Bin Laden issues fresh threat to U.S.

Exiled al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, threatened in a new audio recording released on Thursday to kill any captured Americans if the U.S. executes the self-professed mastermind of the September 11 attacks or any other al-Qaeda suspects.

The U.S. is still considering whether to put Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his fellow plotters on military tribunal for their role in the September 11 attacks. The Obama administration is also looking into recommendations for civilian trials, and is expected to announce a decision soon.

In a brief 74-second audio tape aired on Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden said if the U.S. decides to execute any al-Qaeda suspects in its custody — and explicitly mentioned Mohammed — his terror network would kill American captives.

The terror leader said such a decision “would mean the U.S. has issued a death sentence against whoever of you becomes a prisoner in our hands.”

It was not immediately clear whether al-Qaeda currently has any U.S. captives, but the Haqqani group – the Pakistan-based Taliban faction closest to al-Qaeda — is holding an American soldier it captured in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. It released a video of him in December.

Bin Laden said U.S. President Barack Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor George W. Bush by escalating the war in Afghanistan, being “unjust” to al-Qaeda prisoners and supporting Israel in its occupation of Palestinian land.

In a veiled threat, bin Laden said Americans had previously thought their homeland was beyond the reach of his group until the 9/11 attack.

Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, is the most senior al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody, and is currently in detention at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 2008, the U.S. charged him with murder and war crimes in connection with the September 11 attacks. Pentagon officials have said they’ll seek the death penalty.

‘Taliban is part of very negative presence in Afghanistan’

An Afghan employee looks from the shattered window of a damaged building, a day after the coordinated suicide attacks by the Taliban at two hotels in Kabul on Feb. 26, 2010 killing up to nine Indians

Warning that the Taliban is part of the “very negative presence” in Afghanistan, India has asked the international community not to find quick solutions to the extremist problem and be prepared for a long haul.

“There are certain forces that spread terror. The Taliban is part of the very negative presence,” Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who is in the United States on a 6-day visit, told PTI here.

Emphasising that India understood the Afghan society due to its centuries-old civilisational ties, Ms. Rao said the international community should prepare for the “long haul and not try to find quick solutions to the problem.”

Ms. Rao, who had extensive discussions with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other senior officials of the Obama Administration on Afghanistan, also spoke against a distinction being made between a “good Taliban and bad Taliban“.

Her comments came against the backdrop of the US and the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan planning to engage with moderate elements of the Taliban to induct them into country’s polity.

“India and the international community have to stay involved in Afghanistan in order to deal with this problem that has been created by these extremist groups in this country.

“It is very important to deal with these problems in a way that Afghanistan becomes a stable and prosperous democracy. It this that is the core of what we are saying and what we convey to our friends like the United States,” Ms. Rao said.

Washington acknowledges India’s influence in Afghanistan and appreciates the large—scale developmental work being carried out in that country.

“The United States fully recognises that India has legitimate interests in Afghanistan. It appreciates the development work we do there… It appreciates that we are force of stability and moderation in our region. We are not scaling down in Afghanistan,” she said.

India has made it clear that it will not be scaling down its operations in Afghanistan notwithstanding a spate of recent attacks targeting its citizens, including the one on two guest houses in central Kabul in which nine Indians were killed.

During the talks with her counterpart Bill Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ms. Rao stressed that Afghanistan presented the foremost security—related challenge in the region.

She also reiterated India’s long held position that it was important for the international community to stay the present course in Afghanistan for as long as it is necessary.

“The US interlocutors conveyed their appreciation of the important developmental work being done by India in Afghanistan,” a statement from the Indian Embassy said.

Parties want paid news to be treated as electoral malpractice

Leaders, cutting across party lines, have demanded that paid news be treated as an electoral malpractice that is liable for prosecution by the Election Commission ( EC).

The spectre of selling news space in lieu of money reached ”alarming proportions” during the last Lok Sabha elections and political parties have demanded stringent action against the perpetrators since it compromises the essence of a free press.

They also demanded that the media exercise self- regulation and refuse to succumb to pressures of the market.

Speaking at a seminar organised here jointly by the Editors Guild of India, Press Associations, the Broadcaster Editors Association, and the Indian Women’s Press Corps, CPM general secretary Prakash Karat said the malice of paid news was the fallout of the amount of money involved in elections. Saying that self regulation alone will not be able to curb such practices, Karat said it should be termed as an electoral malpractice. Such classification will make it possible for the EC to file cases for any violation, he said.

Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj claimed that politicians were the biggest victims of this syndrome.

Recalling her experience while campaigning in the Vidisha Lok Sabha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, Swaraj said a media organisation had demanded Rs 1 crore in return for publishing news items in her favour. She said she refused to give in to such demands and that she was ready to name the publication.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said the problem was much deeper as freedom of the press was now in contradiction with the freedom of the owner of the press. He also favoured self- regulation among the media.

Election commissioner S Y Quraishi said several political parties had informed the commission about paid news but no one had lodged a formal complaint. He cited technical problems as no direct evidence was available about money exchanging hands. He added that the EC would augment its machinery to tackle the problem.

Prasar Bharati chief Mrinal Pande said editors alone cannot be held responsible for what is appearing in newspapers as they cannot check each and every edition being published from different cities. Editors Guild president Rajdeep Sardesai suggested incorporating disclosure norms in news and programmes paid for by a particular party.

The India Today Group, which covers publications such as Mail Today and India Today and channels such as Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, have already pledged it would not allow its space to be used for paid news

–India Today

The perfect exam diet for students

IPL fever has gripped the nation, but unfortunately, students have to grapple with the exam fever. The exam season is back, it’s that time of the year when one can feel the anxiety in every inch of one’s body! So, what’s a student to do? Most starve because they are busy cramming or lose their appetites. Adults often advise children that one needs to fuel the body with foods that energise during the exam phase.

It’s similar to preparing for a long marathon. It’s also time to pamper oneself a bit with comfort food. Bananas are said to be excellent before an exam because they release their energy slowly. Even an orange, carrot sticks or a sweet fruit work in the same way.

It’s also recommended that one has a light and balanced meal a couple of hours before an exam. Not eating is the worst things! Manjeet Kaur, a housewife with an 18-year-old son, says, “I make sure my son eats light, has plenty of juices and fruits during his study break. I don’t prepare deep-fried snacks and rice because they make one drowsy. I also insist that he eats every two hours.” Dr Nalini Karukaran advises oats for breakfast.

She says, “A light meal comprising meat, eggs or fish and vegetables is okay. Avoid brinjals, very sour and salty food. For dinner, one can have Rice and Moong Dal Khichdi made with pure ghee.” Nutritionist Dr Harshada Rajadjyaksha says that students require food that increase concentration, enhance memory, boost energy, calm the mind and reduce stress and fatigue. She regards coffee, tea, colas and sugar as energy-fakers.

She recommends a balanced combination of nutrients for sustained energy. She says, “Combine vegetables, whole grain cereals or pasta, fresh fruits, dry fruits and nuts. Drink enough water. Almonds, apples, walnuts along with raisins, grapes, oranges, dates and figs and eggs, milk, soybeans and fish are memory-enhancing food. Calm the mind with honey, milk, oats, wholegrain cereals, nuts and pulses.”

–Hindustan Times

Simplifying the cellphone

In December last year, a wing of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) published a study on Gujarat’s rural community and how they use mobile phones. In an abridged report in Ice Age, a monthly newsletter of the Development and Educational Communication Unit (DECU) of ISRO, researcher Hansa Joshi wrote about “how mobile technology fulfils the communication requirements of people, its socio-economic and cultural impact on the society and further expectations from the technology”.

The study, based on the responses of 1,384 people from villages, towns and cities across the state, threw up a number of interesting details. The report said: “In terms of exposure to media like newspaper, radio, TV, computer and Internet, we can say that mobile usage was the highest among all media in terms of access (78 per cent) and regular usage (99 per cent)”.

It was also found that more than a third of all respondents “bought the mobile with an assumption that it will increase their income”, and in the tribal belt, a handset is sometimes “family owned”. The report added that for a “majority of mobile users, individual ownership gives them motivation for self-learning and the satisfaction of fulfillment of all their communication needs”.

But popularity doesn’t mean problem-free. It was found that about 19 per cent of mobile users faced acute problems in using certain features of the handsets. This may, however, change soon.

On March 9, IBM announced a collaborative research initiative with the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and Tokyo University’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology to “explore an open, common user interface platform for mobile devices, to make them easier to use for the elderly, and illiterate or semi-illiterate populations in developing countries”.

IBM will contribute the technology bit, and NID will contribute its experiences in designing interfaces and ethnography. The eventual software would then be made available as open source.

Jignesh Khakhar of the NID’s IT Design faculty, who will be in charge of the initiative from the NID front, said it was too early to talk about the project.

Nitendra Rajput, advisory researcher of IBM Research India and India lead for the Open Collaborative Research Programme, said the team will first identify the target groups and find out their needs and modes of interaction. For example, a farmer would need weather information, while migrant workers would want information on how to send money to their village. In fact, the ISRO report suggests that message box services be developed so that migrant workers can pass on important messages back home.

The needs will differ dramatically from group to group, Rajput said, and the challenge will be to find a platform that capable of hosting a number of applications.

So is it going to a simpler, customisable smart-phone? Maybe, but Rajput says it will be different from any other customisable phone because the research will focus on people with special needs, like semi-literate, illiterate and elderly people. There might be room for the video-based, sound-based and text-based modalities to converge. But then, he concedes, it is difficult to talk about what will eventually come out of the exercise, which hasn’t even begun yet.

Rajput has had experience in this field: he was one of the researchers behind IBM’s Voikiosk, a kiosk meant to be placed in villages that disseminates information that is relevant locally. “When you listen to a voice from the kiosk, that too in your own language, it becomes much more relevant,” he says, comparing it to sitting in front of a computer looking up generic information on the Web.

Rajput estimates that it will take four to five months of research before the actual development of the product can start. Once finalised, the software will be made available open-source, and businesses or governments that are interested can use it, with NID and IBM lending support. It will take about two years to achieve this, he says.
–The Indian Express

Inflation nears 10 pct; rate hike priced in

The headline inflation topped expectations and came within touching distance of double digits in February, making a rate increase by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) all but inevitable at its scheduled April policy review.

Annual wholesale price inflation accelerated to 9.89 percent in February, the highest since October 2008 and well above the RBI’s end-March projection of 8.5 percent and the 8.56 percent January reading.

The inflation data comes on the heels of a 16.7 percent annual jump in industrial output in January, with the unexpectedly strong economic pickup also backing the case for the central bank to raise policy rates by at least 25 basis points.

“This seals the case for rate hike so we expect both reserve ratio and interest rate hike on or before April policy meeting,” said Ramya Suryanarayanan, an economist with DBS in Singapore.

A Reuters poll had estimated headline inflation in February to be 9.62 percent, and markets were little moved.

While government officials spoke out against raising rates ahead of the past two quarterly Reserve Bank of India meetings for fear of choking off recovery, they have less case for making a similar argument next month as inflation surges and growth broadens.

“It is worrying that inflation always turns out higher than expected, and the fact that there is a huge backward revision is also not good,” Suryanarayanan said.

The December figure was revised to 8.1 percent from 7.3 percent.

Govt allows foreign universities to open campuses

The cabinet on Monday approved a proposal to allow foreign universities to set up campuses, a minister said, in a move that could reduce the flow of Indian students abroad.

Tens of thousands of students head to universities in the United States, Britain and Australia among others for quality education each year.

The long-standing proposal to reform the education sector will now go to parliament for ratification, Road and Transport Minister Kamal Nath told reporters following the cabinet meeting.

Political parties have in the past opposed the entry of foreign universities, saying the poor will not be able to afford the fees.

But experts have called for a revamp of the education system, which focuses on learning by rote.

Goldman Sachs counts the lack of quality education as one of the 10 factors holding India back from rapid economic growth. Analysts say it raises costs, including salaries as firms vie for the best recruits, and reduces firms’ competitive edge.

The demand for graduates over the next five years is likely to be 13.8 million, analysts have estimated. But with only 13.2 million students graduating over the same period, the country will face a shortfall of 600,000 graduates.

India’s large English-speaking population and growing middle class are expected to make the country a desirable destination for top foreign universities.