Seven die in UK copter crash
Lions, tigers, ostriches
3 US soldiers killed in Iraq
Army called as Ershad men clash with cops
Pak general elections on Jan 15, ’08: Minister
Hindu judge to act as Pak Chief Justice
Somalian troops enter Mogadishu outskirts
Mogadishu, December 28
Parts of Mogadishu shook with the sound of gunfire and outbreaks of looting after the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) fled their base to avoid advancing government fighters backed by Ethiopian tanks and jets.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi confirmed that Somali government and Ethiopian troops had reached the outskirts of the capital and said they would pursue the Islamist leaders.
Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said earlier that the government had declared a state of emergency ''to control security and stability''.
Earlier, militias allied to the Somali government captured several key buildings including the former presidential palace in Mogadishu on Thursday, a spokesman for the Somali National Alliance (SNA) faction said.
"We have taken over Villa Somalia," Abukar Osman Sheikh said. "Now the Islamists have left Mogadishu, we rightfully took over all the places we used to control including the presidential palace."
The SNA belongs to former faction leader Hussein Mohamed Aideed, now Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in the government.
"We have a working relationship with the government and would welcome them to the capital," Sheikh said.
The move came as residents reported an upsurge in violence in Mogadishu, with looting, gunfire and checkpoints erected after their former Islamist leaders deserted the city.
United Nations: The UN Security Council has failed to reach a consensus on a statement calling for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Somalia and an end to military operations.
"We could not reach a consensus" on the non-binding statement, said Mutlaq al-Qahtani, a UN delegate from Qatar, which chaired the 15-member council and drafted the text.
It was the second day in a row that the 15 members failed to reach common ground. They finally decided to give up their attempt as it became clear that there was no hope of a consensus.
The stumbling block was a paragraph in the Qatari text that "demands that all foreign forces immediately withdraw from the territories of Somalia and cease their military operations inside Somalia."
"That is lamentable. We were very close," US acting ambassador Alejandro Wolff said.
At the request of Qatar, the lone Arab member of the council, the 15 members kicked off an emergency session on Tuesday to discuss the offensive by Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces against Islamist forces.
Mr Wolff stressed that the situation in Somalia was a "complex" one that could not be resolved just by a call for the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces.
The United States has defended Ethiopia's assault on Islamists in Somalia, which has reportedly killed more than 1,000 people, but said "maximum restraint" was needed to spare civilians. - Reuters, AFP
London, December 28
The aircraft, with two crew and five passengers, was picking up gas rig workers when it crashed 24 miles from the coast.
“In the rescue business you never say never, but you have to temper that with being quite realistic about someone’s chances of survival,” RAF rescue co-ordinator Michael Mulford told BBC radio. “As each hour goes by, clearly the fears grow for the safety of anyone still in the water.”
The cause of the crash is unknown. Air accident investigators have begun an inquiry.
Utility firm Centrica Plc, which produces gas from the Morecambe Bay gas fields, said its employees were among those killed.
The helicopter’s operator, Canadian company CHC Helicopter Corporation, said it was helping with the search.
“All of us are deeply, deeply saddened by this tragic accident,” CHC President and Chief Executive Officer Sylvain Allard said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims.”
The helicopter, a twin-engine Eurocopter AS365N, had taken off from Blackpool airport to pick up gas rig workers to bring them back to shore.
It had stopped to pick up passengers at two rigs and was about to go to a third platform when it ditched in the sea.
Gas was discovered in Morecambe Bay in 1974. The fields can meet up to 8 percent of Britain’s peak gas demand.
The bay was the scene of another disaster in 2004 when 21 Chinese cockle pickers drowned there. — Reuters
Jakarta, December 28
Officials used helicopters to reach remote points in Aceh province on the northern tip of the island, while military planes and dozens of lorries shuttled relief supplies to other areas.
Health authorities began treating well water to stem the outbreak of disease.
The confirmed death toll in Aceh and neighbouring North Sumatra province has remained around 100 in recent days, but figures for the displaced, many of whom lack basic necessities, have climbed to above 400,000.
''Displaced people in Aceh are at 365,335, while in North Sumatra (they are) at 44,189,'' said Laksmita Novira, a UN aid spokeswoman in Aceh.
More than 200 people were missing in Aceh alone, she said.
Medication and doctors had been sent to help the displaced, according to Rustam Pakaya, the health ministry's crisis centre chief. ''So far there is no serious health problem,'' he said.
Lina Sofiani, a UNICEF officer in Jakarta, told Reuters: ''Today, a child protection team from UNICEF's Banda Aceh base will go to east Aceh. Three diarrhoea cases were reported''.
The government was sending additional food to flood-affected areas, polluted wells were being treated with chlorine, and temporary camps fogged with insecticide, the health ministry's Pakaya told Reuters.
The flooding came two years after a giant tsunami left about 170,000 dead or missing in Aceh, a remote but resource-rich province whose capital, Banda Aceh, is 1,700 km northwest of Jakarta.
Aceh and North Sumatra produce palm oil, coffee and rubber, while Aceh has major offshore natural gas fields and related onshore facilities.
However, traders and officials say effects from the flooding have been minimal on output and processing of all those commodities except for rubber. Traders say washed out bridges and damaged roads have hampered delivery of raw materials to factories and pushed up rubber prices.
Authorities blame heavy rains and the effects of deforestation for the latest destruction. Lack of adequate forest cover leaves the ground less able to absorb excess water.
Flooding has also hit parts of peninsular Malaysia, across the Strait of Malacca from Sumatra.
Floods in the worst-hit state of Johor have killed nine people, with four others still missing.
The floods, which the government described as the worst since 1969, have displaced more than 60,000 people in the states of Johor, Pahang and Malacca.
Malaysia's Meteorological Department said rains in Johor and southern Pahang were expected to continue until Sunday. — Reuters
Lions, tigers, ostriches
London, December 28 The Big Cats in Britain (BCIB) group used the Freedom of Information Act to survey local councils on the weird and woolly creatures legally kept in private hands. It found a total of 154 assorted cats -- including 12 lions, 14 tigers, 50 leopards and 16 wild cats -- plus 2,000 ostriches and nearly 500 monkeys. At the same time 300 American bison and 6,000 wild boars are also kept privately. At the less cuddly end of the spectrum BCIB found more than 250 poisonous snakes and 50 members of the crocodile family. The figures exclude zoo animals. ''Although these animals are regarded by law as dangerous, the public should rest assured, that these animals very rarely escape,'' said researcher Shaun Stevens yesterday. ''Where escapes are reported the animals tend to be recaptured quickly and without any harm to the public,'' he added. —
London, December 28
The Big Cats in Britain (BCIB) group used the Freedom of Information Act to survey local councils on the weird and woolly creatures legally kept in private hands.
It found a total of 154 assorted cats -- including 12 lions, 14 tigers, 50 leopards and 16 wild cats -- plus 2,000 ostriches and nearly 500 monkeys.
At the same time 300 American bison and 6,000 wild boars are also kept privately.
At the less cuddly end of the spectrum BCIB found more than 250 poisonous snakes and 50 members of the crocodile family. The figures exclude zoo animals.
''Although these animals are regarded by law as dangerous, the public should rest assured, that these animals very rarely escape,'' said researcher Shaun Stevens yesterday.
''Where escapes are reported the animals tend to be recaptured quickly and without any harm to the public,'' he added. — Reuters
Saddam judgement published
Baghdad, December 28
The confirmation of the ousted dictator's death sentence came as his foe US President George W. Bush convened a meeting of his top security advisers to find a way to stem the rising tide of bloodshed in Iraq.
More than three-and-a-half years after a US-led invasion deposed Saddam's totalitarian regime, the country remains in the grip of a vicious conflict that claims more than 100 Iraqi lives per day.
American soldiers are still dying in near record numbers; the military confirmed the deaths of three more today, bringing December's toll to 99, and keeping it on course to be the bloodiest month for US troops this year.
Saddam's imminent demise — on December 26 a court ordered his execution within 30 days — has been welcomed by Washington, but US forces are nevertheless braced for a backlash from his remaining supporters.
Meanwhile, sectarian and insurgent violence continues to claim scores of lives every day and make a mockery of promises by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to put in place a new Baghdad security plan.
Seven persons were killed and 25 wounded when two booby traps exploded in a popular Baghdad market during the busy morning shopping rush, military officials and medics at the Al-Kindi hospital said. The devices exploded in the Baab al-Sharki neighbourhood in the centre of the Iraqi capital, they said.
Dhaka, December 28
The army was called in to help curb the violence, which erupted during a day-long strike in Ershad’s home town of Rangpur and four nearby districts a day after authorities rejected the ex-dictator’s applications to contest next month’s elections.
“It has been a running battle with protesters attacking government offices and vehicles,” one witness said by telephone.
“Police fired teargas and rubber bullets trying to disperse stone-throwing and stick-carrying Ershad supporters. About 50 people have been injured,” he said.
Local officials said the army was deployed around noon to assist police and paramilitary troops by patrolling the streets and also chasing protesters.
Ershad’s supporters called the strike after election officials on Wednesday declared his application to contest five constituencies in the January 22 ballot “unacceptable” due to legal troubles he faces over corruption charges.
It paralyzed all five districts, known to be a stronghold of Ershad, who ruled Bangladesh for nine years until December 1990 and followed protests on Wednesday when supporters wrecked vehicles and vandalized local election and district administration offices.
“The protests on Thursday are far more violent,” said a local reporter. “The town has not seen such fury for many years.”
Ershad, leader of the Jatiya Party, is now allied with former prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, the main opposition party for the past five years to Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh National Party (BNP).
Ershad, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1982, was ousted in a people’s revolt led jointly by Khaleda and Hasina. — Reuters
Islamabad, December 28
The precise date, disclosed for the first ime by Tariq Azim, the state minister for Information and Broadcasting at a press conference, sets the time table for the elections in a country currently having its fourth phase of military-guided democracy.
But there is a catch: President Pervez Musharraf would be re-elected before the general elections take place by the current legislatures, both federal and provincial, that had elected him once earlier.
This is a contentious issue with not only the politicians, but also legal and constitutional experts, who question whether a legislature can be an electoral college to elect the president twice in its single tenure.
The presidential elections would be held between September 15 and October 15, 2007, Azim said on Wednesday.
This is in keeping with Musharraf’s repeated hints that he would seek a second term in the presidency and also decide when he, the Army Chief since 1998, would hang his uniform. He has argued that the country needs him in the dual role.
The Daily Times quoted Azim on Thursday as saying that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the banker-turned-politician, would be the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid)’s prime ministerial candidate.
Mushasrraf has preferred Aziz, a political lightweight, to the other senior leaders in Muslim League.
Azim’s announcement should draw reaction from three top politicians living abroad in exile - two former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who have been striving to forge an alliance since May this year, and Altaf Hussain, chief of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).
Musharraf has said that Bhutto and Sharif cannot contest the forthcoming elections.
Also put on alert will be other parties, especially Muttahida Majlis-E-Amal (MMA), the principal Islamist alliance that has been threatening to get its lawmakers to resign from the legislatures en masse to prevent Musharraf’s re-election gambit.
Since he captured power in a military coup in 1998, Musharraf has been criticised in the West for denying democracy to his people.
The polls in 2002 did not convince the critics and US President George W Bush publicly pleaded for the restoration of democracy during his brief visit in March this year. — IANS
Islamabad, December 28
"The Supreme Court is working on a judicial reforms programme under which rule of law and safeguarding rights of people are the main agendas," Bhagwandas told reporters after his swearing-in ceremony.
He was administered the oath yesterday at a ceremony held at the Supreme Court Branch Registry in Karachi. Many eminent personalities including SC judges, acting chief justice and judges of the Sindh High Court, former SC chief justices and judges, took part in the event. — PTI
Quake jolts Japan