Budget session cut short without passing key reforms

(Reuters) May 8- India cut short the budget session of parliament on Wednesday, two days ahead of its scheduled close and without passing major reforms like the food security and the land acquisition bills.
The session, one of the least productive on record, has been disrupted for two weeks by opposition demands for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his law minister over a federal police investigation into how the government awarded coal concessions to private and state companies.
Two long-stalled economic reforms - one to lift the foreign ownership cap in insurers to 49 percent from 26 percent and another that would simplify land acquisition for factories - were expected to be passed in the legislature during the budget session but ended up being side-tracked by the political ruckus.
The food security bill, which aims to give millions more people cheap food, is seen as crucial to the ruling Congress party's hopes of reelection.
(Reporting by Anurag Kotoky, editing by Ross Colvin)

North Korea threats: US to move missile defences to Guam

Inside N Korea

North Korea has threatened to target the US and South Korea in recent weeks.
Its statement came amid warnings from US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel that North Korea is a "real and clear danger" to the US and its allies.
In a further development on Thursday, Pyongyang again blocked South Korean access to the Kaesong joint industrial zone 10km (six miles) inside North Korea. It was the second day the North had blocked the border crossing.
Another statement from the North threatened to close the complex down if the South's puppet conservative group and its media continue bad-mouthing [us]".
The US Department of Defense said on Wednesday it would deploy the ballistic Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (Thaad) in the coming weeks.
Should we be worried? The Korean crisis - in 90 seconds
The Thaad system includes a truck-mounted launcher, interceptor missiles and AN/TPY-2 tracking radar, together with an integrated fire control system.
The Pentagon said the missile system would be moved to Guam, a US territory with a significant US military presence, as a "precautionary move to strengthen our regional defence posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat".
"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and stands ready to defend US territory, our allies, and our national interests," the Pentagon added.
The US had already planned to send a Thaad system to Guam, but not under these circumstances, analysts say.
Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Group, told the BBC that the Pentagon's decision to speed up the transfer underlines how seriously Washington is taking Pyongyang's threats, but it should be viewed as a purely defensive move, not an escalation.
He said the Thaad system would only protect Guam and the surrounding area, and would not cover South Korea or Japan.

Timeline: Korean tensions

  • 12 Dec: North launches a rocket, claiming to have put a satellite into orbit
  • 12 Feb: North conducts underground nuclear test
  • 11 Mar: US-South Korea annual military drills begin
  • 19 Mar: US flies B-52 bombers over South
  • 27 Mar: North cuts military hotline with South
  • 28 Mar: US flies B-2 stealth bombers over South
  • 30 Mar: North says it is entering a "state of war" with South
  • 2 Apr: North says it is restarting Yongbyon reactor
On Wednesday, a statement attributed to the North Korean military said: "We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating US hostile policy towards the DPRK [North Korea] and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK, and that the merciless operation of its revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified."
It warned war could break out on the Korean peninsula as early as "today or tomorrow".
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the statement was "unhelpful and unconstructive".
"It is yet another offering in a long line of provocative statements that only serve to further isolate North Korea from the rest of the international community and undermine its goal of economic development," she said.
The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Seoul says few observers believe North Korea has rockets or miniaturised weapons that could hit the US mainland.
Pyongyang could be seeking to pressure Washington to open fresh talks, hoping for a formal peace treaty, he adds.
In recent weeks, North Korea has mentioned military bases in Guam and the US state of Hawaii as possible targets.
"As they have ratcheted up her bellicose, dangerous rhetoric, and some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger," said Mr Hagel, in his first major speech since taking up his post.
He added that Pyongyang had also threatened the interests of South Korea and Japan.
The North has apparently been angered by UN sanctions imposed after a recent nuclear test. Pyongyang escalated its rhetoric amid the current round of US-South Korea military drills.
The US has recently made a series of high-profile flights of stealth fighters and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea.
Officials have also confirmed that the USS John McCain, a destroyer capable of intercepting missiles, has been positioned off the Korean peninsula.
William Cohen warned Kim Jong-un could spark a war with South Korea, in part because of his inexperience
A second destroyer, the USS Decatur, has been sent to the region.
China, the North's only powerful ally, said it had despatched officials on Tuesday to hold talks with ambassadors from North Korea, South Korea and the US.
On Wednesday North Korea closed the border crossing to the jointly-run Kaesong industrial park - the first time such action has been taken since 2009.
The complex is the last significant symbol of co-operation and is a key revenue source for North Korea.
The South Korean Unification Ministry on Thursday denied reports that North Korea had demanded South Korean workers quit Kaesong by 10 April.
It said the reports were based on a misunderstanding of a notice from the North.
A Wary Easter Weekend for Christians in Syria DAMASCUS, Syria — Torches flickered outside the church. Little girls wore their sparkly Easter best. Children bearing lanterns filed out through the heavy gilt doors, as worshipers carried an icon of Jesus and a cross covered with carnations.
But the Good Friday procession at St. Kyrillos Church here in Syria’s capital did not follow the route it had taken for generations. No drums or trumpets announced its presence. The marchers made a tight circle inside the iron-gated courtyard, then headed back into the church, a hedge against the mortar shells like the one that hit a hospital across the street recently. At pauses in their singing, gunfire rattled, not more than a few blocks away. Easter weekend is usually the year’s most festive for Syria’s Christians, but this year, it is infused with grave uncertainty. Christians here say they primarily fear the general chaos enveloping the country as the war enters its third year. But like members of Syria’s other religious minorities, many Christians also fear what they see as the rise of extremists among the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. As they gathered in small knots in the church courtyard — which on a normal Good Friday would have been packed — many parishioners wondered aloud where they would be next Easter. “Either everything will be O.K. in one year, or there will be no Christians here,” said Ilias, 20, a man who, like some other Christians quoted in this article, was willing to give only a first name. At the church on Friday night, many parishioners said the coexistence of Christians and Muslims was deeply ingrained in Syrian society, and they did not believe that the rebels were targeting them because of their religion. Their main fear was that Christians, perceived as wealthy, were targets for financially motivated kidnappers. But they worried that the equilibrium had changed. They have heard stories of churches being burned. They are hosting Christians who have fled Damascus suburbs as fighting encroached, some of them saying they were pushed out by hostile Sunni fighters. Although the nominal rebel leadership outside the country has vowed that all sects will be treated equally if Mr. Assad falls, some rebel groups inside Syria have called for an Islamic state. That means different things to different people, but some fighters have alarmed Christians by calling for archaic practices from the days of the caliphates, like taxing religious minorities. “There are strangers who are against the way we used to live together,” said Nancy, 16, who was heading home for her family’s usual Easter feast, a classically Syrian meal of kibbe — bulgur wheat stuffed with meat — and tabbouleh. “The only way to split Syria was through sectarianism,” she said. “They want to split the Christians from the other sects.” The government and rebels blame each other for introducing sectarianism into the conflict. The government has long portrayed the uprising, which began as a peaceful protest movement, as fueled by foreign-driven Muslim extremism. The rebels say the government, dominated by Mr. Assad’s Shiite Alawite sect, stoked fear among minorities to keep them loyal. There are some Christians among the opposition, but not a critical mass. Syria has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world and one of the largest in the Middle East — about 10 percent of the population. (Most Syrian Christians are Eastern Orthodox and will celebrate Easter on May 5.) Christians have long been prominent among the country’s elite, and before the Baath Party coup that led to Assad family rule, a Christian, Fares al-Khoury, served as prime minister. “The Christians in Syria are the only ones left in the region,” said Bashar Ilias, a theological student and social worker who distributes church donations to people displaced by the fighting. “If they leave, Christianity will lose its roots.” Unlike some Christian factions in Lebanon, which claim to be descended from the ancient Phoenicians, Syria’s Christians generally pride themselves on their Arab heritage and see themselves an integral part of the region. Most church services are in Arabic; Arabic inscriptions are carved on the marble walls of ornate churches. At St. Kyrillos Church in the Qassaa neighborhood on Friday, a haunting melody seemed to meld with the sweet, waxy smell of votive candles: the song “Ya Habibi,” Mary’s lament for Jesus, beloved throughout the Arab world as a classic in the repertory of the Lebanese diva Fairouz. Most Christians interviewed emphasized that Syrian Muslims were largely tolerant, and blamed the influence of Saudi Arabia and foreign fighters for sectarianism. But amid the atmosphere of fear, many have begun to speak of the conflict in religious terms. “The Christians in Syria are being crucified in Syria for the church,” Mr. Ilias said as he visited an elderly friend, Janette Shaheen, after services. “Jesus was oppressed once, but we are being oppressed every day,” added Mrs. Shaheen, who lives near a church that has been shelled several times. Mr. Ilias added: “If someone is born a Muslim, I can’t say he’s the devil. His action is an evil action, but he’s human.” But Syrian Muslims, he said, “acknowledge the existence of others.” Rhumba maestro Koffi Olomide charged for raping his 3 dancing queens A FRENCH judge has charged Congolese music star Koffi Olomide with three counts of rape and illegal confinement after complaints from three of his former backup dancers, his lawyer has diclosed. Olomide on stage with some of his dancers "Koffi Olomide went Monday afternoon of his own free will to answer a summons by an investigating judge in (the Parisian suburb of) Nanterre, where he was charged," Olomide's lawyer Manuel Aeschlimann told AFP.
The singer has since returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said, without waiting for a French ruling on whether he should be held without bail. Aeschlimann said a former dancer had filed a complaint in 2006 and that two years later two more dancers followed suit. One of the plaintiffs was a minor at the time of the alleged sexual assaults. He said the case against Olomide was "empty and hollow. There is no material evidence and the statements of the three women who accuse him of rape contain numerous contradictions." Aeschlimann alleged that the women filed the complaints in the hopes of obtaining temporary French residency permits. And in another development in Zimbambwe, a rapist was arrested after falling asleep on top of his victim A man who raped a 72-year-old woman and dozed off shortly after attaining his orgasm was arrested after he was caught by neighbours fast asleep and naked inside her house. Zimbabwean Strive Vhune, 26, broke into the elderly woman's house in the south-eastern district of Chivi, raped her, and then fell asleep. The woman went out to alert neighbours who caught him on the scene naked and handed him to the police. "The suspect fell asleep soon after raping the woman who then took advantage and alerted neighbours who managed to apprehend him after he fled from the bedroom hut while stark naked," police spokesman Tineyi Matake told the Herald newspaper. "Vhune is in custody while police finalise investigations and he will appear in court soon," Matake said. [Source: AFP] BRAVE mum was savaged to death by the family dog in front of her five children as she tried to stop it attacking them. Petite Cassandra Smith, 49, leapt in to fight off the frenzied Alsatian when it went for daughters Charlotte, 28, and Annette, 26. But the snarling animal flew at her and sank its jaws into her face and throat. Her five terrified kids — including Shelley, 25, Kayleigh, 21, and Jayson, 30 — looked on screaming in horror. As their mum lay in a pool of blood in the living room of their flat, the children managed to escape and knock on a neighbour's door for help. But despite attempts to revive her, popular Cassandra — known as Cassie — died at the scene.
Neighbour and pal William Brown, 49, told yesterday how he found the three-year-old dog she got only six months ago "chewing her face". He sobbed: "Cassie's kids came here screaming 'Mum's dead, Mum's dead'.

I ran to her flat and she was on the living room floor covered in blood. The Alsatian was chewing her face. "It was a horrible thing to see. We think the dog went for her and she had a heart attack through blood loss or as a result of the shock. "I tried to revive her with CPR but it was no good, she was already dead when the ambulance turned up. It's an awful thing — Cassie was wonderful.
Police were called to the flat in Nuneaton, Warks, at 8.15am on Tuesday. A spokesman said: "We are treating the death as unexplained and not suspicious at this time." The dog is believed to have been taken away by officers. Cassie's distraught children were being looked after by relatives last night. Yesterday friends wept as they laid floral tributes outside the flat. Maxine Spencer, 34, said: "Cassie lived for her kids and would do anything for them. She was trying to defend them by stroking the dog and calming it down." Neighbour Sylvia Foster, 74, added: "Cassie was so caring and lovely. She was only small — she wouldn't have stood a chance against a big dog. Everyone here is shocked." Other friends left tributes to the mum of five on a Facebook memorial page called RIP Cassie. Chantell Harrison wrote: "You'll be missed by many. Thinking of you and your family."

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