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Thirty elite Iranian guards die in plane crash
Tehran, November 27
An Iranian military aircraft crashed at an airport in Tehran today, killing 39 persons on board, state-run Iranian television reported. Two persons survived the crash.
Firefighters keep watch for possible fires next to the wreckage of the Iranian military Russian-designed Antonov-74 aircraft at Teheran's Mehrabad airport on Monday, after it crashed shortly after take-off.
Firefighters keep watch for possible fires next to the wreckage of the Iranian military Russian-designed Antonov-74 aircraft at Teheran's Mehrabad airport on Monday, after it crashed shortly after take-off. — Reuters photo

UK to reduce troops in Iraq
London, November 27
Britain expects to withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq by the end of next year, Defence Secretary Des Browne said today. His comments were the clearest indication of a time frame for pullout from southern Iraq where the British forces have been deployed since the 2003 US-led invasion.


EARLIER STORIES


Lankan navy sinks LTTE boat, 6 die
Colombo, November 27
Sri Lanka’s navy today said it sunk a suspected Tamil Tiger trawler near the Indo-Lanka maritime border, killing six persons on board. “The Tiger trawler opened fire as the navy closed up for inspection,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement here.

Freed Briton says he was tortured in Pak jail
London, November 27
Mirza Tahir Hussain, the British national, who spent 12 years on death row in Pakistan before being released, said he was intimidated and beaten up during his years in prison.

Horse play: Kabul goes mad for wild sport
Money, violence, barely contained chaos and an unbridled struggle for power — it has all elements of a classic battle. But this is sport, not war: A new season of buzkashi, Afghanistan's wild national game, has just begun.

Man takes school hostage, surrenders
Tehran, November 27
A man armed with grenades and guns, accompanied by his daughter, took over a junior high school for several hours in central Tehran today, an AFP correspondent said.

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Thirty elite Iranian guards die in plane crash

Theran, November 27
An Iranian military aircraft crashed at an airport in Tehran today, killing 39 persons on board, state-run Iranian television reported. Two persons survived the crash.

It said the Russian-designed Antonov-74 belonged to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the ideological wing of the Islamic Republic’s military.

The television said in written captions on screen that 30 Guards and six members of the crew were killed.

A civil aviation official told state radio all those on board had been killed.

‘’A few minutes ago an Antonov-74 plane which belonged to the Revolutionary Guards crashed after taking off from Mehrabad airport,’’ the television said, adding the plane had been due to fly to Shiraz south of the capital.

Tehran’s Mehrabad airport is used for civilian and military flights.

Air safety experts say Iran has a poor record with a string of crashes in the past few decades, many involving Russian-made aircraft.

US sanctions against Iran have prevented it from buying new aircraft or spares from the West, forcing it to supplement its ageing fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes with aircraft from the former Soviet Union.

A military plane crashed in January, killing at least 11 persons and another military plane hit a tower block in Tehran in December last year, killing 94 persons on board and at least 22 on the ground.

The last civilian aviation disaster was in September, when an Iranian airliner caught fire after landing in Mashhad, killing 28 persons. — Reuters

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UK to reduce troops in Iraq

London, November 27
Britain expects to withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq by the end of next year, Defence Secretary Des Browne said today.

His comments were the clearest indication of a time frame for pullout from southern Iraq where the British forces have been deployed since the 2003 US-led invasion.

“I can tell you that by the end of next year, I expect numbers of the British forces in Iraq to be significantly lower, by a matter of thousands," he said in a defence policy speech in London.

“The planning for this has been going on for some months,” he said, adding that “in the end of course, it must depend on conditions on the ground, including the level of threat and the capacities of Iraqis to deal with it, and the final decision will be down to our commanders.” — AFP

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Lankan navy sinks LTTE boat, 6 die

Colombo, November 27
Sri Lanka’s navy today said it sunk a suspected Tamil Tiger trawler near the Indo-Lanka maritime border, killing six persons on board.

“The Tiger trawler opened fire as the navy closed up for inspection,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement here. “Following the retaliation by the navy, the trawler burst into flames,” it said.

The ministry said there were six persons on board the “suspicious trawler”, which was detected about 50 nautical miles west of the island’s Udappuwa coastline.

However, the rebel LTTE denied it was one of their vessels and said the Sri Lankan navy might have attacked an Indian trawler and killed Indian fishermen.

The incident came a day after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said he had wanted joint patrolling in the sea with India to crack down against arms and drug smuggling.

The President has accused the separatist LTTE of using Indian fishermen as cover to attack Sri Lanka’s navy.

“I will be explaining my position to them (Indian leaders), we want joint patrolling with India in the sea because not only arms are being smuggled into our country, but drugs are also coming,” he said. Fishermen from both countries repeatedly charge that they are attacked by security forces or Tamil rebels in the rich coastal fishing grounds. Sri Lankan forces have denied attacking fishermen. — PTI

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Freed Briton says he was tortured in Pak jail

London, November 27
Mirza Tahir Hussain, the British national, who spent 12 years on death row in Pakistan before being released, said he was intimidated and beaten up during his years in prison.

Hussain, in an interview published today in The Times, described the events that led up to his shooting of a Pakistani taxi driver in 1988. According to him, Jamshed Khan for whose murder he had been convicted had sexually assaulted him.

The British citizen has spent 18 years-and-a-half of his life in Pakistani prisons for a murder he has always denied. He was tried four times for the same alleged crime and sentenced to death twice, to life imprisonment once and acquitted in the next.

Hussein spent 12 years on the death row, and escaped gallows this year by virtue of four consecutive days of execution, the newspaper said.

"It is incredible. I still cannot believe I am really free," said 36-years-old Hussain, who has no idea how to use a computer, operate cable television or use a digital camera.

Hussain told the newspaper of how, on the taxi ride from Rawalpindi to Bhubur, where he was planning to pay an unannounced visit to relatives, Khan, stopped the car on a quiet road, pulled out a gun and pointed it at him and after robbing him asked him to perform an "indecent act".

During the ensuing scuffle, the gun went off and hit Khan's shoulder, he said.

Hussain returned to Britain earlier this month after his death sentence was commuted to life in prison by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after Prime Minister Tony Blair pressed for his release. — PTI

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Horse play: Kabul goes mad for wild sport

Money, violence, barely contained chaos and an unbridled struggle for power — it has all elements of a classic battle. But this is sport, not war: A new season of buzkashi, Afghanistan's wild national game, has just begun.

Some say the game, a heartstopping contest where hundreds of horse riders wrestle over a decapitated animal carcass, is the key to understanding Afghanistan. It certainly has some striking similarities to the country's turbulent politics: too many players, too few rules and regular confusion about who is in control. But can it help cement much needed national unity?

The first players of the season trotted out for a pre-season tryout behind Kabul airport. With their woollen hats, thick heeled boots and leathery faces, the riders resembled a winter version of Mad Max. But their courage and skill were very real. Whips between their teeth, they thundered up and down the mucky pitch. Horses clashed, lurched and reared; their riders lunged towards the prize — a headless, hoofless calf carcass, as heavy as a sack of potatoes and sorely battered as the afternoon wore on.

Nato helicopters and cargo planes zipped overhead; Communist-era apartment blocks squatted in the distance. The crowd, hunkered on an embankment, roared when one rider broke free from the scrum, carrying the calf around a flagpole and dumping it inside a white circle in the mud — a goal. His fist raised, the victor smiled and trotted towards the crowd, where local businessmen handed out prizes from $ 20 (£ 10.50) to $ 100- considerable sums by local standards.

Yet this was a modest game. In the northern cities of Balkh, Mazar and Maimana, buzkashi enjoys a fanatical following. Gladiatorial Friday afternoon contests attract up to 800 riders, and powerful warlords and politicians vaunt their prestige and power by offering generous prizes money. The Kabul game is younger and has different rules — it flourished only after the Taliban fell in 2001 — but is growing fast, players and teams.

The buzkashi renaissance has also attracted some foreigners, their enthusiasm lagging behind their skills. Roger Clayton, a bespectacled British security consultant, plunged into Sunday's game but failed to score. So he dismounted, flung the calf over his shoulder and scurried away, cartoon-style. The crowd hooted with laughter, Afterwards, Clayton, a former cavalry officer, explained that he was following in the footsteps of his forebears, who rode into Kabul as part of the colonial expeditions of the 1840s. Also watching was the American anthropologist and eminent buzkashi expert Whitney Azoy. He has led research into the parallels between power, politics and horseback play in Afghanistan. “At the moment it’s hard to see if anyone’s in charge,” he remarked as a scrum of riders thundered past.

The same might be said of much of Afghanistan. Insurgents, drug barons and warlords hold sway across much of the south. The new parliament can be as rowdy as an ill-tempered match. Political parties are forbidden, so individual MPs struggle for influence. Buzkashi itself has become embroiled in political and regional rivalries.

The biggest team in the Panjshir Valley is controlled by Marshall Fahim, a former warlord who has offered $1,000 prizes for each round. In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai has about nine horses — not enough for a team, but sufficient to bolster efforts to launch a Kabul side.

Mr Karzai, who is struggling to quell a Taliban rebellion in the south, may hope that buzkashi will help to unify Afghans as it did during the reign of King Zahir Shah. Since the fall of the Taliban, buzkashi has attracted large numbers of southern Pashtuns, who traditionally spurned the game. "We love buzkashi," said Abdul Jalil, a Pashtun labourer. — By arrangement with The Guardian

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Man takes school hostage, surrenders

Tehran, November 27
A man armed with grenades and guns, accompanied by his daughter, took over a junior high school for several hours in central Tehran today, an AFP correspondent said.

The police initially said the man and a woman, aged about 35, took over the school, but a boy, released before the siege ended, said a girl of about his own age, 13, was with him.

Pupil Milad Nazari Golheydari told AFP that the man was with a girl, who appeared to be his teenaged daughter, and he had four grenades on his belt and two guns.

He was one of around 30 pupils at Falagh Junior High School, aged between 11 and 13, who were released while the siege continued.

A police officer said that the man had problems and that he wanted “to talk to the government”.

Golheydari said the incident began at around 10 a.m.

“The man gathered all of us in a room, shot three times at the ground, pointed a gun at our principal and then let some of us go,” he said.

The incident ended when the man and the girl agreed to come out with the police, the AFP correspondent witnessed. Upon coming out of the building, the man shouted: “I don’t care about my daughter and me dying.”

All of the pupils were released unharmed. — AFP

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Hollywood’s “Nativity” premiered at Vatican

Vatican City, November 27
“The Nativity Story”, a Hollywood movie of the story of Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus, had its world premiere at the Vatican on Sunday and won strong praise from the man known as the “deputy pope”.

The audience of some 8,000 persons who attended a benefit gala premiere in the Vatican’s vast Paul VI Hall on Sunday into applause five times during the screening and again at the end. It was the first feature film to premiere at the Vatican. — Reuters

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