste of “delicious food cooked in smoky country hearths” will remain with you a lifetime. The kappa-meen vevichathu, erachi olarthiathu, more kachiyathu, puttu, pal appam are some of the totally unforgettable items on the traditional menu.


South Africa marks 50th anniversary of massacre

People attend a memorial service in Sharpville, south west of Johannesburg, on the 50th anniversary of of a massacre on Sunday, that brought the country's black rights movements to the world's attention when 69 blacks were shot dead by the police for peacefully protesting apartheid laws
Family members of victims raised flowers to the sky and placed them on gravestones on Sunday as mourners sang songs from the anti—apartheid struggle to mark the 50th anniversary of a massacre that drew world condemnation.

Others used the Sharpeville massacre anniversary to highlight the inequalities that remain in the township a half century later, including poor delivery of electricity and running water.

At an early morning prayer meeting in Sharpeville’s Roman Catholic Church, an impassioned congregation raised their voices in song in the stained glass dawn light.

“All we could see were people falling down. It was like a storm ... bullets tearing their clothes,” the Rev. Mary Senkhane, recalled of her own experience on that day 50 years ago.

Police officers killed 69 black South Africans in Sharpeville, where people had gathered to protest the pass books that the white apartheid government required them to carry at all times. Police shot demonstrators including women and children as they ran away.

The Sharpeville massacre drew global condemnation of the ruthless treatment of South Africa’s disenfranchised black majority and led the apartheid government to outlaw the African National Congress party. The country’s first all-race elections were not held until 1994, and the ANC has governed South Africa ever since.

On Sunday, South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, laid flowers at the Garden of Remembrance, and spent time speaking with survivors and family members of massacre victims.

“We say never, never and never again will a government arrogate itself powers of torture, arbitrary imprisonment of opponents and the killing of demonstrators,” Mr. Motlanthe told a crowd of 5,000 who had gathered at a stadium. “In the same breath, we state that our democratic government undertakes to never ignore the plight of the poor, those without shelter, those without means to an education and those suffering from abuse and neglect.”

Many though wonder when the change they thought they were fighting for in 1960 will come to Sharpeville. Residents in recent weeks have set fire to tyres in the streets to protest a lack of basic city services.

Busisiswe Mbuli, 18, lives with her mother and four siblings in an informal settlement on the edge of Sharpeville. The floor of the family shack she lives in is bare earth and corrugated iron walls reveal large holes where rain and bitter winter winds can come through.

“We cannot live in these shelters. They are right next to the tar road, and the gas heating inside the shelter is not safe. And then there are the toilets. They are the worst,” she said.

Mr. Motlanthe called on Sunday for an end to the violent public protests: “The freedom we enjoy today in South Africa means we must exercise our responsibilities diligently, so that even those who are aggrieved by the slow pace of service delivery will not resort to burning public facilities such as libraries and schools.”

“The Deputy President has promised many things in his speech, but we are not sure if there will be results in our municipality,” said Isaac Ramuheshi, a Sharpeville resident in the stadium. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Sixteen years after the end of apartheid, many black South Africans feel that they have not benefited from the economic growth that has made many government and ANC officials rich.

President Jacob Zuma, a popular figure among the poor, has promised to speed up delivery of houses, clinics, schools, running water and electricity as well as create jobs. But he also has acknowledged the difficulties of doing so amid the global recession.

Sunday’s 50th anniversary of the massacre was largely celebratory yet peaceful, despite concerns that commemoration activities could be interrupted with demonstrations.

At the cemetery, neat concrete slabs mark the graves of the 69 massacre victims amid rows of mismatched tombstones covered with unkempt grass and faded artificial flowers. Hundreds of people assembled on Sunday to pay their respects.

“Sleep well. We have forgiven those who did this to you,” Ma Phethane murmured as she laid a small bouquet on the gravestone of her grandfather, who was killed when she was just 15.


China set to export trains for Mumbai Metro Rail project

China is set to export its domestically built trains for the first time for Mumbai's Metro Rail project, officials said on Sunday.

A fleet of 18 trains, custom-made for the conditions and track requirements of Mumbai's new subway system, which is scheduled to open later this year, are nearing completion in the eastern city of Nanjing. The trains were recently inspected by the Mumbai Metro Rail project officials.

The CSR Nanjing Puzhen Rolling Stock company signed a deal in Mumbai in May 2008 to supply 18 trains for the new subway system. The deal, worth around $100 million, is the biggest-ever contract for underground trains signed by a Chinese firm.

Zhao Dabin, the company's vice-president, said the trains had to be specially designed to suit conditions in Mumbai, taking into account high humidity as well as possible over-crowding. “Mumbai is a populous coastal city that is consistently hot and humid. This train has been built to be waterproof, shock-resistant and insulate noise,” he told the official China Central Television.

Huang Wenjie, a designer at the company, said Chinese engineers faced many challenges in designing the train to suit Mumbai's requirements. Unlike trains used in local rail networks in China, stronger steel was used for this fleet, he said, as they expected the trains in Mumbai to require a larger passenger capacity. The fully-automated trains are also designed to withstand the brunt of the Mumbai summer, and can run at temperatures up to 55 degrees Celsius.

Surjit Madan, vice-president of Mumbai Metro One Private Limited, who along with a group of officials inspected the trains in Nanjing last week, told the State media that he was satisfied with the design. “[The Chinese engineers] had never done a stainless steel car body, so it was a big challenge for CSR Nanjing. But they have done it very well,” he said.


Bigotry at Tea Party protest

Tea Party Demonstrators on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, March 20, 2010During a protest over the weekend, organised by the conservative Tea Party movement, crowds attacked Democratic members of Congress present on the scene with racist slurs and abuses over sexual orientation, revealing an ugly side of the political polarisation in the United States.

The protests, centred around the healthcare reform Bill that Congress was scheduled to vote on, turned hostile as members of the Congressional Black Caucus were leaving the Longworth House office building from across the Capitol.

According to a member of staff for Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, Representative John Lewis of Georgia was subjected to racist slurs, a derogatory term relating to sexual orientation was hurled at Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, an openly gay Congressman, and Representaive Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri was spat on by a protestor.

In a statement to the Huffington Post Mr. Clyburn said: “It was absolutely shocking to me… Fifty years ago as of last Monday... I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina... And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since… March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus.” Mr. Clyburn said that he had told one heckler that he was “the hardest person in the world to intimidate, so they better go somewhere else”.

He went on to add: “A lot of us have been saying for a long time that much of this … is not about healthcare at all. A lot of those people today demonstrated that this … is about trying to extend a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.”

In a similar vein, Mr. Frank was reported to have said: “I'm disappointed with the unwillingness to be civil … I was … surprised by the rancour. What it means is obviously the healthcare Bill is proxy for a lot of other sentiments, some of which are perfectly reasonable, but some of which are not.”

According to reports the Capitol police escorted the members of Congress into the Capitol after the confrontation. At least one demonstrator was reported arrested in connection with the spitting incident, though a spokesman for Mr. Cleaver was reported as saying that he would not be pressing charges.

Speaking on CNN's State of the Union programme on Sunday, Democrat John Larson and Republican Mike Spence, both from the House of Representatives, condemned the incident.

The Tea Party movement, which rose into prominence last year, is a fiscally conservative political group whose primary appeal was its opposition to the stimulus package of 2009 and expansionary social welfare policies such as healthcare reform.


“Koirala's death has complicated ongoing efforts for peace in Nepal”

With the death of the former Nepalese Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, India should move away from engaging with personalities in Kathmandu and reach out to the entire spectrum of Nepal's political parties including the Maoists, feel former diplomats and strategic analysts.

“GP's death has definitely complicated the ongoing effort to ensure peace and stability in Nepal. But it must be said two factors undermined his potential for contributing to the process. The first was his health and the second his autocratic leadership style. However, he still had the ability to cajole and persuade other leaders and even the Maoists,” observed the former envoy to Nepal, K.V. Rajan.

“Girija Babu stood as a solid rock between the Maoists and Madhav Nepal's fragile and ragtag coalition government. His departure may precipitate a serious crisis of survival for this government and, in turn, also improve the prospect of a national coalition, headed most likely by the Maoists, to emerge. There are people and forces, both within and outside Nepal, which do not prefer this and may resist it but such a coalition will re-energise Nepal's otherwise derailed peace process and bring it to its logical conclusion,” noted strategic analyst S.D. Muni.

“Nepal is at a crucial juncture. GP's presence would have been crucial and helpful especially when the NC [Nepali Congress] has de facto split into several factions and there is the possibility of no one leader emerging to keep the party together,” Mr. Rajan said.


Obama makes final appeal ahead of healthcare vote

US President Barack Obama has rallied the support of Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill ahead of a crucial vote on sweeping healthcare reform.

Urging them to back the measure in a House vote expected in the coming hours, he said: "Let's get this done."

Democratic leaders have spent days working to get the 216 votes needed to pass the highly-contested bill.

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he believed the party now had the necessary support.

Senior House Democrats have decided on a direct vote to pass a Senate version of the reform bill, rather than using a procedural measure that would have "deemed" it passed without a vote.

Is this the single most important step that we have taken on health care since Medicare? Absolutely

US President Barack Obama

Full text of speech
Q&A: US healthcare reform
Your views on healthcare reform
And Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured House lawmakers he had the "commitment of a significant majority" in the Senate to pass the next stage of the legislation, amending that bill with changes the House wants.

However, Democratic leaders can't be certain of victory, says the BBC's Mark Mardell in Washington.

If passed, the reforms will deliver on Mr Obama's top domestic priority by providing insurance to some 32 million of the Americans who currently lack coverage.

The Republicans are unanimously opposed to the legislation, which they say is unaffordable and represents a government takeover of a large part of the country's economy.

In the party's weekly radio address, House Republican leader John Boehner criticised what he said were tax increases and cuts in some benefits to pay for the bill, saying: "This is not reform."

Protesters opposed to the Democrats' proposals demonstrated outside the Capitol building in Washington, waving placards and chanting "kill the bill".


French regional polls may step up pressure on Sarkozy

French voters are going to the polls in the final round of regional elections.

In the first round a week ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party received one of its lowest scores in decades.

The UMP won just over a quarter of the vote, while the opposition Socialists, combined with other Leftist parties, took 50%.

A poll now suggests that 57% of people would like to see a change of government after these regional polls.

Although these elections are meant to be about regional issues such as public transport, high unemployment and resentment over plans to reform several sectors including the judicial and pension systems have prompted many French people to use their ballot to punish the government.

In the first round ballot less than half of France bothered to vote - and that cost President Sarkozy's right-wing party dearly.

Sarkozy saw a disappointing UMP showing in the first round
Many people here are angry that his election promises - to make ordinary people richer and to make France more competitive - have failed to come good.

With three million people currently out of work, France is now suffering its highest level of unemployment in decades, while a series of unpopular reforms has prompted numerous strikes and protest over recent months.

The opposition Socialists, who already control 20 out of the country's 22 regional councils, have paired up with other Leftists parties and Europe Ecologie - the Greens - for the second round and look certain to keep their lead.

The governing party has been further weakened by a strong showing for the far-right National Front party, despite efforts by the UMP to attract their voters with hard-line policies on immigration and law and order.

A recent poll now suggests that 57% of people would like to see a change of government after these regional elections.


Volcano erupts near Eyjafjallajoekull in south Iceland

Several hundred people have been evacuated from their homes, as a volcano erupted in southern Iceland.

The volcano near the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier began to erupt shortly after midnight, leading to road closures in the area.

No one was in immediate danger, but 500 people were being moved from the area, a civil protection officer said.

It is almost 200 years since a volcano near Eyjafjallajoekull, 120km (75 miles) east of Reykjavik, last erupted.

"We estimate that no one is in danger in the area but we have started an evacuation plan and between 500 and 600 people are being evacuated," Sigurgeir Gudmundsson of the Icelandic civil protections department told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

There are fears that the volcano could cause flooding, as it causes ice to melt on the glacier above it.

"Ash has already begun to fall in Fljotshlid and people in the surrounding area have reported seeing bright lights emanating from the glacier," RUV public radio said on its website.

"It was a bit scary, but still amazing to see," Katrin Moller Eiriksdottir, who lives in Fljotshlid, told the BBC News website.

"The ash had started falling and we couldn't leave the car. They have now closed the road but we'll see what happens in the morning."

Three Icelandair flights, bound for Reykjavik from the United States, have been ordered to return to Boston, RUV radio reported, and much of Icelandic air space is a no-fly zone.

The last volcanic eruption in the area occurred in 1821.


UN chief says Gaza suffering under Israeli blockade

The UN chief has said Israel's blockade of Gaza is causing "unacceptable suffering," during a Middle East visit to reinvigorate the peace process Ban Ki-moon told Gazans that "we stand with you" as he visited an area damaged by Israel's offensive 14 months ago.

His visit to the region comes amid tension over Israel's plans to build more settlements in East Jerusalem.

Rebuilding is difficult due to a lack of building materials during the three-year blockade.

Israel imposed a tightened blockade after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007.

Speaking in Gaza, Mr Ban said families were living under "unacceptable, unsustainable conditions".

Mr Ban said it was "distressing" for him to see damage to housing remaining, with no reconstruction possible under the blockade.

The blockade has prevented the UN from completing housing projects, but Mr Ban pledged to continue providing aid to Gazans.

"My message to people of Gaza is this: the United Nations will stand with you through this ordeal," he said.

'Path of non-violence'

Among a list of criticisms of the blockade by Israel and Egypt, Mr Ban said the blockade was counter-productive as it prevented legitimate commerce and encouraged smuggling and extremism.

Mr Ban urged all Gazans to "choose the path of non-violence, Palestinian unity and international legitimacy".

He also called for a prisoner exchange involving Palestinian prisoners and Israeli soldier Gilat Shilad who was captured by militants in 2006.

His two-day visit is aimed at restarting the peace process, and comes just ahead of a visit by US special representative George Mitchell on Sunday to try to get indirect talks going between the Israelis and Palestinians.

We will continue to build in Jerusalem as we have done for 42 years

Benjamin Netanyahu
The international community last week strongly condemned Israel's announcement of planning permission for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967.

Ahead of Sunday's Israeli cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said settlement building would continue.

"The policy of construction in Jerusalem is the same as in Tel Aviv.

"We will continue to build in Jerusalem as we have done for 42 years," he said, according to AFP news agency.


Mr Netanyahu is to travel to Washington on Sunday, where he is expected to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and possibly President Barack Obama.

Also on Sunday, the Israel army said soldiers shot dead two Palestinians who tried to stab a soldier at a checkpoint in the West Bank.

The soldier was on a routine patrol near a security crossing southeast of Nablus.

The deaths bring to four the number of Palestinians killed in the past two days in the occupied West Bank.

A Palestinian teenager was shot dead during clashes near Nablus on Saturday. A second person shot on Saturday died of his injuries on Sunday, West Bank medical officials said.
The army said no live bullets were fired, only tear gas and rubber bullets..


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