Thursday, November 13, 2014


Criminal case against Modi in Australia

The American Justice Centre, a U.S.-based non-profit human rights organisation, has filed a criminal complaint against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Australia, arguing that in presiding over the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat he was responsible for “ordering, facilitating, inciting, participating, conspiring, aiding, abetting and carrying out organised attacks on civilian population of the State of Gujarat belonging to Muslim faith”.
The AJC, which filed the complaint in Canberra a day ahead of Mr. Modi’s scheduled visit there kicking off, made headlines in September during Mr. Modi’s closely-watched visit to the U.S. when it filed a similar complaint there and a federal district court in New York responded by issuing summons against Mr. Modi.
Mr. Modi will be in Australia as a part of a ten-day tour that included the ASEAN summit in Myanmar following which is set to participate in the G-20 meetings in Brisbane.
The plaintiffs, who are apparently victims of the Gujarat riots represented by AJC in the complaint, were fully identified in the Australian case though only their first names were mentioned in the U.S. lawsuit.
Among the plaintiffs was Asifbhai Vahora who, the complaint recounted, was an Indian citizen from Anand, Gujarat, who in 2002 was “trapped” in a nearby village by “an armed contingent of BJP-RSS workers,” who then “beat him severely and left him to die.”
When Mr. Vahora was later working as volunteer in the relief camps set up by NGOs for the victims of the riots, he was again “tortured, beaten, hounded, intimated, threatened by the workers of BJP and RSS,” the complaint said, and subsequently was turned away by authorities when trying to register a case against his assailants.
The AJC complaint goes on to argue that the administration of Gujarat was “completely complicit,” in the events of 2002, as was Mr. Modi as Chief Minister of the state at the time.
Not only did such complicity occur during the time of the riots, the case documents note, but Gujarat officials have also been “negligent” in attending to the resettlement and rehabilitation needs of the riot victims since that time.

Under Australian law Mr. Modi’s violated the Criminal Code Act of 1995, specifically sections 268.8 and 268.9, which together provided for five charges linked to “genocide” and “crimes against humanity,” the complaint says, adding that on this basis it called on Australia’s Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution to “indict and prosecute” Mr. Modi.

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Monday, August 25, 2014


US National Security Agency denies my data request

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Timeline of articles in The Hindu (from Washington) on the #Khobragade case

December 12, 2013: Devyani Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York, is arrested by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service not far from the school where she just dropped off her daughter. Felony charge details are given in the criminal complaint publicly released by Southern District Court of New York:

December 13, 2013: The Hindu learns of Ms. Khobragade's conditions of bail from the SDNY, the plaintiff in the criminal case against the Indian diplomat. No luck yet reaching the attorneys of the domestic worker, Sangeeta Richard, allegedly defrauded of her dues by Khobragade:

December 13, 2013: The Hindu speaks with Ms. Khobragade's father, Mumbai-based former bureaucrat Uttam, whose early comments cast doubt on whether, as many were already arguing, the Deputy Consul General had been handcuffed. That allegation was later described as false, by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara:

December 13, 2013: The Hindu gets the first official reaction of the State Department on the matter of whether Ms. Khobragade's consular immunity granted vide the 1963 Vienna Convention protected her from personal acts. Answer: No.

December 14, 2013: The Hindu speaks with Daniel Arshack, Ms. Khobragade's attorney, who offers further clarifications on the conditions of her release and bail and also on her treatment during the arrest. He says that although she was “treated incredibly shabbily” and was not presented with the opportunity to surrender, he was “confident of her complete vindication.” Meanwhile Indian officials give the U.S. a "strong demarche."

December 16, 2013: Meanwhile as India comes to grips with the arrest, a sense of outrage spreads through the establishment and visiting U.S. Congressional heads are snubbed. Simultaneously reports start surfacing that Ms. Khobragade was strip-searched while in the custody of U.S. Marshals:

December 16, 2013: As outrage mounts and allegations, some apparently deliberately misleading, start to fly about, The Hindu clarifies some important facts on the accuracy 'strip-search' reports, the question of consular immunity and the circumstances of Ms. Khobragade's arrest:

December 17, 2013: Cognisant of the intricacies of multi-agency operations in such cases, here involving the State and Justice Departments and the U.S. Marshals Service, the State Department takes a cautious approach to judging how Ms. Khobragade was treated during her detention. If only others were as circumspect!

December 17, 2013: After the State Department refers us to the U.S. Marshals Service on what happened to Ms. Khobragade while she was in detention, and the USMS simply referenced its standard protocols, The Hindu sought to fill this important blank spot in knowledge by getting deeper into these protocols:

December 18, 2013: Even as India undertakes strong retaliatory measures, including removing protective barriers at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State seeks to de-escalate the crisis with an expression of regret. Meanwhile more attention focuses on Ms. Khobragade's treatment and reaction in New York:

December 19, 2013: After a week of intense, fast-paced developments, multiple statements and diplomatic repartee, The Hindu parses the two broad narratives that have emerged, with a generous helping of factual recount thrown in, in the interest of clarity and balance. Context on the U.S.' fight against human trafficking-related crime is provided too:

December 19 2013: Facts are important. In his statement on Wednesday evening Mr. Bharara refutes the claim, made by so many (and questioned by The Hindu on December 13), that Ms. Khobragade was handcuffed upon arrest: 

December 19, 2013: Finally, a week after Ms. Khobragade's arrest the story of her alleged victim, Ms. Richard, starts to get told. The Hindu adds information on legal precedents in the U.S.' fight in 'maid abuse' cases:

December 19, 2013: Although India's Ministry of External Affairs was trying to be creative in having Ms. Khobragade reassigned to the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations (with full diplomatic immunity) the State Department (which has to sign off on any potential transfer) pours cold water on that prospect:

December 19, 2013: Even as Indian leaders are quoted calling for the charges against Ms. Khobragade to be dropped after Secretary Kerry expressed regret, the State Department makes clear that that is unlikely and stands in solidarity with Mr. Bharara's office:

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Indian MPs-Obama-Modi controversy

Images of the Letters written by Indian MPs to Barack Obama, calling on the U.S. not to reconsider its decision to deny Narendra Modi an entry visa.

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Monday, March 26, 2012


Desi spin

From The Hindu Sunday Magazine

The Smithsonian Institution is rediscovering India's vast contributions to civilisational achievement. In January it announced a grand celebration of Mughal art. More recently, it has tapped into the rich tapestry of the contributions of Indian migrants to America. The exhibition, titled “Homespun,” is “a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi's message to Indians to spin their own cloth and wear clothes made in India, instead of using textiles from Britain,” according to Smithsonian officials.

Few other immigrant communities in the U.S. have played such a vital role in fostering that civilisational link between the original motherland and their adopted homeland as the nearly three million Indian-Americans living in the U.S. today, and “HomeSpun is the Smithsonian's opportunity to convey their history, contributions, challenges, and signal their place within the nation.”

The curator of this first-of-its-kind display is Pawan Dhingra, who was earlier an Associate Professor of Sociology and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Featuring a vast range of exhibits, public programmes and a cutting-edge website “It will establish a permanent presence within the Smithsonian complex,” those behind the exhibit said.

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U.S. calls for quick response from Colombo

From The Hindu

Adopting a softer tack following the condemnatory resolution against Sri Lanka passed at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. looked to the government of Sri Lanka to “implement the constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and take the necessary measures to address accountability”.

Arguing that the next steps for Sri Lanka were clear, Ms. Clinton said the U.S., along with the international community, had “sent a strong signal that Sri Lanka will only achieve lasting peace through real reconciliation and accountability”.

Ms. Clinton's comments were echoed by other top administration officials, including U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Susan Rice and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Urging a quick response, Ms. Rice said that while the LLRC recommendations acknowledged the need to address “key issues of accountability”, they also called upon the Sri Lankan government to present a plan to implement the recommendations and address alleged violations of international law. “The time for concrete action is now,” she added.

Mr. Vietor, a representative of the White House, underscored the importance of action by Sri Lanka's government for the well-being of that country's citizens.

He said, “The resolution, which received broad support from around the world, calls for a range of critical steps that would go a long away to advancing the rights and dignity of the Sri Lankan people.”

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Obama picks Dartmouth head for top job at World Bank

From The Hindu

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-born public health specialist who is now the President of Dartmouth College, for the role of President of the World Bank.

Following the recent announcement by current Bank President Robert Zoellick that he would step down from his role at the end of June, there has been much speculation on who his successor would be.

Questions were also raised about whether a representative of a non-U.S. country could be considered for the role, which has traditionally been held by U.S. citizens only, alongside European occupancy of the Managing Director role at the Bank's sister institution, the International Monetary Fund.

With numerous emerging economies indicating an interest in the nomination process, two candidates who have already joined the race are Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Jose Antonio Ocampo, former Finance Minister of Colombia. Additionally, U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs was said to have “the backing of several developing countries.”

Apart from these candidates, whose nomination challenges appear credible, rumours in Washington have hinted at a wide field of potential contenders, from Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State and Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary to Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and PepsiCo boss Indra Nooyi.

Yet the race appeared to bend in favour of Dr. Kim, as President Obama described the former Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School as “the right person to carry on [Zoellick's] legacy, and I know his unique set of skills and years of experience will serve him well.”

In nominating Dr. Kim, Mr. Obama underscored the importance of the Bank to the U.S. more broadly, saying, “When an entrepreneur can start a new business, it creates jobs in their country, but also opens up new markets for our country... And ultimately, when a nation goes from poverty to prosperity, it makes the world stronger and more secure for everybody. That's why the World Bank is so important.”

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Army tried to delete Bales from website

From The Hindu

It might have been the U.S. army's sheer embarrassment or perhaps a desire to protect the family of the suspect. But whatever it was, the Pentagon's clumsy attempt to wipe their websites clean of all fingerprints leading to the Afghan civilian massacre suspect, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (38), only raised more questions about the army's motives.

With some questioning why five days had passed before the Pentagon identified Bales as the suspected killer of a group of Afghans including nine children and three women, the army's fumbling attempt to delete photographs and information about Bales' military service proved futile. A personal blog by Bales' wife Karilyn was also discovered.

With cached pages and other sources of information available online to those skilled in the art of data mining on the Internet, McClatchy news reported that within minutes of the Pentagon leaking Bales' name last Friday, “news organizations and others found and published his pictures, the account of the battle — which depicts Bales and other soldiers in a glowing light — and excerpts from his wife's personal blog.”

According to reports quoting unnamed military officials, the thinking behind the attempted deletions was that “Protecting a military family has to be a priority.” That official reportedly added, “I think the feeding frenzy we saw after his name was released was evidence that we were right to try. ... Of course the pages are cached; we know that. But we owe it to the wife and kids to do what we can.”

With the nation riveted by the question of Bales' motive for embarking on the alleged shooting spree, news emerged on Thursday that a U.S. defence official had said the number of fatalities was not 16, as the army had insisted it was for the past week, but 17. No explanation was provided yet for why the toll had risen.

Meanwhile media outlets managed to obtain court records that reportedly showed that Bales ad been prosecuted 10 years ago for assaulting a security guard at a casino in Tacoma, Washington state. “The charges, filed in local court there, were dismissed after Bales attended 20 hours of anger management courses,” a report in the Chicago Tribune noted.

In her blog, simply titled “The Bales Family,” Karilyn Bales had, until recently, written mainly about the joys of married life and the frustrations of being a military spouse. Yet her more recent entry was in stark contrast to these, as she spoke of the Afghan killings.

As reported by ABC News Mrs. Bales said, “What happened on the night of March 11 in Kandahar Province was a terrible and heartbreaking tragedy... My family including my and Bob's extended families are all profoundly sad. We extend our condolences to all the people of the Panjawai District, our hearts go out to all of them, especially to the parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents of the children who perished.”

She also asked for privacy, saying “Our family has little information beyond what we read and see in the media. What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire. Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask. I too want to know what happened. I want to know how this could be.”

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U.S. slaps tariff on Chinese solar panels

From The Hindu
Even as the Obama administration works overtime to wind down two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, it could well be on the brink of opening up a new battle front — an economic slugfest with China.

This week the U.S. Commerce Department announced, after months of hand-wringing and suspense, that it would be imposing tariffs on solar panels made in China, after investigations supposedly revealed that Chinese manufacturers were receiving significant amounts of ‘ illegal' subsidies for the clean-tech product.

While President Barack Obama has been a strong advocate of clean energy and made it a domestic policy priority, engaging China on questions of the World Trade Organization-legality of its subsidy system had to be situated in the broader context of economic disputes between the two nations.

The White House has generally shied away from drastic moves in this regard, for example, not yielding to Congressional pressure to label China a ‘currency manipulator.'

Yet this week the government took the significant step of slapping a tariff of between 2.9 per cent to 4.73 per cent on Chinese solar panels.

However, contrary to any expectations of an angry response from Chinese authorities, articles in the nation's state-owned media said, “The U.S. government's lighter than expected tariffs on China's solar panel imports reflects some degree of rationality, but it has to do more to keep bilateral trade ties from derailing.”

To an extent, the balanced reaction from China reflects the fact that the U.S.' prospects for successive tariff-escalation are self-limiting. This is because tariffs may prove to be a double-edged sword because while they may boost job creation in the U.S. solar panel industry, they would also likely result in cost spiralling where Chinese-imported panels are used.

The fact is that Chinese-made solar panels are not only used heavily in the U.S., but they have, in fact, been the prime driver of growth of the U.S. solar energy industry. Such imports have contributed to the U.S. overtaking

China last year by making $56-billion worth of investments in clean energy, compared to China's $47.4 billion.

Yet, according to figures from the Guardian, U.S. imports of Chinese solar panels grew exponentially in recent years too, from $21.3 million in 2005 to $2.65 billion last year.

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Bales' lawyer questions evidence

From The Hindu

The attorney of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the only suspect so far in the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine women and three children, earlier this month, has questioned the case against Bales saying there was “no forensic evidence” of his client's actions.

Bales, who was hastily pulled out of Afghanistan and whisked back home to a prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has been held in an isolated cell. He was said to have met his attorney, John Henry Browne, for over 11 hours over two days. While the killings led to angry protests in several parts of Afghanistan, the Obama administration indicated that it would not set back U.S. plans to draw down troops by 2014. Yet combined with the Koran-burning incident last month there is a growing perception that U.S.-Afghan relations are in a tail-spin.

Mr. Browne told media, “I don't know about the evidence in this case. I don't know that the government is going to prove much. There's no forensic evidence. There's no confessions.” He added that he was not saying that “we're not taking responsibility for this in the right way, at the right time. But for now, I'm interested in what the evidence is.”

Mr. Browne is renowned for defending, and some argue humanising, those who have been described as notorious criminals, including serial killer Ted Bundy and the teenage thief known as the Barefoot Bandit.

The attorney also alluded to broader legal, social and political issues associated with the case and its prosecution. He said, “I'm not putting the war on trial, but the war is on trial.”

Bales is expecting to be charged in the case this week, according to reports.

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Match Japan to avoid sanctions: America

From The Hindu

In its most direct message that India, along with other nations importing oil from Iran, could face sanctions by July if it did not “significantly” reduce such imports, the U.S. State Department warned in a conference call this week that if such countries, “in addition to having imported petroleum products, may have had other kinds of sanctionable activities, it could actually become liable to sanctions even before [June 28]”.

The remarks raised brows here as sanctions against countries such as India, China, and South Korea appeared more imminent following the White House's push for upping the ante against Iran through its 2012 National Defence Authorisation Act (Section 1245).

A senior State Department official said on Tuesday the NDAA provisions gave nations 180 days from the start of this year to attain levels of oil import cuts similar to those of Japan, which was said to have decreased its imports of Iranian crude by between 15 and 22 per cent.

During a testimony last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Japan's decision as a reduction achieved “despite the hardships and the loss of energy capacity after Fukushima”. The senior State Department official addressing media this week stressed that the 12 nations who continued to import Iranian crude could get a sense of what kind of import reduction the U.S. was expecting by looking at the Japanese case as an example.

Referring to the NDAA text, the official admitted that its “legislation specifies significantly reduce [but] doesn't define what significantly reduce is.” Underscoring the 15-22 per cent cut he said, “That gives some indication. And again with the European Union, they have gone to zero. So we look forward to hearing from countries [such as India] what their views are and what they can do.”

The European nations that appeared to have given the U.S. cause for cheer on this front are Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Recent weeks saw media reports quoting unnamed U.S. government officials suggest that India was on track to be slapped with sanctions. Attention in Washington has in particular focused on alleged remarks on continuing business transactions with Iran, made by officials in the Indian Ministry of Commerce and by private business leaders. The pro-Israel lobbies have also sought to increase pressure on New Delhi to abandon these ties with Iran and seek oil supplies elsewhere in West Asia.

Following these developments, earlier this month the Indian embassy here hit back with sharply-worded retort to allegations “which have presented a distorted picture by basing their conclusions on speculation and inaccurate information.”

In that statement embassy Spokesman Virander Paul stoutly refuted the allegations, and pointed out that “Allusions in the media that India's overall oil imports from Iran are increasing just because its monthly uptake of Iranian oil reportedly increased in January this year are based on selective use of information, misrepresenting the fact that in aggregate terms, crude imports from Iran constitute a declining share of India's oil imports.”

Even as the U.S. appeared to wave the threat of sanctions in the face of the 12 nations that continued to import Iranian crude, it also proffered two prior steps to mitigate the potentially difficult transition that these nations may face in cutting out Iranian oil imports entirely.

First, the State Department official said, under the NDAA provisions President Barack Obama would be making a determination by March 30 whether or not price and supply conditions in the market allowed for countries to switch from Iran to other suppliers of crude oil. If the President did make that determination, the official said, that would trigger a set of sanctions that come into effect on June 28.

Second, the official said that some nations “that... have the capacity to reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil [and are] still importing Iranian oil... have begun... discussions with us... and we are very interested to continue to pursue them in great seriousness.”

Starting February 29, the U.S. has put sanctions in place against any entity engaging in financial transactions with the Central Bank of Iran that were related to non-petroleum products “except in the circumstance of a country sending refined petroleum products to Iran.” Such entities have essentially been excluded from access to the U.S. banking system from the time this NDAA provision came into law.

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Shooting inflames racial tensions in U.S.

From The Hindu

The shooting death of an unarmed African-American boy, Trayvon Martin (17), by a white neighbourhood-watch volunteer last month, has inflamed racial tensions in the U.S. State of Florida, with the parents of the slain teenager asking why, three weeks after the incident, police have failed to arrest or even bring charges against the shooter.

On the night of February 26 Martin was visiting his father in Sanford when he left the house to purchase some candy and drinks from a nearby convenience store. While returning home he was observed by George Zimmerman (28), who was said to have been “patrolling the area in his car and who called 911 to report what he described as a ‘real suspicious guy'”.

The tapes of the emergency services call by Mr. Zimmerman were made available last week after the Martin family launched legal action to have them released. According to reports the audio indicates that Mr. Zimmerman chased Martin despite the 911 operator advising him against doing so.

As per reports on the transcript of the call, Mr. Zimmerman was heard saying: “Hey, we've had some break-ins in my neighbourhood and there's a real suspicious guy ... This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something.”

Mr. Zimmerman goes on to tell the operator that Martin was approaching him. “Now he's coming towards me. He's got his hand in his waistband. And he's a black male … Something's wrong with him. Yup, he's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is … These [expletive], they always get away.”

When Mr. Zimmerman then reported that Martin was running and that he was pursuing him the operator cautioned Zimmerman: “OK, we don't need you to do that.” Neighbours who also made 911 calls at the time then reported a loud gunshot. When police arrived on the scene Martin lay sprawled by the roadside, dead, with a gunshot wound in his chest. Contrary to any suggestion by Mr. Zimmerman that Martin was armed, the teenager “was carrying was his cell phone, a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.”

With a growing number of student protest marches, on the campus of Florida A&M University and outside the Seminole County criminal justice centre, public anger has centred on allegation of racism in the ensuing police investigations.

In a possible indication that the White House has taken the matter seriously the Department of Justice announced that it had begun its own investigation into the shooting. In a statement, the DOJ said: “The Department will conduct a thorough and independent review of all the evidence and take appropriate action at the conclusion of the investigation.”

The charge of racism against the police was further fuelled by the police's initial assurances to the Martin family that they did not charge Mr. Zimmerman because he was “a criminal justice student with a ‘squeaky clean' record”. However, a review is said to have revealed that Mr. Zimmerman was “arrested in July 2005 in Orange County on charges of resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer”.

The incident has also raised troubling questions about the pro-gun tilt in Florida law. As in the case of nearly half of all U.S. States, Florida has what is called a “Stand Your Ground” law on guns. Under this law a person suspected of engaging in deadly violence and claiming self-defence need not have attempted to retreat or escape the danger he was facing before striking.

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Visiting U.S. officials will discuss children’s rights

From The Hindu

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs will travel to New Delhi on March 21, the Department of State announced on Monday. Ms. Jacobs will be joined by James Herman, Minister Counsellor for Consular Affairs to India, for talks with counterparts at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, according to a statement.

A significant part of the talks they convene in India will cover “a wide range of consular issues, from the protection of citizens abroad to the facilitation of travel between the U.S. and India, a Department Spokesperson said.

However there will also be a focus on children’s rights in an international context. “The U.S. encourages India’s accession to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction,” the State Department noted, adding that the discussion agenda would include aligning U.S. and Indian visa policies and children’s issues.

While in New Delhi, Mr. Jacobs will address American and Indian business leaders at an event sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce in India, according to officials.

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Nebraska stay will lead to focus on India-made drug

From The Hindu

When a U.S. prison was poised to execute an inmate, Michael Ryan, earlier this month using India-made drugs, it could have been a twisted take on the global outsourcing industry, and indeed it still might.

But for the moment not only Ryan but also an Indian-Swiss pharmaceutical company, Naari, which has fervently argued that 485 grams of unconsciousness-inducing sodium thiopental were taken from it under false pretences, have won a reprieve as the execution has been stayed pending an appeal.

Speaking to The Hindu, Ryan's attorney Jerry Soucie said his client had appealed the decision of a lower district court to proceed with the execution in a motion filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court.

“It will be several months before that appeal is resolved,” said Mr. Soucie, adding that the state prosecutor had not attempted to obtain an execution warrant while that appeal was pending.

Significantly, Mr. Soucie indicated that Ryan was considering filing a motion for declaratory judgment to resolve whether Nebraska law authorises the use of lethal drugs “imported in violation of federal law... and the use of lethal drugs obtained by a broker by misrepresentation to the supplier [Naari]”.

The first part of that motion pertains to attempts by a middleman named Chris Harris to procure the thiopental from a Mumbai-based firm, Kayem Pharmaceuticals. When a U.K.-based anti-death penalty group, Reprieve, publicised Mr. Harris' interactions with Kayem, it said it would immediately halt all exports of thiopental to the U.S.

The State of Nebraska is one of a growing group of U.S. States starved of lethal drugs after the sole manufacturer in the U.S., a firm called Hospira, voluntarily shut down its operations in 2010 following public pressure.

While Mr. Harris had been on a surreptitious search for killer drugs overseas for the last few years, his attempt to provide Nebraska with the Kayem drugs backfired after two U.S. regulators, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, cautioned that proper importation procedures had not been followed and required certifications not obtained.

In the case of the Naari drugs, though Nebraska got past preliminary legal hurdles to proceeding with the execution, company CEO Prithi Kochhar dashed off an anxious letter to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican, in which he expressed his dismay at the prospect of Naari's drugs being used in execution procedures.

The latest developments will likely lead to further deliberation on the use of the Naari drugs in the execution procedure. When asked whether Ryan's sentence itself might be reviewed if the court found in his favour, Mr. Soucie said if that happened then “all bets would be off”.

He said that even in such an instance his best guess was that Nebraska “would abandon relying solely on sodium thiopental and go to another drug, or list of drugs, that could be used as a substitute for thiopental”.

While Mr. Soucie added that he did not know why the prison did not move to such a “Plan B” months ago, it is quite possible that the untested nature of alternatives such as pentobarbital, an animal euthanasia barbiturate, could lead to undesired public scrutiny if it led to an excruciating death for inmates, as they have been alleged to do in the past.

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'Rogue' soldier Bales may be charged within a week

From The Hindu

Robert Bales, Staff Sergeant alleged to have killed 16 Afghan civilians — including nine women and three children — to death may be charged within a week, according to reports.

Even as the incident rocked U.S.-Afghan relations and inflamed passions in a country already stinging from last month's Koran-burning episode, Afghan President Hamid Karzai questioned the theory that Bales acted alone.

The U.S. army pulled Bales off Afghan soil last week and, after a brief stopover in Kuwait, brought him back to a prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

While he is held in solitary confinement there, he may have the opportunity to meet his family, who were moved out of their home in Lake Tapps near the Tacoma area of Washington State for safety.

Family stunned

His family was said to be “stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father and dedicated member of the armed services,” according to attorney Emma Scanlan.

Meanwhile, the Guardian quoted a legal expert with the U.S. military saying charges against Bales “are expected to be filed within a week, and any trial would be held in the U.S.”

The news on Bales' trial came as U.S.-Afghan relations appeared to suffer from a widening trust deficit and Mr. Karzai was quoted saying to a group of journalists, “In four rooms people were killed, children and women were killed, and then they were all brought together in one room and then put on fire; that one man cannot do.”

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U.S. military identifies 'killer' soldier

From The Hindu

The U.S. army has identified the soldier allegedly behind the killing of 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales (38) from Lake Tapps near the Tacoma area of Washington state.

Bales is currently being held in solitary pre-trial confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, home to another well-known prisoner, Private Bradley Manning, accused of supplying government data to WikiLeaks. On Friday officials confirmed that Bales had been flown out of Kuwait, even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed outrage at his removal from Afghan soil.

The Staff Sergeant, who was said to have gone on a shooting spree after walking off his base in Kandahar Province’s Panjwai district, is a father of two. According to reports, Bales’ wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps to Joint Base Lewis-McChord earlier this week, for their safety.

With reports suggesting that in most cases the victims of the Kandahar attack had either been shot or stabbed and then set on fire, passions have run high in Afghanistan since last weekend and Mr. Karzai openly accused the U.S. of not adequately cooperating on an investigation into the killings.

While the Obama administration has indicated that this would not set back U.S. plans to draw down troops by 2014, there is a strong perception that combined with the Koran-burning incident last month U.S.-Afghan relations are in a tail-spin.

Meanwhile Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, said that he had joined the U.S. Army shortly after the 9/11 attacks and was assigned to the Third Stryker Brigade in the Second Infantry Division. The New York Times quoted an unnamed U.S. government official who discussed possible motives for the violent killings saying that Bales had been drinking alcohol before the killings and that he might have had marital problems.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” the official added. Mr. Browne however dismissed allegations of alcohol and domestic issues, attributing Bales’ stress to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to reports.

Describing PTSD as a mitigating factor Mr. Browne was quoted as saying “It is commonly used in military defence.” He noted that Bales was unhappy about returning to combat after being wounded twice in Iraq.

According to the U.S. Army, Bales spent 37 months on three separate deployments in Iraq between 2003 and 2010, and Mr. Browne said Bales “had seen a comrade's leg blown off the day before the massacre.”

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Goldman Sachs' bid to clear the air

From The Hindu

Trapped in the unwanted spotlight of moral ambiguity, investment bank Goldman Sachs has come back with a carefully-worded response to recent allegations by a former employee that the internal culture of the firm had made its environment “toxic and destructive”, and serving its clients was no longer its top priority.

In a statement from Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn, the firm hit back at an op-ed in the New York Times on “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs” by Greg Smith, said to be the company's former head of equity derivatives business in Europe. Refuting Mr. Smith's claims, Mr. Blankfein said: “In a company of our size, it is not shocking that some people could feel disgruntled. But that does not and should not represent our firm of more than 30,000 people.”

Mr. Blankfein went on to argue that it was unfortunate that an individual opinion about Goldman Sachs had been “amplified in a newspaper and speaks louder than the regular, detailed and intensive feedback you have provided the firm and independent, public surveys of workplace environments.”

The statement by the firm also cited a range of feedback surveys that indicated that the firm provided “exceptional service” to employees and that Goldman Sachs was recently named “one of the best places to work in the United Kingdom, where this employee resides”. Goldman was also the highest placed financial services company for the third consecutive year and was the only one in its peer group to make the top 25, Mr. Blankfein pointed out.

His remarks were seen as a direct retort to Mr. Smith's grim predictions about how the change in the culture of Goldman might affect its fortunes. In his op-ed Mr. Smith said, “When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm's culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm's moral fibre represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.”

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U.S. warns North Korea on launch

From The Hindu

The U.S. has reacted angrily to reports of North Korea's plan to launch a rocket-mounted satellite to mark the birth centenary of its former President, the late Kim Il-sung, with the State Department describing the move as “highly provocative”.

Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said North Korea's announcement was in direct violation of its international obligations, specifically United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which “clearly and unequivocally prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology”.

Diplomatic ties were strained significantly following similar launches by Pyongyang in 2009. North Korea at the time had said it was only engaged in a peaceful space programme.

However then, as now, experts were quoted in the media as saying, “The launch technology for missiles and satellites is near-identical.”

Unsurprisingly South Korea reacted with alarm. Referring to the UNSC resolutions Cho Byung-jae, spokesman of the South Korean Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying, “This will be a clear violation... It will constitute a highly provocative action threatening peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.”

Going by the U.S.' reaction, the launch may lead to the U.S. considering backing out of its February agreement with North Korea — that the North would halt nuclear tests and activities and implement a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests in exchange for package of 240,000 tonnes of food aid. On this subject Ms Nuland said the missile launch would be “inconsistent with North Korea's recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches.”

The agreement came after a U.S. delegation returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of talks with North Korea. Then the State Department had said it still had “profound concerns regarding North Korean behaviour across a wide range of areas”, but the agreement reflected “important, if limited, progress” in addressing some of these concerns.

Its reaction to the satellite launch this week notwithstanding, the State Department had reaffirmed in February that it “does not have hostile intent toward the DPRK and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality”.

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Indian-Americans in full strength at White House

From The Hindu

While it was unsurprising that Indian-Americans turned out in full strength for the White House's first state dinner in November 2009, for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, their presence at President Barack Obama's dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday seemed to underscore the continuing importance of this administration's links with the community.

Leading the list was Raj Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. At 39, Dr. Shah is considered one of the youngest Indian-Americans in recent history to be appointed to such a senior position. His wife, Shivam Mallick Shah, who works at the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation, also attended.

A second senior administration official was Arun Majumdar, Director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, in the U.S. Department of Energy. Professor Majumdar, who received a B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering from the IIT, Bombay and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, was named as Mr. Obama's nominee for the post of Under Secretary of Energy last November.

Another prominent attendee with roots in California was Attorney-General Kamala Harris, accompanied by her sister Maya Harris. Ms. Harris made history in the mid-term elections held in November 2010 when she became the first woman to occupy the top legal position in the state. She traces her maternal antecedents to Chennai.

Amit Pandya of the Open Society Institute was another. Mr. Pandya served, according to sources on the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. Department of State and was Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He accompanied Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director, Domestic Policy Council.

Seen as a hat-tip to the Obama campaign's continuing reliance on Indian-American donors, the President also invited Rajiv Kumar Fernando of Chicago to attend. Mr. Kumar, who works in Chopper Trading according to ABC News, bolstered the President's fundraising efforts by a contribution in the range of $200,000-$500,000.

With Indian-Americans marking their presence at such high-profile events as well as garnering numerous top posts within the federal government, it would appear that the administration's very public love affair with the community shows no sign of abating.

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Afghan shooting not likely to derail Western troop drawdown

From The Hindu

The killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, allegedly by a rogue U.S. military serviceman, is not likely to lead to any significant changes in the planned troop drawdown of Western forces by 2014, going by statements made by top administration officials here.

In comments to the media at the United Nations Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as describing the killings as “inexplicable,” and noting that “This terrible incident does not change our steadfast dedication to protecting the Afghan people and to doing everything we can to build a strong and stable Afghanistan.”

The incident on Saturday, in which a U.S. soldier left his base in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province and allegedly sprayed the residents of an adjoining village compound with bullets, has led to angry protests in several parts of the country.

On Tuesday a memorial service for the victims of the attacks came under fire from reported Taliban fighters who were said to be targeting senior officials in the Afghan government and military in attendance.

Even as protests continued unabated, Pentagon and White House officials hinted that they viewed the shooting as an isolated event, and Ms. Clinton argued, “I hope that everyone understands in Afghanistan and around the world that the U.S. is committed to seeing Afghanistan continue its move toward a stable, secure, prosperous, democratic state.”

The strongest remarks however came from Secretary of State Leon Panetta, who said to media during a trip to Kyrgyzstan that the soldier, if found responsible for the shootings, may face the death penalty. The Guardian reported that when asked whether the death penalty could be considered in this case, Mr. Panetta replied, “My understanding is that in these instances that could be a consideration.”

Describing the events around the time of the shooting Mr. Panetta said, “He went out in the early morning and went to these homes and fired on these families. And then at some point after that, came back to the forward operating base and basically turned himself in, told individuals what had happened." The Secretary said that he suspected that the soldier had then confessed.

While media reports suggested that the soldier was a 38-year-old father of two, his name has not been made public yet.

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Republican race may narrow this week

From The Hindu

The Republican presidential nominee race, split four ways across an eclectic list of contenders, came to a boil this week.

Over the weekend, Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania and second-ranked candidate, swept to an expected victory in conservatives-dominated Kansas, bringing him a step closer to the top spot.

Yet he will have to work hard in the week ahead as the frontrunner, the former Massachusetts Governor and private equity boss, Mitt Romney, has trained his guns on the next two primaries offering a large prize in terms of delegate numbers—Alabama (50) and Mississippi (40).

Mr. Romney is leading in delegate numbers with 454, compared to Mr. Santorum's 217. A total of 1144 delegates are needed to secure the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Florida later this summer.

As the race appeared to tighten between these two candidates it also threatened to end the hopes of the third-place candidate, the outspoken if controversial former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Newt Gingrich has garnered a face-saving 107 delegates thus far, with notable wins in his home State of Georgia and in an early race in South Carolina. Yet pundits across the board warned that if he failed to make any significant inroads into Alabama and Mississippi, the knock-on effect in terms of his campaign funding may force him out of the race by Wednesday.

The fourth man, Ron Paul, is likely to hold on throughout the election season and has thus far cornered 47 delegates. He has won a fairly constant share of the votes across key States and his presence has consistently reduced the share of the pie going to the top contenders.

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U.S. in damage control mode

From The Hindu

The United States administration has gone into a hyperactive damage-control mode following the weekend rampage by a U.S. military serviceman, who allegedly shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, nine of whom were said to be children.

While he stopped short of using the word “apology”, President Barack Obama said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened by the reported killing and wounding of Afghan civilians”, and offered his condolences to their families.

Mr. Obama described the incident as “tragic and shocking”, words that were echoed by senior military officials such as International Security Assistance Force Commander General John Allen.

Mr. Obama also spoke to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday and promised a speedy response. According to a White House statement, Mr. Obama said on the phone to Mr. Karzai that his administration was committed to establishing the facts “as quickly as possible and to hold fully accountable anyone responsible”.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also spoke to Mr. Karzai to confirm that a full investigation was “already underway... a suspect is in custody”. He condemned such violence and said the “U.S. service member... alleged to be involved [was] clearly acting outside his chain of command”.

Other top military commanders, including General Allen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey spoke of their shock and sadness at the shootings. In a Facebook post, General Dempsey said, “I'm confident that General Allen and his staff are taking the appropriate steps to quickly and thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this incident.”

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New York police face censure for Muslim community surveillance

From The Hindu

While the death of Osama bin Laden might have brought closure to some of those associated with the life-changing events of 9/11, a legacy of suspicion against the Muslim community has lingered and has possibly coloured even law enforcement agencies such as the New York Police Department with deep-seated prejudices.

At least this is what appeared to be the case in the unfolding saga of an AP news agency scoop, which over the last few months has revealed details in a series of secret reports by the NYPD showing that the police had collected information on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims. “They show in the clearest terms yet that police were monitoring people based on religion, despite claims from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the contrary,” AP argued, citing statements in the top-secret documents indicating that police “put the names of innocent people in secret files and monitored the mosques, student groups and businesses that make up the Muslim landscape of the Northeastern U.S.”

The NYPD further found itself in the dock after a top Obama administration official, Attorney-General Eric Holder joined the chorus of disapprobation and said at a Congressional hearing earlier this week that he found news of the NYPD's actions “disturbing.” Mr. Holder also noted, “These are things that are under review at the Justice Department.”

The surveillance was said to have included attempts to monitor and collect data at about 250 mosques, schools, and businesses throughout the city, “simply because of their religion and not because they exhibited suspicious behaviour”.

However in the months that followed AP's first revelations, the issue was aggravated by the fact that Mr. Bloomberg and police Commissioner Ray Kelly reportedly defended the NYPD's aggressive programmes to infiltrate Muslim neighbourhoods. “We don't stop to think about the religion... We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there,” Mr. Bloomberg was quoted as saying at a news conference in August.

Yet AP said that in late 2007, plainclothes officers at the NYPD's “secretive Demographics Unit” were assigned to investigate the region's Syrian population. Police reportedly photographed businesses, eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops. “The resulting document listed no threat. And though most people of Syrian heritage living in the area were Jewish, Jews were excluded from the monitoring,” the report said.

“This report will focus on the smaller Muslim community,” AP said regarding the report, adding that, similarly, the NYPD had excluded the city's sizable Coptic Christian population when photographing, monitoring and eavesdropping on Egyptian businesses in 2007.

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Coke, Pepsi to cut down on carcinogen

From The Hindu

They're arguably the world's two most popular beverages and each accounts for several billion individual servings sold per day. Yet this week the corporate behemoths behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi quietly agreed to comply with a new regulatory requirement in California to either carry a cancer warning label if their products included certain levels of a carcinogenic chemical or reduce those chemical levels significantly. The beverage giants chose to cut down on the chemical.

The action marks a major success for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit watchdog and consumer advocacy group, which has for many months now campaigned vigorously to get the United States Food and Drug Administration to recognise that the compound 4-methylimidazole, also listed as 4-MI or 4-MEI, as a known carcinogen. Last year, the FDA acceded and added 4-MI to its carcinogen list.

This week the CSPI dashed off another letter to the FDA following laboratory experiments that showed that 4-MI and a chemical cousin called 2-MI, both of which Coke and Pepsi use to produce their classic caramel colour, were found to be carcinogenic in animal studies.

Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of CSPI, said in the letter that the FDA “has done nothing in the past year to protect the millions of consumers who have been consuming dangerously contaminated soft drinks and possibly other products with ammoniated caramel colourings”.

To clarify the risks posed by this artificial colouring agent used by Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the CSPI tested a range of ultra-popular drinks in the U.S. including Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Pepsi-Cola, Diet Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Diet Dr Pepper and Whole Foods' 365 Cola. The average amount of 4-MI found in a 12-ounce can for Coke and Pepsi drinks was 138 micrograms, which was nearly five times California's 29-micrograms-per-day limit, “indicating a lifetime cancer risk of five out of 100,000 people,” CSPI said.

Warning that this cancer risk could rise to 13 cancers per 100,000 if only people consuming soft drinks containing caramel colouring were considered, Dr. Jacobson said the Coca-Cola Corporation and PepsiCo had switched to lower-concentration 4-MI formulations due to California's Proposition 65 law based on the State's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. However, Dr. Jacobson noted that the levels of 4-MI may exceed the FDA's one-in-a-million standard even with the new formulation.

In an angry response, the American Beverage Association, an industry body, hit back at the CSPI study saying, “This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous. The science simply does not show that 4-MEI, in foods or beverages, is a threat to human health... CSPI fraudulently claims to be operating in the interest of the public's health when it is clear its only motivation is to scare the American people.”

As the ultimate arbiter, the jury still seems to be out at the FDA. Its spokesman, Douglas Karas, was quoted as saying in a statement that the FDA was currently reviewing the CSPI petition, but “it is important to understand that a consumer would have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer in rodents.”

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Indian embassy hits back at Iran-oil allegations

From The Hindu

Following intensifying media and lobby-group pressure here on India’s relationship with Iran, the Indian embassy in Washington has hit back with sharply-worded and rare retort to allegations “which have presented a distorted picture by basing their conclusions on speculation and inaccurate information.”

Arguing that such reports had generated concerns among some members of the U.S. Congress, the embassy clarified through its spokesman Virander Paul that India’s relationship with Iran was neither inconsistent with non-proliferation objectives, nor contradictory to the relationship India had with its friends in West Asia or with the U.S. and Europe.

In addition to media reports recent weeks have seen a lobby group directly petition Ambassador Nirupama Rao and suggest to her that New Delhi was “attempting to take advantage of sanctions adopted by like-minded nations.”

In a letter to Ambassador Rao the group drew attention to alleged comments by Indian Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar that “a huge delegation” of Indian business representatives would soon travel to Iran to capitalise on opportunities created by European withdrawal from the Iranian market. It hinted that India could seek to source its energy needs from other West Asian nations but not Iran.

Mr. Paul’s statement stoutly refuted the allegations, pointing out that “Allusions in the media that India’s overall oil imports from Iran are increasing just because its monthly uptake of Iranian oil reportedly increased in January this year are based on selective use of information, misrepresenting the fact that in aggregate terms, crude imports from Iran constitute a declining share of India’s oil imports.”

At the macro level, India has scrupulously adhered to the multilateral sanctions against Iran as mandated by the United Nations, and remains fully engaged with the U.S. administration and Congress on this issue, the embassy added.

However dispelling any notion that India could be pressured into forsaking an important “civilisational” relationship with Iran, the embassy’s statement noted that not only were there six million Indians in the Gulf region, but Iran was also India’s only corridor for land access to Afghanistan, and it was through Iran that most of India’s development and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan was routed.

On the core question of Iran’s importance in helping India meet its energy needs, the Indian embassy argued that with more than 400 million Indians lacking access to commercial energy at home “an automatic replacement of all Iranian oil imports, is not a simple matter of selection, or a realistic option.”

Even as the crescendo of war drums intensifies with growing concern over the possibility of an Israeli strike again Iran’s nuclear facilities, the embassy cautioned that India “firmly believes that the situation concerning Iran should not be allowed to escalate into a conflict, the disastrous consequences of which will be in nobody’s interest.”

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Romney hits sixer but the fight continues

From The Hindu

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and private equity boss, scored a six-state victory at the “Super Tuesday” elections and strengthened his leadership position among the Republican nominee candidates.

However he did not garner the sweeping delegate numbers that would have made him unassailable in the race for the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Florida this summer. Instead he yielded crucial gains to ultra-conservative rival and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

With 419 delegates potentially up for grabs an overwhelming success would have brought Mr. Romney closer to the 1144 number required to secure the nomination and then challenge President Barack Obama in the general election in November.

Yet Mr. Romney scooped up 212 delegates bringing his total to 415. Mr. Santorum won 84 delegates on Super Tuesday and his overall tally stands at 176. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich got 72 delegates and an outright victory in his home state of Georgia, putting his total at 105. Libertarian candidate and Congressman from Texas Ron Paul cornered 22 delegates for an aggregate score of 47.

Among the six states that Mr. Romney won, his narrow win in Ohio was considered especially significant given that no Republican nominee has entered the White House without carrying this heavily populated state offering a prize of 66 delegates. Results for Ohio’s counting came in shortly after midnight, and Mr. Romney said in a victory speech, "I'm going to get this nomination."

Not to be outdone and quite obviously anticipating the challenges of the forthcoming presidential elections Mr. Obama held a rare news conference on the same day. At the interaction with media he repudiated Republican attacks on his foreign policy record, especially the heightened focus on Iran, saying the Republicans were beating the drums of war. "Those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not commander-in-chief," Mr. Obama added.

In addition to Ohio the states that Mr. Romney carried were Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia. Mr. Santorum took away North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Mr. Paul, who did not win in any state nevertheless benefitted from his success in Virginia, where he only faced Mr. Romney after Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum failed to garner enough pre-election support to get their names onto the ballot.

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Obama cautions Israel against "loose talk of war"

From The Hindu

With an eye on his re-election campaign, U.S. President Barack Obama in a speech to arguably the most powerful pro-Israel lobby sought to carefully balance his commitment to Israeli foreign policy interests with a stern note of caution to stem “too much loose talk of war” with Iran and his intention to continue pursuing diplomatic solutions with the Ahmedinejad regime.

Repeated references to his record of unwavering commitment to Israel's security got Mr. Obama applause every time from the 13000-strong crowd of delegates attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

However Mr. Obama's remarks that “We all prefer to resolve [the Iran nuclear] issue diplomatically,” and that loose talk of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities “has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil,” were greeted with a cold silence from the delegates.

His speech comes a day before he is scheduled to meet with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, where they will discuss a range of strategic issues of mutual concern, according to an official statement. Mr. Netanyahu will also meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration leaders in Washington.

Reacting to Mr. Obama's speech Mr. Netanyahu was said to have welcomed in particular the American President's statement on Israel's right to defend itself by itself against any threat. “I appreciate all of these statements and expect to discuss them tomorrow with President Obama,” Mr. Netanyahu was quoted as saying.

Mr. Obama's speech, which was littered with allusions to the U.S.' “unbreakable” bond with Israel including terms such as “sacrosanct,” “non-negotiable,” “unprecedented,” however reiterated his administration's belief in the two-state solution to the Palestine question.

He said, “I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel's own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defence Minister [Ehud] Barak, President [Shimon] Peres — each of them have [sic] called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.”

That the President had the November elections in his mind became obvious when he hit back at Republican nominee candidates' past comments questioning Mr. Obama's commitment to Israel's security interests.

Mr. Obama said, “If during this political season... you hear some questions regarding my administration's support for Israel, remember that it's not backed up by the facts... Remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.”

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It's official now: Nebraska set to use made-in-India drug in execution

From The Hindu

In the forthcoming week the United States is poised to make execution history by allowing a prison in Nebraska to use a made-in-India chemical for killing a death-row inmate. That the drug being used, unconsciousness-inducing sodium thiopental, was procured fraudulently from its manufacturer – who is “shocked and appalled” at its proposed use – is an additional twist to this saga of a growing trans-border death-trade.

Unless he is saved by a clemency petition or last-ditch legal recourse, when Michael Ryan, on death row for a double-murder in the 1980s, is strapped into a gurney and injected with lethal chemicals on March 6, he will die knowing that a drug made in the town of Kashipur, Uttarakhand in India probably caused his death.

While Ryan had earlier obtained a stay order on his execution from the Nebraska Supreme Court, that decision was reversed at the end of last week when a County District Judge, Daniel Bryan Jr., rejected his appeal. In doing so the court however did not specifically comment on Ryan’s challenge relating to how Nebraska obtained one of three lethal-injection drugs it has on hand.

Ironically the setback for Ryan will also come as a blow to the proprietors of Naari, a Swiss-Indian pharmaceutical company. Naari has argued, for more than six months now that the 485 grams of sodium thiopental now in the possession of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) were taken from it under false pretences by a middleman called Chris Harris.

The attempt of Mr. Harris to procure sodium thiopental, proved duplicitous by shipping documents and other paperwork in The Hindu’s possession, come in the wake of a similarly controversial attempt by him obtain the narcotic from a Mumbai-based firm called Kayem Pharmaceuticals.

Yet a U.K.-based anti-death penalty group called Reprieve, which had earlier tracked the NDCS’s efforts to source the drug from a shadowy firm in the United Kingdom, highlighted Mr. Harris’ interactions with Kayem and the intense pressure on the firm led to it stating publicly that it would immediately halt all exports of thiopental to the U.S.

The U.S. prison’s move to seek the drug in U.K. had also met with a storm of opposition across Europe and led to the ban of all such drug exports to the U.S. in that continent. However although the import from Kayem was not approved by U.S. regulators Mr. Harris succeeded in procuring over 500 one-gram vials of thiopental – enough to kill 166 men – for the NDCS.

According to sources, U.S. regulators have conveyed to the NDCS that they do not approve of the use of Kayem’s sodium thiopental in executions given that proper importation procedures were not followed. However Mr. Harris learned a lesson from the ban on Kayem’s drugs and would appear to have followed import guidelines for Naari’s drugs – although as in the case of Kayem the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has refused to certify the Naari drugs too.

The NDCS no doubt considers this development timely. Along with Georgia, Arizona, Texas and other U.S. states, Nebraska is said to be facing acute shortages of execution drugs since the 2010 voluntary shut-down of a firm called Hospira, the sole producer of sodium thiopental in the U.S. at the time.

Given the regulatory issues impeding the use of foreign-made sodium thiopental numerous correctional facilities in the U.S. are also considering a switch to pentobarbital, a veterinary euthanasia barbiturate used to put down dogs, or using a single-drug execution procedure.

If Nebraska does not switch to some alternative then fate of Naari’s drugs would appear to be written, despite Naari CEO Prithi Kochhar dashing off an anxious letter to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican, in which he expressed his dismay at by the prospect that Naari’s drugs could thus be used in execution procedures. Going by a response of a judicial official, that letter has been set aside in the consideration of the Ryan case.

Regardless, Mr. Kochhar argued that Naari’s agreement with Mr. Harris was for Mr. Harris to use the vials for registration in Zambia, get the product registered there and then begin selling it there, given that sodium thiopental is used widely as an anaesthetic in the developing world.

Unfortunately the most recent decision condemning Ryan to death will lead to Naari’s drugs being used for an entirely more macabre purpose.

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U.S. House concerned at reports of Modi's 'complicity' in riots

From The Hindu

A resolution has been introduced in the United States House of Representatives expressing solidarity with the Obama administration's view that the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat “has not adequately pursued justice for the victims of the 2002 violence” and that they remained “concerned by reports from journalists and human rights groups about the complicity of ... [Mr.] Modi in the [pogrom].”

House Resolution 569, “Recognizing the tenth anniversary of the tragic communal violence in Gujarat,” was sponsored by Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, and it called on the Gujarat government to heed the recommendations of the State Department to “restore religious freedom for all citizens in Gujarat.”

This is not the first instance where the U.S. government has marked its concern surrounding the role of the Gujarat government in the riots. In 2005, it denied a visa to Mr. Modi on the grounds of religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

This week, the House noted that in 2002, the violence directed against Muslims by Hindu mobs led to an estimated 2,000 dead and 1,00,000 displaced into refugee camps, and commended the National Human Rights Commission and the Indian Supreme Court, whose actions led to some convictions in Gujarat riots cases and also the arrest of a few high-level leaders in the Modi administration.

Recounting some of the details of the mob attacks, the resolution quoted a 2002 Human Rights Watch report entitled, “We Have No Orders to Save You,” in particular a section that noted that between February 28 and March 2, 2002 “the attackers descended with militia-like precision on Ahmedabad by the thousands.”

The report further described the unfolding of the targeted attacks, saying, “Chanting slogans of incitement to kill...they were guided by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their properties...and embarked on a murderous rampage confident that the police was with them.”

Alleging that portions of the Gujarati language press had printed fabricated stories and statements openly calling on Hindus to avenge the Godhra attacks, the text of the resolution further noted that “Where justice has been delivered in Gujarat, it has been in spite of the State government, not because of it.”

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BP in $7.8-billion settlement

From The Hindu

Oil major BP has agreed to pay $7.8 billion in a settlement reached with claimants affected by the spill from one of its wells in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.

Commenting on the landmark settlement reached with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, which acts on behalf of individual and business plaintiffs in the multi-state proceedings ongoing in New Orleans, Bob Dudley, BP CEO, said, “The proposed settlement represents significant progress toward resolving issues from the Deepwater Horizon accident and contributing further to economic and environmental restoration efforts along the Gulf Coast.”

In a statement BP noted that it expected that the cost of the proposed settlement would be paid from the $20-billion escrow-account Trust, and would include a promise by BP to make good on $2.3 billion worth of economic loss sustained by the Gulf seafood industry.

The latest settlement comes in the wake of a string of filings and counter-filings between BP and the other corporations associated with the operation of the Deepwater Horizon rig, whose explosion in 2010 killed 11 workers and spewed four million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

Even as an unprecedented and costly operation to halt the leakage and mop up the oil followed, BP in a lawsuit alleged that one of its contracting companies, Halliburton, had destroyed vital evidence relating to the explosion. By late last year Halliburton had already slammed BP with a lawsuit over “for negligent misrepresentation, business disparagement and defamation.” BP has also sued other companies including rig owner Transocean and manufacturer of a failed blowout preventer, Cameron International.

Yet the Obama administration has kept up pressure on BP. Speaking on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill President Barack Obama said, “We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they have done and the painful losses that they have caused.”

In an interview with The Hindu, Kenneth Feinberg, Mr. Obama's “pay czar” charged with disbursing compensation from the $20 billion fund, said that BP as the “wrongdoer” had to step up and “pay the freight” of the compensation programme. At the time Mr. Feinberg said that that although $3.6 billion had already been disbursed to over 200,000 claimants, the emotional side of the disaster should not be disregarded, in particular the fact that many individuals, families and businesses had seen their livelihoods wiped out.

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Norwegian envoy to U.S. refutes insinuation by Hindu organisation

From The Hindu

When Norway's Ambassador to the United States, Wegger Christian Strømmen, met with a Hindu organisation in Washington on January 25, he intended to explain the workings of the Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS) system in the context of the CWS removing two Indian children from their parents, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya, and taking them into its care.

However, he was in for a surprise. A few days ahead of their meeting with the Ambassador the Hindu America Foundation (HAF) launched an online petition with the title... “Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen: Reunite Indian Family in Norway: Feeding Children by Hand is Not Abuse,” apparently linking the Ambassador to remarks on a sub judice case in Norway.

While the removal of three-year old Abhigyan and one-year old Aishwarya from their parents raised a stormy debate in India on the merits of the CWS' actions, Mr. Strømmen told The Hindu of the HAF's petition, “I think what they did is that they attributed to me [certain points] on the merits of the case itself, which is not the case at all... That is not the truth.”

Media reports have suggested that the Bhattacharya children were placed in the CWS' care for reasons relating to how they were fed and their sleeping conditions and home. However in remarks sent to The Hindu by the Norwegian Embassy here, officials denied the charge.

They said that while the specific reasons for the children's removal from their parents were confidential, “What we can say is that the decision had nothing to do with the children being fed by hand or sleeping in the same bed as the parents. There must, therefore, be compelling grounds for placing a child in care outside the home. Deviation from usual norms does not constitute sufficient grounds for placing a child in care.”

Regarding the controversy surrounding the HAF petition, the Ambassador clarified that he was indeed interested in understanding the HAF's view on the case after a decision was made on the case “that everyone agreed with,” and had said to the HAF that he would be willing to engage in a discussion with them at that point.

Yet, Mr. Strømmen emphasised that he would be drawn into commenting on the case itself, saying “I have been a magistrate myself, in the 1980s... Having been a magistrate, I have all the respect for the judiciary. Although I could easily say something about that it would be wrong because [the case] is in the hands of the [courts].”

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N. Korea has agreed to n-moratorium: U.S.

From The Hindu

United States officials on Wednesday confirmed that North Korea has agreed to halt nuclear tests and activities and implement a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile development in exchange for a U.S. package of 240,000 metric tonnes of food aid.

Announcing the critical breakthrough in negotiations, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the North Korean agreement would include suspension of uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon and also permission for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to return “to verify and monitor the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities... and confirm the disablement of the 5-MW reactor and associated facilities”.

Noting that a U.S. delegation had just returned from Beijing after a third exploratory round of talks with North Korea, Ms. Nuland however reiterated that it still had “profound concerns regarding North Korean behaviour across a wide range of areas,” but Wednesday's announcement reflected “important, if limited, progress” in addressing some of these concerns.

Outlining some of the key points emerging from the February 23-24 discussions in Beijing, the State Department said the U.S. reaffirmed that it “does not have hostile intent toward the DPRK and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality”.

This included the U.S.' commitment to the September 2005 Joint Statement, officials said, adding that U.S. and North Korean nutritional assistance teams would meet in the “immediate future to finalise administrative details on a targeted U.S. program consisting of an initial 240,000 metric tonnes of nutritional assistance with the prospect of additional assistance based on continued need.”

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Romney staves off a fierce challenge

From The Hindu

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, consolidated his position as the frontrunner in the Republican presidential nominee race as he swept up important victories in primary contests in his home State of Michigan and in Arizona on Tuesday.
Staving off a fierce challenge in both States from the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, Mr. Romney garnered slightly over 41 per cent of the vote in Michigan and 47.3 per cent of the vote in Arizona. Mr. Santorum won nearly 38 per cent and 26.6 per cent respectively, garnering second place in both States.

Possibly indicating the White House's expectation that Mr. Romney may ultimately win the nomination, President Barack Obama, during a speech to the United Auto Workers labour union, referenced a 2008 op-ed by Mr. Romney titled “Let Detroit go Bankrupt”. “Think about what that choice would have meant for this country,” said Mr. Obama, adding, “All of you, the men and women who built [General Motors, Chrysler and Ford] with your own hands, would have been hung out to dry.”

A jubilant Mr. Romney said in Detroit, “Great victory in Arizona. Thank you, Michigan. What a win. This is a big night. A week ago the pundits and the pollsters were ready to count us out.”

Mr. Santorum similarly underscored the surge in popularity he has enjoyed over the last few rounds, saying, “A month ago they didn't know who we are... They do now.”

Mr. Romney's sweep of Arizona will net him all 29 delegates moving him a step closer to the 1,144 total that he needs to secure the nomination. In Michigan the 30 delegates will be distributed on a proportional basis.

Both candidates and others still in the race — including libertarian Ron Paul and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich — will now be focussed on “Super Tuesday” on March 6 when a total of 10 States will head to the polls and the candidates will be competing for 400 delegates.

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