Female suicide bomber kills 16 at Russian railway station
Debris lies outside an entrance to Volgograd railway station on Sunday. —
Pak Army still backs me, says Musharraf
Obama appoints record number of Indian-Americans in 2013
Cambodians rally to demand PM Hun Sen’s resignation
Supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party protest in Phnom Penh on Sunday. — Reuters
special to the tribune
Army general among 18 killed in Iraq
Female suicide bomber kills 16 at Russian railway station
Volgograd, December 29
The bomber detonated her explosives in front of a metal detector just inside the main entrance of Volgograd station. Footage shown on TV showed a massive orange fireball filling the stately colonnaded hall and smoke billowing out through shattered windows.
“People were lying on the ground, screaming and calling for help,” a witness, Alexander Koblyakov, told Rossiya-24 TV. “I helped carry out a police officer whose head and face were covered in blood. He couldn’t speak.”
A spokesman for Russian investigators said at least 16 people were killed. The regional governor put the toll at 15. President Vladimir Putin ordered law enforcement agencies to take all necessary precautions to ensure security, his spokesman said.
A federal police spokesman said measures would be tightened at stations and airports, with more officers on duty and stricter security checks. But the attack, just over two months after a female suicide bomber killed six persons on a bus in the same city, raised questions about the effectiveness of security measures which the Kremlin routinely orders to be increased after bombings.
It could add to concerns about the government’s ability to safeguard the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Games, which open in 40 days’ time, are a major prestige project for Putin, who wants to show how far Russia has come since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Female suicide bombers - known as ‘black widows’ because some are the relatives of dead insurgents - have carried out several attacks claimed by Islamist militants.
Volgograd lies just above Russia’s restive North Caucasus region, a string of mostly Muslim provinces that includes Chechnya, where Russia has fought two wars against separatists in the past two decades. The region is beset by near-daily violence. Interfax news agency cited a law enforcement source as saying the attacker may have come from Dagestan, the province adjacent to Chechnya that is now the centre of the insurgency. The October bus bomber was from the same region.
Volgograd is a city of around 1 million people, and a major transport hub in southern Russia, about 690 km northeast of Sochi, where the Olympics will open on February 7. Insurgent leader Doku Umarov, a Chechen warlord, urged militants in a video posted online in July to use “maximum force” to prevent Putin staging the Olympics.
On Friday, a car bomb killed three people in Pyatigorsk, close to the North Caucasus and 270 km east of Sochi. “We can expect more such attacks,” said Alexei Filatov, deputy head of the veterans’ association of the elite Alfa anti-terrorism unit.
“The threat is greatest now because it is when terrorists can make the biggest impression,” he told Reuters. “The security measures were beefed up long ago around Sochi, so terrorists will strike instead in these nearby cities like Volgograd.”
Volgograd is one of the venues for the 2018 soccer World Cup, another high-profile sports event Putin has helped Russia win the right to stage, and which will bring thousands of foreign fans to cities around Russia. Sunday’s attack was the deadliest to strike Russia’s heartland since January 2011, when a male suicide bomber from the North Caucasus killed 37 persons in the arrival hall of a busy Moscow airport. — Reuters
Pak Army still backs me, says Musharraf
Islamabad, December 29 “I have led my men at Brigadier level and as Chief. Ask the 6.5 lakh personnel,” Musharraf said when asked if the Army had abandoned him. He said he had led the Army as a leader and not the commander. “The real leadership is without the stars on your soldier. Remove it and then see if your men actually listen to you,” Musharraf said in an interview to ARY news channel aired last night. He said the 6.5 lakh-strong Army had not abandoned him. This was the second interview Musharraf gave to the news network. In an earlier interview the 70-year-old had sought “forgiveness” for any wrongs he may have committed during his nine-year rule and said he will face all cases against him and not run like a coward. Asked about the negotiations with the Taliban and other militant groups, he said he supported it but “talks should be held from a position of strength”. He said talks are been held from a position of weakness. Musharraf is set to appear before a Special Court on January 1 on treason charges. — PTI
Islamabad, December 29
“I have led my men at Brigadier level and as Chief. Ask the 6.5 lakh personnel,” Musharraf said when asked if the Army had abandoned him. He said he had led the Army as a leader and not the commander.
“The real leadership is without the stars on your soldier. Remove it and then see if your men actually listen to you,” Musharraf said in an interview to ARY news channel aired last night. He said the 6.5 lakh-strong Army had not abandoned him. This was the second interview Musharraf gave to the news network.
In an earlier interview the 70-year-old had sought “forgiveness” for any wrongs he may have committed during his nine-year rule and said he will face all cases against him and not run like a coward.
Asked about the negotiations with the Taliban and other militant groups, he said he supported it but “talks should be held from a position of strength”. He said talks are been held from a position of weakness. Musharraf is set to appear before a Special Court on January 1 on treason charges. — PTI
Washington, December 29
Reflecting his special affection, President Barack Obama appointed a record number of Indian-Americans in the first year of his second innings at the White House, which experts say recognises the inherent talent of this ethnic community.
Possibly for the first time ever, more than a dozen Indian-Americans have been given key positions in the White House, while there are hardly any important departments where Indian-Americans do not occupy key posts.
There is no official list of Indian-Americans in the Obama Administration, but according to a list compiled by the PTI, the number easily crosses 50, a record figure so far.
Five Indian-Americans are holding key positions in the Obama Administration, which have been confirmed by the United States Senate.
While Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID, continues to be the highest ranking Indian-American in the administration; the most important administrative appointment of the year was that of Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.
Azita Raji, Member, President’s Commission on White House Fellowship; Islam Siddiqui, Chief Agricultural Negotiator, US Trade Representative, and Vinai Thummalapally, Executive Director, Select USA, Department of Commerce, are the three others confirmed as administration officials by the Senate.
If confirmed by the Senate, Vivek Murthy, would be the first-ever Indian-American Surgeon General.
Two other Indian-Americans awaiting confirmation from the Senate include Arun Kumar, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the US and Foreign Commercial Service.
Puneet Talwar, who played a key role in the Iranian nuclear deal, recently testified before the Senate for the key position of the Assistant Secretary of State for Political- Military Affairs.
If confirmed, for the first time ever two Assistant Secretary of State positions at the State Department would be held by Indian-Americans.
Obama himself praised Indian-Americans when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House on September 27.
“Indian-Americans make extraordinary contributions to the United States every single day — businessmen, scientists, academics, now Miss America is of Indian-American descent, and I think it’s a signal of how close our countries are,” Obama said. — PTI
Phnom Penh, December 29
The garment workers have in recent days joined the opposition protests to press their demand that the government raise the minimum wage to $160 a month from $95, as recommended on December 24.
“Hun Sen and his illegal government can hear us, they can’t ignore us, the people show their will for change,” Sam Rainsy, leader of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told the rally in a Phnom Penh park. “We demand that Hun Sen to steps down and a new election,” Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister, told the crowd, some of whom have been camping out in the park since December 15.
Hun Sen’s long-dominant Cambodian People’s Party won a July election but with a reduced majority. It has rejected opposition complaints of vote-rigging. Hun Sen, who has been in power for 28 years, has ignored opposition demands for an investigation into the election and says that he will not resign or call a new election.
Under Hun Sen, Cambodia has been transformed from a backwater scarred by the “Killing Fields” rule of the Khmer Rouge, into one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies, helped by a burgeoning garment industry and growing political and investment ties with China. But his authoritarian rule has earned the condemnation of rights groups and that, along with widespread corruption, has alienated many voters.
Many of them have now come out onto the street in a sustained show of defiance that would have been almost unthinkable before the election. — Reuters
Shyam Bhatia in London
Despite lack of any significant visible progress, the Obama Administration remains determined more than ever to achieve a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.
Hence US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 11th visit to the Middle East in mid December as part of his administration’s unprecedented effort to bridge the gap between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
Kerry’s visit was primarily aimed at salvaging the current secret peace talks between the two parties. The talks have been facing a real crisis over core issues such as the future of Jerusalem, borders between the Palestinian state and Israel, as well as the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to their former homes inside Israel.
Kerry set a nine-month timetable for the talks, which ends in April 2014. He also told both Israelis and Palestinians that he expects them to reach a permanent peace agreement by the end of the deadline.
But if Israelis and Palestinians agree on one thing, it’s the belief that Kerry has embarked on an impossible mission. His mission, they say, aims at solving a century-old conflict in nine months.
Although Israelis and Palestinians continue to declare that the peace talks are a waste of time and that no progress has been achieved ever since the negotiations resumed four months ago, Kerry and other senior US officials have sounded an optimistic note.
At the end of his 10th visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah in early December, Kerry declared, “I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and prosperity and the security that all the people of this region deserve.”
Israeli and Palestinian officials, however, were quick to dismiss Kerry’s optimism as unfounded.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “Trust between the two sides is about zero. I don’t believe it is possible in the next year to achieve a comprehensive solution.”
Top PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo also criticised Kerry’s statements. Referring to new American proposals for security arrangements between a Palestinian state and Israel, Abed Rabbo told the French news agency AFP: “These ideas will drive Kerry’s efforts to an impasse and to total failure because he is treating our issue with a high degree of indifference.” The PLO official also warned that Kerry only wants to “win over the Israelis and allow settlement expansion at our expense.”
Abed Rabbo was referring to the recent Geneva nuclear accord between Iran and the big six powers. The Palestinians fear that the Obama Administration is now trying to appease the Israeli government in compensation for the deal on Iran, which has enraged many Israelis.
Palestinian officials have further accused Kerry of fully endorsing the Israeli stance on major issues such as security and borders. According to one official, Kerry’s new security proposals call for a 10-year Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, which separates the West Bank from Jordan.
Palestinian officials say that they would never accept the presence of one Israeli soldier on lands belonging to a future Palestinian state. The Israelis insist that the Jordan Valley is a strategic security asset to prevent Arab armies from attacking it from the east.
But control over the Jordan Valley does not seem to be the only obstacle facing the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. The gap between the two sides remains wide on crucial issues like Jerusalem, settlements and refugees.
At best, Israelis and Palestinians say, Kerry would be able to force the two parties to reach another interim agreement like the Oslo Accords that were signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993. It’s unrealistic, they argue, to expect the two sides to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement by next April.
The Palestinians say they have prepared alternative plans. These plans include unilateral application to join the UN General Assembly and other international agencies and conventions, including the International Criminal Court.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has promised the Americans to refrain from such steps as long as the peace talks are continuing with Israel. However, Abbas has made it clear that after April the Palestinians will embark on an international campaign to seek full membership in the UN in a bid to exert international pressure on Israel to comply with his demands and fully withdraw to the 1967 borders.
The Israelis, for their part, are threatening to retaliate with their own unilateral moves, such as annexing parts of the West Bank, especially those inhabited by tens of thousands of Jewish settlers.
These threats have put Israelis and Palestinians on a course of collision. During his shuttle diplomacy, Kerry is all too aware that unless he succeeds in enforcing a deal, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could witness further setbacks this coming April.
Army general among 18 killed in Iraq
Baghdad, December 29 A suicide bomber killed at least eight soldiers, including a brigadier general and three other officers, when he blew himself up by their convoy in the eastern part of Mosul, police and medical sources said. At least four soldiers were killed and 10 wounded when gunmen attacked a military barracks in the town of Garma, 30 km northwest of Baghdad, police and medics said. Four members of a government-backed "Sahwa" Sunni militia were also killed in western Baghdad when gunmen attacked their checkpoints in the Abu Ghraib district. — Reuters
Baghdad, December 29
A suicide bomber killed at least eight soldiers, including a brigadier general and three other officers, when he blew himself up by their convoy in the eastern part of Mosul, police and medical sources said.
At least four soldiers were killed and 10 wounded when gunmen attacked a military barracks in the town of Garma, 30 km northwest of Baghdad, police and medics said.
Four members of a government-backed "Sahwa" Sunni militia were also killed in western Baghdad when gunmen attacked their checkpoints in the Abu Ghraib district. — Reuters
Two killed as fresh clashes erupt in Bangladesh Excavation at mass grave in Lanka suspended Now, furniture that assembles on its own
Excavation at mass grave in Lanka suspended
Now, furniture that assembles on its own