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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Campaigning in Tamil Nadu, Kerala at fever pitch

With just a day left for the campaign to end for April 13 assembly polls in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, electioneering has reached a feverish peak with national leaders descending on the state and regional leaders launching an all-out effort to woo the voters.
While true colours of canvassing in the festival of polling -- graffiti, and other paraphernalia that come attached were missing due to Election Commission’s strict regulations, leaders are making sure they reach out to people.
Loudspeakers have fallen silent following EC norms while relatively clean walls sans posters seem to add to the lacklustre campaign.
As the campaign for the April 13 polls to Kerala Assembly draws to a close, the question dominating the highly polarised scene is which way the wind will blow as no wave is palpable in favour of either the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF or the Congress-headed UDF.
Campaign in Tamil Nadu
Both DMK president Karunanidhi and his arch-rival and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa are contesting from constituencies of nativity and bank on this factor to see them through the hustings.
Mr. Karunanidhi is confident his “son-of-the-soil” tag will send him to the Assembly from Thirvarur for a 12th time while Ms. Jayalalithaa is seeking votes as a “sister” of the local voters in Srirangam. Her ancestors hail from the temple town.
The two leaders have hit the hot campaign trail with Ms. Jayalalithaa covering a significant distance by road and air everyday even as Mr. Karunanidhi is braving old-age in an effort to match up with his much younger rival.
Aiming her guns at DMK, Ms. Jayalalithaa has charged it with being involved in dynasty rule or family politics which was rebuffed by DMK Treasurer and Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, saying his father Karunaindhi considers “all Tamils as his family members”.
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have already visited the state to seek votes for performance while opposition AIADMK-led combine is asking people to consider ‘misdeeds’ of ruling DMK on issues like price-rise and inflation, illegal sand mining and power cut.
Spectrum allocation scam
The 2G spectrum allocation scam issue, seen as an embarrassment to DMK with its leader A. Raja jailed for his alleged role, and ruling party’s first family members including Ms. Kanimozhi being interrogated by CBI, has not much reverberated in rural pockets.
However, this campaign seems to belong to DMDK leader Vijayakant for all his antics and popular comedian Vadivelu seen as DMK’s trump card in its effort to woo voters, especially in rural seats.
Actor-politician Vijayakant grabbed headlines when he allegedly assaulted his own party candidate in public view after the latter corrected him for getting his name wrong. He ran into further controversy when once he reportedly got the symbol of CPI, a constituent of AIADMK-led alliance, wrong.
He then skipped the joint rally of the AIADMK combine in Coimbatore attended by the likes of top Left leaders, Prakash Karat (CPI-M) and A B Bardhan (CPI) and TDP Chief N. Chandrababu Naidu.
Popular comedian Vadivelu, a household name in terms of fan following, has turned out to be a crowd-puller for the DMK.
The actor, known for his colloquial dialogue and funny one-liners, doesn’t hesitate to involve the crowds in his address and was even seen shaking a leg to local music.
His mimicking of Vijayakant, considered to be a rival due to some tiff as colleagues in Tamil cinema industry, has been his main focus which seems to give the crowd a hearty laugh.
Senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi are scheduled to seek votes for the saffron party, contesting by its own in nearly 200 of the 234 Assembly seats.
Star power has also come to dominate the campaign scene with actors Khushboo, Bhagyaraj, Union Minister D. Napolean (all DMK), Hema Malini and Smriti Irani (BJP) all campaigning for their respective parties.
No palpable wave in Kerala
As the campaign for the April 13 polls to Kerala Assembly draws to a close, the question dominating the highly polarised scene is which way the wind will blow as no wave is palpable in favour of either the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF or the Congress-headed UDF.
Each side, however, claims that the “under currents” are flowing their way as vast majority of voters are keeping their choice close to their chest.
Before the poll dates were declared, a feeling was strong and widespread that UDF would make a clean sweep as the state has a reputation of alternating between the two coalitions every five year.
The sterling performance of the Congress and its allies in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the civic elections last year gave credence to this thinking.
LDF, UDF campaign
During the campaign, however, the LDF has taken the battle to even the UDF strongholds across the state with Chief Minister and CPI(M) warhorse V.S. Achuthanandan leading the coalition from the front.
In 2006, LDF lifted 98 seats in the 140-member House, an exact reversal of the 2001 tally. Most political observers say whichever front wins the poll, the difference in the number of seats might not be as big as the last two elections.
Realising that the going is not that smooth, UDF has also stepped up its efforts to gain power with national leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi addressing campaign meetings in different parts of Kerala to rev up the spirit of the workers down the line.
If Mr. Achuthanandan has been the largest crowd-puller of the LDF, Congress stalwart and Defence Minister A.K. Antony has closely shadowed and countered him to boost the UDF prospects all through the state by addressing well-attended meetings.
This time round, Antony has been unusually unsparing in his attack on Mr. Achuthanandan arguing that the 87-year-old leader has not been able to rise above the stature of an opposition leader during his Chief Ministerial tenure and lead the state to progress by seizing on the opportunities before it.
Deflecting the UDF attack, LDF campaign has focused on the “corruption-free record” of the government and its “success” in taking care of social security of all sections of the people.
Apart from the state-specific issues, LDF also leveraged the movement launched by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare to attack the Congress.
Hotly debated issues last week included the stand of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which has influence in some pocket in Kerala, with the UDF leaders alleging that CPI(M) state Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had held secret parleys with the “fundamentalist” outfit for securing its votes for LDF.
Rejecting the charge of having struck any electoral ties with the Jamaat, LDF leaders countered the opponent alleging this was an attempt to cover up their secret truck for vote transfer with the BJP in selected constituencies.
Refuting the allegation, leaders of the Jamaat held they had not taken a final position on which front to be supported.
While it is normal for allegations and counter-allegations to fly thick in election season in a politically hyperactive state, basic issues like drinking water and roads are also in the focus at the constituency-level poll debates.
Always a poor third in Kerala’s bipolar scenario, BJP also entertains high hopes this time expecting to open its account in the Assembly winning one or two seats in the extreme south and north in the state.
The party’s best bet is on its senior leader and former Union Minister O Rajagopal, who is contesting from Nemom seat in the state capital, where even his rival agrees that the fight has assumed a triangular dimension.
Curtsy-The Hindu --PTI

Gbagbo forces attack Ouattara base in Abidjan

Troops backing Cote d'Ivoire's incumbent leader step up counter attack on rival's forces.
Forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, Cote d'Ivoire's incumbent president, have fired mortars at the hotel where the Ivorian leader's internationally recognised rival is based.
The Golf Hotel, where Alassane Ouattara has been living protected by UN peacekeepers since last year's disputed polls, came under attack on Saturday.
"We have confirmation from one of Ouattara's [aides] that this attack did take place," Haru Mutasa, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Abidjan, reported.
"We aren't sure how many pro-Gbagbo forces were involved, but we do know that UN [peacekeepers] guarding the hotel managed to push them [Gbagbo's forces] back."

Hamadoun Toure, a UN spokesman, confirmed the attack.
"This was not a fight, but a direct attack by Gbagbo's forces, who fired RPGs [rocket propelled grenades] and mortar rounds, from positions near Gbagbo's residence, at the Golf Hotel," he said.
Gbagbo himself has been holed up in a bunker in Abidjan, days after Ouattara's forces overran his residence amid fierce fighting.
But Gbagbo's forces later hit back, regaining ground in Abidjan and the attack on the Golf hotel appeared to be a further counter attack.
Alain Le Roy, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in the country, said earlier that Gbagbo's forces had used a lull for peace talks as a "trick" to reinforce their positions and were now in full control of the upscale Plateau and Cocody areas of the captial.
He said that Gbagbo's troops still had heavy weapons, though UN and French forces had destroyed some of them, Le Roy.
"We have seen heavy weapons to be transferred to the Cocody area, including this morning," Le Roy said on Friday, referring to photographs of M-21 rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and armoured personnel carriers.
Toussaint Alain, a Gbagbo spokesman, denied that the incumbent president's forces had access to heavy weapons.
'Utterly horrifying'
Gbagbo has refused to quit as president of Cote d'Ivoire, plunging the west African nation into conflict, despite being understood to have lost to Ouattara in last year's election.
Results from the electoral commission showed Ouattara emerging with the most votes after the November 28 poll, but the Constitutional Council nullified the vote and declared Gbagbo the winner.

The international community - including the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS, the economic bloc in west Africa - have all recognised Ouattara as the legally elected president.
At least 400 Ivorians have been killed in fighting between the two sides and tens of thousands have sought refuge in neighbouring Liberia, according to the UN.

The Catholic charity Caritas said on Sunday that more than 1,000 civilians had been killed in the town of Duekoue and blamed Ouattara's troops for the violence.
Since Friday, UN forces have found more than 100 bodies in several towns - some burned alive and others thrown down wells.
Navi Pillay, the UN human rights commissioner, said that the reports she was receiving from UN teams in the country were "utterly horrifying", but that due to the security situation the UN had not been able to fully assess the extent of alleged violations.
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights watchdog, accused both Ouattara's and Gbagbo's forces of killing rivals.
The group specifically accused Ouattara's forces of killing or raping hundreds of people and burning villages during an offensive in late March.
Al Jazeera and agencies

AU seeks end to Libya unrest

African Union panel, due to visit Benghazi, appeals for "an immediate end to all hostilities" as fighting rages on.
African Union mediators on Libya have reiterated their appeal for "an immediate end to all hostilities" and proposed a transition period to adopt reforms as intense fighting continues across the country.
The panel, headed by Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is expected to head to the opposition stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya later on Sunday.
Comprised of five African leaders who are acting as AU mediators, the panel said in a statement that it had decided to go along with a roadmap adopted in March, which calls for an end to hostilities, "diligent conveying of humanitarian aid" and "dialogue between the Libyan parties".
It also said it intended to propose "inclusive management" of a transition period aimed at adopting and setting up of "the political reforms needed to eliminate the causes of the present crisis."

Fighting rages
The development comes a day after rebels fought off a new assault by Muammar Gaddafi's forces on the besieged western city of Misurata, losing up to 30 men.
Mustafa Abdulrahman, a rebel spokesman, said Saturday's fighting centred on a road to Misurata port, while NATO carried out several attacks on forces loyal to the Libyan leader.
Abdulrahman praised what he called a positive change from NATO. Rebels have complained for days that NATO has been too slow to respond to government attacks.
NATO said armoured vehicles firing on civilians had been targeted in air strikes, and that its jets had also struck ammunition stockpiles being used to resupply forces involved in the shelling of Misurata and other population centres.
A rebel who identified himself as Abdelsalem told Reuters that government troops had attacked Miusrata on three fronts.
"Medical workers and rebels told me that at least 30 rebel fighters were killed," he said.
Residents fleeing
Misurata, Libya's third largest city, has been under siege by Gaddafi's forces for weeks. Rebels say people are crammed five families to a house in the few safe districts to escape weeks of sniper, mortar and rocket fire.
There are severe shortages of food, water and medical supplies and hospitals are overflowing.

Residents used boats to flee to the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday.
"There is not a word in the dictionary to describe this. 'Disaster' is not enough," Ali Spak, the captain of one of the ships, said.
"There is very bad destruction. This man [Gaddafi] is killing his own people. There's shelling everywhere, even on the people trying to leave. People need help,"  one man on the boat said.
Doctors said last week that 200 people had been killed in Misurata since fighting broke out there in late February.
The Red Cross on Saturday ferried emergency medical supplies and five staff for 300 people wounded in the city.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, the commander of the alliance's operations in Libya, accused Gaddafi's forces of using civilians as human shields, adding to similar charges made by other Western commanders.
"We have observed horrific examples of regime forces deliberately placing their weapons systems close to civilians, their homes and even their places of worship," Bouchard said in a statement.
"Troops have also been observed hiding behind women and children. This type of behaviour violates the principles of international law and will not be tolerated."
Ajdabiya shelled
Gaddafi forces also shelled rebel positions west of Ajdabiya on Saturday.
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Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, who had to turn back about 20km from Ajdabiya because of the shelling, said the town was being pounded from the north, south and west.
"Reliable military sources told us that Gaddafi's forces managed to advance overnight from the southern desert and started shelling from that area," she said.
"We are also told that there is street fighting going on inside Ajdabiya between rebels and Gaddafi loyalists. This is a very serious development because there is now fighting on two fronts – around Ajdabiya and around Brega."
Mohammed Idris, the supervisor at Ajdabiya hospital, said at least eight rebels were killed and nine people, including two civilians, were injured during the shelling by government troops and the subsequent gun battle with rebels in the streets.
As his troops engaged rebels in new fighting, Gaddafi made his first television appearance in five days. He was last seen on April 4.
Gaddafi smiled and pumped his fists in the air as he received an ecstatic welcome at a school in Tripoli, where women ululated and pupils chanted anti-western slogans.
Al Jazeera and agencies

Anti-US sentiment is 'rife' in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Anti-American sentiment has been exacerbated in Afghanistan by reports of the US Koran burning

The deaths of 25 Afghans after nearly a week of anti-American rioting in a dozen cities across the country - coupled with a steady stream of anti-American demonstrations across Pakistan over several issues - signal new challenges for the US-led Western alliance as it tries to stabilise the region and pull its forces out of Afghanistan.
Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid reports from Washington.
The violence in Afghanistan was sparked off by the burning of the Koran in the US. The rioting began in Mazar-e-Sharif when the UN office was ransacked and seven UN officials and guards were brutally murdered.
The demonstrations then spread south to Kandahar where over two days some 13 people were killed. After six days it had spread to the eastern provinces and the capital, Kabul.
There was anger among some Western observers at President Hamid Karzai, who drew attention to the Koran burning. Most Afghans did not know about it until he condemned the burning publicly a few days before the riots started.
However there is also little doubt that the Taliban have taken enormous advantage of the issue in their heartland of southern Afghanistan and it is they who have been whipping up the crowds.
The out-of-control violence comes as the Kabul government is supposed to take charge of some areas of Afghanistan from US forces in July in the transition process that will extend to 2014.
Overwhelming corruption Whatever the circumstances, there is no doubt that anti-US feeling is growing in the country after a series of appalling incidents.
Frequent visits by US officials to Pakistan have not diluted anti-American rage
Afghan civilians have been repeatedly killed in night raids by US special forces and mis-targeted bombings by US aircraft while a handful of US soldiers have been charged with deliberately killing Afghans and committing other atrocities.
A great deal of public anger and frustration is due to the lack of good governance and overwhelming corruption, which could see the collapse of Kabul Bank - the largest in the country.
The Americans are blamed by Afghans for tolerating the failure of the government to get its act together 10 years after 9/11 and for fuelling corruption by giving money to the wrong contractors.
In Pakistan the case of the alleged CIA agent Raymond Davis - coupled with an acute economic downturn, massive energy shortages, corruption and the blasphemy issue that has led to two senior officials being murdered - has also led to widespread anti-Americanism.
Fast deteriorating Mr Davis was charged with shooting dead two Pakistani men and remained in a Lahore jail for more than a month before his case was resolved.
    Islamist parties have staged numerous anti-US protests in Pakistan
Relatives of the dead Pakistanis accepted "blood money" worth an estimated $2m in exchange for his release - something that the Pakistani legal system allows for.
And while the US drone attacks on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan has claimed many Taliban and al-Qaeda lives it has also claimed the lives of Pakistani civilians.
All these issues have been overly exploited by the well entrenched Islamist parties and their extremist allies as well as by parts of the right-wing media.
In the meantime Afghans and Pakistanis are warning the Americans that there is enormous anti-American rage building up in both countries - and the usual tactics to address this, such as more US aid or more visits by US officials - will do little to reduce it.
In both Afghanistan and Pakistan the domestic security situation is fast deteriorating, their economies are faltering, their governments are seen as corrupt and incompetent and ordinary people cannot see any improvement in their lives.

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In Washington there is widespread agreement now between all parts of the US government on the need for going public soon about talks with the Taliban. ”
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Logically unrest should be directed at the governments concerned, but the overriding issue for many people is the continuing US and Nato presence in Afghanistan and the over-long war against the Taliban, which has now entered its second decade.
Moreover anti-Americanism is reaching a peak as conspiracy theories abound in both countries on how and when foreign forces will exit, when the US will begin public talks with the Taliban and how it will resolve its tensions with the Pakistani military as the end-game in Afghanistan approaches.
Afghans are deeply divided over talks between the Taliban and the US and Afghan governments. The majority of Pashtuns are in favour but many non-Pashtuns are against any talks with the Taliban at whose hands they suffered so badly in the 1990s. President Karzai has yet to build a national consensus on the issue.
Meanwhile the Pakistani establishment fears that the US will mediate with the Taliban without taking Pakistan into confidence. Islamabad also fears that in a post-war Afghanistan, the US will hand over to India a major role in running the country.
In Washington there is widespread agreement now between all parts of the US government on the need for going public soon about talks with the Taliban.
Secret talks between the US and the Taliban began some six months ago but so far they have not gone very far.
If there is a genuine attempt at peace talks by the Americans, that could go a long way in reducing anti-Americanism in the region, although nobody claims that such talks would be easy.
As long as extremist groups act as spoilers in the peace process or have the ability to whip up anti-Americanism, the situation remains dangerous.
Both countries need an end to the war in Afghanistan, a withdrawal of foreign troops and a US-Afghan-Taliban reconciliation that can heal the deep scars of the past 10 years.

China tells US: Stop preaching on human rights

China has told the US to stop preaching on human rights, after the state department's annual report on the issue criticised China.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the US should concentrate on its own rights issues and stop interfering.
Chinese authorities have launched a major crackdown on dissent recently.
Unveiling the report, US officials expressed particular concern over the recent arrest of the artist Ai Weiwei, an outspoken critic of the government.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also highlighted reports of other intellectuals and activists being "arbitrarily detained" in recent weeks.
Mr Hong said China was happy to talk about rights "on the basis of equality and mutual respect", but added that Beijing "resolutely opposes" meddling in other country's affairs.
"We advise the US side to reflect on its own human rights issues and not to position itself as a preacher of human rights," he said.
"[The US should] stop using the issue of human rights reports to interfere in other countries' internal affairs."
The state department's annual report criticising China, followed swiftly by a tough riposte from Beijing, is now a well-established diplomatic ritual.
But analysts say this year's tit-for-tat exchange has been sharpened by Beijing's crackdown on dissent.
The US report accused Beijing of stepping up restrictions on lawyers, activists, bloggers and journalists.
The Communist rulers were also accused of tightening controls on civil society and stepping up efforts to control the press and internet access.
The Beijing authorities also increased the use of forced disappearances, house arrest, and detention in illicit "black jails" to punish activists, petitioners and their families, the US report says.
Other countries accused of perpetrating serious rights violations in the report included Iran, Iraq, Burma, North Korea, the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

Tendulkar has been unbelievable in last two years: Kapil Dev

Iconic Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar has been “unbelievable” in the last two years and keeps getting better with age, feels 1983 World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev.
“Sachin in the last two years has been unbelievable. This genius is other way around, more he gets older more he plays like a champion,” Kapil Dev, known as the Haryana Hurricane, told members of the Indian Journalists Association here last evening.
The former all-rounder was all praise for the current Indian team under Mahendra Singh Dhoni which won the World Cup last week in Mumbai.
“India has a team who can beat anybody. They still are not playing to their potential,” he said.
“The Indian team is far better than any other team, without doubt.”
Asked about the secret of the Indian team’s success, Kapil said, “India’s growth is seen in every championship -- Commonwealth, Asian games and World Cup. We are definitely flying and flying very well and shining. Now India is the World Champions, besides being No 1 Team in the world in Test cricket.
“We have put money on the table and we have shown that we can play well too. That is what World Cup has done to India.
Now only thing is when you reach the top position, your attitude changes.”
Asked why the team had faltered in the run up to the final, Kapil said, “When you have such a strong batting line up, complacency sometimes sets in. Despite that they were winning. They are far far better players than they performed. Even Dhoni fired only when it needed most, in the final.”
The former pacer was also lavish in his praise for India’s dashing opener Virender Sehwag.
“He is a ruthless player. He changes the dynamics of the cricket altogether. He keeps the game so simple.”
Kapil said India could improve further if the team gave more attention to its bowling department. “Yes, bowling is a matter of concern,” he said.
Asked to compare the current team with the one that won the World Cup in 1983, Kapil said, “This cricket team is far better than the 1983 team. We did not have any experienced players in the 1983 team. We were absolutely raw, no big match temperament. But we combined better.
“But in the present team there are stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, M S Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh. In 1983, man to man, West Indies was far better than us.”
Asked whether IPL had its effect on the Indian side, he said, “Everybody benefited from IPL. There is both positive and negative side. The positive is you start learning to win. The negative is you don’t get enough rest.”
Kapil said the BCCI should put money on junior cricket and Ranji.
“They have to make up their mind. If we want growth in sports, then school sports have to be given due attention. If we can give facilities we can have 10 Sachins and Dhonis in the country.
“During our time, Sunil Gavaskar was like a God and If we don’t get another Sachin, it will be sad.”
Asked whether cricketers should be exempted from tax for the prize they win, Kapil Dev said, “The law should be uniform for all sportsmen. Other sportsmen who have got laurels in athletics, badminton and other games must be given same exemptions.” 
Curtsy-PTI-The Hindu

Anger flares up across Yemen

Hundreds injured, some critically, as security forces open fire on anti-government protests across the country.

Angry demonstrations have erupted in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and in the southern town of Taiz, with hundreds reportedly injured, as people continue to rally against the rule of president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Riot police with with batons were out in force, using tear gas and live fire against protesters in Sanaa, Al Jazeera's special correspondent there reported.
"There have been at least 200 injured according to one medical source, and around 15 of those injuries are from live ammunition," she said.
"There were more than three hours of the constant sound of tear gas being fired, and live ammunition being fired. I could also see that there were snipers positioned on rooftops and they were firing down at the crowd."
Our correspondent said the streets were littered with rocks and gas canisters, as police confrontations with tens of thousands of anti-government protestors continued in the capital.
In Taiz, the other main protest area, security police also used live ammunition and tear gas against some of the 100,000 people who marched there on Saturday.
"We have reports [in Taiz] of over 500 people injured, 40 of those from live ammunition and at least five people are in critical condition," our correspondent said.
She reported a "very heavy handed approach by the authorities" and an upsurge in violence in towns across Yemen.
"The police are becoming increasingly intolerant of protesters. It seems [president] Ali Abdullah Saleh is once again really trying to show his force."
Envoy recalled
On Friday, four demonstrators were killed when security forces opened fired and shot tear gas at crowds in Taiz the day before.

Demonstrators in Taiz blame the local governor, the chief of security and leader of the ruling party for the violence which left about 400 people injured in the earlier protests.
The fresh protests came as Yemen recalled its envoy from Qatar over a dispute on a Gulf Arab plan for Saleh to step down.
Saba, the official Yemeni news agency, on Saturday said the ambassador was recalled for consultation on the recent statement made by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem about the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council's (GCC) offer of mediation between Saleh and the opposition.
The GCC proposed that Saleh hand over power to his deputy in return for immunity from prosecution for him and his family.
Saleh rejected the offer in a speech before tens of thousands of cheering supporters in the capital Sanaa on Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators also gathered  on Friday to call for Saleh's immediate ouster.
Rallying cry
The death of the demonstrators in Taiz on Friday caused a rallying cry across the country, and saw protests continue for a second straight day.
Activist Ghazi al-Samei said protesters were in the yard in front of the governor's office in Taiz and had been there since Friday.
The demonstrators, joined by several members of parliament, are demanding the governor's removal and trial.
Abdel-Malek al-Youssefi, another activist, said tanks were at the city's outskirts to prevent people from other towns taking part in the rally and that many supporters of the ruling Congress Party changed their allegiances and joined the ranks of the opposition, the AP said.
Saturday also saw thousands of anti-government protesters take to the streets of other major cities, including Aden, Ibb, al-Hudaydah and Hadramawt, in support of the Taiz protesters.
"More people getting very angry; they are seeing what is happening in Taiz and in other cities as people go out on the streets and demonstrate and really step up the street protests, they are watching that and they are copying that," our correspondent said.
Protesters have been calling since January for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.
Calls for departure
Saleh initially accepted an offer by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states trying to broker an end to bloody protests and hold talks with the opposition.
But he later rejected the plan for his exit in a speech broadcast on state television on Friday.
"We were born free, and we have free will, and they have to respect our wishes. We reject any coup against democracy, the constitution and our freedom," he told supporters in Sanaa on Friday.
Saleh said: "Our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else. This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs."
Our correspondent in Sanaa said: "Saleh addressed his supporters to make a total rejection of the offer put forward by the Gulf Co-operation Council.
"He singled out Qatar and Al Jazeera and said, 'We don't have to follow their agenda'."
Al Jazeera's correspondent was stopped and searched near the ongoing protests in the capital on Saturday. She was briefly detained for 10 minutes, and then allowed to leave.
"Lots of men holding guns and lots of other people just wearing civilian clothes came towards me," she said of the incident.
"They took my phone; they started shouting saying that I was a spy, and that I was filming ... the soldiers told me that I was not allowed to film. They took things off me; they searched me; they held the gun to my stomach. It was a very threatening environment."
More than 120 people have been killed since Yemen's protests calling for an end to Saleh's rule began on February 11, inspired by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt which toppled long-serving leaders.
Al Jazeera and agencies

Libya rebels vent frustration on Nato and a silent leadership

Benghazi rebels feel they are being denied the promised air power and kept in the dark by revolutionary council
 Libyan rebels take a wounded prisoner back to hospital for treatment Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP
The chants of the demonstrators in Benghazi and among furious rebel fighters on Libya's frontline reflected the sudden shift in mood.
"Where is Nato?" demanded the same people who only days earlier were waving French flags and shouting "Viva David Cameron".
But behind the growing anger in revolutionary Libya over what is seen as a retreat by the west from air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's forces – a fury compounded by two botched Nato raids that killed rebel fighters – there was a second question: where are our leaders?
Nato's failure to use its air power to reverse days of military setbacks for the rebels prompted a collapse in confidence in the west's intentions among Gaddafi's foes. Conspiracy theories flew. The west wants a divided Libya so it can control the oil, said some. Turkey, a Nato member, is vetoing air strikes because it supports Gaddafi, said others.
The concerns intensified on a day which saw Gaddafi's forces advance further eastwards into oppositon territory than at any stage since international airstrikes began. Fierce fighting in Ajdabiya saw at least eight people killed and recapturing the city would give the Libyan military a staging ground to attack the rebels stronghold, Benghazi, about 100 miles further east.
Nato denied it was scaling back attacks and explained it faced new challenges in striking Gaddafi's forces now that they have switched from relying on tanks and heavy armour in favour of smaller fighting units in pick-up trucks that are harder to hit. Not many in the liberated areas of Libya were interested. They were angry – and wanted their leaders to tell the west. But the revolution's self-appointed chiefs in the interim national council were nowhere to be seen.
Eventually it took the leader of the rebels' armed wing, Abdul Fattah Younis, to voice the anger. "Nato is moving very slowly, allowing Gaddafi forces to advance," he said. "Nato has become our problem."
The incident highlighted the virtual invisibility of the revolutionary administration to the ordinary people it claims to lead. That was not much of a problem when the uprising appeared to be advancing. But recent setbacks have shaken confidence and raised concerns that Libya might be facing an extended civil war or division, which means divided families among other things.
People in rebel-held areas want to know what the revolutionary council – a 31-person body that functions around a core of 11 people who have been publicly named and meet regularly in Benghazi – is doing about it. But they are getting few answers. The council's two principal leaders, Mahmoud Jibril and Mustafa Abdul Jalil, are hardly visible. Both men are, in any case, regarded by those dealing directly with them as sincere and well-meaning but lacking in either charisma or authority.
One person working closely with the council's day-to-day operations was deeply frustrated at the fact that "they don't understand the need to communicate with the Libyan people.
"They don't understand that no one knows who they are. These lawyers and doctors in Benghazi who say they are a government, it's like kids playing dress-up for a lot of them. They don't understand the need to explain to the people what it is they are doing," the source said.
The council meetings themselves reflect the new-found freedoms Libyans in the rebel-held areas possess to say what they think without fear of persecution, but they are not necessarily an efficient form of governance.
"They talk a lot. It's seen to be rude to interrupt and everyone who has had to suppress his opinion all these years is enjoying expressing it," the source said. "But while they talk a lot they've slammed the brakes on making decisions on some things – the constitution, economic planning for the future – because the country is still divided and they don't want to be accused of imposing decisions on the other half of the country when Gaddafi is gone. They say there has to be a national discussion before these decisions can be made."
But even where decisions are made, few of the people affected by them are told. Domestic opinion is not the priority because of the revolutionaries' need to win international recognition and access to desperately needed Libyan financial assets frozen overseas.
"The international arena is the most important for the time being, more important than the military front," said a council spokesman, Essam Gheriani. That led to the incident last week in which Jalil, without consulting with the rest of the council, signed a document in the name of the Libyan people apologising for Gaddafi's support of IRA attacks and the Lockerbie bombing, and promising compensation.
"There's a lot of upset about that. The British got him in a room on his own and bounced him into it," said a source.
Another source close to the council said that its advisers have pressured Jalil to be more open and to engage with the public. The source related an incident two weeks ago in which it was agreed that Jalil would make an important speech that would address three key messages: praising young fighters for their role, but urging them to fall under the command and discipline of a military structure; offering an assurance to people in towns still under Gaddafi's control that there will be no retribution when the rebels take over; and reassuring the international community that, despite the revolutionaries having been forced to take up arms, theirs is essentially a peaceful movement that eschews political and religious extremism.
The speech was written. Plans were made for Jalil to make his address on the rebel radio station and to ensure that it got attention. But nothing happened for days. Jalil said he was too busy.
Eventually an aide was sent to read it on the radio and the speech sank without trace, to the frustration of those who saw it as important in building the council's credibility with Libyans. "There was no promotion. No one knew about it," said the source. "I see this every day. They're doing stuff, working day to day, decision after decision. Decrees are made. But it's not communicated. Things happen and no one knows that they've happened. There's a massive gap between the people and the council, and it's a problem."
That gap is being partly filled by the only revolutionary leader who appears to have any real charisma, Younis. Sources close to the council say that it pushed Younis to the fore on Nato in part because no one else wanted to criticise the West publicly but also because he is the "most dynamic and authoritative" of the revolutionary leaders.
But while the rebel military leader is good at whipping up confidence, despite repeated military setbacks, some worry at the rise to prominence of a man who just a few weeks ago was Gaddafi's minister of the interior and how he might exploit that in the future.
First, though, there still is a revolution to win.
The council members generally recognise that victory is unlikely to come on the battlefield. They are now counting on Gaddafi's own people deserting him and an implosion of the regime.
"It's a hope. Well, it's more of a prayer actually," said the source.
curtsy-Chris Mcgreal and

Vote counting underway in Nigeria

Voters say voting in parliamentary polls went generally well despite initial fears of violence and logistical problems.
Nigerians have started counting votes from delayed parliamentary elections, held amid violence that has killed scores in the poll run-up.
Nearly 20 people died in bombings and shootings, taking the toll to around 100. At least two people were killed near the northeastern city of Maiduguri on voting day itself.
Voters turned out in large numbers determined to show Africa's most populous nation could hold a credible poll after more than a decade of elections discredited by ballot stuffing.

"It was free and fair here and we've become much more optimistic about elections," said technician Umar Mohammed Jari in the upmarket Maitama district of the capital, Abuja, as votes were tallied at a polling station for all to see.

"It has been 100 percent better than the last times."

Electoral body targeted
Fears of violent elections grew on election eve after an explosion targeting the independent National Electoral Commission in Suleja, on the northwestern edge of the capital, Abuja, killed at least eight people.

The attack came after a fatal shooting in Borno state of four people, including an official of the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party.

Saturday's parliamentary polls are the first in a string of elections to be held in Nigeria in the month of April. Presidential election is scheduled for next week while voting for governors is to be held on April 26.

Nigerians cast ballots for the 360-member House of Representatives and the 109-member Senate.

From Kano, in the north of the country, Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege said the voter turnout was "absolutely huge".

There were reports of logistical problems though, with ballot papers being in short supply at several polling centres.

The situation was most worrisome in the troubled Niger Delta region in the south, where there had been reports of violence and the kidnapping of electoral workers, Ndege reported.
In the commercial city, Lagos, the turnout was disappointingly low, Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips reported.

"A credible vote is particularly important to help bolster Nigeria's stature abroad. Attempts to play a leadership role in the region have been undermined by its own flawed democratic record.

"This is a country that aspires to have moral authority," he said.
Attahiru Jega, the national election chairman, postponed the parliamentary polls after voters turned up at polling stations to find there were no ballot papers and other election materials in many of the country's roughly 120,000 polling stations.

Many hoped Jega, a respected academic, would be able to lead Nigeria out of its dark history of flawed polls marred by violence and ballot-box stuffing since it became a democracy in 1999.

However, even he appears now to be overwhelmed by the logistical challenge of conducting elections in a nation twice the size of California and lacks reliable roads and railways.

"One man alone cannot overcome significant systemic and logistical challenges, nor can one person or one electoral event transform a political culture in which stolen elections and disregard for basic democratic principles have been the norm for decades," Johnnie Carson, a senior US diplomat for Africa, said in a speech on Tuesday.
Speaking on Saturday, an electoral official at a polling booth in Lagos, where voting had begun on time, was optimistic that the vote is better organised this week.
"I believe that today will be different," Fatai Awofolaju said.
Huge budget
The Independent National Electoral Commission was given a $570m budget last August just for overhauling voter lists and buying additional ballot boxes, leading some Nigerians to question whether they were getting value for money.
There are 73 million registered voters out of a population of 158 million and the budget means each of the 36 states would receive at least $15m.
The run-up to the polls has been marred by isolated bomb attacks on campaign rallies, violence blamed on a radical sect in the remote northeast and sectarian clashes in the centre of a nation roughly split between a Muslim north and Christian south.
Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 85 people have been killed in political violence linked to party primaries and election campaigns since the start of November.
"Millions of voters may be disenfranchised by being too scared to go out to cast their votes," Kunle Amuwo, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, wrote recently.
The leading contenders in the presidential vote include Goodluck Jonathan, who comes from the south and became president after the death of Umaru Yaradua last May.
Muhammadu Buhari, his main challenger and former president running on the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) platform, has major support in the country's mostly Muslim north.
Other candidates vying for the presidency include former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu, whose Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) party has a strong following in parts of the southwest, and Ibrahim Shekarau, governor of the northern state of Kano.
The PDP controls a comfortable majority in the parliament, but some analysts say the poll could significantly loosen its grip on the legislature.
The party has won every election since military rule ended in 1999. The previous two elections, held in 2003 and 2007, were marred by fraud and irregularities.
Al Jazeera and agencies

Johann Hari: We're not being told the truth on Libya

Look at two other wars our government is currently deeply involved in - because they show that the claims made for this bombing campaign can't be true

Most of us have a low feeling that we are not being told the real reasons for the war in Libya. David Cameron's instinctive response to the Arab revolutions was to jump on a plane and tour the palaces of the region's dictators selling them the most hi-tech weapons of repression available. Nicolas Sarkozy's instinctive response to the Arab revolutions was to offer urgent aid to the Tunisian tyrant in crushing his people. Barack Obama's instinctive response to the Arab revolutions was to refuse to trim the billions in aid going to Hosni Mubarak and his murderous secret police, and for his Vice-President to declare: "I would not refer to him as a dictator."
Yet now we are told that these people have turned into the armed wing of Amnesty International. They are bombing Libya because they can't bear for innocent people to be tyrannised, by the tyrants they were arming and funding for years. As Obama put it: "Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different". There was a time, a decade ago, when I took this rhetoric at face value. But I can't now. The best guide through this confusion is to look at two other wars our government is currently deeply involved in – because they show that the claims made for this bombing campaign can't be true.
Imagine a distant leader killed more than 2,000 innocent people, and his military commanders responded to evidence that they were civilians by joking that the victims "were not the local men's glee club". Imagine one of the innocent survivors appeared on television, amid the body parts of his son and brother, and pleaded: "Please. We are human beings. Help us. Don't let them do this." Imagine that polling from the attacked country showed that 90 per cent of the people there said civilians were the main victims and they desperately wanted it to stop. Imagine there was then a huge natural flood, and the leader responded by ramping up the attacks. Imagine the country's most respected democratic and liberal voices were warning that these attacks seriously risked causing the transfer of nuclear material to jihadi groups.
Yet, in this instance, we would have to be imposing a no-fly zone on our own governments. Since 2004, the US – with European support – has been sending unmanned robot-planes into Pakistan to illegally bomb its territory in precisely this way. Barack Obama has massively intensified this policy.
His administration claims they are killing al-Qa'ida. But there are several flaws in this argument. The intelligence guiding their bombs about who is actually a jihadi is so poor that, for six months, Nato held top-level negotiations with a man who claimed to be the head of the Taliban – only for him to later admit he was a random Pakistani grocer who knew nothing about the organisation. He just wanted some baksheesh. The US's own former senior military advisers admit that even when the intel is accurate, for every one jihadi they kill, as many as 50 innocent people die. And almost everyone in Pakistan believes these attacks are actually increasing the number of jihadis, by making young men so angry at the killing of their families they queue to sign up.
The country's leading nuclear scientist, Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, warns me it is even more dangerous still. He says there is a significant danger that these attacks are spreading so much rage and hatred through the country that it materially increases the chances of the people guarding the country’s nuclear weapons smuggling fissile material out to jihadi groups.
So one of the country's best writers, Fatima Bhutto, tells me: "In Pakistan, when we hear Obama's rhetoric on Libya, we can only laugh. If he was worried about the pointless massacre of innocent civilians, there would be an easy first step for him: stop doing it yourself, in my country."
The war in the Congo is the deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe. When I reported on it, I saw the worst things I could have ever conceived of: armies of drugged and mutilated children, women who had been gang-raped and shot in the vagina. Over five million people have been killed so far – and the trail of blood runs directly to your mobile phone and mine.
The major UN investigation into the war explained how it happened. They said bluntly and factually that "armies of business" had invaded Congo to pillage its resources and sell them to the knowing West. The most valuable loot is coltan, which is used to make the metal in our mobile phones and games consoles and laptops. The "armies of business" fought and killed to control the mines and send it to us. The UN listed some of the major Western corporations fuelling this trade, and said if they were stopped, it would largely end the war.
Last year, after a decade, the US finally passed legislation that was – in theory, at least – supposed to deal with this. As I explain in the forthcoming BBC Radio 4 programme 4Thought, it outlined an entirely voluntary system to trace who was buying coltan and other conflict minerals from the mass murderers, and so driving the war. (There are plenty of other places we can get coltan from, although it's slightly more expensive.) The State Department was asked to draw up some kind of punishment for transgressors, and given 140 days to do it.
Now the deadline has passed. What's the punishment? It turns out the State Department didn't have the time or inclination to draft anything. Maybe it was too busy preparing to bomb Libya, because – obviously – it can't tolerate the killing of innocent people. (Britain and other European countries have been exactly the same.) Here was a chance to stop the worst violence against civilians in the world that didn't require any bombs, or violence of our own. If the rhetoric about Libya was sincere, this was a no-brainer. It would only cost a few corporations some money – and they refuse to do it. So the worst war since 1945 goes on.
This all went unreported. By contrast, when the Congolese government recently nationalized a mine belonging to US and British corporations, there was a fire-burst of fury in the press. You can kill five million people and we'll politely look away; but take away the property of rich people, and we get really angry.
Doesn't this cast a different light on the Libya debate? We are pushed every day by the media to look at the (usually very real) abuses by our country's enemies and ask: "What can we do?" We are almost never prompted to look at the equally real and equally huge abuses by our own country, its allies and its corporations – which we have much more control over – and ask the same question.
So the good and decent impulse of ordinary people - to protect their fellow human beings - is manipulated. If you are interested in human rights only when it tells you a comforting story about your nation's power, then you are not really interested in human rights at all.
David Cameron says "just because we can't intervene everywhere, doesn't mean we shouldn't intervene somewhere." But this misses the point. While "we" are intervening to cause horrific harm to civilians in much of the world, it's plainly false to claim to be driven by a desire to prevent other people behaving very like us.
You could argue that our governments are clearly not driven by humanitarian concerns, but their intervention in Libya did stop a massacre in Ben Gazhi, so we should support it anyway. I understand this argument, which some people I admire have made, and I wrestled with it. It is an argument that you should, in effect, ride the beast of NATO power if it slays other beasts that were about to eat innocent people. This was the argument I made in 2003 about Iraq – that the Bush administration had malign motives, but it would have the positive effect of toppling a horrific dictator, so we should support it. I think almost everyone can see now why this was a disastrous - and, in the end, shameful - argument.
Why? Because any coincidental humanitarian gain in the short term will be eclipsed as soon as the local population clash with the real reason for the war. Then our governments will back their renewed vicious repression - just as the US and Britain did in Iraq, with a policy of effectively sanctioning the resumption of torture when the population became uppity and objected to the occupation.
So why are our governments really bombing Libya? We won't know for sure until the declassified documents come out many years from now. But Bill Richardson, the former US energy secretary who served as US ambassador to the UN, is probably right when he says: "There's another interest, and that's energy... Libya is among the 10 top oil producers in the world. You can almost say that the gas prices in the US going up have probably happened because of a stoppage of Libyan oil production... So this is not an insignificant country, and I think our involvement is justified."
For the first time in more than 60 years, Western control over the world's biggest pots of oil was being rocked by a series of revolutions our governments couldn't control. The most plausible explanation is that this is a way of asserting raw Western power, and trying to arrange the fallout in our favour. But if you are still convinced our governments are acting for humanitarian reasons, I've got a round-trip plane ticket for you to some rubble in Pakistan and Congo. The people there would love to hear your argument.

Run-off expected in Peru election

Presidential elections are set for Sunday and Ollanta Humala, a centre-left nationalist, leads in opinion polls.
The only certainty about Sunday's general elections in Peru is that all the polls predict a victory for nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala, but say he will not have enough votes to secure the presidency in the first round.
The real electoral battle is therefore between those who appear to have a chance to compete with Humala in the June 5 run-off – namely Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza 2011, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Alianza por el Gran Cambio, and former president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) of Alianza Perú Posible.
Humala, a 48-year-old former army officer backed by the Gana Perú (Peru Wins) political party, is preferred by between 28 and 29.5 per cent of respondents, according to sources with access to the results of the latest polls by the firms Ipsos, Apoyo and CPI, which cannot be reported in the local media because of Peru's electoral rules.
Fujimori is placed second in the polls, with 21 to 24 per cent of voter intentions; Kuczynski comes third, with 18.4 to 19 per cent, and in fourth place is Toledo, with only 15 to 18.2 per cent of voter support, although for most of the campaign which formally started in January, he was the front-runner.
Rankings of candidates to take over July 28 from President Alan García, whose Partido Aprista Peruano (PAP), surprisingly, is not fielding a candidate, have changed dramatically nearly every week of the campaign leading up to Sunday's elections, when 130 members of Congress and five delegates to the Andean Parliament will also be elected.
Tight race
At first, polls predicted a win for Toledo, followed by former mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda; but now Castañeda has been left behind, and Toledo is struggling to stay in the race.
In contrast to Humala, who is regarded as centre-left, the policies proposed by Toledo, Kuczynski and the eldest daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) range from centre-right to rightwing.
"There are two considerations here," said Fernando Tuesta, head of the Catholic University's Institute of Public Opinion. "One is that many Peruvians are discontented with the present situation, or want to see greater improvements, and Humala has addressed himself to them ever since he first ran for the presidency in 2006."
The nationalist candidate has set forth the most proposals about redistribution of wealth and fighting poverty, and he also talks about change, while his rivals stress the idea of continuity from the García administration. "That's the big difference between them," Tuesta said.
"The second consideration is that Humala's electoral campaign has been coherent, with a definite strategy and very clear goals for positioning the candidate and attracting support. He did not waste time arguing with other candidates, but devoted his efforts to proposing solutions," he said.
According to Tuesta, Humala's position has changed since he ran in 2006, when he won the first round but lost the run-off to García. "His discourse has become much more moderate, even though his actual programme of government is at least as radical as it was then."
Intellectuals get involved
In a hard-fought campaign marked by widely scattered voter opinion, writer Mario Vargas Llosa., winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature and a former presidential candidate in 1990, when he lost to the almost-unknown Alberto Fujimori, has spoken up.
He repeated his 2009 remark that a run-off between Humala and Keiko Fujimori would be like "choosing between AIDS and cancer." "It will not happen, I refuse to believe it. I don't think my fellow Peruvians could be so foolish as to place us in such a dilemma," the conservative writer said.
"Rather than two forms of authoritarianism, Humala and (Keiko) Fujimori represent two ways of disrespecting the political institutions," said political scientist Carlos Meléndez. "It's not that she is authoritarian because of her father, or that Humala is authoritarian because of his military background. They are both authoritarian because their proposals would weaken democratic institutions."
Keiko Fujimori has benefited, not from a spectacular campaign and a great popular following, but from the loyalty of a hard core of her father's supporters. The pro-Fujimori legislators have consistently won around 20 per cent of the vote, a large share in the context of a widely split electorate, he said.
"She is the only candidate with a following of active supporters that has grown more than any other party in recent years. She leads them personally, and communicates directly to her followers," said Meléndez, who compiled Anticandidatos, guía analítica para unas elecciones sin partidos (Anti-Candidates: An Analytical Guide for Elections without Parties), published this year.
Keiko Fujimori told a crowd in April 2009, "We will not rest until we achieve freedom for Alberto Fujimori," who is serving 25 years in prison for corruption and human rights violations.
But now, in a bid to woo disapproving voters, she has toned down her suggestions that she would pardon her father if she were elected president. "The family has decided to abide by the decision of the courts," she said.
Keiko Fujimori and her family have legal problems of their own. State prosecutor Gladys Echaíz is investigating her for allegedly using funds embezzled by her father to pay for her studies in the United States. The candidate twice failed to respond to judicial summonses during her campaign.
Echaíz has also charged Rosa Fujimori, the ex-president's sister, for illicit enrichment, and she is now regarded as a fugitive from justice after failing to appear at a trial for misappropriation of donations from Japan for poor children in Peru. The funds were allegedly deposited in her bank accounts.
A version of this story first appeared on Inter Press Service news agency.

Portugal bailout: Spain could be the next to fall

There is a clear pattern of events in the eurozone, and not much to choose between Portugal and Spain      Larry Elliott, economics editor

We have heard it all before. Spain is different from Portugal. A line has been drawn in the sand. There are no fundamental problems with the eurozone that would require any country to default, let alone leave the single currency altogether.
This was a plausible thesis last spring, when Greece was the country in the line of fire. Policymakers in Athens had clearly told some enormous porkies about Greece's public finances and suffered the consequences when the truth came out.
The thesis looked a bit less tenable when Ireland went the same way as Greece last Autumn, but the argument was that the former Celtic Tiger had been through a quite extraordinary housing boom-bust and was thus a special case.
Now the message is that the bailout for Portugal represents a line in the sand.
There are two big problems with this line of argument. The first is that it is at odds with the clear pattern of events in the eurozone over the past year, which goes like this: in phase one, a country is earmarked as having a problem by the financial markets.
In phase two, the country insists that it is absolutely fine and has no difficulties with its budget deficit, its trade deficit, its growth rate or its banking system.
In phase three, the country has its debt rating downgraded by the ratings agencies.
In phase four, bond yields soar and the country eventually capitulates to the pressure.
In phase five, Europe's policy elite agrees to a bailout with strings attached but insists that this time it has got on top of the problem once and for all.
The second problem is that when it comes to the economic fundamentals, there is not an awful lot to choose between Portugal and Spain.
Last year, Spain grew by 0.6% while Portugal grew by 1.2%. At 20.5%, Spain's unemployment rate is almost double Portugal's 11.1%.
Spain's current account deficit looks a lot healthier than Portugal's, and its national debt is lower but there's little between the two countries when it comes to the size of their respective budget deficits.
The notion that Spain is somehow different to Portugal is based on a somewhat fanciful belief that it is a more dynamic economy and is immune from speculative attack by virtue of its size.
In reality, Spain is living proof of what would have happened had Britain joined the euro in 2003; it milked the benefits of low interest rates for an unsustainable housing and construction boom that has infected its financial system.
So while it may be comforting for policymakers in Brussels and Frankfurt to believe that the sovereign debt crisis comes to an end with the Portuguese bailout, it is far more likely that Wednesday night's call for help from Lisbon marks the start of a new and more dangerous phase of the crisis.
Portugal will now receive help getting through its short-term funding crisis, but the evidence from Greece and Ireland is that the respite from financial market pressure is brief.
For the struggling countries on the eurozone's periphery, the national debt is rising because the interest rates to finance their budget deficits are higher than their growth rates.
Madrid is insisting that there is no reason to fret, but there is. Spain has deep-seated economic problems that make it an obvious candidate for some close attention from the bond market vigilantes. Yet, it would be prohibitively expensive and politically untenable to bail out the eurozone's fourth biggest economy.
A crisis in Spain will put at risk the future of monetary union in its current form.

If SIT probe is hampered, Ishrat case will go to CBI: court warns Gujarat

SIT investigation is also not satisfactory--Bench
In a strong indictment of the State government, the Gujarat High Court on Friday threatened to transfer the inquiry into the Ishrat Jahan encounter case to a Central agency if it “continues to hamper” the work of the Special Investigation Team. The SIT was appointed by the High Court.
A Division Bench of Justices Jayant Patel and Abhilasha Kumari noted that the State government was “hampering investigation” and this was “not acceptable.” It warned the government not to compel the High Court to transfer the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation or the National Intelligence Agency.

File another report

The Bench also noted with dismay that the investigation carried out by the three-member SIT so far was “not satisfactory,” and asked it to file another progress report, in a sealed cover, to the Registrar-General of the court by April 21, when the next hearing will be held.
The Bench said it had come to its notice that there was no proper co-ordination and unity among the three main SIT members on the investigation methodology and other matters. What were they doing about the investigation as all work now seemed to be done by Assistant Commissioner of Police V. R. Toliya, who was supposed to merely assist the SIT?
Pulling up the State government, the Bench said its approach “seems to be to see that the SIT does not function, or if it does, then in a paralysed manner.” This approach could not be accepted, Justice Patel said. “It seems that every attempt is being made to hinder the probe,” he told Advocate-General Kamal Trivedi.
Giving instances, the court said SIT member Satish Verma tried to carry forward the investigation on clues gathered by him, but another member Mohan Jha slapped a complaint on him. Both are State cadre IPS officers.
This incident, coupled with the inordinate delay in transferring three other IPS officers whom the court suspected could influence the investigation, “non-availability” of SIT Chairman Karnail Singh and  many other instances, led the court to believe that the “attitude of the State is not proper,” the Bench said.

Chairman not available

 While agreeing that Mr. Karnail Singh was transferred to Mizoram by the Centre, the Bench asked why the State government relieved him without consulting the court. Mr Singh, former Delhi Police Commissioner, was appointed SIT Chairman by the State government at the instance of the High Court and he should not have been relieved without seeking court permission. “The investigation of the SIT should not be hampered or affected in any manner.”
 Pulling up the SIT, the Bench said its “progress report submitted is not to the expectation of the court.” Finding that most of the investigations were being carried out by Mr. Toliya, the court wondered what the main members of the SIT were doing.
Raising questions on non-transfer of the three IPS officers of the State cadre despite its oral directions, the court asked the government to shift within a week Additional Director-General P. P. Pande, Superintendent of Police in the State Anti-Terrorist Squad G. L. Singhal and Deputy Superintendent with the Special Operations Group Tarun Barot.

Provide papers to amicus curiae

On a request from amicus curiae Yogesh Lakhani, the court directed the registry to supply him the papers as, barring his appointment order by the court, he was not given any details about the case from the SIT.
Ishrat Jahan, Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Sheikh, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed in an encounter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in June 2004 by the city Crime Branch police, who accused the four of being Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives out on a mission to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi. 
Sources-The Hindu

Libya: African leaders set for key visit

A team of African leaders, headed by South African President Jacob Zuma, is heading for Libya this weekend on a key diplomatic mission

The five heads will visit both Tripoli and the rebel-held city of Benghazi to push for a truce between the forces of Col Muammar Gaddafi and the opposition.
The EU is pressing for a humanitarian mission to be allowed into the city of Misrata, which has seen heavy fighting.
Clashes are continuing between the two sides near Ajdabiya in the east.
Misrata clashes Mr Zuma will head an African Union team that will also include leaders from DR Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Uganda.
Their first stop will be in Mauritiania on Saturday before going on to Tripoli on Sunday.
The South African foreign ministry said: "The committee has been granted permission by Nato to enter Libya and to meet in Tripoli with the Libyan leader.
"The AU delegation will also meet with the Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi on 10 and 11 April."
It added: "Key on the agenda of both meetings will be the immediate implementation of a ceasefire from both sides and the opening of a political dialogue between the two parties."

India not ready to handle natural disasters

The country has too few support systems and too few medical experts
Iftikhar Gilani
New Delhi
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has said India is not prepared to face natural disasters.
The NDMA arrived at this conclusion after taking stock of psycho-social support and mental health services in the country.
The stock-taking found the Japan earthquake and tsunami a wakeup call for India, because the Himalayan belt was sitting on a major seismic zone. It was found that around 229 districts, more than a third of the country, falls under seismic zones IV and V, and was just waiting for a quake in the not too distant future.
Even major cities like Guwahati, Srinagar, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai fall under high seismic zones.
Sharing the concern, NDMA Vice-chairman M Shashidhar Reddy said India has only 0.2 psychiatrists per one lakh population, whereas the world average is 1.2. “Similarly, the world average for psychologists and psychiatric nurses is 0.6 and 0.4 respectively, whereas India has only 0.03 for both,” he said.
the NDMA has so far released 27 guidelines on the management of natural and man-made disasters and also issues like medical preparedness and mass casualty management.
Reddy, however, said implementation of the guidelines is a difficult task and we must have a plan for this.
In the meantime, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has begun to move forward on mapping India’s costal hazard line. A ministry release said Stereo Digital Aerial Photography (SDAP) would soon come into action to map India’s coastline.
At a cost of Rs 27 crore, the SDAP would cover the 11,000 km arc coastline from Gujarat to West Bengal, with an area of 60,000 sq km.
This is a critical part of the planned management of the country’s coastal zone. The World Bank has assisted the project, which would map the hazard line for the mainland coast for five years.
This would include collection and presentation of data, identifying of flood lines over 40 years, including the impact of rising sea levels, and a prediction of erosions over the next 100 years.
For this purpose, the Indian coastline has been divided into eight blocks: (1) from the Indo-Pak border to Somnath in Gujarat; (2) Somnath to Ulhas River in Maharashtra; (3) Ulhas River to Sharavathi River in Karnataka; (4) Sharavathi River to Cape Comorin in Tamil Nadu; (5) Cape Comorin to Ponniyur River in Tamil Nadu; (6) Ponniyur River to Krishna River in Andhra Pradesh; (7) Krishna River to Chhatrapur in Orissa; and (8) Chhatrapur to India-Bangladesh Border in West Bengal.
Iftikhar Gilani is a Special Correspondent with

Taliban takes over abandoned US base

Exclusive report on fighters reclaiming valley in Afghanistan after US troops withdrew.
Pech River Valley in eastern Afghanistan, once considered by the Americans as being central to their strategy, is now under the control of the Taliban.
The US troops pulled out after years of fighting for control of the area - a Taliban stronghold - that had led to mounting casualties.
Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra has this exclusive report on the Taliban patrol unit that has taken over this strategic base.
Al Jazeera

Sex: Why slower (and older) may be better

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.
Recently, my very own mother discovered romance anew and is having what can only be described as a love affair.
Her last boyfriend passed away a couple of years ago, so I’m happy for her in all her giddiness. And while nobody likes to think about their parents having sex, I can’t help but wonder if her sex life is now better than mine.
As a busy dad of two young sons, I have to admit that it’s hard to keep sex high on the list of priorities: My wife and I will often opt to hit the hay rather than tumble in it.

Does sex get better with age? According to a study in the November 2008 issue of Psychological Science, marital satisfaction may improve once the kids have left the nest. In fact, many of my colleagues in the world of sex therapy attest that empty nesters tend to have more disposable income and more opportunity to enjoy quality time with their partner, including sex.
Sex therapist David Schnarch writes about the difference between a person’s “genital prime” and his or her “sexual prime.” For most of us, the genital prime happens during adolescence and our 20s, when the body is in its best shape, however, the mind may not be as well-developed sexually. Schnarch says that a person’s sexual prime is actually well beyond what most of us think of as the hot-and-heavy sex years - more like middle age than high school.
As we age, we benefit from accepting ourselves as we are, knowing what we like, and not being afraid to ask for it.
And aging itself may not affect sex as much as those unhealthy habits that take their toll after too many years. Too much stress, too little sleep, poor eating and exercise habits, and not making the time to nurture ourselves or our relationships can be the most damaging to our sex lives. Letting our overall health fall by the wayside may be the biggest culprit in sexual health woes, so it’s no surprise that many people in their 50s and 60s are more sexually fit than their younger predecessors.
One key difference between older and younger people: Sex is often slower as we age. While younger women may lubricate in as little as a few seconds, it can take older women up to several minutes to become lubricated. The same pattern applies to men and their erections. It’s important for both sexes to realize that taking longer to become erect or lubricated doesn’t necessarily mean a partner isn’t aroused.
In fact, slower can actually be better for your sex life. When the physical markers of arousal aren’t instantly obvious, it gives partners more time to play and connect with each other in bed. The behaviors we usually think of as foreplay can become the main event during sex, and give couples the opportunity to rediscover themselves and each other sexually. As men age, testosterone levels go down, while estrogen levels go up. This means that many older men are able to focus more and appreciate the tender side of sex.
For instance, if one position used to do the trick or if sex has always followed a predictable sequence, as it does in many long-term relationships, aging allows couples to shake things up. Maybe she wants to try a vibrator for better arousal (or maybe he does, too).
Or perhaps one or both people have been curious about erotic massage and other techniques, and now have a reason to introduce them into the relationship. As my colleague at Good in Bed, Dr. Gail Saltz, says, “Celebrate what improves with age: Younger men may have stronger erections, but older guys tend to have better control. You both know each other's bodies, you've perfected your bedroom technique, and you may feel less inhibited than you did in the past.”
I always like to say that the mind is the biggest sexual organ. By understanding the inevitable changes that occur over the sexual life cycle, and knowing how to deal with them, you can sustain a healthy, satisfying sex life well into your golden years. Keeping a sex-positive attitude and a commitment to overall health is the way to maximize sexuality, whether you’re 30 or 80. Go Mom!