Proponents of the project met fierce opposition from conservative politicians and those who say it is offensive to families of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks by Al Qaida militants.
Obama turned what had been mostly a local issue into a national debate when he said he believed Muslim Americans had the same right to practise their religion as other US citizens and supported their right to build the centre in lower Manhattan. Obama repeated that religious freedom is a core value of the US Constitution and that it was his job to uphold the Constitution.
There is an uncomfortable pattern to life for Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic leader of Malaysia’s opposition. In 1998, shortly after he quit the authoritarian government of Mahathir bin Mohamad, he was convicted and jailed on trumped-up sodomy charges.
Six years after that conviction was quashed and he was released from prison – and just as it looked like he and his multi-ethnic coalition might finally oust the long-ruling United National Malays Organization from office – Mr. Anwar finds himself trapped in the most awkward of reruns, once more accused of “consensual intercourse against the order of nature.”
The charges again look to be a thinly veiled attempt to ruin Mr. Anwar’s reputation and sabotage his political career in this Muslim-majority country. The trial to date – dubbed “Sodomy II” in Malaysia’s unsubtle government-controlled press – has produced a succession of lurid headlines about lubricant tubes and stained underwear, while Mr. Anwar and his lawyers have been denied the right even to see the medical records of the man with which he is alleged to have had anal sex.
But instead of letting the scandalous court proceedings force him to the sidelines, the eternally optimistic Mr. Anwar has been using good humour and his ever-present BlackBerry to turn even the most awkward of headlines to his advantage, holding up the charges against him as proof of the absurdity of the system he’s trying to change.
As a lone judge contemplates whether there is evidence to convict Mr. Anwar and sentence him to up to 20 years in prison, as well as a flogging, Mr. Anwar has continued his ferocious assault on a government he derides as repressive and corrupt, blogging from the courtroom and sending cheeky and upbeat 140-character updates to his followers via Twitter.
“Sodomy circus turns into sex opera!” reads one of Mr. Anwar’s mid-trial posts, which linked to a video of a lawyer discussing the lurid details of the case. “Courage of conviction. Que sera sera,” was his response to a fellow Twitter user who worried the energetic 63-year-old was headed back to jail.
The odds do seem stacked against Mr. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who was once considered the rising star of Malaysian politics. But to hear him tell it, his déjà-vu legal ordeal is evidence that Prime Minister Najib Razak and his party are losing their grip on power, and they know it well.
“They can’t deal with me politically – either my economic programs or policies. They can’t debate me. So they resort to this ludicrous exercise to demonize me,” he said in an interview at the offices of his People’s Justice Party in western Kuala Lumpur, a confident grin fixed on his narrow, goateed face. “We will win the next election and we will change the courts.”
It seems unlikely things will go quite that smoothly. Mr. Anwar’s political career has seen his fortunes change as often and as quickly as the weather in this peninsula thrust between the Indian and Pacific oceans. The leader of a Muslim youth organization during his student days, he shocked his followers by joining UNMO in the early 1980s and taking a succession of cabinet posts in the authoritarian government of Mr. Mahathir, eventually rising to become his powerful finance minister and deputy prime minister.
But the two men never saw eye-to-eye on key issues, and they eventually fell out during the 1997 Asian financial crisis over economic policy and Mr. Anwar’s accusation that cronyism at the top was hurting the country’s economy. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Anwar – frequently held up in the West as an example of a moderate Muslim democrat – was in jail.
Though initially barred from politics upon his release, Mr. Anwar steered the opposition to a surprisingly strong finish in 2008 elections, and – even as the new sodomy charges were being laid –very nearly won the long-sought prime minister’s chair in the aftermath when he called for a vote of non-confidence in Mr. Najib’s government.
Mr. Anwar said he had the support of a majority in parliament, including an unspecified number of UMNO defectors, but the vote never happened. Instead, 40 key lawmakers were sent on a government junket to Taiwan during which some were apparently convinced to rethink supporting Mr. Anwar’s bid for power.
The next election, which can be called any time before 2013, is set to be a high-stakes affair in this rapidly developing country of 28 million, which has seen freedom of speech blossom since the 2003 retirement of Mr. Mahathir and the rise of the Internet.
Any kind of conviction would keep Mr. Anwar – who heads an improbable coalition that consists of liberal reformers like himself and an Islamist party that seeks to impose Koranic law – on the sidelines for another five years.
Mr. Anwar, a married father of six children, denies the new charges that he had sex with a 25-year-old former aide to Mr. Najib. (The sodomy law, which dates back to the British colonial era, has only been used seven times since independence, with four of those charges being levelled against Mr. Anwar.)
The case recently devolved into further farce when it surfaced that the complainant was having an affair with a member of the prosecution team. Though Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah acknowledged the affair as fact, he denied Mr. Anwar’s application to have the charges thrown out on that basis.
Mr. Anwar, who counts Al Gore, Nelson Mandela and former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin among his friends, said that while the Malaysian court system would do him no favours, he thinks his case is high-profile enough that the government won’t dare jail him again. “It’s a catch-22 for them.
If they put me in jail, they invoke more sympathy, certainly the government will lose … And unlike Mahathir, Najib wants to be seen to be acceptable in the international community.”
Mr. Anwar’s undimmed ambition to be prime minister clearly infuriates his political opponents. Even in retirement, his mentor-turned-nemesis Mr. Mahathir uses his own blog to mock his former protégé and lash back at accusations that the case against Mr. Anwar is trumped up. “Could it be that it was actually the victim of anal rape who decided to tell things as they happened? I would like to say we should wait for the court to decide, but that can take a very long, long time or even never,” Mr. Mahathir wrote recently.
Despite a near-complete ban on his speaking to the official media, Mr. Anwar appears to be winning the public-relations battle, in part because of his savvy online efforts. A poll conducted by the independent Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research shortly after the new charges were filed found that only 11 per cent of the more than 1,000 respondents believed the new sodomy allegations against Mr. Anwar. Two-thirds said they agreed with the statement that the trial was “a politically motivated action to disrupt Anwar Ibrahim’s political career.”
More than seven millions people have been displaced in Sindh since August 3, one million only in the past two days
THATTA, Pakistan – Hundreds of thousands of people were fleeing areas of southern Pakistan on Saturday as rising floodwaters breached more defences and inundated towns.
For nearly a month torrential monsoon rains have triggered massive floods, moving steadily from north to south in Pakistan, affecting a fifth of the volatile country and 17 million of its 167 million people.
Southern Sindh is the worst-affected province. Out of its 23 districts, 19 have so far been ravaged by floods, a statement by the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Friday.
"More than seven million people have been displaced in Sindh since August 3, one million only in the past two days," provincial relief commissioner Ghulam Ali Pasha told AFP.
"The magnitude of this catastrophe is so huge that the government cannot cope with it alone. We are trying to grapple it, but we need international support," he said.
Pasha said 2.3 million people were still in need of tents and food. "We are fighting to save Thatta and other towns," in Sindh, he added.
Other officials said floods were moving swiftly towards Thatta district and had begun submerging the district's outskirts.
"Two more breaches have taken place around Thatta. We are trying to save the city, (but) Belo has been submerged in water," Hadi Bakhsh Kalhoro, a senior administrative official, told AFP.
Belo, on the outskirts of Thatta, has a population of around 10,000 people. Thatta was deserted as people fled with their livestock and other belongings, heading for nearby Makli and Karachi as engineers tried to repair six-metre (20-foot) wide breach a nearby dyke, an AFP reporter said.
Hundreds of people including women and children, some bare footed and some in torn clothes have blocked the national highway near Makli neighbourhood of Thatta.
Flood victims blocked the highway by placing stones and other hurdles on the main highway and started protesting, an AFP reporter said.
"We are hungry, we need food, we need water," Mai Safoora, 55 told AFP at site. "Since two days we are hungry, we found food for only one time in past two days," said Safoora who was accompanied with her four children.
Close to this group of some 300 people, dozens of small groups were seen waiting for help under the open sky while some were trying to take shelter under the trees.
"Me and my mother are searching for food since tomorrow, we are hungry," Abdul Latif, 15, who was running a food stall in Sajawal town told AFP. "Nobody came here to help us," Latif added.
"The flood situation in southern Sindh continues to deteriorate, large-scale population movements have been reported following the breach of an embankment in Thatta district," an OCHA statement issued late Friday said.
"The Indus River is raging at 40 times its normal volume, with the largest sea surge of water now in the Thatta district," it said.
Sindh irrigation minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said they were making all possible efforts to save Thatta district.
"Today is very important for Thatta, we are using all our resources to stop the water flow towards Thatta. We are making gigantic efforts," he told AFP.
Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah warned the city would be in danger until the breach was repaired.
"We are hopeful that we will successfully plug the breach in two to three days, but the danger to Thatta remains," he told reporters Saturday.
United Nations officials said humanitarian workers were increasingly worried about malnutrition and disease among children.
"We must act together to ensure that already malnourished children do not succumb to disease, and to prevent more from becoming malnourished and ill," said Martin Mogwanja, UN humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan.
"We are responding to this threat and must continue to do so. If nothing is done, an estimated 72,000 children, currently affected by severe acute malnutrition in the flood-affected areas, are at high risk of death," he said.
Pakistan's worst humanitarian disaster has left eight million dependent on aid for their survival and has washed away huge swathes of the rich farmland on which the country's struggling economy depends.
The government has confirmed 1,600 people dead and 2,366 injured, but officials warn that millions are at risk from food shortages and disease. The United Nations has warned that 800,000 people in desperate need of aid had been cut off by the deluge across the country, and has appealed for more helicopters to deliver supplies to those reachable only by air.
Participants take to the streets of Hong Kong to show their anger and condolences after the Manila bus hostage crisis.
HONG KONG - Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched on Sunday in honour of eight locals killed in a bus hijacking in Manila, denouncing the Philippine government for botching the rescue operation and demanding justice for the dead.
The Philippine president has "begged for understanding" and ordered a thorough investigation into last Monday's incident, but that has done little to stem growing anger in this wealthy southern Chinese territory where violent crime is a rarity.
About 20 Hong Kong legislators led the crowd gathered at an urban park in a short ceremony honoring the dead before setting off on a march to the Central financial district. Police didn't estimate the size of the crowd, but organizers said about 80,000 people took part.
"That 80,000 people can show up in such a short period of time... it shows the anger and unity of the Hong Kong people," lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said.
There are concerns that local anger could boil over and the some 120,000 Filipinos working as live-in domestic helpers for Hong Kong families could face a backlash.
So far there have been no reports of violence, although a local Filipino activist group says two maids have been fired over the incident and another employer decided not to sign a helper who had been lined up.
Philippine officials are also expecting Hong Kong tourists to stay away from their country. In a gesture of solidarity, local Filipino activists organised an interfaith service in memory of the victims earlier Sunday where they lit eight candles--one for each victim.
Sunday started with a shock for the Indonesians as Mount Sinabung erupted after 400 years. This dormant volcano situated in the North Sumatran province erupted on Sunday just after 12:15 a.m. (1:15 p.m. ET Saturday) according to the official Antara news agency.
Surano, the head of the country’s volcanology and geology agency told that as the volcano was inactive since 1600 they really do not have much info on its character. But he goes on to state that in spite of the volcano being dormant for so long it threw up ashes nearly a mile in the air after it erupted
As of now there are no injuries or causalities. The officials have already evacuated 12,000 residents living near the high risk areas in 14 villages and moved them to temporary shelters.
Priyadi Kardono a member from National Disaster Management told that the teams of emergency response are already on the scene and the situation is under control. Health Ministry has distributed face masks and has kept health posts on standby, Mudjiarto, the head of the health ministry’s crisis centre told.
Surano has said the volcano has been placed on the red level, the highest alert in Indonesia, it has been rumbling for several days. The eruption was followed by spewing of lava that burnt down the trees in the mount slopes. The thick smoke went up to 1,500 metres and the visibility was brought down to only five metres.
The nearest big city to the volcano is Medan, till now no flights or traffic has been disrupted. Neither hazardous gas has been detected. According to the researchers a large eruption is unlikely based on the data they have but they are still studying and monitoring the volcano. Indonesia is located on the Pacific RiBG of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and geological fault lines surrounding the Pacific basin. It makes the places situated in that region likely to be affected with volcanos and earthquakes.
*The Pacific rim "Ring of Fire". Most of the region's seismic events are small and occur under the sea, where the majority of the continental plate margins are found. According to the US Geological Survey, which studies seismic activity, there has been an average of 19.4 quakes of 7.0-plus strength on the Ring each year. "Big quakes like these happen all the time -- they only become news when they happen in places with large populations," said Quake expert Gary Gibson. Source: ENSNN
HYDERABAD, India - The regional divide in Andhra Pradesh flared again on Saturday with the pro-Telangana students of Osmania University in Hyderabad assaulting teachers from the Andhra and Rayala Seema regions, forcing them to flee the campus. The teachers, including women, had come to the Osmania campus to evaluate Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) examinations answer sheets, but they were prevented from carrying out the work and forced out of the hall.
Some of them were stopped from entering the venue and a couple of them were chased and assaulted by students.
The incident has sparked a strong reaction in the Rayala Seema and Andhra regions, and protests against the teacher assaults by students from Andhra University in Visakhapatanam. Rallying students also burnt the effigies of Telangana Rashtra Samiti president K Chandrasekhara Rao and Telangana political JAC convenor Prof Kodanda Ram, demanding stringent action against the students who carried out the assaults.
State governor, ESL Narasimhan, sought a report on the assaults from the OU Vice Chancellor as tension prevailed on several university campuses across the state. The Osmania University Students Joint Action Committee demanded that all the teachers from other regions should be sent back and taken off evaluation duties, They then shouted slogans against non-local teachers and demanded that their answer sheets be evaluated only by Telangana teachers.
Osmania University Students Joint Action Committee leader Ramesh alleged that the teachers from Andhra and Rayala Seema were not being fair in the evaluation of their papers. "Last year 60 per cent of our students were deliberately failed in B.Ed examination to deprive them of job opportunities so the same could go to the candidates of Andhra and Rayala Seema," Ramesh said. Denying that the students had attacked the teachers yesterday, Ramesh said that students only protested after the teachers made provocative remarks about the Telangana students.
Chinese students studying in the Philippines pray after they offered flowers near the tourist bus which was hijacked by an ex-policeman and subsequently stormed by police in Manila, yesterday.
HONG KONG - Political parties from Hong Kong plan a protest march on Sunday over the deaths of eight of the city's residents in a Philippines bus siege. Organisers say they expect 50,000 participants.
The rally is intended as an outlet for Hong Kong people grieving after the killings on the tour bus in Manila, said Andrew To, a Hong Kong district councilor and chairman of the League of Social Democrats, one of the organisers.
Hong Kong people, by the tens of thousands, have been signing condolence books and posting on-line messages, some containing derogatory language, since a Philippine former police officer seized the bus with 25 people aboard August 23.
Eight members of a Hong Kong tour group died in the siege that ended after police stormed the bus and killed the gun-wielding former officer.
"I have to stress this is not against the Philippine people," To said. "The government should make a report on this issue and try to explain to the Hong Kong people how this could have happened."
Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said he has asked Philippine President Benigno Aquino to probe into the incident "thoroughly and professionally," according to a statement on Saturday. Hong Kong Police sent two officers to Manila to help with the investigation, Undersecretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said in a separate release.
MANILA, Philippines - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III apologised after he was criticised for wearing a smile while talking about the hostage crisis that killed a hostage taker and eight Chinese from Hong Kong in Manila's tourist district last Monday.
"My smile might have been misunderstood. If I have offended certain people, I apologise to them. Obviously there was no joy in attending to that situation," said Aquino yesterday.
It was "an expression of exasperation rather than anything," said Aquino.
Observers said he was also smiling, if not smirking, when he inspected the bullet-stricken tourist bus at the Luneta Park, a bayside area, where a 12-hour hostage crisis occurred after a sacked policeman held 25 mostly Chinese tourists, and called for the clearing of his name from charges of extortion, and his reinstatement to the police force.
Aquino's apology was an apparent response to a certain Jay Rodrigo who said on the web, "You see, our president has done nothing but smirk in front of the TV cameras after all that has happened."
Meanwhile, Aquino called for sobriety as his Facebook account was crowded with criticisms and debates, both from the Philippines and Hong Kong. "We have heard and read a lot of opinions from the public, even from foreigners that were affected by the incident," said Aquino, adding, "We ask for their understanding. We are correcting deficiencies that we have noted in the implementation of our operating procedures. None of us wanted this outcome of the incident."
BANGKOK, Thailand - Airport customs in Thailand have found a two-month-old tiger stashed in a bag which was checked in for an international passenger flight, authorities say.
The dazed and drugged cub was concealed in an oversized bag packed with stuffed tiger toys and bound for Iran when it was discovered by Thai authorities using an X-ray machine at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport sometimes this week.
A 31-year-old Thai woman was detained for questioning and was unable to explain why there was a real tiger in the bag.
"The woman trying to check in the oversized bag denied any knowledge of the tiger. She said she was carrying it for someone else," Nirat Nipanand, an airport customs official in charge of tracking animals, told Reuters.
An investigation is underway and DNA samples will be taken to determine the species of the cub, which had been sedated with anti-depressants.
Tests will also be carried out to determine whether the animal was caught in the wild or bred in captivity.
Tiger populations in Asia are under constant threat by poaching and illegal trade. Wildlife groups continue to lobby governments there to increase monitoring and enforce tougher penalties. "We applaud all the agencies that came together to uncover this brazen smuggling attempt," deputy regional director for wildlife trade monitors TRAFFIC Chris Shepherd said. "They obviously think wildlife smuggling is something easy to get away with."
NEW DELHI, India - Courted by opposition parties, thousands of farmers from several states poured into the capital yesterday to demand enhanced compensation for their lands being acquired for the Yamuna Expressway project in Uttar Pradesh. Jantar Mantar, the usual venue of protests near Parliament House, and the vast Ram Lila Ground, where the buses that ferried the thousands of farmers were parked, were packed with protesters who had come from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and other states. This led to the inevitable traffic trouble with jams reported from areas around Connaught Place. "We will not stop protesting till our demands are met," declared Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh to loud applause from the protesters who rose in support. He added that the government should ensure that farmers were not cheated of their lands. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Arun Jaitley said both the central and the state governments were responsible for the situation in Aligarh in western Uttar Pradesh that had resulted in the killing of two farmers recently. "BJP will oppose all anti-farmer moves," he said. Source: GulfNews.. more info
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Scientists using cutting-edge technology to explore waters off Indonesia were wowed by colorful and diverse images of marine life on the ocean floor — including plate-sized sea spiders and flower-like sponges that appear to be carnivorous. They predicted Thursday that as many as 40 new plant and animal species may have been discovered during the three-week expedition that ended Aug. 14.
More than 100 hours of video and 100,000 photographs, captured using a robotic vehicle with high-definition cameras, were piped to shore in real-time by satellite and high-speed Internet. Verena Tunnicliffe, a professor at the University of Victoria in Canada, said the images provided an extraordinary glimpse into one of the globe's most complex and little-known marine ecosystems. The mission was carried out by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's ship, the Okeanos Explorer. An Indonesian vessel, the Baruna Jaya IV, also took part, collecting specimens that, together with all rights for future use, will remain in the country. Confirmation that a species is new involves a scientific peer review and other steps and can take years. Source: AP