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Archive for February 22nd, 2011

Over 500 Indian workers sue US firm for human trafficking

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2011

http://in.news.yahoo.com/over-500-indian-workers-sue-us-firm-for-human-trafficking.html

PTI – Tue, Feb 22, 2011 6:35 PM IST

Houston: Lawyers for a group of Indian guest workers, trafficked to the US from India to work in ship yards after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have sued an American company, Signal International, along with its co-conspirators and other entities for human trafficking and racketeering.

If class status is granted, the lawsuit could be the largest human trafficking case in US history, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said in a statement.

Workers were allegedly lured here with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent US residents, the statement said.

The ACLU joined a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of over 500 guest workers from India charging that the workers were trafficked into the US through the federal government’s H-2B guest worker programme with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent US residents and subjected to squalid living conditions, fraudulent payment practises, and threats of serious harm upon their arrival.

The complaint alleges that recruiting agents hired by the marine industry company Signal International held the guest workers’ passports and visas, coerced them into paying extraordinary fees for recruitment, immigration processing and travel, and threatened the workers with serious legal and physical harm if they did not work under the Signal-restricted guest worker visa.

The complaint also alleges that once in the US, the men were required to live in Signal’s guarded, over crowded labour camps, subjected to psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their work.

The ACLU charges that the federal government has fallen short of its responsibility to protect the rights of guest workers in this country.

According to the lawsuit, the treatment of the workers violates the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO).

In addition to the federal court litigation, in partnership with the ACLU, the workers have testified before the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and senior staff at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Signal, a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, is a subcontractor for several major multinational companies.

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Libya unrest: India readying evacuation plan, 1 Indian killed in accident

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2011

The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Muammar Al Gaddafi

http://in.news.yahoo.com/libya-unrest-india-readying-evacuation-plan-1-indian-20110222-062153-441.html

By Indo Asian News Service | IANS – Tue, Feb 22, 2011 7:51 PM IST

New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) With the protests in Libya cascading, the Indian government is is readying a contingency plan to evacuate its nationals residing in the violence-torn country, even as an Indian was killed in a road accident in the North African country.

An Indian was killed and two others injured in a road accident Feb 19, the Indian embassy in Tripoli said, while stressing that the death was not due to due to gunfire in the wake of protests.

Murugaiah, a contract worker from Tamil Nadu, reportedly succumbed to his injuries Monday.

The other Indian nationals are still in the hospital and recuperating, the Indian embassy said, adding that it was in regular touch with the Medical Center.

The story of Murugaiah’s death being a result of firing appears to be incorrect, the embassy said while alluding to some media reports.

India’s ambassador to Libya Manimekalai told CNN-IBN that the government will help in bringing back the body of the deceased, but added that certain procedures will have to be followed. She denied reports of Indians being trapped in a mosque.

New Delhi is keeping a close watch on the developments in the violence-torn North African country.

‘The situation is being closely-monitored by the external affairs ministry and we are in constant touch with the ambassador there. I am happy to inform that all Indians are safe in Libya,’ External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna told reporters outside parliament.

Krishna added that the Indian mission in Libya was in constant touch with Indian citizens there and ‘whatever needs to be done, will be done’.

‘We don’t differentiate between mazdoors and non-mazdoors (labourers and non-labourers). Every Indian is precious to us,’ he said when asked about the help being provided to workers there.

The external affairs ministry is coordinating with other ministries and is ready to fly in planes or send a ship with medical teams to help around 18,000 Indians living in that country if the situation takes a turn for the worse, informed sources said.

Krishna is also understood to have met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and briefed him on steps to ensure the safety and security of Indians in Libya.

Sources, however, added that the government had no immediate plans of evacuation and was monitoring the situation closely.

There was a marathon internal meeting on the situation in the North Africa-West region, with Rajeev Shahare, joint secretary in charge of the region, reviewing measures for the safety of Indians and fine-tuning potential contingency plans.

‘Saw on Stratfor that Turkish Air flight to evacuate their citizens from Benghazi denied permission to land. Returned to Turkey…Please understand that we have 18000 Indians there. It is not a question of evacuating a few hundred people…Situation Room numbers: +91-11-23015300, 23012113, 23018179. Email:controlroom@mea.gov.in’, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao tweeted.

The Indian government has also set up a committee to monitor the situation in Libya and prepare plans to meet any eventuality in the wake of the unprecedented protest against the four-decade old Muammar Gaddafi regime in that country.

‘The committee would comprise the foreign secretary and overseas Indian affairs secretary among others. This committee would be planning to meet any eventuality,’ Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said here Monday.

Libyan Ambassador to India Ali al-Essawi had also reportedly resigned in protest against the Muammar Gaddafi government’s violent crackdown on demonstrators rooting for a change to his four-decade old rule.

The Libyan envoy has called on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to be fair and honest to protect the Libyan people.

With the popular unrest spreading in the Arab world, the external affairs ministry has set up a round-the-clock situation room to assist Indians in in the Middle Eastern and North African regions, home to an over 5-million strong Indian diaspora.

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Earth could be ‘unrecognizable’ by 2050, experts say

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2011

World population curve. A log scale is used fo...

World Population Growth Curve

http://in.news.yahoo.com/earth-could-be–unrecognizable–by-2050.html

Yahoo! India News – Tue, Feb 22, 2011 4:15 PM IST

The earth could become “unrecognizable” by 2050, if a growing affluent global population keeps consuming more resources, researchers warned at a major US science conference.

“By 2050 we will not have a planet left that is recognizable” if the global population continues to increase, said Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The United Nations has predicted the global population will reach seven billion this year, and climb to nine billion by 2050, “with almost all of the growth occurring in poor countries, particularly Africa and South Asia,” said John Bongaarts of the non-profit Population Council.

Meanwhile, as income is expected to rise over the next 40 years — tripling globally and quintupling in developing nations, people tend to consume more meat, eggs or dairy products, which would cost more grains to produce, adding more strain to global food supplies.

“We want to minimize population growth, and the only viable way to do that is through more effective family planning,” said John Casterline, director of the Initiative in Population Research at Ohio State University.

It takes around seven pounds (3.4 kilograms) of grain to produce a pound of meat, and around three to four pounds of grain to produce a pound of cheese or eggs, AFP reported.

“More people, more money, more consumption, but the same planet,” Jason Clay told AFP, urging scientists and governments to start making changes now to how food is produced.

Population experts called for more funding for family planning programs to help control the growth in the number of humans, especially in developing nations.

[Agencies]

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New Zealand quake kills at least 65; race to reach trapped

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2011

http://in.news.yahoo.com/zealand-city-christchurch-hit-strong-earthquake-20110221-162446-287.html

CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – New Zealand rescue teams worked under search lights early Wednesday to find scores of people trapped under collapsed buildings after an earthquake struck the country’s second-biggest city of Christchurch, killing at least 65 people.

About 120 survivors have already been rescued from the rubble, but the death toll is expected to rise following the second strong quake to hit the city of almost 400,000 people in five months.

“We may well be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day…The death toll I have at the moment is 65 and that may rise,” said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who had flown to his home town of Christchurch, where he still has family.

Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude quake struck at lunchtime, when streets and shops thronged with people and offices were still occupied. It was New Zealand’s most deadly natural disaster for 80 years.

Rescuers, working under lights in rain, focused on two collapsed buildings: a financial-services office block whose four stories pancaked on top of each other, and a TV building which also housed an English-language school.

About a dozen Japanese students at the school were believed to be missing, an official in Japan told Reuters, while public broadcaster NHK said several other students from another group in the building were also unaccounted for.

Trapped survivors could be heard shouting out to rescuers from the TV building. Local media say as many as a dozen or more people could still be inside. Relatives of those feared trapped kept a vigil outside the building as rain began to fall.

“All of our energy tonight is really focused on the need to rescue people,” said Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker, estimating 120 people had been pulled out of rubble or rescued so far.

A woman freed from a collapsed building said she had waited for six hours for rescuers to reach her after the quake, which was followed by at least 20 aftershocks.

“I thought the best place was under the desk but the ceiling collapsed on top, I can’t move and I’m just terrified,” office worker Anne Voss told TV3 news by mobile phone.

Christchurch Mayor Parker described the city, a historic tourist town popular with overseas students, as a war zone. He told local radio that up to 200 could be trapped in buildings but later revised that estimate down to around 100 or so.

It was the country’s worst natural disaster since a 1931 quake in the North Island city of Napier which killed 256. Christchurch Hospital saw an influx of injured residents.

“They are largely crushes and cuts types of injuries and chest pain as well,” said David Meates, head of the Canterbury Health Board. Some of the more seriously injured could be evacuated to other cities, he added.

HISTORIC CATHEDRAL IN RUINS

On the way into the city, a Reuters correspondent saw buckled roads, toppled buildings and big pools of water. Police and the army were patrolling the streets.

Christchurch has been described as a little piece of England.

It has an iconic cathedral, now largely destroyed, and a river called the Avon. It had many historic stone buildings, and is popular with English-language students and also with tourists as a springboard for tours of the scenic South Island.

Emergency shelters had also been set up in local schools and at a race course. Helicopters dumped water to try to douse a fire in one tall office building, while a crane was used to help workers trapped in another office block.

“I was in the square right outside the cathedral — the whole front has fallen down and there were people running from there. There were people inside as well,” said John Gurr, a camera technician who was in the city centre when the quake hit.

Aerial TV footage of surroundings suburbs showed once-elegant homes in ruins and roads cut off by huge boulders.

There have been offers of help from the United States and Japan, while neighbouring Australia is sending 148 search and rescue specialists, including sniffer dogs. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth offered her sympathy and said in a statement she was

“utterly shocked” by news of the quake.

STREETS TURN INTO QUICKSAND

Christchurch is built on silt, sand and gravel, with a water table beneath. In a quake, the water rises, mixing with the sand and turning the ground into a swamp, swallowing up roads and cars.

TV footage showed sections of road that had collapsed into a milky, sand-coloured lake beneath the surface. One witness described the footpaths as like “walking on sand”.

Unlike last year’s even stronger tremor, which struck early in the morning when streets were virtually empty, people were walking or driving along streets when the shallow tremor struck, sending awnings and the entire faces of buildings crashing down.

Police said debris had rained down on two buses, crushing them, but there was no word on any casualties.

Fears that the quake could dent confidence in the country’s already fragile economy knocked the New Zealand dollar down by about 1.8 percent from late U.S. levels to $0.75 .

Westpac Bank raised the possibility that the central bank could cut interest rates over the next few weeks in a bid to shore up the economy, while other banks pushed out their expectations for the timing of the next rate increase.

ANZ now expects the central bank to keep rates on hold until the first quarter of 2012.

Shares in Australian banks and insurers, which typically have large operations in New Zealand, fell after the quake.

The quake hit at 12:51 pm (2351 GMT Monday) at a depth of only 4 km (2.5 miles), according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The tremor was centred about 10 km (six miles) southwest of Christchurch, which had suffered widespread damage during last September’s 7.1 magnitude quake but no deaths.

New Zealand sits between the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates and records on average more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, of which about 20 would normally top magnitude 5.0.

(Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota in Singapore; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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Gadhafi’s hold on Libya weakens in protest wave

Posted by Admin on February 22, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110221/ap_on_re_af/af_libya_protests

A man holds a poster of Libyan leader Moammar ...
By MAGGIE MICHAEL, Associated Press Maggie Michael, Associated Press 1 hr 13 mins ago

CAIRO – Deep cracks open up in Moammar Gadhafi‘s regime after more than 40 years in power, with diplomats abroad and the justice minister at home resigning, air force pilots defecting and a fire raging at the main government hall after clashes in the capital Tripoli. Protesters called for another night of defiance in Tripoli’s main square despite the government’s heavy crackdown.

Gadhafi’s regime appeared to be preparing a new major assault in the capital Monday night in an attempt to crush unrest that has already swept the eastern parts of the country — leaving Libya‘s second largest city in protesters’ control — and was now overwhelming the capital of 2 million people.

State TV at nightfall Monday announced that the military had “stormed the hideouts of saboteurs” and called on the public to back the security forces as protesters called for a new demonstration in central Green Square and in front of Gadhafi’s Tripoli residence.

Military warplanes were seen swooping low over the city in the evening, and snipers had taken position on the roofs of buildings around Tripoli, apparently to stop people from outside the capital from joining the march, according to Mohammed Abdul-Malek, a London-based opposition activist in touch with residents.

Communications into the capital appeared to have been cut, and mobile phones of residents could not be reached from outside the country. State TV showed images of hundreds of Gadhafi supporters rallying in central Green Square Monday evening, waving pictures of the Libyan leader and palm fronds.

The eruption of turmoil in the capital after six days of protests and bloody clashes in Libya’s eastern cities sharply escalates the challenge to Gadhafi, the Arab world’s longest ruling leader. His security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. At least 233 people have been killed so far, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The chaos in Libya, an OPEC country that is a significant oil supplier to Europe, was raising international alarm. Oil prices jumped $1.67 to nearly $88 a barrel Monday amid investor concern. European nations were eying an evacuation of their citizens.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting neighboring Egypt, called the Libyan government‘s crackdown “appalling.”

“The regime is using the most vicious forms of repression against people who want to see that country — which is one of the most closed and one of the most autocratic — make progress,” he told reporters in Cairo.

The heaviest fighting so far has been in the east. In Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, security forces opened fire on Sunday on protesters storming police stations and government buildings. But in several instances, units of the military turned against them and sided with protesters.

By Monday, protesters had claimed control of the city, overrunning its main security headquarters, called the Katiba.

Celebrating protesters raised the flag of the country’s old monarchy, toppled in 1969 by a Gadhafi-led military coup, over Benghazi’s main courthouse and on tanks around the city.

“Gadhafi needs one more push and he is gone,” said Amal Roqaqie, a lawyer at the Benghazi court, saying protesters are “imposing a new reality … Tripoli will be our capital. We are imposing a new order and new state, a civil constitutional and with transitional government.”

Gadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, went on state TV in the early hours Monday with a sometimes confused speech of nearly 40 minutes, vowing to fight and warning that if protests continue, a civil war will erupt in which Libya’s oil wealth “will be burned.”

“Moammar Gadhafi, our leader, is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are with him,” he said. “The armed forces are with him. Tens of thousands are heading here to be with him. We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.” he said.

He also promised “historic” reforms in Libya if protests stop, and on Monday state TV said he had formed a commission to investigate deaths during the unrest. Protesters ignored the vague gestures. Even as he spoke, the first clashes between protesters and security forces in the heart of Tripoli were still raging, lasting until dawn.

During the day Monday, a fire raged at the People’s Hall, the main hall for government gatherings where the country’s equivalent of a parliament holds its sessions several times a year, the pro-government news web site Qureyna said.

It also reported the first major sign of discontent in Gadhafi’s government, saying justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil resigned from his post to protest the “excessive use of force against unarmed protesters.”

Libya’s U.N. ambassadors called for Gadhafi to step down, and there were reports of a string of ambassadors abroad defecting. Libya’s former ambassador to the Arab League in Cairo, Abdel-Moneim al-Houni, who a day earlier resigned from his post to side with protesters, issued a statement demanding Gadhafi and his commanders and aides be put on trial for “the mass killings in Libya.”

“Gadhafi’s regime is now in the trash of history because he betrayed his nation and his people,” al-Houni said.

A Libyan diplomat in China, Hussein el-Sadek el-Mesrati, told Al-Jazeera, “I resigned from representing the government of Mussolini and Hitler.”

Two Mirage warplanes from the Libyan airforce fled a Tripoli air base and landed on the nearby island of Malta, and their pilots — two colonels — asked for political asylum, Maltese military officials said.

The capital Tripoli was largely shut down Monday, with schools, government offices and most stores closed, except for a few bakeries serving residents hunkered in their homes, residents said. Outside, armed members of pro-government organizations called “Revolutionary Committees” circulated in the streets hunting for protesters in Tripoli’s old city, said one protester, named Fathi.

Protesters planed new marches Monday evening in the capital’s main Green Square and at the leader’s residence.

A similar march the night before sparked scenes of mayhem in the long heavily secured capital.

Sunday evening, protesters from various parts of the city streamed into Green Square, all but taking over the plaza and surrounding streets in the area between Tripoli’s Ottoman-era old city and its Italian-style downtown. That was when the backlash began, with snipers firing down from rooftops and militiamen attacking the crowds, shooting and chasing people down side streets, according to several witnesses and protests.

Gadhafi supporters in pickup trucks and cars raced through the square, shooting automatic weapons. “They were driving like mad men searching for someone to kill. … It was total chaos, shooting and shouting,” said one 28-year-old protester.

The witnesses reported seeing casualties, but the number could not be confirmed. One witness, named Fathi, said he saw at least two he believed were dead and many more wounded. After midnight, protesters took over the main Tripoli offices of two state-run satellite stations, Al-Jamahiriya-1 and Al-Shebabiya, one witness said.

Fragmentation is a real danger in Libya, a country of deep tribal divisions and a historic rivalry between Tripoli and Benghazi. The system of rule created by Gadhafi — the “Jamahiriya,” or “rule by masses” — is highly decentralized, run by “popular committees” in a complicated hierarchy that effectively means there is no real center of decisionmaking except Gadhafi, his sons and their top aides.

Seif has often been put forward as the regime’s face of reform and is often cited as a likely successor to his father. Seif’s younger brother Mutassim is the national security adviser, with a strong role in the military and security forces, and another brother Khamis heads the army’s 32nd Brigade, which according to U.S. diplomats is the best trained and best equipped force in the military.

The revolt in Benghazi and other cities in the east illustrated the possibility of the country crumbling.

In Benghazi, cars honked their horns in celebration and protesters in the streets chanted “Long live Libya” on Monday after bloody clashes Sunday that killed at least 60 people as security forces defending besieged stations opened fire with heavy caliber machine guns and anti-aircraft guns.

Benghazi’s airport was closed, according to an airport official in Cairo. A Turkish Airlines flight trying to land in Benghazi to evacuate Turkish citizens Monday was turned away, told by ground control to circle over the airport then to return to Istanbul.

There were fears of chaos as young men — including regime supporters — seized weapons from the Katiba and other captured security buildings. “The youths now have arms and that’s worrying,” said Iman, a doctor at the main hospital. “We are appealing to the wise men of every neighborhood to rein in the youths.”

Youth volunteers were directing traffic and guarding homes and public facilities, said Najla, a lawyer and university lecturer in Benghazi. She and other residents said police had disappeared from the streets.

After seizing the Katiba, protesters found the bodies of 13 uniformed security officers inside who had been handcuffed and shot in the head, then set on fire, said Hassan, the doctor. He said protesters believed the 13 had been executed by fellow security forces for refusing to attack protesters.

____

AP correspondents Sarah El Deeb and Hamza Hendawi in Cairo contributed to this report.

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