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Delhi gang rape: Court frames charges,
5 accused plead not guilty

NEW DELHI: Five men pleaded not guilty on Saturday to charges they raped and murdered a trainee physiotherapist, in a case that led to a shake-up of laws against sexual crimes after protests about a rising number of attacks on women.

The police says the gang lured the 23-year-old woman onto a bus in New Delhi, where they repeatedly raped and assaulted her with a metal bar before throwing her bleeding onto a highway. She died of internal injuries two weeks after the December 16 attack.

A Reuters witness saw the men file into the court room with their faces covered, where lawyers in the case said they were read thirteen charges, including murder that carries a maximum penalty of death. They left after 15 minutes.

"After the judge read out the charges, the five pleaded not guilty and walked out," said AP Singh, a lawyer defending two of the accused, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur.

Singh said the prosecution will call three witnesses to the next hearing on Tuesday, which is the formal start of the trial. The prosecution says it has strong evidence against the five men including blood stained clothing, DNA matches, mobile phone records, confessions and eye-witness statements.

Singh says Sharma was never on the bus and Thakur was hiding beneath a seat and never took part in the crime.

The other men — brothers Ram and Mukesh Singh and Pawan Kumar — are represented by two other lawyers. Mukesh Singh has replaced a lawyer who claimed his client was tortured in police custody, and no longer claims mistreatment.

A sixth person police say was part of the gang that attacked the woman and her friend is a juvenile and will be tried separately.

The brutality of the attack was shocking even to a nation inured to a rising wave of sexual crimes against women. Thousands of young protesters took to the streets in the weeks that followed. In response to the public outcry, on Friday the Union Cabinet fast-tracked new, tougher penalties for sex crimes.

Under the new rules, due to be signed into law by the President in the coming days, gang rape that leads to death will be punishable by death while minimum penalties will be raised to 20 years for gang rape and rape of a minor. The laws must later be ratified by Parliament. — Reuters






31 killed as militants attack Pakistan Army check post

ISMAIL KHAN: Militants attacked an isolated Army check post in Pakistan's restive northwest on Saturday, with at least 31 people killed in the initial assault, subsequent crossfire and a rocket attack on a house, officials said.

The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the attack was in response to a US drone strike in neighbouring North Waziristan last month in which two commanders were killed.

The Pakistani military and pro-government militias have since 2009 regained territory from the Pakistan Taliban, who once controlled land a few hours' drive from the capital of Islamabad.

The militants attacked the post at Lakki Marwat early on Saturday.

Security sources said at least 12 militants and nine officials and civilians were killed in the clash. Two bodies had suicide bomb belts on them, an official said.

"Cross-firing between militants and security officials continued for four hours," one source said.

The militants also targeted a house next to the camp with rockets, killing 10 members of one family, sources said.

"Pakistan has been co-operating with the US in its drone strikes that killed our two senior commanders, Faisal Khan and Toofani, and the attack on military camp was the revenge of their killing," the Taliban spokesman said.

He said four suicide bombers attacked the camp and blew themselves up. He said more than a dozen soldiers were killed. — Reuters






Kerry sworn in as US Secretary of State

Washington: John Kerry, the veteran American politician and 2004 presidential candidate, has been sworn in as the US Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton. 

“I was very honoured to be sworn in and very anxious to get to work,” Mr. Kerry told media with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, by his side, after being sworn in by the Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. 

“So I will be reporting Monday morning at 9 o’clock,” he told the awaiting media at the Capitol on Friday. 

Besides his wife, he was joined by daughter Vanessa, brother Cameron, and his Senate staff, who presented him with a gift: the seat he say during his 28 years of service in the Senate. 

Replacing Hillary Clinton as the top American diplomat, Mr. Kerry has an illustrious career spanning over three decades of public life. 

For the last four years he was Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

A close confidant of President Barack Obama, Mr. Kerry, 69, in the last four years several times came to the rescue of Obama Administration whenever U.S. relationship with Pakistan reached low ebb. 

He has a personal relationship with top Pakistani leadership. 

A Vietnam War veteran, Mr. Kerry played a key role in shaping the country’s foreign policy and national security and on a range of issues including Afghanistan and Pakistan, nuclear non-proliferation, and global climate change. 

As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, in 2010, Mr. Kerry was instrumental in renewing the New START Treaty, a vital nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia that helps steer both countries away from dangerous nuclear confrontations. 

In an interview to The Boston Globe, Mr. Kerry said the Mr. Obama offered him the job of Secretary of State a week before United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from contention, an earlier timeline than has been previously reported. 

“He called me, actually a week before Susan got out of the thing,” Mr. Kerry said. 

“He called me and said, ‘You’re my choice. I want you to do this.’ He asked me to keep it quiet. I did. I sat on it,” he was quoted as saying. 

The White House refused to comment on his interview. 

In the interview, Mr. Kerry spelled out that Benghazi, embassy security, Iran and Syria would be some of his key priorities to begin with. 

Mr. Kerry said he would be travelling, but would not try to break the record of his predecessor Hillary Clinton who travelled to a record 112 countries. — PTI






BJP to boycott Shinde meetings 

New Delhi: The BJP will boycott Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to protest his remarks against Hindutva terror.

“BJP workers will show black flags to Shinde wherever he goes for a public meeting. We’ll also not attend any meeting in Parliament called by him as Leader of the House. He must  withdraw his remark and apologise,” BJP leader Ananth Kumar said after a meeting of the BJP core group attended by party president Rajnath Singh, LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. 

Rajnath Singh told reporters that the party would raise his remarks in the House too. 
The BJP leaders also discussed the Karnataka situation in the meet that lasted more than two hours. 






Minimum temperatures rise across Punjab, Haryana

Chandigarh: People reeling under cold conditions in Punjab and Haryana for past several days got the much-needed respite on Saturday as minimum temperature rose between 2-7 notches above normal in both the States.

The minimum at Chandigarh rose by over four degrees since Friday and six above normal to settle at 13ºC, the MeT office said here.

Among other places in Punjab, Ludhiana and Patiala recorded respective minimums of 13.4ºC and 13.6ºC, up by six and seven notches.

Amritsar’s minimum settled at 7ºC, two above normal level.

In Haryana, Ambala, Karnal and Bhiwani recorded above normal lows of 13.4ºC, 10.8 ºC and 13.2 ºC respectively.

Hisar’s minimum rose by eight notches since Friday to settle at 13.6ºC, while Narnaul recorded a low of 8.6 ºC, four degrees above normal.

Meanwhile, fog enveloped various parts of the region early today including Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Karnal and Ambala.

The MeT in its forecast said light rains may occur at isolated places in Punjab and Haryana until Sunday. — PTI






Tendulkar worships at Tirupati 

Tirupati: Star batsman Sachin Tendulkar offered worship at the famous hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara near hear in the wee hours today.

Tendulkar arrived on a 10-hour maiden pilgrimage on the hills at midnight.
He offered worship in the traditional manner, wearing a white dhoti and shirt, and also took part in the 'Suprabhatha recitation seva' (a ritual), temple sources said.
Tendulkar was in the temple for about 20 minutes.

After prayers, Tendulkar was presented with 'laddu' prasadam, holy water and a sacred silk cloth by the temple management while the priests, chanting vedic hymns, blessed him at the ancient Ranganayaka mandapam inside the temple, they said.Back




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