In Pakistan, Swat Valley police give up in face of Taliban attacks

February 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Lifescape | 2 Comments
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Fazlullah's madrasa at Imam Dherai, Swat.
Image via Wikipedia

Taliban struck a police station Wednesday. Many police are resigning because of death threats.

Leaving: A policeman stood guard in Pakistan‘s northwestern Swat Valley in 2007. Taliban threats have sharply reduced police ranks.
Tariq Mahmood/AFP/GEtty Images/NEWSCOM

Fazal Rehman’s childhood dream was to be a police officer. But after a dozen years on the force in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, he has finally turned in his badge.

During his training, Swat, which is located in the North West Frontier Province, about a five-hour-drive from Islamabad, was an idyllic place. Known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan,” it was renowned for lush valleys, ragged mountainsides, and snowcapped peaks.

But in the past two years, Swat has been caught up in the throes of a violent insurgency that has repelled tourists and is forcing locals to manage their lives around curfews and bans – and prompting many to leave the area.

The latest violence struck Wednesday, when militants attacked and destroyed a police station, capturing – and later releasing – some 30 paramilitary soldiers and policemen. A Taliban spokesman said the Taliban had gotten promises from the men that they would quit their jobs.

Mr. Rehman resigned about four months ago when, he says, the situation became unlivable for him and other police officers. “My colleagues were being targeted and beheaded,” he says. “I thought enough was enough, and decided to switch careers.”

The local Taliban, who have organized themselves into a party titled the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, are targeting all pro-state elements – police, government officials, the Army. Led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban have issued repeated warnings to police officers. Last October, the Taliban distributed several pamphlets urging policemen to resign or face the consequences….


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Winds Of Change

February 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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Dutch windmill in Wageningen
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Winds of change blow in India

One man’s vision in a country beset by power blackouts has turned demand for renewable energy into a global business. China is part of its future.

Randeep Ramesh reports.

The forest of white windmills that make up India’s largest wind farm can be seen from kilometres away. Dotted across 2,000 square kilometres of hills and villages on a basalt plateau in western India sit more than 800 turbines — generating more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

The towering machines, which stand 80 metres tall, cast shadows across fields tilled by man and buffalo — a stark juxtaposition of ancient and modern India. For one man, however, the windmill farm in Dhule is a fitting riposte to the critics who derided his dream to build a global green-energy business from a country plagued by crippling power cuts.

In little more than a decade, Tulsi Tanti has made Suzlon Energy into the world’s fifth-largest producer of wind turbines — selling them at a couple of million dollars apiece. Company turnover in 2007 increased by 29% to US$1.8 billion. About 90% of Suzlon’s order book is from markets outside India — largely the United States, South America and China.

Despite the success, 2008 was a horrible year for the company. While Suzlon should have been reaping the benefits of a world hungry for clean energy, it has been hit by a triple whammy: the credit crunch sent its stock plummeting; cracks appeared in its rotor blades used by US customers, raising doubts over its technology; and the US$1.6 billion acquisition of Germany’s REpower, a turbine maker that produces giant offshore rigs, stalled.

The turbulence has hit the company hard. Suzlon’s stock price crashed 90% since January 2008 to end up trading at only 56 rupees [just over US$1] in December — valuing the Tanti family’s 66% stake at about $US1.2 billion.

Tanti brushes aside these episodes, seeing opportunities where others see crises. In an interview from his Mumbai office, the 51-year-old businessman concedes his paper fortune has been blown away by the economic storm but says the forecast for the company remains good.


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China-Driven Development

February 5, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Posted in Lifescape | 1 Comment
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Savannah 3, Window of the World, Shenzhen, Chi...
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Edward Friedman: China-Driven Development

From the Beijing Review:

China’s interest in Africa has heightened in recent years. It is offering debt relief, opening its burgeoning markets to African goods and offering friendly nations interest-free loans. It is training medical personnel. It is teaching the Chinese language to African students. It is providing Chinese businesses with information and technical support to lower their cost of doing business in Africa. China is building a basis for deep business cooperation with Africa precisely because it serves major Chinese interests. But just as the Chinese Government claims, Africa can benefit economically, too.

Whereas satisfied European and American investors saw few profit-making opportunities in Africa, entrepreneurial Chinese have found plenty of possibilities. Chinese firms need to be taken more seriously. Since China has entered the World Trade Organization and amassed unprecedented foreign exchange reserves, Beijing has promoted a “going global” policy of helping Chinese firms become globally competitive. Experts say Africa is a testing ground for this policy. Africa matters to China.

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China to Challenge India’s Toy Ban at the WTO

February 5, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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sibling rivalry?
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China may take action against India’s decision to temporarily ban Chinese toy imports.

The Times of India reports: China plans to move the World Trade Organisation challenging India’s decision to ban Chinese toy imports. It feels that the ban amounts to violating WTO laws, which is something the world body must investigate.

This is apparently a desperate move on the part of Chinese rulers engaged in saving the toy industry, which has already retrenched thousands of workers because of loss in export market. More than 1,000 toy manufacturers have closed down in recent months.

New Delhi announced a six-month ban on imports of toys from China on January 23. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade from India, which imposed the ban, did not cite any reasons to support it. But Indian industry sources claimed it was meant to protect local manufacturers from cheap Chinese imports. Chinese toys make up nearly half of the total toys retained in India, sources claimed.

See also the Reuters article, “China Mulling WTO Case Over India Toy Ban,” for more on the story.

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Banned Pakistan militants gather

February 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Posted in Lifescape | 1 Comment
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Jamaat-ud-Dawa supporters in Muzaffarabad Militant groups command some support in Muzaffarabad Militant groups, some of them banned by Pakistan, have met publicly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir for the first time since Mumbai. An alliance of 12 groups attended the meeting in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa supporters in Muzaffarabad

Militant groups command some support in Muzaffarabad

They called on the Pakistani government to release imprisoned activists. India has accused the Lashkar-e-Taiba group of being behind the Mumbai attack and has demanded that some of its leaders be extradited to Delhi.

More than 170 people died when 10 gunmen attacked India’s financial capital in November. India has also accused some “state elements” in Pakistan of involvement. Islamabad and Lashkar-e-Taiba deny the allegations.

The BBC’s Zulfiqar Ali in Muzaffarabad says that the authorities made no effort to stop the meeting, despite the ban on some of the groups taking part. Among those attending were representatives of leading Pakistani militant groups including Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Jamat-ud-dawa, a charity linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba. The conference called on the ban on Jamat-ud-dawa to be lifted….


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Number of alien worlds quantified

February 5, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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In this artist's impress...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

We are likely to be listening for a long time, even if there are many worlds

Intelligent civilisations are out there and there could be thousands of them, according to an Edinburgh scientist.

The discovery of more than 330 planets outside our solar system in recent years has helped refine the number of life forms that are likely to exist.

The current research estimates that there are at least 361 intelligent civilisations in our Galaxy and possibly as many as 38,000.

The work is reported in the International Journal of Astrobiology….


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Can our TV signals be picked up on other planets?

February 5, 2009 at 11:56 am | Posted in Lifescape | Leave a comment
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Image by andreas schlegel via Flickr

There is no widely accepted evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

And yet the idea of sending messages to whoever is out there has been a recurrent theme over the years, whether it has been the plaques on Pioneer 10 and 11, Blur’s call-sign for Beagle 2, the Arecibo message of 1974 or the Soviet “Mir” message of 1962.

Mast at Alexandra Palace in 1945

Early television broadcasts will have reached planets around other stars

The latest is a collaboration between RDF and Bebo to send a signal to the planet Gliese C, more than 20 light-years away, carrying 500 messages from earth.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, former BBC News website science editor Dr David Whitehouse raised the possibility that transmissions from Earth could draw the attention of “malevolent aliens”, were any to exist.

But ordinary television and radio broadcasts can also travel out of Earth’s atmosphere and through space, albeit quickly becoming mind-bogglingly diffuse and hard to pick up….


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