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Saturday, November 12, 2011

D Raja: Why Kingfisher when Air India is ailing?

Communist Party of India (CPI) secretary and Rajya Sabha member D. Raja has questioned the Centre's move to bail out the crisis-ridden Kingfisher Airlines.

The attempt smacks of the United Progressive Alliance government's proclivity to go out of the way to help corporate houses while ignoring the public sector, he charged.

“The Manmohan Singh government is always interested to protect the corporate sector. While it has left the Air India in the lurch, it is keen on arranging a financial package for the Vijay Mallya-promoted Kingfisher,” Mr. Raja, who was here on Saturday to address the State convention of the All India Peace and Solidarity Organisation (AIPSO), said while talking to The Hindu.

“The Air India employees have not been getting salaries for months and no one seems to be concerned,” he pointed out.

“Why Kingfisher? When the company is in the red the government is trying to bail it out. Did it share the dividend with the government when it was in profit,” the veteran Communist asked.

The Hindu

Berlusconi resigns as premier, makes way for Monti

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday resigned and indicated he would give conditional support to the formation of a new government led by former EU commissioner, Mario Monti.

Mr. Berlusconi tendered his resignation to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who accepted the request, the president’s office said in a statement. The move came after parliament gave final approval to austerity measures demanded by the European Union.

The announcement was greeted by scenes of jubilation in Rome with people dancing, singing and waving Italian flags in front of the Napolitano’s Qurinale Palace offices.

Earlier, dozens of bystanders shouted “Buffone! Buffone! (Clown! Clown!)” at Mr. Berlusconi as he left his residence following a meeting with aides, and in a motorcade made this his way through central Rome to the quirinale.

“It is an end of an era,” said Dario Franceschini of the main centre-left opposition Democractic Party, referring to the possible exit of Mr. Berlusconi from Italy’s political scene, one which the media magnate-turned politician has dominated for the past 17 years.

Mr. Berlusconi had promised earlier this week he would resign once parliament approved the measures — a process that was completed on Saturday with the vote in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies.

The austerity measures went through with 380 votes versus 26 nays.

There were two abstentions.

The measures — which include tax breaks to stimulate growth; the sale of state assets; raising the pension age to 67 by 2026; and greater labour market flexibility — were approved by the Senate on Friday.

Entering the Chamber of Deputies, possibly for the last time as premier, the 75-year-old Berlusconi received a standing ovation from members of his conservative coalition who began chanting: “Silvio, Silvio!” “The Berlusconi government has done everything possible to fight against the attacks (on Italy),” said Fabrizio Cicchito, chief whip in the Chamber of Deputies for the premier’s People of Freedom (PDL) party.

“Unfortunately it (the government) came up against a solid block: those complex economic and financial interests that play a decisive game in democracies and for the survival of governments,” Mr. Cicchito said.

He was apparently referring to market speculators who have pressured Italy over its debt.

But several jeers went up from the opposition benches against Berlusconi.

“Italy awaits (the premier’s departure),” Dario Franceschini, chief whip of the main centre-left opposition Democratic Party, said.

“We now have to address the economic reforms in a phase of transition,” Franceschini, whose party has come out in favour of a technocrat—led unity government, added.

Earlier Saturday, Mr. Berlusconi held two hours of talks with former European Union commissioner Mario Monti, who is expected to be tasked by Napolitano with forming a new government.

The content of the talks has not been disclosed.

But Mr. Berlusconi’s party in a statement issued minutes before the premier’s resignation became official said it had approved a proposal by Berlusconi to inform President Giorgio Napolitano that the party would support an eventual mandate given by the president to Monti to form a “technical government”.

The People of Freedom Party (PDL) did not immediately provide further details.

The ruling conservative coalition has been split over whether to push for new elections or to support a unity government that includes the centre-left opposition.

Berlusconi had initially favoured a snap poll, and was said to pushing PDL Secretary Angelino Alfano as prime minister, saying he would not stand for relection, But opposition figures — including former prime minister and leader in the Democratic Party, Massimo D’Alema — are opposed to Alfano becoming prime minister, because they see him as Mr. Berlusconi’s hand-picked successor.

Such a government “would not be any stronger than the one led by Berlusconi,” Mr. D’Alema said Saturday, adding that any new government should have solid credibility to calm the markets and satisfy the European Union.

Mr. Napolitano is in favour of appointing a new government, and is now expected to hand Monti a mandate as premier — a move analysts say would be welcomed by financial markets, which reopen on Monday.

Before meeting Mr. Berlusconi, Mr. Monti on Saturday also held talks with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, increasing media speculation in the Italian media that Monti will be named as new prime minister.

Markets reacted favourably to speculation about a Monti-led government on Friday. The benchmark 10-year yields on Italian government bonds fell 27 basis points to 6.7 per cent, below the peak 7 per cent reached on Wednesday.


No country is immune to eurozone crisis: IMF chief

The chief of the International Monetary Fund said on Saturday that Italy’s financial reform is key to reducing the impact of the eurozone crisis, and that no country is immune to the consequences if the efforts fall short.

After meeting in Tokyo with top Japanese financial officials, including Finance Minister Jun Azumi, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said Italy must restore political stability and implement financial reforms to provide “clarity and credibility” and restore confidence.

Italy needs “steady, solid and sustained implementation of measures,” she said at a news conference.

The eurozone financial crisis, set off two years ago by Greece’s overwhelming debt, has now engulfed Italy, which has the third-largest economy among the 17 nations that share the euro currency. The crisis has toppled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who says he will step down once reforms are passed to help Italy control its own staggering debt.

Ms. Lagarde expressed concerns about the possible consequences outside the eurozone, particularly in Asia. She urged Japan to use caution against the impact of the eurozone crisis.

“I insisted with Minister Azumi that no country can be immune under the present circumstances, no matter how developed or how emerging or how far away it is,” Ms. Lagarde said. “Japan is no more immune than other countries.”

A major exporter, Japan “would be exposed if some of its large clients are in serious difficulty,” she said.

Europe has bailed out Greece, Portugal and Ireland.


Niger says asylum granted to Saadi Qaddafi; denies finding any surface-to-air missiles

Niger has decided to grant Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saadi asylum for humanitarian reasons, President Mahamadou Issoufou said Friday, adding that his brother Saif al-Islam is not in the country. He also denied that his country had seized the dangerous surface-to-air missiles left behind by Qaddafi’s retreating army.

“We have agreed on agreed on granting asylum on Saadi Qaddafi for humanitarian reasons,” Issoufou told a news conference at the end of a two-day visit to South Africa.

“Saif al-Islam is not in Niger. I would have to consider what to do if he comes,” he said, according to AFP.

“We will deal with issues in terms of law and democracy and international agreements.”

Saadi Qaddafi, 38, fled Libya across its southern frontier to Niger in August during the fall of Tripoli that ended his authoritarian father’s 42-year regime.

Libya’s new leadership wants Saadi to stand trial for crimes allegedly committed while heading the country’s football federation.

Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini said in September that there was “no question” of extraditing Saadi, at least until he could be assured of a fair trial in Libya.

Saif al-Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in relation to crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the crackdown against Libyan protests.

No dangerous surface-to-air missiles left behind

Meanwhile, Niger’s minister of defense denied on Friday that his country had seized the dangerous surface-to-air missiles left behind by Qaddafi’s retreating army, which military experts now fear are being sold to terrorist organizations that operate in the Sahel.

“We have not found any surface-to-air missiles yet,” Minister of Defense Mahamadou Karidio told The Associated Press by telephone from Niamey, the capital of landlocked Niger.

Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries which shares a massive border with Libya. It is through this ungoverned desert border that three of Qaddafi’s generals, one of his sons and his chief of intelligence fled in convoys escorted by ethnic Tuaregs, the traditional inhabitants of the Sahara who fought alongside Qaddafi.

The stretch of desert separating Libya from Niger and Mali has also been used by arms smugglers and drug traffickers for decades.

On Sunday, Niger’s military intercepted a convoy and found two 14.5 mm and four 12.7 mm machine guns, two ML-49 and three M-80 machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and belts of ammunition, Karidio said. The army also found a Thuraya satellite phone and seized six Toyota pickup trucks, and took hold of several prisoners.

“What we have found are caliber 14.5-mm machine guns, and also 12.7. And we found 14.5 and 12.7 cassettes of ammunition on belts,” Karidio said.

Military experts are concerned about Qaddafi’s stockpile of SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, a shoulder-fired weapon that can be hidden in a PVC tube and looks like a rolled-up poster, said Africa expert Peter Pham, the director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center.

Not unlike the ‘stinger’ missiles that allowed the Afghans to take down Soviet planes, the SA-7s usually have an infrared red sensor on them, allowing fighters to aim them in the general direction of a passing plane. The weapon is powerful enough to take down a commercial jet in mid-flight.

Experts worry that the hundreds of surface-to-air missiles left behind by Qaddafi’s fleeing military are being sold to terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa.

The President of neighboring Chad told French weekly Jeune Afrique in March that he was “100 percent sure” that the al-Qaeda affiliate which operates in Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Algeria, had gotten their hands on Qaddafi’s surface-to-air missiles.

Meanwhile, Niger’s president said that his army has clashed repeatedly with arms traffickers from neighboring Libya, underlining the security threat posed by the fall of Qaddafi’s regime.

“We are very worried because this crisis will destabilize the whole region,” President Issoufou told reporters during a visit to South Africa, AP reported.

Issoufou said Niger and its West African neighbors already face violence from Islamist extremists, and now he’s also worried about armed Qaddafi loyalists at large.


Arab League moves closer to freezing Syria’s membership


The Arab League on Saturday moved closer to an agreement on freezing Syria’s membership in response to the country’s failure to implement a plan to end its crackdown on protestors and withdraw its troops from the streets.

Al Arabiya correspondent from Cairo, Sharif Fouad, quoted unnamed sources within the Arab League as saying that most member states support tough measures against the regime in Syria, including the suspension of its membership from the pan-Arab body.

Fouad said the planned move was strongly objected by Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen who fear it could open door for direct international intervention as was the case in Libya.

The international community, however, remains limited in what it can do to help solve the Syrian crisis. NATO has ruled out the kind of military intervention that helped topple Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Sanctions are chipping away at the regime, but the economy has not collapsed.

The unrest could balloon into a regional disaster. Damascus’ web of allegiances extends to Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy. And although Syria sees Israel as the enemy, the countries have held up a fragile truce for years.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad already has warned the region will burn if there is any foreign intervention in his country. On Friday, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah backed Assad and his allies in Iran, saying any war in either country would take down the Middle East.

“Who would dare wage war on Iran? A war on Iran or a war on Syria will not stay in Iran or Syria, but will snowball and engulf the entire region,” Nasrallah warned.

Protesters across Syria want the Arab League to suspend the country's membership at the emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday.

This would be a powerful symbolic blow to a nation that prides itself on being a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.

The U.N. estimates some 3,500 people have been killed in the Syrian crackdown since the uprising against the authoritarian rule of President Bashar Assad began eight months ago, inspired by the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

Although the crackdown has led to broad international isolation, Assad appears to have a firm grip on power.

250 dead in 11 days of November

November is shaping up to be the bloodiest month yet in Syria’s eight-month-old uprising. More than 250 Syrian civilians have been killed in the past 11 days as the regime besieges the renegade city of Homs and the conflict takes a dangerous turn, stoking fears of civil war.

The bloodshed has spiked dramatically in recent weeks amid signs that more protesters are taking up arms to protect themselves, changing the face of what has been a largely peaceful movement. Many fear the change plays directly into the hands of the regime by giving the military a pretext to crack down with increasing force.

There also have been reports of intense battles between soldiers and army defectors, setting the stage for even more bloodshed. Although the crackdown has led to broad international isolation, President Bashar Assad appears to have a firm grip on power.
The most serious violence has been in Homs, the epicenter of the uprising, which the regime has been fighting to contain all month.

“We have seen urban warfare in some areas where army defections occurred,” said Hozan Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees, an activist coalition. “The soldiers are having a hard time advancing. They often come under attack from the defectors and this explains why they are shooting more.”

He said the regime is more often using tanks, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, because they are fighting army defectors as well as the unarmed protesters.

Syria has largely sealed off the country from foreign journalists and prevented independent reporting, making it difficult to confirm events on the ground. In a desperate measure, the regime has begun planting land mines along parts of its border with Lebanon, further closing itself off from the world and showing just how deeply shaken Assad’s regime has become.

An Associated Press journalist saw Syrian soldiers planting more mines Friday along the border with Lebanon. A Lebanese man lost his leg Friday after stepping on a mine; another man had a foot amputated on Nov. 1 in a similar accident.

Syria says the mines are aimed at stopping weapons smuggling into the country during the uprising.

However, the verdant hills along the frontier are used by refugees fleeing Syria’s military assault and by Syrians who have jobs and families on the Lebanese side. The decision to plant mines ─ terrifying weapons that often maim their victims if they don't kill them ─ suggests the regime is trying to contain a crisis that is spinning out of its control.

Mass protests after Friday prayers, followed by swift and deadly crackdowns by security forces, have become a weekly cycle throughout the uprising. On Friday, Syrian security forces opened fire on protesters and conducted sweeping raids that killed at least 16 people in Homs and elsewhere in the country, activists said.

The toll adds to a shockingly bloody November.

The Local Coordination Committees said 250 Syrians have been killed since the start of the month, most of them civilians. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also documented more than 250 civilian deaths, but reported that 100 soldiers were also killed.

In the absence of firsthand reporting, key sources of information have been amateur videos posted online and details gathered by witnesses and activist groups. Amateur video released Friday by the Shams News Network showed government troops dragging a man's body in the streets of Damascus as fighting raged in the capital a day earlier.

Human Rights Watch said in a 63-page report released Friday that Syrian forces have tortured and killed civilians in Homs in an assault that indicates crimes against humanity. The rights group said former detainees reported torture, including security forces' use of heated metal rods, electric shocks and stress positions.

Ibrahim said the attack on Homs has been severe, but the regime still has not been able to crush the dissent there.

“The vicious attack on Homs has been relentless,” he told the AP. “The martyrs are falling, one after the other.”

The bloodshed is, in many ways, tied to Syria’s potentially volatile sectarian divide.

Assad, and his father who ruled Syria before him, stacked key security and military posts with members of their minority Alawite sect over the past 40 years, ensuring loyalty by melding the fate of the army and the regime.

The power structure means the army will protect the regime at all costs, for fear they will be persecuted if the country’s Sunni majority gains the upper hand. Most of the army defectors, at least so far, appear to be lower-level Sunni conscripts.

Still, the crackdown is exacerbating long-standing sectarian resentments in Syria, and in Homs in particular.

A predominantly Sunni city located 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Damascus, Homs also has a mix of Alawites and Christians, both of whom generally support the regime. The communities have lived side-by-side ─ however uneasily at times ─ for decades. But a recent explosion of sectarian reprisal killings has left scores dead, activists say.


Explosion rocks military base west of Iranian capital Tehran

An explosion occurred at a military base west of the Iranian capital Tehran on Saturday, Iranian media reported, giving a few initial details.

The student news agency ISNA quoted Alireza Janeh, head of security issues at the Tehran governor’s office, as saying: “The sound of this blast came from outside Tehran, to the west of the province ... it was in one of the military bases there.”

The blast shattered the windows of residential neighborhoods in the western suburbs of Tehran, witnesses told AFP. It was heard in the city center.

Fars news agency reported that there were deaths in the blast but did not specify a number.

Hossein Garousi, a lawmaker from the area, said the blast occurred when “a large part of an ammunition depot exploded,” parliament's website reported.

Garousi said a crisis committee has been set up to investigate the incident.

The arms depot belongs to the elite Revolutionary Guards, according to a statement on their website, which did not give further details.

Several other members of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission confirmed the report on the blast in Bidgoneh, saying that it took place at an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) base.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Wake up to this important factor in feeling fresh----- Ramya Kannan

How well you sleep at night determines how well you are. And that, believe it or not, depends a whole load on the kind of bed/pillows you use at night.

“The spine is not a straight frame,” C.S. Dhillon, MIOT Centre for Spine Surgery, explains, setting the scientific basis for why orthopaedicians think that the choice of bed is important. There are certain normal curves, forward at the neck, backward at the upper back region, and forward again at the lower back. “The extent of curve varies from person to person and that determines what sort of bedding is required for that individual,” he goes on to explain.

How do you know if you have the right kind of bed? Simple. Do you wake up in the morning feeling aches and pains? If yes, then it is a clear case of bad bed. It probably is not fair to expect a layman to know the shape of his spine, but the easiest test is to see how he feels when he wakes up, Dr. Dhillon explains. “If you wake up fresh, what you have is the right bed for you,” he says.

There is no undervaluing the importance of waking up fresh, he goes on to say. “Waking up fresh in the morning gives you a whole new approach to life, more positive. Working and living with aches and pains has a definite impact on quality of life,” he adds. Waking up tired will erode a person's efficiency for sure, explains S.H.Jaheer Hussain, consultant, Trauma and Orthopaedic Specialty Hospital, Kilpauk. A minimum of seven hours of sleep is essential for that is when the body rests and regenerates itself. To allow the bed or pillow to get in the way of that would be quite foolish.

“We get a lot of people coming in with back and neck aches, and investigations usually reveal bad posture and bad bedding as the reasons behind the problem. Added to this is the factor that people are driving or riding for long distances, these days. So, people who come into the clinic usually ask us what type of bed they can use,” Dr. Dhillon says. Doctors make a recommendation based on the patient's anatomy, and usually the problems resolve themselves, once the proper mattresses and pillows are used.

Spending on a good bed, appropriate for your comfort is key, Dr. Hussain says. While a range of mattress materials are available in the market, including foam, coir, and cotton, and a huge variety of brands too, people are actually spoilt for choice. “Spending on a bed is important, but spending on the right type of bed/pillow is absolutely essential,” he adds.

Again, depending on the shape of your spine, some one with a flatter spine will be comfortable with a thin pillow and a bed that is not very soft. A thicker pillow and softer bed works for people with more curvature of the spine, Dr. Dhillon explains.

Also, within two years of regular use, the material used for the bedding tends to sink, and even if it started off being the right kind of bed, that sinking would cease to support the back properly, and would lead to back aches, Dr. Hussain added.


Hospital, airport shutdown in Israel as four-hour general strike begins

A general strike got under way in Israel on Monday, shutting down hospitals, banks and the country's main international airport, but was to last only four hours, Israel's army radio reported.

The decision to let the strike go ahead on a limited basis from 6:00 am (0400 GMT) was taken by the National Labor Court which debated the issue through the night following the collapse of talks between the powerful Histadrut trades union and the finance ministry.

The strike, which will shut down government offices, the country's ports, port offices and the Tel Aviv stock exchange for most of the morning, centers on the working conditions of hundreds of thousands of contract workers employed by the government.

Workers at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv were to join the strike from 8:00 am (0600 GMT), with dozens of flights brought forward to avoid the shut down, but people were to return to work at 10:00 am, and it was not clear when scheduling would return to normal, army radio said.

Hospitals would be staffed on a Sabbath footing, as would public utilities, including the electricity board, and buses and trains would not be running across much of the country.

The Histadrut has accused the government of massively increasing its use of contract workers, who enjoy fewer rights and protections than civil service workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.

"This open-ended strike is intended to protest the second class status of hundreds of thousands of Israelis working in the public sector and some private companies," Histadrut spokesman Eyal Malma told AFP.

"The use of these workers, who do not benefit from the same social rights and are underpaid, has become a veritable epidemic to which we must put a stop," he added.

Malma said use of contract workers, who can be fired without notice and lack many holiday and other entitlements, had mushroomed to the extent that it was difficult to know how many people were now affected.

The Histadrut wants the government to employ hundreds of thousands of contract workers but until now, talks with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have stalled over the numbers.

The union wants the government to offer a percentage of its current contract workers coverage under the civil service's collective bargaining agreement to ensure them the same rights and protections as their colleagues.

But the government has warned it will not take any measures that could endanger Israel's economy, while saying it is open to increasing the minimum wage paid to contract workers and increasing their rights.