Thursday, 29 December 2011

Breaking News

Breaking News

Pakistan journalists 'threatened by security' personnel

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 08:03 AM PST

Two senior Pakistani journalists say they have received threatening messages after raising questions over the military's role in their respective television shows.

Both suspect the threats have emanated from Pakistan's powerful security establishment and its premier intelligence service, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence).

The ISI was widely accused of killing a local journalist, Saleem Shehzad, in May 2011.

It vehemently denied the charge.

Journalists' organisations say at least 29 journalists have been killed in Pakistan during the last five years, many of them specifically for their work.

A senior journalist, Najam Sethi, disclosed at a television talk show on Wednesday night that he had received "serious" threats from "both non-state and state actors".

He said if these threats did not cease, he would be "compelled to take names of the organisations and officials" who were behind them.

Without naming any intelligence service, he said its operatives were "in touch with and threatening several other senior journalists".
Continue reading the main story
"Start Quote

    If anything bad happens to me or my dear ones, the security establishment will be responsible"

Hamid Mir Pakistani journalist

"We did not speak about this before because we did not want to destabilise things, but the time has come when all of them should come forward and speak about it publicly," he said, speaking in Urdu.

"This is not the age when the intelligence operatives should be threatening their own civilians. A state within the state is not acceptable," he said.

Mr Sethi is the main analyst at a late night news show on Pakistan's Geo TV in which he has been offering comments critical of the military's role.

His disclosure comes a week after another senior journalist, Hamid Mir, sent out an email to journalists' bodies around the world claiming that he had been receiving threatening messages from what he called "the security establishment".

Mr Mir is the host of Geo TV's popular talk show, Capital Talk.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released the text of Mr Mir's email last week, which contains the text of an SMS message he had received.

According to Mr Mir, the SMS read, "I have not seen a real bastard than you. I wish somebody comes and strips you naked. I hope some army man has not done real dirty with your dear ones."
Saleem Shahzad Saleem Shahzad, who had complained of ISI threats, was killed in May 2011

Mr Mir wrote in his email that these threats have emerged following two talk shows he did which contained critical comments about the military.

"I am sure that the security establishment of Pakistan is once again angry with all those who raise questions about the political role of the army," he wrote.

He added: "If anything bad happens to me or my dear ones, the security establishment will be responsible."

A commission constituted to investigate the May 2011 killing of journalist Saleem Shehzad is investigating the role of the ISI, among others, as a possible suspect in the case.

Journalists working on security-related issues say they have always been threatened and intimidated by the intelligence agencies and have often been forced to under-report "sensitive" issues.

But in recent months, they have increasingly spoken out in public on the issue.

Pending home sales rise to 1.5 year high

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 08:01 AM PST

Pending sales of existing homes surged to a 1-1/2 year high in November, an industry group said on Thursday, offering more signs of a tentative recovery in the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in November, increased 7.3 percent to 100.1 -- the highest level since April 2010.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected pending sales to rise only 2 percent. Pending sales lead existing home sales by a month or two.

Recent data on home sales and construction have been fairly upbeat, suggesting an improvement in the sector, but prices continue to trend lower.

Michele Bachmann's Iowa chairman endorses Ron Paul

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:58 AM PST

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's campaign is on damage limitation mode after her Iowa chairman defected to rival Ron Paul.

Kent Sorenson endorsed the Texas congressman on Wednesday night just hours after appearing at a campaign event in Iowa alongside Mrs Bachmann.

Mrs Bachmann said Mr Sorenson had been offered a large sum of money by the Paul campaign, which denied the claim.

The candidates are making their final pitch to voters ahead of Iowa's caucus.

The Hawkeye state's 3 January gathering marks the start of the six-month period during which each US state will hold primary elections or caucuses to pick a Republican candidate, who will be officially nominated at the party convention in August.

The blow to Bachmann came as a new CNN poll showed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum surging for the first time in Iowa, while former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich's ratings went on the slide.

The same poll put former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney top, with Mr Paul in second place.

Mr Sorenson, an Iowa state senator, said he had decided to switch allegiance because the Paul campaign had reached a "a turning point."

"I adore Michele Bachmann, but the fact of the matter is I believe we have an opportunity to take Romney out here in Iowa and I believe that person is Ron Paul," Mr Sorenson told Politico.

Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann accused of him of literally selling out her campaign, saying in a statement: "Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign."

The Texas congressman's campaign denied Mr Sorenson had been offered money.

Mr Paul's national campaign chair, Jesse Benton, said: "The fact that he doesn't take this decision lightly tells a great deal about the senator and Ron Paul."

The eventual Republican candidate will challenge Barack Obama for the White House in November 2012.

Many voters are concerned by the pace of economic recovery from the recession that started during the end of the presidency of George W Bush and ended in 2009.

Rafael Nadal plans to rest after Australian Open

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:54 AM PST

World number two Rafael Nadal plans to take several weeks off after the Australian Open to properly recover from a nagging shoulder injury.

Nadal suffered the injury before the ATP World Tour Finals in November and said he was still "not 100 percent".

He said: "I had a problem before London with my shoulder and I had to stop for about 10 days before the (ATP) finals."

The 25-year-old Spaniard added: "It felt better again but resurfaced, I couldn't practice."

The Spaniard only decided on Monday to defend his title at the World Tennis Championships - a two-day exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.

Nadal will play the winner of a match between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer in the semi-finals on Friday.

He is hopeful his shoulder will hold up enough for him to win both the Abu Dhabi tournament for a third successive year, and next week's Qatar Open in Doha.

The Australian Open gets under way on 16 January, and Nadal says he wants to use February to rest and practice.

Will new North Korean ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong Un start a market economy?

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:52 AM PST

Kim Jong Un may relax state controls over North Korea's economy and ease the isolation entrenched by his late father's nuclear weapons program, according to a banker who fled the communist state after years working for the regime.

Kim's Swiss education and his reported fondness for basketball -- a sign he's a team player -- may make him more open to change than his late father, Choi Se Woong, former deputy governor of the North's Korea Reunification Development Bank, said in an interview in Seoul this week.

"It's better for North Korea to have Kim Jong Un as their leader than anyone else," said Choi, 50, who defected to the South in 1995 and is the son of a former North Korean finance minister. "Kim Jong Un will seek to start a market economy but it will be uniquely North Korean-style, different from China, South Korea or any other capitalist country."

Choi joins the growing number of people saying Kim will push for a more open North Korea as he takes over from his father Kim Jong Il, who passed away this month after a 17-year reign. Templeton Emerging Markets Group Executive Chairman Mark Mobius said last week he expects the North to adopt China-style deregulation, and a poll of South Koreans this month showed almost half expect the North to become more open under new leadership.

'Exquisite Toys'

North Korea's gross domestic product, about one-fortieth that of the South, shrank in four of the past five years after attempts to liberalize the economy failed under its stated policy of self-reliance. Still, it sits on deposits of minerals estimated at almost 7,000 trillion won ($6 trillion), according to South Korea's state-run Korea Resources Corp.

"It's a country with undiscovered minerals and the technique to make missiles," Choi said. Have you seen the exquisite toys they make, like helicopters? Just think what it would be like if these skills were applied to manufacturing.''

Kim may pursue more projects such as in Gaeseong, home to a joint industrial complex where South Korean-built factories employ workers from the North, said Choi, now a managing director at Eugene Investment & Futures Co. in Seoul.

Any economic opening in North Korea would follow Myanmar, also known as Burma, another undemocratic Asian nation subject to sanctions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month became the highest level U.S. official to visit Myanmar in more than five decades as the nation moved to release political prisoners. Clinton pledged to upgrade relations if Myanmar takes further steps to ease repression.

'Last Stalinist Regime'

North Korea and Myanmar are among the few countries remaining largely disconnected from international commerce in a region that's leading global economic growth.

"The sustainability of the world's last Stalinist regime will ultimately be under greater pressure following a transfer of power and within the broader global context of political change, with nascent political reforms in Burma evidence that change is not limited to the Middle East," Citigroup Inc. analyst Tina Fordham in London wrote in a note this month.

U.S. to announce sale of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:48 AM PST

The Obama administration is set to announce on Thursday a $29.4 billion sale of new F-15 fighter jets and related equipment to Saudi Arabia, according to an industry participant familiar with the matter.

The deal is the latest in a major military buildup of U.S. friends and allies amid mounting tension with Iran.

It covers 84 new Boeing F-15 fighters, with advanced radar equipment and digital electronic warfare systems, plus upgrades of 70 older F-15s, the person said.

The administration cleared with Congress more than a year ago the potential sale of more than $60 billion of military hardware to Saudi Arabia over 10 to 15 years, including the F-15s, helicopters and related equipment and services.

Deadline looms for Iowa lottery jackpot winner

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:45 AM PST

A year ago Thursday, someone walked into a QuikTrip in Des Moines, Iowa, picked up a lottery ticket and hit the jackpot: $16.5 million. For the next year, officials with the Iowa Lottery waited for the person or persons to come forward, but that wait ends at 4 p.m Thursday.

If the ticket goes unclaimed, it will be the second time this week that someone has forfeited a mega payday. On Monday, a $77 million lottery ticket went unclaimed in Georgia.

"Someone legitimately won this money and we want them to take it home," Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich said in a news release. "But you must present the winning ticket to the lottery in order to claim the prize."

Few financial advisers would consider the $1 spent on the ticket to have been a wise investment. The buyer overcame 1 in 10.9 million odds to win, said Mary Neubauer, a spokeswoman for the state lottery. If the ticket is redeemed, the winner would owe 25% in federal taxes and 5% in state taxes, she said.

But the possibility of taxes and the absence of a ticket haven't deterred the hopeful from lining up -- just in case. "We've been getting calls from the public all day long today," Neubauer said Wednesday night. "The closer that the deadline gets, the more people seem to be calling."

Huge-money ticket in Georgia goes unclaimed

Some of the calls are from people who say they may have lost the ticket, or put it through a washing machine, she said. They are walked through a series of questions to determine whether they may indeed be the winner. So far, no luck.

Other calls, she said, are from people who believe in the power of their own creativity. Once told they could not have been the winner, they call back again -- and again, each time with a different story, she said.

"That's why we keep emphasizing that it comes down to -- you have to have the winning ticket," she said.

If the prize goes unclaimed, the money would return to the 15 lotteries that offer the game -- in proportion to the percentage of sales that came from each state. "Iowa would get back about $1.3 million if this prize were to go unclaimed," Rich said.

States differ on how they would use the money. In Iowa, the money would go into the prize pools for future games.

Could Romney score an early knockout?

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:42 AM PST

Mitt Romney's campaign did its best on Wednesday to lower expectations, but no one was really buying it.

As six of the contenders for the Republican nomination for president barnstormed across Iowa, there was a clear sense that Romney could be in position to lock down the nomination far sooner than could have been expected just a few days ago.

Urging Iowans to vote in the caucuses that kick off the nominating process next Tuesday, Romney and his aides were surprised at the size and enthusiasm of overflow crowds at diners and coffee shops.

And two new polls -- one from Public Policy Polling showing the Massachusetts governor running a close second to Texas congressman Ron Paul; another from CNN showing Romney ahead -- suggested that the dynamics of the race were shifting in Romney's favor.

In contested races under the current primary system, it has been rare for a nonincumbent to win the Republican nomination after winning both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary that follows, this year on January 10.

Romney, who has a big lead in New Hampshire polls, could pull off that feat and gain a strong grip on the nomination -- if he can win Iowa.

On Wednesday Romney was having a hard time containing a smile at the thought of striking such a huge blow so early in the primary season.

"I can't possibly allow myself to think in such optimistic terms," Romney said during a stop at Homer's Bakery in Clinton, Iowa.

The polls also indicated that former House speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia -- who led in the polls in early December -- could fade out of contention before he gets to the January 21 primary in South Carolina, where he still leads and has put much of his hope.

In Iowa, Gingrich was third in the Public Policy survey and fourth -- behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum -- in the CNN poll.

As his standing in the polls has fallen amid a barrage of negative TV ads from Romney, Paul and a group supporting Romney, Gingrich has been pointing to South Carolina, where he is building up his staff.

Gingrich, whose modest campaign was traveling around Iowa in a car just a few weeks ago, is now traversing the state in a giant bus with "NEWT 2012" emblazoned on the side.

Although he declared himself the front-runner in the race in early December after strong debate performances shot him to the top of voter surveys, the Gingrich campaign now is considerably more humble.

He told CNN this week that he would be fine if he finished in the "top three or four" in Iowa, but political strategists said that type of showing Tuesday could damage his campaign.

"If he wants to be one of the two finalists, he has to win Iowa," said Charlie Black, a top adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign who is backing Romney. "Unless he wins there, he's going to have a very hard time fighting his way back into the race."

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who has not backed a candidate, said Gingrich's attempts to lower expectations were not going well.

"His efforts to manage expectations are proving difficult after he pledged to win the state," Bonjean said, adding that Gingrich should focus on placing in the top three in the January 10 primary in New Hampshire.

Then, Bonjean said, Gingrich could seek to shore up his leads in the next two primary states, South Carolina and Florida, which are closer to Gingrich's conservative southern base.


The notion that Romney could come roaring out of Iowa with a win has seemed preposterous for much of the campaign.

As a candidate in 2008, Romney invested heavily in Iowa. But Iowa's Christian conservatives became infatuated with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher.

Romney finished second in Iowa, then lost New Hampshire to eventual nominee John McCain, the Arizona senator.

For much of 2011, Romney did not seem particularly interested in campaigning in Iowa.

But when conservative Texas Governor Rick Perry stumbled in debates, Romney's team began pouring resources into Iowa -- and spending big on TV ads.

Perhaps the most devastating ads against Gingrich were put on the air by a political action committee that supports Romney. They cast Gingrich as a Washington insider who earned millions as a lobbyist after leaving the House.

Gingrich has called the ads unfair.

At a shopping mall Wednesday in Mason City, Gingrich said that "the only person helped by negative ads is Barack Obama, and our business is to defeat him, not to help him."

Gingrich then told a small crowd, "I would ask you, when you go to the caucus, to remind your friends and neighbors: Do you really want to reward somebody who's done nothing but run negative ads? Or do you want to elect somebody who has big, positive solutions, runs positive ads, and has a track record of actually getting it done?"

When asked Wednesday whether he will win the state, Romney demurred, saying that both Gingrich and Paul have led polls in the state.

Romney added that the race for the nomination won't be over until a candidate is backed by 1,150 delegates, which are awarded proportionately by state. Twenty-eight delegates are at stake in Iowa.

"I like the fact that my support is building and the momentum is positive, but I can't tell" who will win, Romney said. "I'll tell you this: I've got to get 1,150 delegates. And I'd like to get a good start here and in New Hampshire and in South Carolina and Florida."

Romney supporter Indra Brewer wasn't so reserved.

"I think he can" win Iowa, she said. "The momentum's building, and I think that's going to pay off for him in the end."

Gingrich supporters, meanwhile, are holding out hope.

Iowan Jerry O'Neill, 72, said he was glad Gingrich was staying positive.

"He's dropping in the polls, but polls fluctuate," O'Neill said. "It's coming down to the wire as far as the Iowa caucus, but it's not the end of the road."

December is a busy month for popping the question

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:37 AM PST

NEW YORK – The heck with lovey-dovey Valentine's Day. Turns out December, with its holiday cheer, romantic winter backdrops and family gatherings, is among the busiest months for popping the question."It's a pretty time of year," said Jake Nyberg, 31, a video producer in Minneapolis. He chose Christmastime to drop to one knee in a gorilla suit while teetering on ice skates in front of his beloved. "You know you're going to be around a lot of family. You're going to be seeing all the people you'd like to see after something like this happens."Sarah Pease, a professional proposal planner in New York, usually gets one or two inquiries a week from nervous grooms-to-be, but once Thanksgiving rolls around, it's more like one or two a day, with most guys looking to propose in December.While she specializes in elaborate surprise proposals, she says the simple engagement-ring-under-the-tree trick is still popular. "That's a great way to have it as a family affair," she said. "It's dreamy. This is definitely THE busiest time of the year."Laurent Landau in New York, a partner in the jewelry site, also sees the December bump: "October, November and early December, we probably see a 50 to 60 percent increase in the number of people buying rings with the purpose of proposing during the holiday season."And it's not just regular folks; celebs confirm the trend too. Matthew McConaughey announced in a tweet that he proposed to his girlfriend, Brazilian model Camila Alves, on Christmas Day this year. And two days after Christmas, a spokesman for John Legend revealed that the singer recently proposed to his girlfriend, model Chrissy Teigen, in the Maldives.Christmas is considered one of four big proposal days, along with Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving and New Year's. Thirty-nine percent of proposals occurred between November and February among 20,000 newlyweds surveyed by the popular wedding website Of those, 16 percent got engaged in December, more than any other month, according to TheKnot editor Anja WinikkaWinikka's on board. Her fiance, Benjamin Bullington, proposed Dec. 20 by matching a fantasy she'd had "as a child that on my very first date ever I would wear a red dress and we would go to Red Lobster in a red car." Bullington sent a red dress and shoes to her office, then whisked her off in a red car to dine on red lobster.

With help from Pease, the wedding planner, Matthew Fowkes surprised his honey with an impressive yellow diamond on a romantic Christmas week getaway to New York.

"We thought it would be a magical time in the city with all the lights and everything — and it was," said Fowkes, 35, a website founder in Pittsburgh.

Fowkes took Melissa Barnickel, 25, to a French bistro in Brooklyn on Dec. 2 where they were the only guests. The evening included singers belting "Marry Me" by Train, a videographer and photographer recording it all, a tiered proposal cake and a bottle of wine identical to one the pair drank during their first trip together, to Canada.

Fowkes had the wine placed in a box made of Canadian wood, carved with their names. They'll fill it with remembrances at their Sept. 29 wedding and seal it as a time capsule to be opened on their 10th wedding anniversary. And they might just duplicate the proposal cake for their nuptials.

"I was completely surprised," said Barnickel, an analyst for an insurance company. "It was such a fairy tale. Everything was just so thought through."

Brad Carlson, 41, a production executive for Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, went for the fake-out.

He and Allison Koeppe, 34, had been talking marriage for a while. She thought it might be nice to get engaged the weekend of Dec. 16, when he had business in New York, but he held her off, suggesting they wait until they could figure out a plan.

"She was, like, a plan. What do we need a plan for," Carlson recalled. What she didn't know was he had hired Pease months before to make every moment meaningful when he proposed that Saturday.

They stayed at a fancy downtown hotel and strolled through Washington Square Park on their way to dinner at Babbo. Along the way they encountered a painter in the park whose easel bore a replica of a favorite photo Koeppe had taken on a trip to Italy. As she realized what was about to happen, a guitarist materialized and played "Reminiscing" by Little River Band: "How to tell you girl/ I wanna build my world around you/ Tell you that it's true/ I wanna make you understand/ I'm talkin' about a lifetime plan …"

Carlson let Koeppe's closest friends in on the secret and presented her with a video featuring their congratulations back at the hotel. That gesture moved her to tears.

"It was beyond anything I could have imagined," said Koeppe, who's originally from Hopewell Valley, N.J. "New York in December is one of the more romantic places you could be."

Nyberg also went stealth. His fiancee is a freelance photographer and he concocted a fake client who was going to propose in gorilla gear at an outdoor skating rink in downtown St. Paul, Minn.

Nyberg showed up himself Dec. 16 with several friends, all dressed as gorillas who took to the ice.

"There's a nearby park and the trees were all lit up with Christmas lights. The rink is framed by all of these historic buildings. It was perfect," he said. "And I'm not a good skater. I managed to drop to one knee in skates on ice in a gorilla suit. It's sort of a minor miracle."

Poll finds Gingrich support eroding in Iowa

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:30 AM PST

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, weathering televised attacks from opponents within his party, has lost significant support in Iowa, according to a new poll released six days before that state's GOP caucus.

Gingrich is in fourth place, according to a CNN/Time/ORC International poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers on Tuesday, supported by 14 percent in the survey conducted Dec. 21-27. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads, with 25 percent, followed by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 22 percent and Pennsylvania's former Sen. Rick Santorum, with 16 percent.

A month ago, Gingrich had 33 percent support in CNN's Iowa poll, topping Romney's 20 percent. Santorum has surged from 5 percent in that Nov. 29-Dec. 6 poll.

PHOTOS: Bachmann | Gingrich | Perry | Romney | The debates

POLL: Which GOP candidate would be the best president?

The telephone survey of 452 likely participants in Iowa's Republican caucuses has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

A confident Romney barnstormed across Iowa Wednesday, dismissing criticism from his Republican opponents amid growing signs of his strength in the state that, with its caucuses Tuesday, kicks off the 2012 nominating process.

Romney's campaign has escalated its efforts in Iowa during this final week of campaigning, blitzing the state with events, surrogates, and advertising in a bid to boost Romney's chances.

Addressing reporters Wednesday after speaking to overflow crowds gathered at restaurants in Clinton, Iowa, Romney shied away from offering any predictions -- though he sounded optimistic about his chances of getting the nomination.

Paul drew about 120 people to a midday event at the Iowa Speedway in Newton. It was his first appearance in the state since leaving the campaign trail in observance of Christmas.

"It does look like there are more cameras than there used to be," Paul said, noting a large media contingent covering him. "All of a sudden people are tired of the wars. They're tired of this economy. They're tired of the Federal Reserve. They're tired of Congress spending a lot of money. And they are looking for some change."

Romney continues to hold a significant lead among his party's presidential candidates in New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary election on Jan. 10, based on a CNN/Time/ORC International poll in the state. Romney had the support of 44 percent, compared with 17 percent for Paul and 16 percent for Gingrich.

Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga Top 11 Celebrity Activists Of 2011

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:27 AM PST

When A-list celebrities throw their names behind a noteworthy -- but underrepresented -- cause, they're able to push it to the front of the world's stage to get the much-needed attention and support it never would have garnered otherwise. Whether they're bringing clean water to developing countries, pushing for stricter bullying laws, or demanding world leaders help end the famine in Africa, our top 11 celebrity activists of 2011 have each dared to speak up and out on behalf of those who can't advocate for themselves.

Google and Facebook top 2011's most visited sites in US

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:24 AM PST

Google was the most popular website with US users in 2011, but Facebook was not far behind, according to market researchers.

Nielsen suggests over 153 million visitors clicked onto Google branded pages each month. Facebook attracted close to 138 million visitors.

Yahoo came third with around 130 million visitors each month.

But analysts warned Yahoo's tally might be at risk if young people continue to turn away from web-based email.

The study is based on data collected between January and October and included visits from home and work computers.
Web brand     Unique visitors per month

Source: Nielsen

1. Google


2. Facebook


3. Yahoo


4. MSN/WindowsLive/Bing


5. YouTube


6. Microsoft


7. AOL Media Network


8. Wikipedia


9. Apple


10. Ask Search Network

Social networks

Although Google trumped Facebook as the most popular web brand, the search giant's Google+ network came far behind Mark Zuckerberg's site in Nielsen's ranking of the most popular social networks and blogs.

Google+ came eighth in the list with 8.02m unique monthly visitors.

That also put it behind Google's weblog publishing tool Blogger, as well as Twitter, Wordspace, Myspace, Linkedin and Tumblr.

Google's YouTube was identified as the most popular destination for online videos, attracting more than three times the number of monthly visitors as the music video service Vevo.

While Yahoo maintained its position as one of the top three web brands, an earlier study cast doubt over its ability to retain the position over coming years.
Web-based email

Research by Comscore suggests US-based 12 to 17-year-olds spent 31% less time using web-based email between October 2010 and the same month this year.

Usage among those aged 18 to 24 fell by 21%, and was down by 1% in the 25 to 34 age bracket. Usage was up among older age groups.

Internet analysts said this was a worrying trend.

"Yahoo's basic problem is that people are no longer looking for an all-you-can-eat service and instead want best-in-breed," said Ian Maude from Enders Analysis.

"For social networks that is Facebook, for search it's Google.

"Email is a front door to Yahoo and if people are no longer using their service it will affect them more broadly. If Comscore's data is an early indicator of a growing trend they have a major problem.

Cyclone Thane: Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu on high alert to face threat

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:21 AM PST

HYDERABAD/CHENNAI: With the cyclonic storm `Thane' closing in on the Bay of Bengal coast, Andhra Pradesh Government got into a high alert today and directed Collectors of vulnerable coastal districts to immediately evacuate people living in low-lying areas and closer to the shore.

The "very severe cyclonic storm", that lay centred over southwest Bay of Bengal this morning, is expected to move westwards and cross north Tamil Nadu coast between Nagapattinam and Chennai tomorrow morning. It may cause heavy rain up to 25 cm in districts like Nellore, Prakasam and Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh, an official release said.

State Revenue Minister N Raghuveera Reddy held a high- level meeting with Chief Secretary Pankaj Dwivedi, Disaster Management Commissioner T Radha and other top officials to review the situation and the Government's preparedness in meeting any eventuality.

"Isolated heavy to very heavy rainfall is expected over south coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema districts. The wind speed will increase gradually to 110-120 kmph, gusting to 135 kmph along north Tamil Nadu and south coastal Andhra from tonight," Raghuveera told reporters after the meeting.

Of the 72 fishermen who went missing from different parts of the state in the last couple of days, all but eight were safe, he said. "We have launched an aerial survey through helicopters to trace the eight fishermen trapped in sea."

He said Roads and Buildings, Municipal Administration, Electricity, Medical and Health and Fisheries department officials have been put on high alert. The Minister appealed to pilgrims headed for Tirumala-Tirupati to postpone their travel plans in view of the cyclone.

The Government fears there could be damage to crops like paddy and groundnut due to the cyclone. Irrigation Department authorities have been asked to ensure there were no breaches to major canals.

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu braced itself for the possible onslaught of 'Thane' cyclonic storm, which is likely to cross the northern part of the state by early morning on Friday, threatening to bring very heavy rainfall combined with squally winds gusting upto 135 kph.

The state government announced a holiday for educational institutions in coastal districts, including Chennai, Cuddalore and Tiruvarur tomorrow.

The regional meteorological office said the very severe cyclonic storm 'THANE' over southwest Bay of Bengal slightly moved westward and lay centered at about 180 km east of Puducherry, 180 km southeast of Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and 400 km north-northeast of Trincomalee (Sri Lanka).

The system is likely to move westwards and cross north Tamil Nadu coast between Nagapattinam and Chennai, close to Puducherry around early morning of December 30, it said.

North Tamil Nadu and Puducherry could experience extremely heavy rainfall of 25 cm, while isolated heavy to very heavy rainfall would occur over south coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalseema, it said.

Squally winds with speeds touching 55-65 kmph gusting to 75 kmph is likely along and off north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and South Andhra Pradesh coasts. The wind speed would increase gradually, gusting to 135 kmph along and off north Tamil Nadu and adjoining south Andhra Pradesh coast from tonight,it said.

The met office said storm surge of about 1-1.5 meter height above astronomical tide would inundate low lying areas of Puducherry and Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram and Villupuram districts of Tamil Nadu in landfall. Sea condition is very rough and would gradually become very high to phenomenal.

Fishermen along north Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south Andhra Pradesh coasts have been advised not to venture into the sea in next 48 hours, the met office said.

Meanwhile,the state government said it is putting in place measures to face the effect of the storm,with special teams of officials formed to monitor the situation. PWD Secretary M Saikumar held a meeting to discuss steps to be taken on a 'war footing' to tackle the effects of the storm.

Dying teen leaves touching YouTube video

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:18 AM PST

Austin, Texas teen Ben Breedlove died on Christmas Day, leaving behind a touching video on the health problem that took his life -- a video that's gone viral on YouTube.

For more than a year, he'd been cultivating a following on YouTube, offering kids his age advice on everything from dating to the SATs with the wit and wisdom of someone far beyond his 18 years.

But just before Christmas, Ben made a different kind of video, still funny -- but also terribly sad. Ben shared with the world his personal struggle with a life-threatening heart condition and how that challenged him every day of his life.

Ben's video has been viewed more than one million times on YouTube, CBS' Anna Werner reports.

Deanne Breedlove, Ben's mother, told CBS News, "He was about 13 months old. We were referred to a cardiologist and they did some tests and found out he has a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy."

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle, makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood - and causes chest pain, high blood pressure, and eventually, heart failure. In his YouTube video, Ben detailed how he "cheated death" three times, beginning at age four and again earlier this month, when paramedics had to revive him at school.

Ally Breedlove, Ben's sister, recalled, "I found him out on the dock, by our house, and he was sitting out there by himself and I just asked him if he was happy that he woke up and he just said, 'I guess.' And he said that he was so glad to be back with our family, but he just wanted to back in that peace."

Shortly after, Ben returned to that peace. He passed away on Christmas morning while playing in the backyard with his younger brother. His family did not see the video until the following day. It was his last Christmas present to them.

"I'm very proud of him for choosing to be so vulnerable and share something of himself that was so personal," Deanne Breedlove said.

And Ben left his followers and the world with a message of hope.

And it seems, at least on YouTube, the world was listening, and is offering Ben something back through several reaction videos.

Petraeus Nearly Quit Over Afghan Drawdown, Book Claims

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:14 AM PST

WASHINGTON –  Four-star general-turned-CIA director David Petraeus almost resigned as Afghanistan war commander over President Obama's decision to quickly draw down surge forces, according to a new insider's look at Petraeus' 37-year Army career.

Petraeus decided that resigning would be a "selfish, grandstanding move with huge political ramifications" and that now was "time to salute and carry on," according to a forthcoming biography.

Author and Petraeus confidante Paula Broadwell had extensive access to the general in Afghanistan and Washington for "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus," due from Penguin Press in January. The Associated Press was given an advance copy.

The book traces Petraeus' career from West Point cadet to his command of two wars deemed unwinnable: Iraq and Afghanistan. Co-authored with The Washington Post's Vernon Loeb, the nearly 400-page book is part history lesson through Petraeus' eyes, part hagiography and part defense of the counterinsurgency strategy he applied in both wars.

Critics of counterinsurgency argue the strategy has not yet proved a success, with violence spiking in Iraq after the departure of U.S. troops, and Afghan local forces deemed ill-prepared to take over by the 2014 deadline.

The book unapologetically casts Petraeus in the hero's role, as in this description of the Afghanistan campaign: "There was a new strategic force released on Kabul: Petraeus' will."

Broadwell does acknowledge that Petraeus rubs some people the wrong way.

"His critics fault him for ambition and self-promotion," she writes. But she adds that "his energy, optimism and will to win stand out more for me."

The book also is peppered with Petraeus quotes that sound like olive branches meant to soothe Obama aides who feared Petraeus would challenge their boss for the White House.

"Petraeus tried to make clear that he and Obama were in synch," Broadwell writes of Petraeus' Senate testimony on the Afghan war.

The book describes Petraeus' frustration at still being labeled an outsider from the Obama administration, even as he retired from the military at Obama's request before taking the job last summer as the CIA's 20th director.

The book depicts Petraeus' rise at an unrelenting, near-superhuman pace. He starts his career as a fiercely competitive West Point cadet known as "Peaches," where he famously wooed the school superintendent's daughter, Holly Knowlton. He went on to command the 101st Airborne Division as part of the invasion of Iraq, then masterminded the rewrite of the Army and Marine Corps' counterinsurgency training manual before returning to command the surge in Baghdad. He was then appointed to head Central Command, overseeing the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as military affairs across much of the Gulf and the Mideast.

He accepted a cut in authority and pay to lead the Afghanistan war campaign when Gen. Stanley McChrystal was forced to resign after a Rolling Stone article that "scorched the general (McChrystal) and his aides, caricaturing them as testosterone-addled frat boys as they insulted Obama" and other officials, Broadwell writes.

She describes how Petraeus' first act was to lift McChrystal's restrictions on the use of force -- especially on airstrikes -- if civilians were nearby.

"There is no question about our commitment to reducing civilian loss of life," Petraeus told his staff. There was, however, "a clear moral imperative to make sure we are fully supporting our troops in combat."

Broadwell adds that the problem, according to Petraeus, was less McChrystal's order than how it was even more strictly re-interpreted by lower commanders.

In her account, Petraeus also faults McChrystal for overpromising and underdelivering in places like Taliban-riddled Marjah in the south, producing months of embarrassing headlines that hurt the war effort back in Washington.

But the book also includes Petraeus' own Rolling Stone-esque moment, when he was quoted badmouthing the White House in Bob Woodward's latest book, "Obama's Wars." A frustrated Petraeus is described as telling his inner circle, on a flight after a glass of wine, that "the administration was (expletive) with the wrong guy."

"Petraeus later expressed his displeasure to all of them for betraying his confidence," Broadwell wrote. "But he knew he was ultimately responsible for making the intemperate remark," a candid admission, through Broadwell, of his lapse in judgment.

He also concedes the Afghan war is not yet won.

"He had wanted to hand (Marine Corps Gen. John) Allen ... a war that had taken a decisive turn," Broadwell writes of what had been Petraeus' goal for his successor. "He knew that, despite the hard-fought progress, that wasn't yet the case."

Yet that admission also presents a get-out clause when combined with the book's account that he considered resigning over the rapid drawdown of troops, neatly removing Petraeus from responsibility if the war goes wrong.

And the account does nothing to puncture the mythology his troops built up around him, something an early mentor, retired Gen. Jack Galvin, told Petraeus to embrace.

"They want you to be bigger than you are, so they magnify you," Galvin said in an interview with Broadwell. "Live up to it all with the highest standards of integrity. You become part of a legend."

Elephant poaching: 'Record year' for ivory seizures

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:11 AM PST

More elephant tusks were seized in 2011 than in any year since 1989, when the ivory trade was banned, international wildlife trade group Traffic says.

The group said elephants have had a "horrible year", with 23 tonnes of ivory seized - representing at least 2,500 dead animals.

Trade in ivory was banned in 1989 to save elephants from extinction.

But it has continued illegally because of huge demand in Asia, where some believe ivory has medicinal properties.

This is despite ample scientific evidence to the contrary.

"The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking," said a statement from Traffic, which monitors the trade in wildlife products.

"Most illegal shipments of African elephant ivory end up in either China or Thailand."
Shifting smuggling routes

The group said there had been at least 13 large seizures of ivory this year, amounting to more than 23 tonnes, compared to six last year of less than 10 tonnes.
Continue reading the main story
"Start Quote

    I fear the criminals are winning"

Tom Milliken Traffic's elephant expert

"In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data... this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures. 2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants," Traffic's elephant expert Tom Milliken said.

Traffic said the smugglers appear to have shifted away from using air to sea - in early 2011, three of the large scale ivory seizures were at airports but later in the year most were found in sea freight.

"The only common denominator in the trafficking is that the ivory departs Africa and arrives in Asia, but the routes are constantly changing, presumably reflecting where the smugglers gamble on being their best chance of eluding detection," it said.

In six of the large 2011 seizures, Malaysia was a transit country in the supply chain, Traffic said.

In the most recent case on 21 December, Malaysian authorities seized hundreds of African elephant tusks worth about $1.3 million (£844,000) that were being shipped to Cambodia.

The ivory was hidden in containers of handicrafts from Kenya's Mombasa port, Traffic said.

Mr Milliken said despite the seizures, there were generally few arrests.

"I fear the criminals are winning," he said.

Some environmental campaigners say the decision to allow some southern African countries, whose elephants populations are booming, to sell their stockpiles of ivory has fuelled the illegal trade.

Those countries - South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe - however, deny this and argue they should be rewarded for looking after their elephant populations.

Cutting Buffett Helps Sequoia Fund Top Value Rankings

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:09 AM PST

Sequoia Fund Inc., (SEQUX) recommended by Warren Buffett when it opened, beat the U.S. stock market over the past four decades, in part because a large piece of the fund was invested in his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A)

Heeding Buffett's warning that Berkshire wouldn't grow as fast as it once did, the managers of the $4.7 billion fund cut their reliance on the stock almost in half in 2010 and put the cash into companies such as Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. (VRX), a drug distributor. Sequoia is beating the pack again this year, gaining 14 percent through Dec. 27, better than 99 percent of value stock funds, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"They have the kind of portfolio Buffett might have if he ran a mutual fund," Steven Roge, a portfolio manager with Bohemia, New York-based R.W. Roge & Co., said in a telephone interview. His firm, which oversees $200 million, holds shares in Sequoia.

Like Buffett, the managers of Sequoia look for high-quality companies with competitive advantages that the fund can hang onto for long periods. While the scale of Buffett's $68 billion stock portfolio forces him to buy mainly the largest companies, Sequoia is small enough to benefit from investments in mid-sized businesses.

The fund beat 97 percent of peers over the past 10 and 15 years, according to Morningstar Inc. (MORN) in Chicago. From 1970 to 2010 the fund returned 14 percent annually, compared with 11 percent for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. In its best year, 1976, the fund gained 72 percent, according to "The Warren Buffett Way" (John Wiley & Sons, 1994) by Robert Hagstrom. It lost 27 percent in its worst year, 2008.
Buffett's Praise

Sequoia Fund was co-founded in 1970 by Richard Cunniff and William Ruane, a friend of Buffett since both studied under legendary value investor Benjamin Graham at Columbia University in 1951. When Buffett shut down his investment partnership in 1969 to concentrate on Berkshire Hathaway, he recommended that his clients invest with Ruane.

"Bill formed Sequoia Fund to take care of the smaller investor," Buffett wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. "A significant percentage of my former partners went with him and many of those still living have their holdings of Sequoia."

Ruane ran an unconventional fund, closing Sequoia to new investors in 1982 because he didn't want its size to limit what the fund could buy. It opened again in 2008, three years after Ruane's death.

Ruane also held a concentrated portfolio. In 2003, Sequoia had 75 percent of its money in its top six holdings, according to a regulatory filing.
'Six Best Ideas'

Ruane believed that "your six best ideas in life are going to do the best," David Poppe, who now runs the fund together with Robert Goldfarb, said at a May 2011 investor day for Ruane, Cunniff & Goldfarb Inc., the New York firm that advises Sequoia.

Poppe and Goldfarb didn't respond to a request to be interviewed. The two were named domestic stock managers of the year for 2010 by Morningstar. They are finalists for the same award for 2011.

Since Ruane's death, the firm has hired more analysts and added more holdings to the portfolio. At the end of 2010, Sequoia held 34 stocks, an all-time high, according to a letter to shareholders in the fund's 2010 annual report. The same letter explained why Sequoia reduced its stake in Berkshire Hathaway.
Cutting Berkshire

"When Warren Buffett tells the public that Berkshire's growth rate will slow in the future, it behooves one to listen," the fund's managers wrote. Buffett has said on a number of occasions that a company of Berkshire's size can't grow at the pace it did when it was smaller.

"We know we can't do remotely as well in the future as we have in the past," Buffett said on April 30 at Berkshire's annual meeting in Omaha.

Berkshire represented 11 percent of Sequoia's holdings as of Sept. 30, down from 20 percent at the end of 2009 and 35 percent in 2004, according to fund reports.

Sequoia's Berkshire stake has been a drag on the fund's returns in recent years, said Kevin McDevitt, an analyst for Morningstar. Over the past five years, Sequoia rose 4.3 percent a year compared with an annual gain of 1 percent for Berkshire. Over 20 years through November, Berkshire outperformed Sequoia by 2.6 percentage points a year.

"There was a time when you could have said they were riding Buffett's coattails," McDevitt said in a telephone interview. "That's not the case anymore."
Long-Term Investor

A reduced Berkshire stake hasn't stopped the fund from investing in a style similar to Buffett's. In 2011, Buffett bought shares of MasterCard Inc. (MA) and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), two companies Sequoia already owned.

Buffett's portfolio contains stocks, such as Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), that he has owned for more than 20 years. Sequoia has holdings, including TJX Cos. (TJX) and Fastenal Co. (FAST), that have been in the fund for at least 10 years, regulatory filings show.

TJX, a Framingham, Massachusetts-based discount retailer, has appreciated at a rate of 14 percent a year in the 10 years ended Nov. 30, compared with 2.9 percent for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Fastenal, an industrial supplier based in Winona, Minnesota, gained 20 percent a year.

"As an investor, if you get the people and the business right, you can let a company do the hard work for you for a long time," Thomas Russo, a partner at Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Gardner Russo & Gardner, said in a telephone interview. Russo, who worked at Ruane's firm from 1984 to 1989, manages $4 billion.
'Good and Bad'

Sequoia's patience hasn't always paid off. Mohawk Industries Inc. (MHK), a carpet maker based in Calhoun, Georgia, and a longtime Sequoia holding, lost 19 percent of its value in the past five years as the housing slump depressed carpet sales.

"In the short term, holding Mohawk has been a really poor decision," Poppe said at the 2009 investor meeting.

Such self-criticism is common at the meetings. At one session, an investment in Porsche Automobil Holding SE (PAH3), the German automaker, was described as a "disaster." At another, a manager admitted the firm was too timid about buying MasterCard after it went public in 2006.

"They give you the good and the bad," said Roge, who has attended several of the firm's investor meetings.

Sequoia's managers don't buy many of the largest stocks because the companies are too well-known and too heavily followed on Wall Street. Their preference is to own businesses "where we believe, not always correctly, that we have an edge in information," they wrote in their 2009 letter to shareholders.
Valeant Stake

Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the fund's largest holding, had a market value of less than $7.5 billion (VRX) when Sequoia purchased it in the third quarter of 2010, Bloomberg data show. The Mississauga, Ontario, drug company gained 62 percent this year.

At the 2011 investor meeting, the fund's managers emphasized Valeant's unusual business model, which focuses on acquiring drugs with a proven track record rather than spending money on research and development. They also praised the firm's chief executive officer, J. Michael Pearson.

Goldfarb told investors that over time he has become convinced that the right executive is crucial to a business's success. "We're betting more on the jockey and a little less on the horse," he said in May at the fund's annual meeting.

Sequoia typically has far more cash than the 3.7 percent held by the average U.S. domestic stock fund. At the end of the third quarter, cash represented 27 percent of the fund's assets, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Holding Cash

Other well-known value investors, such as Seth Klarman, founder of Baupost Group LLC, a Boston-based hedge fund, and Robert Rodriguez, the longtime manager of FPA Capital Fund and current CEO of Los Angeles-based First Pacific Advisors, let cash build up when they can't find enough attractive investments.

"In good markets cash can be a drag, but we have not had many good markets lately," Dan Teed, president of Wedgewood Investors Inc. in Erie, Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview. Teed, whose firm manages more than $100 million, including shares of Sequoia, said the fund's cash was a plus because it means they "aren't afraid to take a defensive position."
Debt Dangers

Klarman and Rodriguez have written about the dangers of the increase in U.S. government debt, warning that it could pose a threat to the economy and the stock market if it is not whittled down.

Goldfarb normally ducks questions about macroeconomic issues at annual meetings, saying he has no special insight into the future of the economy, interest rates or the prices of oil and gold.

At the 2011 annual meeting, in response to an investor question, he sounded a gloomy note about deficits.

"My own feeling is that we're just repeating the housing bubble in a different form," he said. "We've substituted an unsustainable buildup of government debt for what is an unsustainable buildup of consumer debt. This one really feels worse to me and more dangerous. I think we're living in a time of false prosperity."

Ed Miliband warned of Tory tax-and-spend trap

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:05 AM PST

Ed Miliband is being warned that Labour could fall into a Tory "trap" of being cast as the party of tax and spend.

The Labour leader says his party's mission in 2012 is to show politics can "make a difference".

In his new year message, he said "optimism can defeat despair".

But one of his shadow cabinet team says Labour will face defeat if it is seen solely as the defender of public spending.

Shadow pensions minister Greg McClymont says Mr Miliband must appeal beyond his core vote and set out policies to promote growth.

Writing for the Policy Network think-thank, he says Mr Miliband he risks suffering the same fate as former leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.

"Labour can sidestep the electoral trap being sprung by the Conservatives by refusing to be driven back to its core support," he says.

"A patriotic appeal to the nation to improve growth and living standards, not a simple defence of the public sector and public spending, is crucial to foiling Conservative attempts to render Labour the party of a sectional minority."
'Win-win situation'

In his new year message, Mr Miliband accepted that Labour must "renew and reinvent its mission" and "rise to the challenge" in the year ahead.

"Some believe things would be the same whoever was in charge," he said.

"And others fear the government is in the grip of forces so powerful that nothing can be done.

"It suits the current Conservative-led government to go along with this idea.
Continue reading the main story
"Start Quote

    The problem for Mr Miliband is that despite all the economic woes his party's poll ratings have been slipping. "

Gary O'Donoghue BBC Political correspondent

    Analysis: Labour's 2011
    Clegg: Rescue mission continues

"Having failed in their promise to make Britain a safe haven, they now say that there is no alternative to rising joblessness and years of falling living standards for working people. It is a counsel of despair."

But Mr McClymont warns him: "If the key political challenge facing the country over the long term becomes defined as cutting public spending, then the Conservatives are more likely to prosper.

"Prolonged austerity reinforces this perception, rather than undermining it.

"The Conservatives could potentially be in a win-win situation.

"If growth does ultimately return and an end to austerity heaves into view, then they can pledge tax cuts rather than a return to pre-crisis levels of spending."

'Profound change'

In his message, Mr Miliband said he was not prepared to stand idly by.

"When so many are sceptical about politics the easy route for politicians is to join in and accept the cynicism.

"To say simply that in hard times nothing can be done. But that's not why I came into politics and it's not what the Labour Party stands for.

"My party's mission in 2012 is to show politics can make a difference. To demonstrate that optimism can defeat despair."

Mr Miliband said the autumn statement had been more generous to bankers than to the lowest earners, and said Labour would bring in a more "responsible capitalism".

"I believe this country needs profound change, not small change.

"Not to seek simply a continuation of what Labour did in government but to renew and reinvent our party's mission in response to the urgency of changed times.

"Everything I have seen and done since I got this job has convinced me I am right to believe that.

"Throughout our country's history, tough times have seen us not lower our sights but raise them.

"We need equal ambition for the future if we are to avoid our country heading further and faster in the wrong direction: a lost generation of young people, Britain struggling to compete in the world, and greater inequality."

Labour would seek to build an industrial future "beyond financial services", tackling vested interests from banks to utilities that "squeeze living standards" and a "fairer sharing of rewards so that we discourage irresponsibility at the top and the bottom of society".

Mr Miliband's message comes the day after Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg warned that next year "poses many great challenges for everyone".

North Korea hails nuclear, military feats of Kim Jong-il

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 07:02 AM PST

North Korea lauded the military might built up by deceased leader Kim Jong-il on Thursday, likely tying his young successor to the same policies that have set Northeast Asia on edge as the impoverished state inches closer to nuclear weapons capability.

A gathering of 100,000, soldiers in uniform and bare-headed civilians, gathered in silence in wintry sunlight in the capital Pyongyang to mourn the passing of the man who had led the country for 17 years until his death on December 17.

Kim Jong-un, a jowly man in his late 20s who will become the third of his line to lead North Korea, took center stage overlooking the central square named after his grandfather to listen to tributes to the "great revolutionary."

"Great Leader Kim Jong-il ... laid the foundation for our people to live on as autonomous people of a world-class military power and a proud nuclear state," parliament chief Kim Yong-nam said in the eulogy.

The North has conducted two nuclear tests.

Larry Niksch, who has tracked North Korea for the non-partisan U.S. Congressional Research Service for 43 years, believes it could take as little as one to two years to have a working nuclear missile once it produced enough highly-enriched uranium for the warhead's core fuel.

That could threaten regional security and give the North a powerful bargaining tool in extracting aid for its economy.

North Korea's state television footage showed the young Kim flanked to his right by the country's top military general Ri Yong-ho on the balcony of the Granc People's Study House. Also nearby him were Defense Minister Kim Yong-chun, and his uncle and the key power-broker in the transition, Jang Song-thaek.

Jang, 65, is believed to be the regent heading a select group of caretakers, as the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il who survived purges to become his closest confidant who oversaw the power succession before his death of a heart attack.

He stood behind the younger Kim in Wednesday's mass funeral parade, escorting the hearse carrying the coffin.

Solemn and grimacing, the younger Kim, believed to be born in early 1984, stood motionless throughout the ceremony. He only came to the forefront of the North's dynastic succession last year by taking on key military and ruling party posts.

"Comrade Kim Jong-un is the highest leader of the party and people who takes on Great Leader Kim Jong-il's philosophy and leadership, personality and morals, courage and audacity," Kim Yong-nam said.


Mourners, their heads bowed as the ceremony concluded, spilled over to both sides of the Taedong River as temperatures stood at about minus 10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit). Boats moored on the river and trains in their yards blew their whistles for three minutes to mourn Kim Jong-il's passing.

The eulogies were short on boasts about economic achievements from a strongman who used his Songun, or "military first," policy to divert resources to build a conventional and weapons of mass destruction program.

The North's economic output is now smaller than in the 1990s under the rule of his father Kim Il-sung, who founded the state in 1948, and it has been squeezed harder under international sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests.

Gyorgy Toloraya, a Russian expert who is Director of Korean Programs at the Institute of Economy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who met Kim Jong-il for the first time in 2000 described him as "fast and witty and having "a remarkable memory" on any subject.

" exclusion might be modern economics, in which he, it seemed, was not so very interested, regarding it just as a tool for rich Westerners to extract profits from their fellow compatriots and poor countries," Tolaraya wrote on 38North, a website published by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Most Korea-watchers do not expect the North to stage a repeat of the attacks it undertook in 2010 when it killed South Korean civilians with an artillery barrage and, according to most observers, sank a South Korean naval vessel. It denied sinking the vessel and says it was provoked into the barrage.

It may take Kim Jong-un some months to assume the full panoply of official titles held by his father.

"The real question is whether the new Kim has the cruelty and cunning, qualities that his father and grandfather Kim Il-sung possessed in plenty, to preserve in the long run the essential engine of the destitute dynasty he inherits," wrote Sung-Yoon Lee of Tufts University, a leading North Korea watcher.

Global Takeovers Slump to Lowest in Year

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 06:46 AM PST

The value of global takeovers dropped to the lowest level in more than a year this quarter, and dealmakers say Europe's debt crisis may hamper a recovery in 2012 as cash-rich companies hold off on major purchases.

Mergers and acquisitions have slumped 16 percent from the previous three months to $457.1 billion, putting the fourth quarter on course to be the slowest since at least mid-2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. For the year to date, announced takeover volume has risen less than 3 percent to $2.25 trillion after regulatory hurdles scuttled AT&T Inc.'s bid for T-Mobile USA, which would have been 2011's biggest deal.

Tightening credit markets, the risk of a euro-zone collapse and stock-market swings (MXWO) have deterred companies from pursuing transformational deals that would spur sales growth, M&A bankers said. Earlier in 2011, more favorable conditions emboldened acquirers to part with stockpiled cash, such as Johnson & Johnson's $21.3 billion bid for Synthes Inc. and Express Scripts Inc.'s $29.1 billion offer for Medco Health Solutions Inc.

"There's definitely pent-up demand for M&A as well- capitalized companies continue to focus on opportunities for strategic acquisitions," said Yoel Zaoui, co-head of global M&A at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) "The key driver for M&A, however, is confidence, and in Europe, at the moment, that is lacking."

Seven of the year's 10 biggest deals were announced before August, when European markets fell the most since October 2008 amid a global stock rout and Standard & Poor's cut the U.S. credit rating. Goldman Sachs is the top adviser on global takeovers for 2011, with $537 billion of deals this year, followed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS), Bloomberg data show. This year's growth in M&A volume compares with a 24 percent jump in 2010.
'Wait and See'

Europe's financial crisis will stifle lending, push the region into recession and weigh on the U.S. economy through early 2012, Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs's chief economist, said on a Nov. 30 conference call. The euro zone's unemployment rose to 10.3 percent in October, the highest since the currency began in 1999.

As the European crisis deepened, "dealmakers entered a wait-and-see mode, and that's where we are now," said Paul Parker, global head of M&A at Barclays Plc (BARC) in New York. "Offsetting forces such as companies' cash piles and low valuations should drive the recovery of M&A activity in the second half of the year."

The MSCI World Index of about 1,600 companies trades for 12.6 times reported earnings, showing equities in developed economies are cheaper than they've been more than 95 percent of the time since 1995, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Those companies are also sitting on $5.3 trillion in cash, the data show.
Antitrust Hurdles

Companies that did tap funds this year may not be able to complete their purchases as regulatory scrutiny threatens to derail more takeovers. Express Scripts's offer for Medco, which would create the largest U.S. manager of pharmacy benefits for employers, insurers and union health plans, has prompted state inquiries over whether the combination would command too much market power.

AT&T abandoned efforts to buy T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE) this month after the U.S. Justice Department sued the companies in August, saying a combination would substantially reduce competition. Companies contemplating similar deals may hold off until the next presidential election in the hope that a Republican White House would make it easier to win approval for big transactions, said Jeffrey Silva, a Washington-based policy analyst with Medley Global Advisors.
European Deals

Deutsche Boerse AG (DB1) and NYSE Euronext this week delayed the deadline for completing their merger until March 31 as the exchange operators try to persuade European Union regulators to approve the deal. While the U.S. cleared the combination, the EU has told the companies that concessions they offered to allay antitrust concerns don't go far enough, two people familiar with the talks said this month.

Dealmaking involving European companies rose 2.2 percent this year, bolstered by the first half. For the fourth quarter, announced volume sank 14 percent from the previous three months to $161.4 billion. Valuations have also dropped, making the MSCI Europe Index (MXEU) even cheaper than the MSCI World Index at 10.8 times earnings. That may create opportunities for buyers from nations such as China.

"Chinese companies have been very successful at buying natural resources in emerging markets, and they are now very supportive of buying industrial assets in Europe," said Thierry d'Argent, global head of M&A at Societe Generale (GLE) SA in Paris.
Asia Pacific

French dairy-product maker Yoplait and the aviation unit of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc both attracted interest from Chinese bidders this year, according to people with knowledge of those negotiations.

The value of acquisitions involving Asia Pacific companies rose 3.8 percent to $698.4 billion this year, according to Bloomberg data. The biggest deal was Nippon Steel Corp.'s proposed takeover of Sumitomo Metal Industries for about $22 billion, including debt. That was followed by BHP Billiton Ltd.'s purchase of Houston-based oil and gas explorer Petrohawk Energy Corp.

Foreign buyers also spent more on Asia Pacific in 2011 than any year since 2007, according to the data. The largest overseas bid (T) was SABMiller Plc's $10 billion takeover of Australian beer maker Fosters Group Ltd., the data show. Among Asian countries, Japan overtook China as the biggest acquirer of foreign assets for the first time since 2008 after the March 11 earthquake spurred companies to retrench.
Japan's Takeovers

"Japanese industries had been shrinking, and companies needed growth drivers," said Kenji Fujita, head of M&A advisory at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co., the Tokyo-based investment banking venture of Morgan Stanley and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. "The earthquake raised the urgency for that."

Japan's Kirin Holdings Co. bought Brazilian beermaker Schincariol Participacoes e Representacoes, and China Petrochemical Corp., or Sinopec, agreed to purchase a 30 percent stake in Galp Energia SGPS SA's Brazilian unit.

Still, after a record-high volume of $161 billion in 2010, the volume of announced deals involving Brazilian companies tumbled to $98.3 billion this year as the Brazilian real strengthened while the country's economy slowed.

"I'm glad to leave 2011 behind," said Flavio Tavares Valadao, head of corporate finance at Banco Santander do Brasil SA, based in Sao Paulo. "Deals are difficult to make and companies are worried for the future."
Brazilian Deals

Santander worked on Telefonica SA (TEF)'s merger of its Brazilian fixed line unit, Telecomunicacoes de Sao Paulo SA (TLPP3)'s with its mobile unit, Vivo Participacoes SA. The Spanish bank also advised Spain's Iberdrola SA on the acquisition of Brazil's Elektro Eletricidade & Servicos SA for 1.77 billion euros ($2.3 billion).

Dealmakers predict that technology, industrials, natural resources and health care will continue to be the sectors most actively consolidating, especially if European policy makers can prevent financial turmoil from spreading to more countries.

"Companies need to have more confidence that we aren't going to have a break-up of the euro," said Mark Shafir, global head of M&A at Citigroup Inc. (C) "If you got that cleared up, then the first half of next year could be a lot better than the second half of 2011 has been."

Syria monitors visit Damascus amid continuing violence

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 06:44 AM PST

Arab League monitors overseeing compliance with a peace plan for Syria have been visiting the capital, Damascus, and other cities but killings show no sign of abating.

Activists say up to 20 people have been killed by security forces on Thursday, mostly in areas where monitors are visiting, including a Damascus suburb.

The activists have called for massive street protests on Friday.

The UN says more than 5,000 civilians have died in 10 months of unrest.

The Arab League peace plan calls for a complete halt to the violence, the withdrawal of all armed forces and the release of all detainees.

However, after two days of monitoring, more questions were being asked about the head of the Arab League mission, Sudan's Gen Mustafa al-Dabi, who Amnesty International said was responsible for "torture" and "disappearances" in 1990s Sudan.
'Only God can help us'

After starting in the flashpoint city of Homs on Tuesday, the Arab League monitors have moved to Idlib in the north, Deraa in the south, and Damascus.

Activists have reported violence and killings in all those areas.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least three people were killed when security forces opened fire outside a mosque in Douma, a suburb of the capital.
Continue reading the main story
Syria deaths

    More than 5,000 civilians have been killed, says the UN
    UN denied access to Syria
    Information gathered from NGOs, sources in Syria and Syrian nationals who have fled
    The death toll is compiled as a list of names which the UN cross-references
    Vast majority of casualties were unarmed, but the figure may include armed defectors
    Tally does not include serving members of the security forces

Source: UN's OHCHR

    Controversy over Sudan's role

Monitors were arriving at the city hall there when security forces fired on "tens of thousands" of protesters outside the Grand Mosque, the UK-based group said.

It reported more deaths in other suburbs of the capital, Aarbin and Kiswah, as well as in Idlib and the central city of Hama.

Casualty figures and other information are hard to verify as most foreign media are barred from Syria.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in neighbouring Lebanon, says that far from diminishing the violence, it seems the presence of the observers may actually be causing it to increase, because of the large number of people they are attracting who are desperate to vent their grievances.

One activist in Hama told Reuters: "People really hope to get to reach them. We do not have much access to the team. The people stopped believing anything or anyone now. Only God can help us now."

Our correspondent says virtually none of the peace plan's objectives have yet been met, although Syria on Wednesday did release 755 of the 14,000 people the UN says have been detained during the uprising.

Activists have been using social media to call for massive protests on Friday - the traditional day of demonstration.
Map locator

The Syria Revolution 2011 group said: "We will march as we did in Homs and Hama where we carried olive branches only to be confronted by Bashar's gangs who struck us with artillery and machinegun fire."

Meanwhile, more questions were being asked of Gen Dabi, after his initial comments on the mission were criticised as favouring the Syrian government.

Gen Dabi was the head of military intelligence for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions over Darfur.

Amnesty International said that under Gen Dabi, the military intelligence in the early 1990s "was responsible for the arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance and torture or other ill-treatment of numerous people in Sudan".

Gen Dabi's first comments in Syria were that he had seen "nothing frightening", though he later said he needed more time to make an assessment.

Damascus has pledged to allow the monitors full freedom of movement.

President Bashar al-Assad says government forces are fighting armed gangs and that more than 2,000 security personnel have been killed.

£47.5m Shetland 'black fish' scam details revealed

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 06:42 AM PST

Details have been revealed of a £47.5m "black fish" scam which involved more than a dozen skippers and a fish processing company on Shetland.

The scam allowed the fishermen to land more mackerel and herring than they were allowed under EU quotas.

Scales at Lerwick-based processing company Shetland Catch Ltd were set to underestimate the weight of the fish being landed by the boats.

Seventeen skippers have previously admitted their part in the scam.

Earlier this month they were ordered to hand over almost £3m in confiscation orders.

They are due to be sentenced next month.

The BBC had challenged the reporting restrictions which had prevented the reporting of the extent of the false declarations to the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, and the method used to make the undeclared landings.
Proper weight

Weighing scales at Shetland Fisheries were linked to computer screens showing the weight of fish landed.

The screen in the main floor of the fisheries, which was viewed by SFPA officials, was set to give a lower weight of fish than had been landed.

The proper weight was displayed on a screen in the engineer's room, in a part of the operation which was off limits to SFPA officials.

The SFPA had launched an investigation due to suspicions of widespread illegal landing of pelagic fish.

Accountants found that Shetland Catch Ltd's outgoings could not be supported by declared earnings.
Confiscation orders

The company has been taken over since its involvement in the scam, which took place between February 2003 and March 2005.

The 17 skippers have been ordered to pay back sums ranging from £2,700 to £425,900. The confiscation orders are:

Laurence Irvine, 66, of Aviemore, Symbister, Whalsay - £210,700; Gary Williamson, 52, of Norvag, Symbister, Whalsay - £118,500; William Williamson, 64, of Westerlea, Symbister, Whalsay - £213,200; George Henry, 60, of Noonsbrough, Clousta, Bixta - £51,300; John Stewart, 56, of 57 King Harald Street, Lerwick - £41,300, and Colin Leask, 38, of Vaarhjem; Simbister, Whalsay - £12,000.

David Hutchison, 66 of Ankerhus, Hillhead, Symbister - £140,900 Robert Polson, 48, of 17 Breiwick Road, Lerwick - £371,300; Thomas Eunson, 56, of Westwinds, Symbister - £140,500; Allen Anderson, 55, of Solvei, Symbister - £2,700; John Irvine, 68, of Braeside, Symbister - £236,000 and Allister Irvine, 63, of Karinya, Symbister - £120,600.

Victor Buschini, 51, of Cuckoos Nest, Kiln Lane, Hambleton, Poulton Le Flyde, Lancashire - £341,000, and Hamish Slater, 52, of 8 Strichan Road, Fraserburgh - £425,900.

George Anderson, 55, of Harbourview, Symbister - £40,700; Alexander Masson, 65, of 89 Strichen Road, Fraserburgh - £283,000 and Alexander Wiseman, 60, of 3 Sandyhills Gardens, Banff - £196,000.

Young Ron Paul volunteers descend on Iowa

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 06:38 AM PST

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

NEWTON, Iowa -- As they waited for a bus dubbed the "Constitution Coach" to pick them up at the Des Moines airport and bring them to their makeshift lodgings late Tuesday, about two-dozen college-aged Ron Paul volunteers mingled in the cold night air.

The sudden appearance of a reporter's notebook and tape recorder drew comments befitting a group of young people who proudly wear their skepticism on their sleeves.

"What's the article you're going to be writing, man?"

"Yeah, what's the spin, bro?"

Asked where they had flown in from, the answers ranged from California to Virginia -- with one twenty-something purporting to have made the trip from Brazil to help Paul win the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday.

Unsure of what exactly they would be assigned to do, the eager foot soldiers who had signed up online and paid their own way here said they were prepared to phone-bank, knock on doors, speak at caucus precincts, or do basically anything that is asked of them.

When a volunteer noted that he was not authorized to speak to the media, one of his new friends quickly corrected him. "No, you can," he said. "You haven't signed anything yet."

Members of the group confirmed that they were told by the campaign they would have to sign agreements that would bar them from talking to reporters. A spokesperson for the Paul campaign did not respond to an inquiry about the restriction and declined to provide an estimate of how many out-of-state volunteers were expected in Iowa down the homestretch.

Throughout a 20-minute chat about their efforts, the volunteers frequently steered the conversation back to their level of dedication.

"What other candidate has this many people coming in from out of state?" one of them asked, noting that she had raised the money for her plane ticket to Des Moines.

No one could doubt their enthusiasm, but these young supporters nonetheless face a steep challenge in building a winning coalition of rank-and-file Iowa Republicans and nontraditional caucus-goers, while avoiding comments that might turn off either group.

Though several of them were eager to extol Paul's support for drug legalization and opposition to the CIA's targeted drone strikes in Pakistan, none mentioned the candidate's pro-life credentials that have been a focal point of his TV advertising campaign here.

Still, 25-year-old Brennan Westerson of Santa Rosa, Calif., said he was confident he could help persuade traditional Republican voters here -- many of whom are firmly within the senior citizen demographic -- to get behind Paul.

"They were college kids once," he said. "We're idealistic and we have a lot of passion, and maybe since they're older, they're wanting to revisit something like that."

Westerson said that he was first drawn to Paul because "he was a Republican who was talking about the wars, and that was cool to me."

Standing beside him, a young man who first declined to give his name but then identified himself as "James Smith" interjected frequently to opine on Paul's foreign policy views. In the process, he projected unabashed confidence about how he could make the case for the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman.

"We're going to be arguing the case of liberty," he said. "It's pretty easy just to talk about being left alone."

Asked about the controversy over 1990s-era newsletters published in Paul's name that promoted extremist and racially charged views, none of the young volunteers said that the issue made them reconsider their devotion to the candidate.

"His positions are more important," one said.

Another questioned whether there was really anything anti-Semitic in the writings, as has been widely charged, noting that Paul's GOP opponents were "demonizing" the nuclear ambitions of Iran -- a country that he said merely wanted "to take control of their power, or at least not use their dirty oil, which can't be even refined into gasoline."

With less than a week to go till the caucuses, the candidate himself echoed many of his young supporters' talking points during a town-hall meeting Wednesday at the Iowa Speedway, as he was in no mood to downplay his noninterventionist foreign policy positions.

Many Iowa Republicans have warned that the more Paul talks about his beliefs on defense and international affairs, the more difficult his prospects of winning the caucuses become.

But Paul nonetheless spoke eagerly and at length on topics ranging from how the Peace Corps was not authorized by the Constitution to questioning the continued American troop presence in South Korea, despite the potentially perilous leadership transition in North Korea.

"It's time to unwind the wars," Paul said to the packed room, his voice rising with passion. "Stop the wars, stop the spending, bring our troops home."

The line earned applause from his supporters in attendance, both young and old.

But it remains to be seen how Paul's now heavily scrutinized positions on foreign policy and other hot-button issues will resonate with traditional GOP caucus-goers as they make their final decisions in the days ahead.

Afghanistan blast victims named by MoD

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 06:35 AM PST

The Ministry of Defence has named two servicemen who died following an explosion in Afghanistan.

Royal Marine Captain Tom Jennings, 29, died when his vehicle was caught in the blast, south of Kabul last Thursday.

RAF Squadron Leader Anthony Downing was flown back to the UK but died in hospital on Friday from injuries sustained in the explosion.

The number of UK personnel killed in Afghanistan since military operations there began in 2001 stands at 393.

The MoD described Capt Jennings as "a true leader, selfless in his professional approach serving those who were his responsibility".

"Dedicated and humble, he was an archetypal Royal Marine with a keen sense of humour even when faced with adversity. Whilst working with the Afghan forces that he partnered, he displayed empathy and a broad cultural understanding that ensured he was highly valued by the Afghans as well as his Royal Marine brothers," it said.

"He was devoted to his wife and their two young sons whose loss cannot be portrayed in words. The Royal Marines have lost a brother, they have lost their world."

Earlier this week, Prime Minister David Cameron indicated he was planning a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Some 500 are due to be pulled out next year, with more expected to follow in 2013.

Lokpal Bill passage uncertain, govt trying to win numbers in RS

Posted: 29 Dec 2011 06:32 AM PST

NEW DELHI: The fate of the long-discussed Lokpal Bill, passed in the Lok Sabha two days ago, appeared uncertain Thursday evening with the government trying desperately to win the numbers game in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority and the opposition and even some of its allies giving notices for as many as 173 amendments.

The battlelines were clearly drawn with the government pushing hard for its bill, providing for the anti-graft institution of an ombudsman at the centre and states, and the opposition trashing it as "constitutionally vulnerable".

Official sources said notices have been given for 173 amendments to the bill, introduced by the government in the upper house in the morning. Apart from opposition parties, notices for amendments that would change the very nature of the legislation have been given by its ally Trinamool Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Left and the BJP.

While the Trinamool Congress is part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the SP and the RJD support the government from outside.

In the 243-member upper house of Parliament, the Congress and its allies have only 92 members, well short of the 122 magic number. It hopes for support from smaller parties such as the BSP and SP.

As the debate continued inside the house, efforts were also on outside to resolve the logjam over the long-discussed legislation. The Congress core committee met in the evening to finalise strategy in the wake of the extraordinary number of amendments to the document that has been at the centrestage of a furious national debate.

"We admit we don't have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. But we are trying our best to get the bill passed. Our intentions are honest," Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla said as speculation mounted that the bill would now be pushed to the budget session next February.

A key rallying point is the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, which has six MPs in the Rajya Sabha and has sought deletion of a provision on setting up of state Lokayuktas. This has been the issue that has found resonance with most regional parties as well as the BJP.

Informed sources said Trinamool Congress members have moved amendments to the bill on provisions that it considers impinge on the federal structure of the constitution and the power of the states to enact their own legislation.

"If Trinamool Congress presses its amendments, the government will face problems," a BJP leader told IANS.

The BJP led the charge in the morning with Arun Jaitley saying that the bill was weak but the house should not leave without "delivering a strong law".

The government's counter-charge was led by fellow lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress, the main brain behind the drafting of the bill.

Stating that the bill would create "constitutional havoc", Jaitley opposed the minority quota in the Lokpal body and keeping the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) out of its purview.

He said the provision that mandates states to create Lokayuktas on the model of the central government had "a grey area" that could lead to the central government usurping the powers of states.

Singhvi rebutted the charges and asked what he termed was the "fundamental question": "Do you want to pass a Lokpal bill or not? If you don't want to pass the bill, say so. Have the courage of your convictions and don't hide behind excuses."

He said the BJP was "creating a breeding ground for big-ticket corruption" by opposing the bill.

"On process of the CBI and investigation, let's look at it seriously, not with the intent to ridicule. The CBI is 70-year-old organisation. Should birth of a Lokpal mean automatic destruction of every other institution? A 10-year-old CVC, a 70-year-old CBI?" Singhvi countered.

The Congress spokesperson said the BJP wanted to create "a behemoth of unimaginable proportions" in comparison to which the Prime Minister's Office would look like a "pygmy".

Other speakers like Satish Misra (BSP) and Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) cautioned the government against usurping the power of states and diluting the "spirit of the constitution" by imposing its idea on individual states.

With political consensus not just eluding, but parties at odds, on the final shape and powers of the Lokpal, Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan, himself a Supreme Court lawyer, despaired: "From whatever we have seen so far in Rajya Sabha, I don't think the Lokpal bill will get passed."