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Maoists lift blockade
Kathmandu, March 19
Maoists have called off the road blockade of Kathmandu and other major towns in Nepal from tomorrow after signing the second Memorandum of Understanding today with the seven-party alliance to establish full-fledged democracy in the Himalayan Kingdom.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets supporters during an election campaign rally in Bangkok on Sunday. A 20,000-strong "caravan of the poor" arrived in Bangkok on Friday in support of Thaksin, although its leaders promised to steer clear of crowds outside his office baying for his head. Protesters seeking Thai PM’s ouster defy police
Bangkok, March 19
Organisers of a round-the-clock protest outside the Thai Prime Minister's office vowed today not to budge, inviting the police to arrest them after the government urged protesters to leave.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra greets supporters during an election campaign rally in Bangkok on Sunday. A 20,000-strong "caravan of the poor" arrived in Bangkok on Friday in support of Thaksin, although its leaders promised to steer clear of crowds outside his office baying for his head. — Reuters photo



EARLIER STORIES
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

Howard’s party loses state elections
Sydney, March 19
Australian Prime Minister John Howard's Liberal Party was defeated at the weekend in two state elections where Labour governments held on to power.

NRI’s peerage may be blocked
Secret loan to Labour Party
London, March 19
The nomination of NRI entrepreneur Sir Gulam Noon for a peerage is likely to be blocked following allegations that he gave a secret loan to Britain’s ruling Labour party, according to a media report.

Holy smoke! City turns cigarettes to medicine
Beijing, March 19
A city in China, a country that's home to the world's most enthusiastic smokers, is crushing fake cigarettes to make medicine, Xinhua news agency today said.

Protests mark Iraq invasion’s anniversary
Sydney, March 19
Anti-war protests which marked the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq continued today, a day after tens of thousands of people took to streets around the world to demand the pullout of coalition troops from Iraq.

Pak spent money to get 9/11 findings dropped
New Delhi, March 19
Pakistan is alleged to have spent "tens of thousands of dollars" through its lobbyists in the United States to get some findings against it by the 9/11 Inquiry Commission dropped from its report, a media report has claimed.

7 killed in Pak blast
Islamabad, March 19
At least six security personnel and a civilian were killed and several others injured when a powerful roadside bomb hit a police van in northwestern Pakistan today.

2 cops, two Taliban killed in clash
Kandahar, March 19
At least two policemen were killed and four others are missing after an hour-long clash with dozens of suspected Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, officials said today.

Russian fighter jets perform during an aerobatics show at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in central China's Hunan province on Sunday. Russian fighter jets perform during an aerobatics show at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in central China's Hunan province on Sunday.
— Reuters


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Maoists lift blockade

Kathmandu, March 19
Maoists have called off the road blockade of Kathmandu and other major towns in Nepal from tomorrow after signing the second Memorandum of Understanding today with the seven-party alliance to establish full-fledged democracy in the Himalayan Kingdom.

The rebels had declared the blockade of Kathmandu stopping the vehicles from moving in and out of Kathmandu since last week, which has affected the movement of people and supply of essential goods in the capital and other parts of the country.

The MoU was made public separately by the alliance and the Maoists. Both the sides have expressed commitment to hold the Constituent Assembly elections to establish full-fledged democracy in Nepal.

The seven parties have reiterated their stance for the revival of the dissolved Parliament while the Maoists have preferred an all-party conference before the election.

In separate statements issued by the seven parties and the Maoists, both the sides have agreed for “a common agenda in course of time through mutual understanding.”

Leaders of the seven parties including Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala and CPN-UML’s acting General Secretary Amrit Kumar Bohara have signed the agreement.

Maoist chairman Prachanda, in a statement issued here today said that the second MoU will pave the way to find a common political agenda in the days ahead.

Prachand has said that the Maoists are committed to the 12-point agreements reached with the seven parties in November last year.

The seven parties have also urged the Maoists to call off the blockade and create a conducive environment for the peaceful protest programmes of the parties. — UNI

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Protesters seeking Thai PM’s ouster defy police

Bangkok, March 19
Organisers of a round-the-clock protest outside the Thai Prime Minister's office vowed today not to budge, inviting the police to arrest them after the government urged protesters to leave.

Anti-government protesters have camped for nearly a week outside Government House, where they have set up tents and a giant stage.

Speakers delivered fiery speeches accusing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of corruption and abuse of power, saying they won't leave until he resigns.

"We're not going anywhere," protest leader Chamlong Srimuang told a cheering crowd of a few thousand after sunrise today. "Our protest is important because we are protecting the country from Thaksin." Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathi warned yesterday that the government's patience was wearing thin.

"They have already expressed their opinion," he said.

"We will not run away. We will be here with you and wait for them to arrest us," Sondhi Limthongkul, another leader of the anti-Thaksin movement, said today.

A TV station reported Mr Chitchai saying today that the government would use only "peaceful means" to remove the protesters. There has been no specific threat of arrests.

The sometime boisterous protests have never become violent, but the rally suffered its first fatality yesterday when a 58-year-old man who had regularly attended the rallies died after passing out, apparently from heat exhaustion, said Anchalee Paireerat, a protest spokeswoman. — AP

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Howard’s party loses state elections

Sydney, March 19
Australian Prime Minister John Howard's Liberal Party was defeated at the weekend in two state elections where Labour governments held on to power.

Mr Howard brushed aside the defeats in South Australia and Tasmania, saying yesterday's elections had nothing to do with federal politics, where his Liberal-National coalition had been in office for 10 years.

He denied claims that voters had turned against the Liberal Party because of recent changes to labour laws that unions say reduce workers' rights.

While the final results may not be known for weeks, with preference votes and postal ballots still to be taken into account in Australia's complex voting system, the Liberal Party has conceded defeat in both states.

In South Australia, Premier Mike Rann was re-elected as the Labour won up to 30 seats in the 47-seat Parliament after a 10 per cent statewide swing in its favour.

The party, in its second term in office, will now be able to govern in its own right without having to rely on the support of Independents.

In Tasmania, Premier Paul Lennon was re-elected as the Labour won a third successive term, despite a two per cent swing against the party. — AFP

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NRI’s peerage may be blocked
Secret loan to Labour Party

London, March 19
The nomination of NRI entrepreneur Sir Gulam Noon for a peerage is likely to be blocked following allegations that he gave a secret loan to Britain’s ruling Labour party, according to a media report.

Sir Noon, the curry magnate nominated to become a lord by Prime Minister Tony Blair, is the latest name to be dragged into the scandal surrounding Labour's covert loans, ‘The Sunday Times’ claimed.

Quoting sources close to the Appointments Commission, the body that vets potential peerages, the paper reported that the Commission is withdrawing its previous endorsement of Noon because neither he nor the party disclosed his loan of up to 250,000 pounds.

Downing Street was also under pressure to say whether Lord Sainsbury, a minister in the government, gave a multi-million pound loan to the party.

Both Downing Street and Sainsbury refused to confirm or deny it, but senior Labour sources claimed that the minister was also a lender, the report said. Three other Labour donors including NRI entrepreneur Chai Patel, who secretly loaned the party 4.5 million pounds, have already been blocked by the Commission after being nominated as peers by Downing Street. — PTI

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Holy smoke! City turns cigarettes to medicine

Beijing, March 19
A city in China, a country that's home to the world's most enthusiastic smokers, is crushing fake cigarettes to make medicine, Xinhua news agency today said.

The northwestern city of Xian is using the counterfeit cigarettes to extract solanesol, a compound found in tobacco which is used to treat cardiovascular disease, it said.

''We used to incinerate the fake cigarettes, which is wasteful and causes air pollution,'' Xinhua quoted the vice- director of the provincial tobacco monopoly, as saying.

A kilo of solanesol is worth about 200 dollars, and 30 tonnes of tobacco leaf can produce up to 120 kilos, Xinhua added. — Reuters

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Protests mark Iraq invasion’s anniversary

Sydney, March 19
Anti-war protests which marked the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq continued today, a day after tens of thousands of people took to streets around the world to demand the pullout of coalition troops from Iraq.

Up to 2,000 demonstrators were expected in Seoul, South Korea, which has the third-largest contingent of foreign troops in Iraq after the US and Britain, while a rally was planned outside the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the largest city in Malaysia.

Demonstrations started yesterday with over 500 people chanting anti-war slogans in Sydney and around the world, with major protests in London and the United States, where more than 1,000 people gathered in New York’s Times Square.

In Boston, Susan McLucas wore a homemade sandwich board that read, “Bush Lied! 100,000 died!”

But the number of people taking to the streets did not bear that out, with attendance lower than what organisers had predicted and far below the millions worldwide who protested the initial invasion in March 2003. — AP

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Pak spent money to get 9/11 findings dropped

New Delhi, March 19
Pakistan is alleged to have spent "tens of thousands of dollars" through its lobbyists in the United States to get some findings against it by the 9/11 Inquiry Commission dropped from its report, a media report has claimed.

According to a report in the Friday Times, the Pakistan Foreign Office disclosed this to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) at a "secret meeting" held earlier this month.

The 9/11 commission, set up to probe the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, had published a lengthy report which "left out some information relating to Pakistan because the commission's members were paid by Pakistan to prevent them from including damaging information", the Pakistani weekly said.

Claiming that the PAC records were available with it, the weekly quoted Pakistan Foreign Office officials as well as "insiders" and unnamed sources present at the meeting as saying that the 9/11 report "softened towards Pakistan only because of the efforts of the Foreign Office". — PTI

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7 killed in Pak blast

Islamabad, March 19
At least six security personnel and a civilian were killed and several others injured when a powerful roadside bomb hit a police van in northwestern Pakistan today.

The blast, apparently carried out through a remote control device, ripped through the mobile police van in the city of Dera Ismail Khan in North West Frontier Province, some 290 km southwest of Islamabad, District Police Officer Iftikhar Ali Khattak said.

Several other security personnel were also injured and taken to the District Headquarters Hospital, where the doctors said they were in critical condition.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. — PTI

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2 cops, two Taliban killed in clash

Kandahar, March 19
At least two policemen were killed and four others are missing after an hour-long clash with dozens of suspected Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, officials said today.

Two suspected Taliban fighters were also killed in the fighting in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province late Saturday, said Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanizai.

“Four policemen are missing. We’ve no news on their fate,” he said.

The fighting erupted after dozens of rebels stormed a checkpoint in the restive district, where the hardliners are especially active.

A local police commander, who asked not to be named, said the police, with reinforcements from the provincial capital Kandahar, had launched a hunt for the attackers who are believed to be hiding in the mountains.

Maiwand was the scene of a bomb blast on Friday in which nine policemen were killed. That attack was claimed by the Taliban. — AFP

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