Sunday, 15 January 2012

Breaking News

Breaking News

Tax officers to hold lightning strike on Monday

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 07:19 AM PST

Some 20,000 staff providing advice on tax returns will hold half-hour walkouts on Monday over alleged moves towards privatisation.

The officers, who work at call centres and enquiry offices, are also planning more action on 31 January, the deadline for online self assessment returns.

The Public and Commercial Services Union said the strikes are against the government's hiring of two private firms in trials to run call handling.

HMRC denied any plan to outsource jobs.

The year-long trials are being held from February with two companies, Sitel and Teleperformance, at Lillyhall in Cumbria and Bathgate in West Lothian.

The PCS - the largest union representing civil servants - said the trials would pave the way towards privatisation in the department - a claim rejected by the tax office.

"The project is not about outsourcing or replacing HMRC jobs," a spokesman for the Revenue said. "It is ultimately about finding ways to improve the service we provide to our customers."

Staff will walk out for 30 minutes from 10:00 GMT, and again at 16:30 GMT. Those on late shifts will also leave half an hour prior to their usual 19:00 GMT finish.

"When jobs in HMRC and the civil service are being cut in their tens of thousands, it is entirely wrong to start handing contracts to private companies," said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS.

"Instead of privatising ever more of our public services, the government should be investing in its own staff to ensure they are equipped and trained to provide the essential services they are proud to deliver."

Pakistan mourns young genius Arfa Karim's demise

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 06:19 AM PST

LAHORE( The funeral prayers of the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional was offered in Lahore on Sunday and her remains are now being taken to Faisalabad for the burial, DawnNews reported.

Prayers for Arfa Karim were offered at Cavalry Ground, where the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif was also present along with a large number of crowds belonging to different age groups.

Arfa will be buried in her village near Faisalabad.

Arfa went into coma on November 22, and Microsoft's founder Bill Gates took special interest in her treatment and set up an international panel of doctors for her treatment. The panel perpetually kept in contact with Pakistani physicians via teleconference.

The young girl made headlines when she was named the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). She was also invited by Bill Gates to visit Microsoft's headquarters in the US.

The sudden demise of Arfa triggered a wave of sorrow in the country. Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari, chief ministers, governors of the provinces and others paid tribute to her and offered their condolences upon her death.
In what could simply be described as an enormous loss for Pakistan, Arfa Karim, the world's youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), Saturday night, lost the battle of life after remaining admitted here at Combined Military Hospital for 26 days, Geo News reported.

Arfa Karim was only sixteen years old.

Her funeral prayers will be offered on Sunday at 10 AM in Cantt area.

Arfa Karim remained in intensive care at Combined Military Hospital (CMH) after suffering an epileptic seizure and cardiac arrest a few weeks ago. After battling for life for 26 days, one of Pakistan's brightest brains left this world for good.

Arfa's father Colonel (Retd) Amjad Karim Randhawa, while takling to Geo News, said that, she had gone nowhere; she was still alive for her cause was alive. Going forward, Col Randhawa vowed to materialize her dreams.

To a question, he said that Arfa got the best of the medical treatments available, adding he was satisfied with it.

Born in 1995, Arfa Karim got the honor of World's Youngest Microsoft Certified Professional when she was only 9 years old in 2004. Bill Gates, the Chairman of Microsoft, invited Arfa to visit the Microsoft Headquarters in the USA in the age of 10 only.

Later, in August 2005, Arfa was also honored by the Pakistan Government for the Fatima Jinnah Gold Medal in the field of Science and Technology which she received from then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. She was also honored with Salaam Pakistan Youth Award in 2005 which has been set up by Pakistan's only Nobel laureate Dr Abdul Salam. Moreover, Arfa has won the Presidential Award for Pride of Performance.

Arfa represented her country Pakistan on a variety of international fora. She was also included as the honorable guest by IT Professionals of Dubai for two weeks stay in Dubai. During that trip, Arfa was awarded by a number of medals and awards from various tech societies and computer companies working in Dubai.

Amazingly, she was certified for flying a plane at a flying club in Dubai at the age of 10.

Arfa also participated in Microsoft keynote session in the Tech-Ed Developers Conference held in Barcelona, in 2006. The theme of the conference was "Get ahead of the game" and Arfa was in fact a great example of being ahead of the game.

Arfa was born in a Jatt Randhawa family and hailed from the village of Chak No. 4JB Ram Dewali in Faisalabad, Punjab. On returning to Pakistan, Arfa had numerous interviews with television and newspapers. In August 2005, Arfa Karim received the Fatimah Jinnah Gold Medal in the field of Science and Technology, presented by the Prime Minister of Pakistan at that time. She also received the Salaam Pakistan Youth Award again in August 2005 by the President of Pakistan. Arfa Karim is also the recipient of the President's Award for Pride of Performance, a civil award granted to people who have shown excellence in their respective fields over a long period of time. Arfa is the youngest recipient of this award.
Representation at international forums

Arfa Karim has also represented Pakistan on various international forums, she was invited by the IT Professionals of Dubai for a stay of two weeks in Dubai. A dinner reception was hosted for her there, which was attended by the diagnostics of Dubai including the Ambassador of Pakistan. During that trip, Arfa was presented with various medals and awards. She also flew a plane in a flying club in Dubai at the age of 10, and received the first flight certificate. In November 2006, Arfa Karim was invited by Microsoft to be a part of the keynote session in the Tech-Ed Developers conference held in Barcelona. She was the only Pakistani among over 5000 developers in that conference.
 Cardiac arrest

As of 2011, at the age of 16, Arfa Karim was studying at the Lahore Grammar School Paragon Campus in her second year of A Levels. She suffered from cardiac arrest after an epileptic seizure on December 22, 2011 and was admitted to Lahore's Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in critical condition.
 Offer by Bill Gates

On January 9, 2012, Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft, has made contact with Arfa's parents, and directed his doctors to adopt "every kind of measure" for her treatment. Gates set up a special panel of international doctors who remained in contact with the local doctors through teleconference and received details about her illness. Local doctors dismissed the option of Arfa being shifted to another hospital saying that she was on ventilator. On the other hand, relatives and family members of Arfa have lauded Bill Gates for contacting to bear her treatment expenses.
 Signs of improvement

On January 13, 2012, Arfa Karim started to improve and some parts of her brain showed signs of improvement. Arfa felt desperately ill the previous month and doctors said that she had suffered brain damage, leaving her in a coma at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Lahore.

Her father, Amjad Karim Randhawa, said Microsoft had raised the possibility of flying Arfa to the US for care.

On January 14, 2012 16-year-old Arfa Karim died  at 9:50 PM (Pakistan Standard Time) at Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Lahore. Her Namaz-e-Janaza was offered in Cavalry Ground Lahore at 10 AM and later at Faisalabad on January 15, 2012. The funeral was attended by Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif.

French prime minister downplays credit downgrade

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 02:43 AM PST

Paris ( -- French Prime Minister Francois Fillon insisted Saturday that France is a safe bet for investors, a day after the country's credit rating was downgraded by a ratings agency amid concerns over debt and low growth.

France was among nine euro area countries to be downgraded by Standard & Poor's Friday, losing its AAA rating in the process. Austria also had its top-tier credit rating lowered by one notch to AA+.

Speaking in Paris, Fillon sought to reassure the international markets.

"France is a safe country, a country which investors can trust and have confidence in. The rating agencies are useful barometers, but they are not the ones who make France's policies," he said.

"France's rating remains one of the highest in the world."

He also cautioned against politicians making too much of the downgrade -- which had been widely anticipated after S&P put 15 members of the euro currency bloc, France among them, on review last month.

"This decision constitutes a warning that must be neither dramatized nor underestimated," Fillon said.

"Those who dramatize the situation should think twice: these are indeed the same people who refused to vote on reforms to strengthen our competitiveness and to reduce deficits, whether that be downsizing the public sector or the pension reform."

The downgrade may be seen as bad news for the government ahead of the country's presidential election in April.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP party is bidding for re-election, with Socialist Francois Hollande considered his chief rival.

"Everyone needs to remain calm and remember their responsibilities," Fillon said. "The government remembers its responsibility and is pursuing the strategy agreed on with the president."

Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg all maintained their AAA ratings.

But S&P cut the ratings of France, Austria, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia by one notch. Italy, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus were cut by two notches.

S&P warned that most governments in the single currency euro area are at risk of further downgrades given the risk of a "more adverse economic and financial environment."

The agency said a deeper-than-expected recession in the eurozone would put further stress on government finances. In addition, governments remain vulnerable to further turmoil in the bond market, which could drive up their borrowing costs.

Nonetheless, S&P said it welcomed recent moves by the European Central Bank to help prevent a credit crisis in the banking system.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday that Europe still has a long road ahead to restore investor confidence.

But, she said in a statement, the right steps have been taken, and measures to cut debt and remove obstacles to growth will soon lead to greater stability for euro zone nations.

U.S. stocks finished in the red Friday as investors braced for the impending downgrades.

The news came at the end of a week in which solid demand at debt auctions in Italy and Spain had calmed some nerves, however, and eased borrowing costs for those two governments.

Like a scene out of the film 'Titanic,' chaos consumed listing ship

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 02:35 AM PST

Porto Santo Stefano, Italy ( -- The 3,200 passengers aboard the Costa Concordia cruise liner were enjoying a night of entertainment and relaxation off Italy's Mediterranean coast.

Then, at about dinnertime, the lights went out, an ominous scraping sound moaned through the hull, and the ship tilted to one side.

The 1,500-cabin luxury vessel, which was also carrying about 1,000 crew members, had run aground on a rocky sandbar off the tiny island of Giglio.

Chaos overwhelmed passengers and crew alike when, as the ship listed and water rose as if it were a scene from "Titanic," everyone realized that only one side of the ship's lifeboats and rafts were reachable.

Amid screams, the crew appeared helpless, according to one passenger who had to make a ladder of rope to save himself and his wife.

"It was the Marx brothers watching these guys trying to figure out how to work the boat," said Benji Smith, who was on the Concordia for his honeymoon with his wife, Emily. The couple live in Boston.

"I felt like the disaster itself was manageable," Smith added, referring to the grounding and tilting of the ship, "but I felt like the crew was going to kill us."
Passengers face problems off cruise ship
Cruise ship runs aground in Italy

The worst part came when a lifeboat crew member told everyone, "Women and children first," Smith said. "All these families who were clinging to each other had to be separated," he added.

After helping passengers, some crew members jumped overboard and swam ashore.

Search continues for missing passengers

At least three lifeboats apparently malfunctioned due to technical or crew error, Smith said.

Life rafts were "twisting and turning," and the crew pulled in some rafts and put the people back on the ship, but the crew never returned for them, Smith said.

With the ship's staircases flooded, "we made ladders out of ropes to climb down from the outer fourth deck to the third deck," Smith said.

"We waited clinging to those rope ladders for 3½ hours" before being picked up by a lifeboat that returned from dropping passengers onshore, he said.

Smith said he and his wife never heard from any of the officers or captain during the incident.

The couple was eventually transported by bus to a hotel in Rome.

"I've been awake for 40 hours -- I still have never spoken to a person from Costa," he said, adding that no food, clothes, or money were provided by the cruise line.

Many passengers complained about how the cruise ship staff handled the crisis and asked why they had not yet received an obligatory safety briefing when disaster struck, only hours into their journey.

"We attended a safety presentation on the first day," but he says it didn't turn out to have any safety information, he said. "It was only a sales pitch" for shore excursions, Smith said.

Mark Plath of Little Rock, Arkansas, said 200 passengers swam about 100 yards to rocks, where they awaited further assistance.

"We were helping the staff more than they were helping us," Plath said of the ordeal.

Rosalyn Rincon, a member of the cruise ship staff who worked as a dancer, was in the middle of a magician's act when the ship ran aground. She was inside a box during a magic show when, she said, "I realized that everything stopped. The music stopped," she said.

Everything on the stage fell on top of people because the ship listed dramatically, said Rincon, 30, of Blackpool, England.

"There was no signal as to what was going on until about 30 minutes into it," Rincon told
Italy cruise ship crash was 'chaos'
Thousands rescued after ship runs aground
Passengers face problems off cruise ship

Her boyfriend, an Italian engineer officer on the vessel, told her that there was a blackout and the ship crashed into something. "They told us there was a fire," she said.

Then another blackout occurred, and the ship went into darkness, she said. She put on her life vest in her cabin, she said.

About 15 minutes later, "the captain of the ship told us it was an electrical problem," Rincon said.

Rincon thought to herself: "If it was an electrical problem, why were we tilting," she said.

Several minutes later, "we were told to abandon ship," Rincon said.

Then panic set in, she said.

"This is the problem: You've got 3,000 passengers, you've got 2,000 crew members, and you got only one side of usage of lifeboats and life rafts" because the ship was resting on one side, Rincon said in a telephone interview from her Italian hotel.

Rincon realized there was going to be a shortage of lifesaving watercraft, she said.

"You were going higher and higher, and you were on a vertical position. I was holding on to the railing. All you could see was noise and creaks. It was very, very scary," Rincon said.

Rincon was able to get into a rescue boat -- after all the passengers were put on lifeboats or life rafts, she said.

"We were literally thrown into the boat," Rincon said.

Several crew members jumped overboard and swam to the mountain shore, she said. One friend was rescued by helicopter from the top of the ship, Rincon said.

Passenger Laurie Willits from Ontario, Canada, who was watching the magic show with her husband, told "All of a sudden the lights flashed, and the boat tipped like it was turning, but it didn't return to level."

Emergency announcements in English and other languages were difficult to hear, Willits said.

Panic spread as people scrambled to find lifeboats in the dark as the ship quickly leaned to one side.

Lifeboats on the higher side got stuck, Willits said, leaving some people suspended in mid-air for a long time. The sounds of children crying and screaming could be heard.
Cruise ship runs aground off Italy Cruise ship runs aground off Italy

Willits and her husband managed to get into a lifeboat about an hour to 90 minutes after the alarm was raised, and were among the first to be taken to land.

At reception centers set up on shore Saturday, some passengers were still wearing pajamas, slippers or housecoats from when the alarm was first raised on the ship. Most were without their money, phones and valuables.

Sirens blared as some of the injured were taken to hospital. Helicopters lifted some people from the badly listing ship.

Rescue officials said their operation peaked between midnight and 3 a.m. Saturday, and calm seas prevented greater loss of life. Three people were confirmed dead and 20 injured.

Many people spent the night in small churches and other buildings around the island before being ferried to the mainland to make their way home.

The Italian cruise company, Costa Cruises, said it would help passengers return home. Costa is owned by parent company Carnival Corp.

An investigation into the cause of the disaster is under way, officials said.

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Divers resume search for dozens missing after Italian cruise ship runs aground

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 02:27 AM PST

Porto Santo Stefano, Italy ( -- Divers resumed their search Sunday morning for up to 50 people unaccounted for after a luxury Italian cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, killing at least three people and injuring 20 others, authorities said.

There were fears the death toll could rise as rescuers searched the Costa Concordia and surrounding waters for others who may have been trapped after rocks tore a gash in the hull Friday evening, causing it to turn over on its side off the coast of the island of Giglio.

The ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, was detained later Saturday for investigation of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers were still on board, chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio told Italy's ANSA news agency.

Verusio also said first officer Ciro Ambrosio also was being detained for questioning on similar charges, according to ANSA.

Rescuers overnight reached two South Korean passengers, who had been trapped in the ship for more than 24 hours, authorities said.

"It's a miracle that we found the Korean couple alive, and we hope we'll find more people," said Capt. Cosimo Nicastro of the Italian Coast Guard.

The couple, both age 29, were found in a cabin after they heard rescuers calling out and managed to make contact, according to ANSA. Video showed the couple, reportedly on their honeymoon, being taken ashore and loaded into a waiting ambulance.

Up to 50 people were missing, though authorities are reviewing passenger lists to confirm the exact number, said Giuseppe Orsina, a spokesman with the local civil protection agency.

"These people could be still on the island of Giglio, in private houses or in hospitals," Orsina said.

Two French tourists and a crew member from Peru were killed, Port authorities in Livorno said. One of the victims was a 65-year-old woman who died of a heart attack, authorities said.

As dawn broke over the azure waters where the Concordia was partially submerged, there were more questions than answers about how the 1,500-cabin ship managed to strike rocks during its oft-traveled route, and who was responsible for the chaotic scene that followed the captain's orders to evacuate the ship.

The Concordia was 2.5 miles off route when it struck the rocky sandbar near Giglio, said Nicastro.

"There are rocks, they are on the maps," Nicastro said. "What we know is the ship went really close to these rocks. ... We don't yet know why."

The ship began taking on water Friday night, and the crew kept going because they believed the vessel could continue sailing normally, Nicastro said. Realizing there was a significant safety problem, the commander steered the Costa Concordia closer toward the port of Giglio, he said.

Authorities also were looking at why the ship didn't hail a mayday during the accident.

Local fishermen say the island coast of Giglio is known for its rocky sea floor.

Schettino, the Concordia's captain, said in an interview before his detention that "that rock was not indicated on the chart," according to ANSA. "Me and the crew, we were the last to abandon ship," he said.

But accounts from many of the 3,200 passengers painted a chaotic, dangerous scene as people scrambled to find lifeboats in the dark as the ship began to tilt, hampering access to some of the lifeboats.

"For me, the worst part of the whole ordeal" was when a lifeboat crew member told those boarding that it was "women and children first," said passenger Benji Smith of Boston.

"All these families who were clinging to each other had to be separated," Smith told CNN.

"Every crew member who walked past shouted instructions, but the instructions contradicted each other."

Some passengers fell into the chilly waters during the rescue, ANSA reported.

Others jumped in, said passenger Mark Plath of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Plath told CNN he and about 200 passengers swam about 100 yards from the ship to the rocky shoreline, where they awaited further assistance.

Many of those rescued in the early hours were taken to small churches and other buildings around the island for shelter. Some were still wearing the pajamas and slippers they had on as the ship went down.

Gianni Onorato, president of Genoa-based Costa Cruises, said the cruise line was unable to answer all the questions that authorities are now investigating.

The vessel, plying the waters from Civitavecchia to Savona, Italy, struck a submerged rock, Onorato said in a statement Saturday before the captain's arrest was announced.

"Captain Schettino, who was on the bridge at the time, immediately understood the severity of the situation and performed a maneuver intended to protect both guests and crew, and initiated security procedures to prepare for an eventual ship evacuation," he continued.

"Unfortunately, that operation was complicated by a sudden tilting of the ship that made disembarkation difficult," Onorato said.

Rosalyn Rincon, a member of the cruise ship staff, said the captain told passengers there was an "electrical problem."

Concordia was carrying about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members when it ran aground.

Costa Cruises, owned by parent company Carnival Corp., said it was focusing on the final stages of the emergency operation and helping passengers and crew return home.

The Concordia, built in 2006, was on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome with stops in Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.

The passengers onboard included Italian, Peruvians, Brazilians, French and Britons, according to CNN affiliate reports.

An estimated 126 Americans were also onboard, according to the U.S. State Department. There were no reports of injured Americans, though the U.S. Embassy in Rome said it was unable to account for all U.S. citizens believed to be onboard the ship at the time of the accident.

Another Costa ship was involved in a deadly 2010 accident when the Europa crashed into a pier in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh during stormy weather, killing three crew members.

Iran sends rare letter to U.S. over killed scientist

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 02:21 AM PST

( - Iran said on Saturday it had evidence Washington was behind the latest killing of one of its nuclear scientists, state television reported, at a time when tensions over the country's nuclear program have escalated to their highest level ever.

In the fifth attack of its kind in two years, a magnetic bomb was attached to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's car during the Wednesday morning rush-hour in the capital. His driver was also killed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton denied responsibility and Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel had no role in the attack, to the best of his knowledge.

"We have reliable documents and evidence that this terrorist act was planned, guided and supported by the CIA," the Iranian foreign ministry said in a letter handed to the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, state TV reported. The Swiss embassy represents U.S. interests in a country where Washington has no diplomatic ties.

The spokesman for Iran's Joint Armed Forces Staff, Massoud Jazayeri, said: "Our enemies, especially America , Britain and the Zionist regime (Israel), have to be held responsible for their actions."

Iran in the past has accused Israel of causing a series of spectacular and sometimes bloody mishaps to its nuclear programme. Israeli officials do not comment on any involvement in those events, although some have publicly expressed satisfaction at the setbacks.

Feeling the heat from unprecedented new sanctions, Iran's clerical establishment has brandished its sword by threatening to block the main Mid-East oil shipping route, starting to enrich uranium at an underground bunker and sentencing an Iranian-American citizen to death on spying charges.

State TV said a "letter of condemnation" had also been sent to Britain, saying the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists began after the head of Britain's MI6 spy service announced intelligence operations against states seeking nuclear weapons.

The West says Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at building a bomb. Tehran says it has the right to peaceful nuclear power.

Tehran has urged the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to condemn the latest killing.

After years of international sanctions that had little impact on Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama signed new measures on New Year's Eve that, if fully implemented, would make it impossible for most countries to pay for Iranian oil.

Washington is requiring that countries gradually reduce their purchases of Iranian oil in order to receive temporary waivers from the sanctions.

The European Union is expected to unveil similar measures next week, and announce a gradual oil embargo among its member states, who collectively buy about a fifth of Iran's exports.

The combined measures mean Iran may fail to sell all of the 2.6 million barrels a day of exports it relies on to feed its 74 million people. Even if it finds buyers, it will have to offer steep discounts, cutting into its desperately-needed revenue.

On Tuesday shipping sources told Reuters Iran was storing an increasing supply of oil at sea - as much as 8 million barrels - and was likely to store more as it struggles to sell it.

Iran denies it is having trouble: "There has been no disruption in Iran's crude exports through the Persian Gulf ... We have not stored oil in the Gulf because of sanctions as some foreign media reported," oil official Pirouz Mousavi told the semi-official Mehr news agency on Friday.

The sanctions are causing real hardship on the streets, where prices for basic imported goods are soaring, the rial currency has plummeted and Iranians have been flocking to sell rials to buy dollars to protect their savings.

The pain comes less than two months before a parliamentary election, Iran's first since a presidential vote in 2009 that was followed by eight months of street demonstrations.

Iran's authorities successfully put down that revolt by force, but since then the "Arab Spring" has shown the vulnerability of authoritarian governments in the region to protests fueled by anger over economic difficulty.


Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz leading to the Gulf if sanctions are imposed on its oil exports, and has threatened to take unspecified action if Washington sails an aircraft carrier through the strait, an international waterway.

Military experts say Tehran can do little to fight the massive U.S.-led fleet that guards the strait, but the threats raise the chance of a miscalculation that could lead to a military clash and a global oil crisis.

The Pentagon said on Friday that small Iranian boats had approached close to U.S. vessels in the strait last week, although it said it did not believe there was "hostile intent."

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear dispute. Iran says it would retaliate if attacked.

The tension has caused spikes in global oil prices in recent weeks, although prices eased at the close of last week's trading on the prospect of reduced demand in economically stricken European countries. Brent crude fell 82 cents to settle at $110.44 a barrel on Friday.

The chances for an imminent easing of tension look even more remote as the nuclear deadlock continues because of Iran's refusal to halt the sensitive nuclear work.

Last week Iran began enriching uranium underground - the most controversial part of its nuclear programme - at a bunker deep below a mountain near the Shi'ite holy city of Qom.

Nuclear talks with major powers collapsed a year ago. Iran says it wants the talks to resume, but the West says there is no point unless it is willing to discuss a halt to uranium enrichment, which can be used to make material for a bomb.

Stop the killing, U.N. chief tells Syria's Assad

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 02:17 AM PST

( - The U.N. chief told Bashar al-Assad on Sunday to "stop killing your people" and the Syrian leader offered an amnesty for "crimes" committed during a 10-month-old revolt against him.

Assad's violent response to the uprising has killed more than 5,000 people, by a U.N. count. The Syrian authorities say 2,000 members of the security forces have also been killed.

"Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: stop the violence, stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a conference in Lebanon on democratic transitions in the Arab wo

"From the very beginning of the ... revolutions, from Tunisia through Egypt and beyond, I called on leaders to listen to their people," Ban said. "Some did, and benefited. Others did not, and today they are reaping the whirlwind."

Syrian state news agency SANA said Assad had granted an amnesty for "crimes committed in the context of the events since March 15, 2011, until January 15, 2012." It gave no details.

Anti-Assad protests began in March inspired by a wave of popular anger against autocratic rulers sweeping the Arab world.

Assad has issued several amnesties since the start of protests, but opposition groups say thousands of people remain behind bars and that many have been tortured or abused.

The Avaaz campaign group said on December 22 that at least 69,000 people had been detained since the start of the uprising, of whom 32,000 had been released.

Freeing detainees was one of the terms of an Arab peace plan, which also called for an end to bloodshed, the withdrawal troops and tanks from the streets and a political dialogue.

The movement to end more than four decades of Assad family rule began with largely peaceful demonstrations, but after months of violence by the security forces, army deserters and insurgents started to fight back, prompting fears of civil war.


Qatar's emir, once a friend of Assad, has said Arab troops may have to step in to halt the bloodletting that has gone on unchecked despite the presence of Arab League monitors sent to find out if the Arab peace plan agreed last year is working.

Asked if he was in favor of Arab nations intervening in Syria, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani told the U.S. broadcaster CBS: "For such a situation to stop the killing ... some troops should go to stop the killing."

The emir, whose country backed last year's NATO campaign that helped Libyan rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi, is the first Arab leader to propose Arab military intervention in Syria.

CBS said on its website that the interview would be broadcast in its "60 Minutes" program later on Sunday.

Qatar's prime minister heads the Arab League committee on Syria and has said killings have not stopped despite the presence of Arab monitors sent there last month.

The League is due to hear a report from the monitors on Thursday and decide whether their mission should continue.

In the preview of the interview on the website, the emir did not spell out how any Arab military intervention might work.

There is little appetite in the West for any Libya-style intervention in Syria, although France has talked of a need to set up zones to protect civilians there.

China and Russia have blocked any action against Syria by the U.N. Security Council. The United States, the European Union and the Arab League have announced economic sanctions, although it is not clear if the Arab measures have been implemented.

Turkey, whose foreign minister was also attending the conference where Ban spoke in Beirut, has also slapped sanctions on Syria after the violence prompted it to turn against a neighbor it had once courted assiduously.

In the latest violence, residents said security forces shot dead a 17-year-old protester in the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun overnight. "He was hit in the chest," one resident said.

Survivors of cruise ship accident tell their story

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 02:09 AM PST

veena gali gali mai chor hai Item songs

Posted: 15 Jan 2012 12:59 AM PST

Veena Malik's first item number song Chhanno for bollywood movie. Watch out the sexy dance performance by Veena Malik. Veena Malik was sizzling on the sets of her new item song 'Channo' from the movie 'Gali Gali Chor Hai.' Veena who showed of all her curves in a shimmering Indian emsemble talked about how she turned down many item numbers but 'Channo' really caught her eye.