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Assam Ferry Tragedy, 270 Still Missing

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         Assam Ferry Tragedy, 270 Still Missing Guwahati: The toll in Monday’s Assam ferry tragedy, possibly India’s worst such accident, is estimated to be around 270, with the search and rescue parties failing to recover even a single missing person Tuesday, an official said.

Only 80 people could be rescued during the search and rescue operations, on since the accident in Dhubri district Monday evening, and most of the other estimated 350 passengers remained missing till Tuesday evening, the official said.
“Some bodies were fished out till late Monday night by rescuers but it is difficult to estimate the toll as some relatives of the deceased have taken the bodies home for burial,” said a district administration official, adding that only 17 bodies were sent for post-mortem.
“It’s almost 24 hours after the tragedy now and there is hardly any chance that anyone is alive. Some of the survivors also told us that most of the passengers of the ferry were women and children,” said the official.
Another official said: “We are yet to ascertain the exact number of passengers on the ferry. As per our information, about 240 passengers bought tickets but there were passengers without tickets too.”
Abdul Aziz, a survivor, said there were over 300 passengers on the ferry. A Border Security Force (BSF) official, overseeing the rescue operations, said it was possible that the bodies may have floated downstream. “We have been continuing with the rescue operation since last evening. However, there is a strong undercurrent in the river and the bodies might have been washed away,” said S. Kumar, adding, “We are going to continue the rescue and search operation till evening and then we would have to call it off.”
BSF water wing’s deputy commandant Rajesh Bhandoria said the search was on, though so far unsuccessful. “Till 5 p.m. Tuesday, we were not able to find even a single body,” he said.
All border outposts (BOPs) of BSF’s 22 and 162 Battalions along the Brahmaputra have been alerted to look for survivors and search for dead bodies.
Apart from this, BSF has also established contact with the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) at Dhaka and also with its sector commander at Rangpur and battalion commander at Kurigram. “We have also requested to sensitize their riverine BOPs for carrying out search for survivors and look for the dead bodies and make immediate arrangements to hand over the same to BSF,” said a BSF spokesperson in Delhi.
Apart from the 20 deep water divers of the BSF, the district administration had also used the services of helicopters to step up the search and rescue operation from Tuesday morning.
Two senior cabinet ministers, Chandan Brahma and Nazrul Islam, rushed to the Fakirganj area on Tuesday morning to take stock of the situation. “We have already ordered an inquiry into the whole incident to find out as to what is the exact cause of the tragedy — whether it is the overloading of passengers or the weather,” said Brahma.
He also assured the local people of improving the communication infrastructure to Fakirganj. “We have already arranged for technically sophisticated motor launches to ply between Dhubri and Fakirganj and the new motor launches will arrive by next week,” he said and added that the government had already sanctioned a bridge over the Brahmaputra river to connect Jaleswar and Dhubri. “The construction of the bridge will start soon,” he added.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, expressed his shock over the tragedy and announced compensation of Rs.2 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased.
Apart from that, the Assam government has also an announced ex-gratia payment of Rs.1.5 lakh each to the next of kin of the victims. The kin will also get another amount of Rs.50,000 each from the Mukhya Mantrir Jibanjyoti Bima Achoni, a life insurance scheme of the state government that covers anyone in the age group of 3-80 years.
The state government had also announced that all the seriously injured passengers of the ferry will be given Rs.50,000 each besides making arrangements for free treatment to all the victims.
All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badaruddin Ajmal has also announced that the party will give financial assistance of Rs.2 crore to all the victims of the tragedy. All the 18 legislators of the AIUDF has also agreed to contribute their one month’s salary for the overall help of the victims of the tragedy.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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