Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rail Budget forward-looking: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday hailed as "forward-looking" the Rail Budget which has proposed hike in passenger fares in various ranges in different categories.

"The Railway Minister has presented a forward-looking budget with emphasis on safety and modernisation of the Indian Railways," Singh said in a statement.
He said the budget has been formulated against the background of the Railways' responsibilities in meeting the demands of the 12th Five Year Plan.
Presenting his first budget, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi announced hike in passenger fares ranging from 2 paisa per kilometre to 30 paisa per kilometre in various categories of trains while noting that the Railways was passing through a "difficult phase".
He also announced introduction of 75 express trains, 21 passenger trains and extension of 39 trains besides increase in the frequency of 23 trains. Platform tickets have also been raised from Rs 3 to Rs 5.

Merkel Visits Troops in Afghanistan

Angela Merkel arrived for a surprise visit to Germany's Bundeswehr troops deployed . German chancellor said she wants to stick to the planned 2014 withdrawal. Angela Merkel as she arrived under the highest security precautions for a one-day visit to the German Bundeswehr base at Mazar-e-Sharif. Shortly after her arrival, the chancellor expressed her doubts about developments in the crisis-plagued country. Yes, there has been progress, the chancellor said, but not enough to let her safely say, "We will succeed by 2013/2014. The will is there, we want to succeed and we are working on it." The planned date 2014 has been set for the withdrawal of the international security forces currently present in Afghanistan. . The independent German Armed Forces Association welcomed the chancellor's words, praising her new reflectiveness. For their part, the Green Party demanded talks over a possible re-orientation of Germany's Afghanistan strategy. Even German Defense Minister Thomas De Maizière expressed initial surprise as he learned of the news during a trip to Uzbekistan.Merkel quickly saw a need to clarify her statements, and before she boarded her plane to return to Germany, she said, "2014 is the withdrawal date." And it will remain so.She may well have meant that the existing mandate for the Bundeswehr mission remains as it is that the current 4,800 German soldiers in the country are to withdraw by 2014 as long as the security situation permits. But the confusion over Merkel's comments also demonstrates just how great the uncertainty over Afghanistan has become -- among the public, the troops and in political circles.Media agencies


Manila key growth centre for regional expansion, says GCEO



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Tune Hotel Ermita in Central Manila.

More pics can be downloaded from


MANILA, 15 March 2012 – Visitors and travellers seeking comfortable, quality accommodation at highly affordable rates in this capital city need not look any further as Tune Hotels, the international value hotel chain, is now in town.
Mayor of the City of Manila Alfredo S Lim did the honours by officially opening Tune Hotels’ first Manila hotel in Ermita recently. Located in Central Manila, Tune Hotel Ermita offers 167 rooms comprising 117 double, 48 twin sharing and 2 wheelchair-friendly rooms.
Group CEO of Tune Hotels, Mark Lankester said: “We are very excited with the opening of Tune Hotel Ermita, our very first hotel in the capital city. With three more Tune Hotels coming up in Manila this year and next, Manila will be a very important growth centre for our regional expansion. With its international city stature and coupled up with the rigorous economic landscape, Manila attracts tourists and business travellers from across the world and Tune Hotels is proud to serve them all.”
Tune Hotel Ermita is a short drive away from the old city of Manila where centuries old monuments and heritage buildings like the Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, the National Museum and Rizal Park are located. It is also a stone’s throw away from Roxas Boulevard, famous for its row of alfresco restaurants overlooking the Manila Bay. Conveniently located right at the centre of the bustling business and entertainment joints, Tune Hotel Ermita is a perfect choice for travellers who wish to experience both old and modern Manila.
Mark noted that Tune Hotels will also be enticingly appealing to the Filipina diaspora or ‘Balikbayan’ who make their annual trips back to their hometowns via Manila every year.
“Manila and the Philippines as a whole are indeed an important market for Tune Hotels. With the rise of budget travel packages from airlines and increase in business travels, there’s a high demand for no-fuss hotels that would provide affordable, safe, clean, convenient and comfortable accommodations and that’s precisely what Tune Hotels is all about,” added Mark.
Tune Hotels had earlier in February opened Tune Hotel Angeles City in Pampanga that serves as an airport hotel for the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark, followed by Tune Hotel Cebu on the resort island of Cebu. Tune Hotel Ermita, Manila is the third for the whole of Philippines.
Tune Hotels will further expand its operations in the Philippines with Makati, Ortigas and Quezon City in Manila, as well as Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao within this year and 2013. They are part of Tune Hotels’ aggressive expansion plan in collaboration with its Bangkok-based partner Red Planet Hotels, which also include locations in Thailand and Indonesia.
Tune Hotels is part of Tune Group, a lifestyle business conglomerate co-founded by Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Dato’ Kamarudin Meranun, who are the Group CEO and Deputy Group CEO respectively of Asia’s largest low cost carrier AirAsia.
Apart from hotel establishments by Tune Hotels, AirAsia’s Philippine subsidiary AirAsia Inc. (Philippines) will also be commencing its maiden flights this month from its hub at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark.
Tune Hotels has successfully pioneered a branded value hotel brand with the concept of pay-as-you-use that has become hugely popular amongst travellers from across the world. Under the concept, guests only pay for room rates with the option of adding on other amenities like towels & toiletries, air-conditioning, in-room wifi and satellite TV service at selected hotels. Tune Hotels has received over three million guests since the opening of its first hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur in 2007.
Apart from enjoying great value, great savings at Tune Hotels, guests can also enhance their benefits and privileges by becoming a member of the BIG loyalty programme, of which Tune Hotels is a global partner. BIG enables card members to accumulate points when travelling and shopping with BIG partners worldwide, and redeem the accumulated BIG Points for exciting rewards including flight seats on the world’s best low cost carrier, AirAsia.

US defence secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan today on an unscheduled visit. His visit takes place just days after a US soldier shot dead 16 Afghan villagers and injured five others in the southern province of Kandhar on Sunday. During his two day visit US Defence Secretary is likely to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US commanders and troops in Afghanistan and Afghan government officials. His trip also assumes significance as there is escalating anti-American anger over the burning of the copies of Holy Quran and killing of 16 innocent civilians. Mr Leon Penetta has said the recent shooting incident would not affect the US and Nato strategy of a gradual withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014. Investigation is on in the US soldier’s shooting spree in Balandi and Alkozai villages of Panjawai district. The suspected soldier is being detained in Kandahar and the five wounded villagers are undergoing treatment at a military hospital.

At least one Afghan security officer was killed in an motorcycle bomb blast in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. The blast occurred as an official Afghan delegation was investigating the killing of 16 civilians. No member of the delegation was wounded or killed. Yesterday, an Afghan government delegation attending a memorial service for U.S. soldier's victims was also attacked killing one policeman and injuring another. Three attackers were also killed in the incident.

Americans Oppose a military strike

1) Only one in four Americans favors Israel conducting a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, according to a new poll, the Program on International Policy Attitudes reports. Seven in ten (69%) favor the US and other major powers continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran, a position that is supported by majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (79%) and Independents (67%).

If Israel goes ahead with a military strike against Iran's nuclear program and Iran retaliates, but not against American targets, only 25% favor the US providing military forces if Israel requests them (though support is a bit higher among Republicans at 41%. Another 14% favors the US providing diplomatic support only. Few would support open opposition. The most popular position is for the US to take a neutral stance, which is supported by 49%.

2) Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are now calling for a reassessment of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, suggesting that it may be time to withdraw troops sooner than the Obama administration has planned, the New York Times reports. Republicans are now evenly split over whether the war in Afghanistan has been "worth fighting," according to a new poll by ABC News and The Washington Post, the Times notes.

3) The Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns, the New York Times reports. A plan backed by Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser, would be to announce that at least 10,000 more troops would come home by the end of December, and then 10,000 to 20,000 more by June 2013. Vice President Biden Jr. has been pushing for a bigger withdrawal that would reduce the bulk of the troops around the same time the mission shifts to a support role. Military commanders, meanwhile, want to maintain troops in Afghanistan as long as possible.

4) Administration officials said they would pick an American to head the World Bank, the New York Times reports. Officials in the Group of 20 said American officials informed them recently of their intention to "retain control of the bank" [that's how the New York Times put it - JFP.] Possible contenders include Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN; Indra Nooyi, the chief executive of PepsiCo; and Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary, the Times says.

5) Two U.N. soldiers from Pakistan have been sentenced to a year in prison for raping a 14-year-old Haitian boy after being convicted in a Pakistani military trial in Haiti, Reuters reports. It was the first time that members of the U.N. military on deployment in Haiti have been tried and sentenced within its borders. The U.N. military mission has faced a growing image problem in Haiti, with some of its members accused of responsibility for introducing a deadly cholera epidemic, Reuters notes.

Several UN soldiers have also been accused of rape, in addition to the Pakistanis, in cases that have fueled public protests and demands that members of the U.N. force be stripped of their immunity and face trial in Haitian courts. Haitian government authorities said were given no advance notice of the Pakistani military tribunal.

6) Rising gasoline prices are driving down Obama's poll numbers to parity with Republicans, the Washington Post reports. [Since the threat of war and sanctions on Iran are a key contributor to higher gas prices, this is something liberal Democrats might wish to consider - JFP.]

Uttar Pradesh, all major political parties including Samajwadi Party, Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress today demanded thorough probe into assets of out going Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati. Talking to media persons today at Lucknow on the sidelines of a function Chief Minister designate and Samajwadi Party state unit President Akhilesh Yadav demanded an inquiry by the Enforcement Directorate into the assets of Mayawati earned by her during last eight years specifically during her just concluded tenure as chief Minister. He said that Mayawati herself has accepted in her affidavit with Rajya Sabha nomination that she has earned about 112 crore of property.

Congress spokes person Dwijendra Tripathi and BJP spokes person Vijay Bahadur Pathak have also demanded probe. AIR Lucknow correspondent reports that in 2010 when Mayawati had contested Legislative Council elections she had declared her total assets of 88 crore. A close look into her latest declaration reveals that increase in her wealth in the period of 58 months of her rule was 59 crore, a growth of 1 crore rupees per month.
Debate on Lokpal Bill in first half of Par session: Bansal

The government on Wednesday said it wants to bring the bill to set up anti-corruption ombudsman, Lokpal, in Rajya Sabha during the first part of the current Budget session of Parliament.

Replying to a notice given by Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley seeking suspension of the Question Hour to resume debate on the Lokpal bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P K Bansal said the government has studied the 187 amendments moved by Opposition and allies in ruling alliance since debate on the bill was adjourned after the House was adjourned sine die on 29th December.
"We want to bring the bill within this part of session itself," he said. His statement marked a change of stand by government as the minister on the session eve press conference had said it would be difficult to take up the bill in the first part due to financial business.
Bansal said the Lokpal and the Lokayukta Bills have been kept on top of the list of business to be conducted during the Budget session of Parliament.
Listing the priority for the government for first part of the Budget session which ends on 30th March, he said the Motion of Thanks to the President's Address will be taken up first, followed by passing of General and Rail Budget and Lokpal Bill will be taken up thereafter.
"Notwithstanding the primacy that is accorded to passing of financial business, the government wishes to bring the (Lokpal) bill for further discussion in this part of the session," he said.
"The government has studied the amendments and we have formulated our views," he said when Opposition members pressed for a response to the amendments moved.
The Government is committed to put in place a "strong mechanism to check corruption," Bansal said adding the UPA government wanted to hold consultations with the Opposition on the amendments moved and passing of the bill.
He disagreed with Jaitley who had cited rule 257 to state that discussion on Lokpal Bill has to be taken up since it remained inconclusive when the House was adjourned sine die.
"There are other bills which we deferred...which were not concluded," Bansal said.
Paes-Stepanek in quarters of Indian Wells Masters

Australian Open winners Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek saw off a stiff resistance from Juan Monaco and Kei Nishikori to advance to the quarter-finals of the ATP Indian Wells Masters in USA.

The seventh-seeded Indo-Czech pair scored a tough 7-6(5) 6-4 win in the second round over their unseeded opponents.
They will now fight it out with giant-killing Spanish pair of Marc Lopez and Rafael Nadal for a place in the last-four stage.
Lopez and Nadal had knocked out third seeds Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic in their opening round.
The Indian pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna had suffered a first round exit in the USD 4,694,969 hard court event.
They had lost to French pair of Julien Benneteau and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Sania-Vesnina in quarters at Indian Wells

Sania Mirza and her Russian Partner has moved to quarter-finals of the WTA Indian Wells Premier event after scoring a hard fought win over Timea Bacsinszky and Alberta Brianti, in Indian Wells.

The second seeds dominated the proceedings in the beginning but lost the second set before winning the second round match 6-1 3-6 10-2.
They face Argentine pair of Gisela Dulko and Paola Suarez in the last-eight stage match.
Sania had exited the singles event after losing the second round match against Anabel Medina Garrigues.

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