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Over A Crore Take Ganga Dip As Maha Kumbh Begins

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 kumbhAllahabad: The world’s largest gathering of people, the 55-day Maha Kumbh congregation, began in this north India town Monday with over a crore people, led by the ash-smeared Naga ascetics, taking a dip at the Sangam – the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers.

Officials said the number could go up as the bathing would go on till late night on Makar Sankranti Monday. Divisional Commissioner of Allahabad Devesh Chaturvedi said that the first day with record devotees passed off peacefully. About 50 lakh people had bathed in the holy river by noon and the figure was pegged at 82 lakh at 4 p.m.
Elaborate arrangements were made on the VIP ghat, where the 13 sects of sadhus lead bathers in a mutually agreed sequence.
The fraternity was led by Maha Nirvani Akhada and was followed by Niranjani, Anand, Juna and Bairagi akahadas, among others.
As the clock struck five Monday morning, heavily decked-up chariots, some in silver and gold, wound their way to the Sangam, with hundreds following in procession on foot, beating drums and blowing conch shells.
There was a mad frenzy in the foreign and national media, with photographers rushing to get winner shots of the naked, ash-smeared Naga sadhus jumping into the chilly waters of the Ganga. Before they did so, the sadhus danced and threw garlands at the press gallery in gay abandon, waving to hundreds of followers on the other side.
Carrying silver tridents, maces, axes and swords, some of the sadhus with flowing beards said they felt on top of the world as they “touched mother Ganges”.
“This is an electrifying moment,” said a visibly elated 75-year-old Mokshanand from Vrindavan, who said he this was his seventh Kumbh in a row.
Several rows of sand bags have been piled up on the three-km ‘bathing stretch’, said Mani Prasad Misra, the ‘mela adhikari’, in-charge of Kumbh 2013.
Misra said arrangements had been made to ensure that the Ganges flowed “well and clean” during the major bathing days. A special team of 10,000 sweepers have been pressed into service to keep the area clean.
“Deep water barricading has been done and an extensive presence of ‘jal’ police has also been pressed into service to avoid mishaps,” Additional Director General of Police (ADG) Law and Order Arun Kumar said.
Policemen from Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring Uttarakhand were on vigil. Many policemen were seen blowing whistles to keep crowds in order, while some were spotted showing lost devotees the way.
While some thought of the large crowd as a “spiritual mayhem”, there were those who bit their nails as they watched Naga sadhus into the water.
For the hundreds who have not been able to reach the bathing sites, 13 huge LED screens, both mobile and stationary, were playing the recording of the bathing sessions.
An army of mediapersons is covering the event. Over 100 foreign journalists and more than 500 local and national journalists are present here. Special arrangements have been made for the coverage, likely to be beamed across the globe.
Emerging from the cold waters of the Sangam, Indu Rani, a 70-year-old widow from Punjab, said she had arrived here on instructions from her guru who stays in Vrindavan. “I cannot explain the feeling when one takes a dip in the Ganga Maiyya (mother),” an elated Indu said.
Chavi Sharma, working with an IT consultancy firm in Kolkata, confessed that she was amazed to see such a mammoth gathering. “I had heard of it, but to actually be part of something so momentous feels so cool,” she said.

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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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