Monday, November 2, 2009

Making the most of three days in Hong Kong

Many travelers to Asia find themselves with a layover in Hong Kong, a thriving metropolis of seven million people where East collides with West. Reclaimed by China in 1997 but still a melting pot of international commerce, Hong Kong is awash in gleaming highrises and blinking neon signs touting some of the biggest names in business.

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Karadzic's advisers say he will come to court

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said he would appear before the Hague war crimes tribunal on Tuesday after boycotting his trial since it began last week, but only to argue for more time to prepare.
Karadzic, who denies 11 charges including genocide for the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, has refused to attend so far but said in a letter to the court he would do so on Tuesday.
"I hope we will be able to find a solution which will lead to not only an expeditious trial, but a fair one," he said in the letter released on Monday.
He is representing himself. Earlier, one of Karadzic's legal advisers, Marko Sladojevic, stressed his client would need 10 more months to prepare and that he was likely to refuse a court-appointed lawyer to represent him.
Tuesday's hearing will consider options that include continuing the trial in Karadzic's absence, assigning legal counsel, seeking outside advice, or adjourning to allow assigned counsel time to prepare.
"I think the court now has to make a decision and appoint a lawyer for him," said Axel Hagedorn, a Dutch lawyer representing the victims' group Mothers of Srebrenica.
Alexander Knoops, a professor of international criminal law at Utrecht University, has said the court should enter a compromise with Karadzic to allow him more time to prepare.
Judge O-Gon Kwon repeated his warning that Karadzic should attend the trial or have counsel appointed for him.
"We advise him to consider this carefully prior to making his oral submissions tomorrow," the South Korean judge said.
In Karadzic's absence prosecutors continued with opening statements and spent the afternoon discussing the Srebrenica genocide, Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.
Accusing Karadzic of responsibility for one of "humanity's dark chapters", prosecutor Alan Tieger said Karadzic ordered Bosnian Serb forces to capture the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica to crown his efforts to "cleanse" eastern Bosnia of non-Serbs.
"He knew that men were being killed, he covered up the mass expulsions and the murders and continues to do so to this day, and the only regret he had about the entire operation was that some Muslim men got away," Tieger said.
In video film shown to the court, Tieger showed a Bosnian Muslim man forced to call out to his teenage son that it was safe to surrender to the Bosnian Serbs. Both father and son were later found dead in a mass grave, he said.
He said the killings demanded a high degree of planning and the list of those who knew about the plans was long. As well as supreme commander Karadzic, it included Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, also indicted for war crimes and still at large.
The charges against Karadzic also include the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, which killed an estimated 10,000 people.
(Additional reporting by Yvonne Bell and Suzan Yucel in The Hague and Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade; editing by Andrew Roche)

Riva new Electric car

When the entire automobile industry is racing towards the age of electricity, the Reva Electric Car Company is leading from the front as it prepares to launch two new models - Reva NXR and NXG. The Reva Electric Car Co. has joined forces with Bannon Automotive, a new electric car company in Freeport, New York, to assemble the three-door plug-in hatchback NXR at a site in the Syracuse area.

Yogini of the sky

New York, Nov. 1 -- For director Mira Nair, making a film on a legendary aviatrix who died in 1937 is personal.
Her latest film is also her most ambitious: Amelia, which releases in the US on Friday, is her first biopic, and shot across Canada and southern Africa. So what could this Indian-born director have in common with the subject of the film, Amelia Earhart, an American icon and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic? In an interview in New York, Nair said: "I felt an affinity because like me she too came from a small town.
Like Atchison, Kansas, I came from Bhubaneshwar, Orissa and like her I wanted to see the world. I remember when I was eight years old, the first aerodrome came to Bhubaneshwar and we used to run to the airfield and see the Fokker Friendships land and I knew one day I'd be on that plane.
And that was her small town dream as well." For Nair, who has gained acclaim for films like Salaam Bombay!, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, Amelia is her most expensive, if not expansive, film so far.
The film cost nearly $20 million and that means the director, who has always enjoyed critical success, needs box office success as well. That is making her somewhat nervous.
"The fact that it's a huge commercial endeavour certainly means that it should have a commercial response, it should make its money. So I did feel the pressure of making a film that would make a difference, that would take people on a journey.
" She describes the experience as a sort of ballet, and a "dance with money" in which she was part "poet" and part "horse-trader". Other than the personal connection to the story of Earhart, Nair was also attracted to her biography.
"I felt that if she were to walk into a room today, she'd still be considered a deeply iconoclastic modern woman, utterly modern - someone who created her own rules and lived by them." As part of her modernity, she could be credited with having created the first-ever pre-nuptial agreement, Nair claimed.
In this film, Nair has had to work with the most high-powered starcast - two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (as Amelia Earhart), Richard Gere (as her husband, G.P. Putnam), and Ewan McGregor (as her lover, Gene Vidal). For Nair, working with Swank, who won Oscars for Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, was a breeze.
"As interested as I became in Amelia, I was even more interested in working with Hilary Swank. She's such a consummate actor, she's a total spiritual daredevil.
She learnt to how to fly to become Amelia!" Swank returned the compliment during the red carpet premiere of the film at Manhattan's Paris Theatre. "I think Mira's a very special person and like Amelia she makes no apologies for her strengths.
" This is also a film where a large portion of the cinematography focuses upon the vistas observed from a cockpit, another first for Nair. But the filmmaker nearly always uses Indian elements in her films, almost as a talisman.
And she does it here again in depicting Earhart's final journey, attempting to circumnavigate the globe, an attempt that ends in her death (her craft, a Lockheed Electra, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean and her body was never found). Nair brings her to Kolkata during the last legs of her journey.
"I recreated Dum Dum in South Africa. Dum Dum was part of my childhood, but also the monsoon.
She was trapped by nature in Calcutta. It was not so much to get India into the film, it was much more to show that despite the force of nature, she had to go on.
It was also to show her recklessness, that scene.".

Obama calls on Karzai to combat corruption

Washington, Nov 3 (DPA) US President Barack Obama called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai Monday to being a 'new chapter' for his country by initiating reforms and cracking down on corruption.
Obama telephoned Karzai after he was declared the winner in the presidential election to offer congratulations but also to urge him to get serious about improving the government, fighting corruption and speeding up the training of Afghan security forces.
'The proof is not going to be in words, it's going to be in deeds,' Obama said at a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
Afghan elections officials on Monday named Karzai the winner after his challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the run-off election scheduled for this weekend, alleging the outcome would not be fair.
Karzai's re-election was hampered by allegations of fraud in the first round of voting Aug 20. Karzai had initially captured more than 50 percent of the vote for an outright victory. But he fell below that threshold after fraudulent ballots were tossed out, forcing him - under US pressure - to agree to a run-off against Abdullah.
The White House said that Karzai's victory was legitimate even though the election process was ridden with problems.
'Although the process was messy, I am pleased to say the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law, which I think is very important,' Obama said.
The problematic electoral process has raised questions about Karzai's legitimacy at a time when Obama is reviewing the administration's policy in Afghanistan and needs credible leadership in Kabul. Earlier this year there were reports that Karzai had fallen into disfavour within the Obama administration because of the widespread corruption in his government.
'President Karzai has been declared the winner of the Afghan election and will head the next government of Afghanistan,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. 'So, obviously, he's the legitimate leader of the country.'
The Obama administration was concerned about an alliance with a government headed by someone viewed by the Afghan people as an illegitimate leader. Obama is weighing whether to send up to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to step up the fight against the Taliban

Blast in Rawalpindi kills 35

A suspected Taliban suicide bomb killed at least 35 people in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Monday, officials said, as the government announced a reward for the capture, dead or alive, of the group's leaders.
Pakistan Taliban militants are being squeezed out of their strongholds near the Afghan border by a massive army offensive, but have retaliated by stepping up bomb attacks and raids on urban targets.
The army offensive is being closely watched by the United States and other powers embroiled in neighbouring Afghanistan, as the border area has become a sanctuary for insurgents from both countries as well as foreign al Qaeda militants.
Monday's blast came as the Pakistan government announced rewards worth $5 million for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and more than a dozen other militant leaders.
The attack in Rawalpindi, a large sprawling city that twins the smaller, administrative capital of Islamabad, took place in an area that is home to the army headquarters as well as some hotels.
Last month militants launched a brazen attack on the army headquarters, taking dozens of people hostage before commandos stormed the building and rescued them.
Officials said many of Monday's victims were elderly people who had gathered at a bank to withdraw their pensions. The military said four soldiers were among those killed.
"It was a huge blast. Smoke is rising from the scene," Nasir Naqvi, who runs a travel agency near the site of the blast, told Reuters.
Two suspected militants were later killed by a second bomb that exploded during a routine vehicle check in the eastern city of Lahore, police said. They said 15 people were wounded by the blast, three seriously, including several police officers.
Last week, in the deadliest militant attack in more than two years, more than 100 people were killed and scores more wounded when a car bomb detonated in a crowded market in the northwest frontier city of Peshawar.
The announcement of the bounty on Hakimullah's head was made through newspaper advertisements as security forces zeroed in on his Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) strongholds in South Waziristan.
"These people are definitely killers of humanity and deserve exemplary punishment," read the front-page advertisement, with photographs of Hakimullah and seven senior lieutenants, in The News.
"Help the government of Pakistan so that these people meet their nemesis," the ad said.
A reward of more than $600,000 each was announced for Hakimullah, who is regarded as violent and brutal, and his top aide Wali-ur-Rehman, believed to be more thoughtful and canny.
The same amount was offered for Qari Hussain Mehsud, Hakimullah's cousin who is known as "the mentor of suicide bombers".
The trio spoke last month to a group of journalists in Sararogha, a major Taliban base in South Waziristan, but have not been sighted since.
Security forces have captured Kotkai, the birthplace of Hakimullah and hometown of Hussain, in the Waziristan offensive, and on Sunday the military said it was on the outskirts of Sararogha and Makeen, also strongholds of Hakimullah.
Government forces had captured Kaniguram and Karama, two hubs for Uzbek militants, military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told a news conference on Monday.
In a related development, the United Nations on Tuesday announced it had raised a security alert for the Northwest Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas -- which include Waziristan -- ordering all non-essential international staff to leave.
The security situation has also hit the stock market, with the Karachi exchange index falling 3.1 percent on Monday.
"The market started on the lower side today but the slide accelerated following the bombing in Rawalpindi," said Khalid Iqbal Siddiqui, director at brokers Invest and Finance Securities.
(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see:
((Reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Faisal Aziz; Writing by David Fox; Editing by Alex Richardson))

Pakistan offers $5 mn for information on Taliban leaders

Islamabad, Nov 2 (IANS) The Pakistan government Monday offered a reward of $5 million for information on the country's Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and 18 of his associates.
The reward is for information on Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and his associates who have vowed deadly attacks across the country in retaliation over US drone strikes.
The rewards were offered in a government advertisement on the front page of The News daily and flashed on Pakistani television channels overnight.
'Anyone who captures these people dead or alive or provides concrete information, the government will award them a cash reward,' The Nation quoted the advertisement as saying.
'The banned Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) terrorists are daily involved in deadly activities and because of their activities innocent Muslims are going to the valley of death,' it added.
The largest rewards of 50 million Pakistan rupees each were offered for Mehsud, senior leader Wali ur-Rehman Mehsud and Qari Hussain Mehsud, also described as a master trainer of suicide bombers.
Eleven commanders had rewards of 20 million rupees each and rewards of 10 million rupees each were on offer for five others.
Pakistan has been hit by a string of terror strikes since Oct 5 that has left over 200 people dead. The worst terror attack took place in Peshawar Oct 28 when over 105 people were killed in a massive bombing in a crowded market.
The army has stepped up its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan and has been able to wrest control over some of the areas.