Tuesday, January 31, 2012

3,000mw Power Plant : Nepal offers partnership

Seeks transit from Mongla Port.

Nepal yesterday proposed setting up a 3,000-megawatt power plant in a joint venture with Bangladesh and also sought transit from Mongla port to Banglabandha land port in Panchagarh district. 

Nepalese Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun made the proposal at a meeting with Finance Minister AMA Muhith at the latter's secretariat office. 

After the meeting, Muhith told reporters that Nepal wanted to export power to Bangladesh, but for that, Dhaka would need to be an equity partner in a joint-venture plant in the Himalayan country. 

Nepal has huge resources for hydropower, but its potentials remain untapped for lack of investment, Muhith observed.

The Bangladesh government has also been thinking of setting up joint-venture power plants in Bhutan. 

Apart from power projects, yesterday's meeting focused on the issue of transit to India, Nepal and Bhutan.
The finance minister said Kathmandu had requested Dhaka to allow its trucks to ply between Banglabandha and Mongla. Currently, trucks from Nepal are allowed to travel up to 200 kilometres inside Bangladesh.

Last month, a core committee formed to make recommendations on the transit issue submitted its report to the commerce ministry. The three neighbouring countries to be given the facility will be charged a flat-rate transit fee on the basis of recommendations made in the report, Muhith said.

He added that some concessions might be offered to low-income countries.

The core committee's report will be sent to the three countries and transit fees and other issues will be settled through discussions with them.

Muhith also said the tenure of a water transit protocol signed with India would expire in March and Bangladesh would try to finalise the transit fees before that. Otherwise, the protocol's tenure will be extended as per the previous terms. 

However, the transit fees that Bangladesh charges India now will be increased.

Muhith said there was no bar to giving India transit through Ashuganj but infrastructure should be improved for that. 

The Nepalese finance minister came to Dhaka on January 29 to attend the Saarc finance ministers' meeting.

Tipaimukh hasn't started yet: FM

The foreign minister on Monday told parliament that India's proposed Tipaimukh project has no water diversion system and it would only be constructed to produce hydroelectricity and control flooding.

During a question-answer session Dipu Moni said India had informed Dhaka that the project's work was yet to begin.

Moni replied when Sunamganj-3 MP M A Mannan asked the minister when 'the construction of the dam' began and inquired about the present situation of the Tipaimukh project.

The minister replied that India was yet to start the project.

"The Manipur state government recently signed a promoter's agreement with state-owned NHPC Limited and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (SJVN) for setting up a joint venture company (JVC)," Dipu Moni said in reply.

She added that recurrence of flood in the Indian state of Assam caused by the overflowing of Barak River and its tributaries often caused grave damage during the rainy season.

"India conducted a survey to build a dam on the Barak to protect the area from flooding," she said.

Following the first Bangladesh-India Joint Commission meeting on June 25-26, 1972, a survey team was formed to inquire about the flood condition in Bangladesh's Sylhet and Kachhar district in Assam.

Later, India informed Bangladesh of building Tipaimukh dam after the 14th joint river commission meeting in 1978.

Parties at the talks decided that engineers from both the countries would submit a progress report in the next commission meeting after evaluating various aspects and consequences of the project on the Barak River.

Dipu Moni also pointed out that a team headed by the chairman of parliamentary standing committee on water resources ministry had visited the project area in India on Aug 4, 2009.

"The team did not notice any sign of dam construction while visiting the location from above," she said.

The minister also quoted diplomatic sources from India on May 21 the same year and said, "The Indian authorities have informed us that the proposed project area lacks any irrigation component and will 'only' be built to produce hydroelectricity and provide protection from floods."

Replying to a query from Kurigram-3 MP AKM Maidul Islam, the foreign minister said China has not officially proposed to undertake any project to divert the course of Brahmaputra River.

She said: "A proposal has been tabled after a joint discussion between China, India and Bangladesh regarding the issue."

Replying to another query from Comilla-8 MP Nasimul Alam, Dipu Moni said separate labour wings are currently functioning at 17 Bangladesh missions abroad.

"About 1.5 million Bangladeshi expatriates were able to go abroad with job opportunities during the three years of the incumbent government," the foreign minister said.

Parliament began its 12th session on Jan 25 in the absence of the BNP, the chief opposition. 

Call to disclose military court records

Relatives of death convicts and human-rights activists have demanded that confidential records of all military trials be flung out in the open for public view to dispel misgivings.

Former ambassadors, civil servants and a retired Supreme Court judge have rallied behind the call.

In the context of the recent developments in the army and its rare admission of a coup plot, they suggest that declassification of the old secret documents could do away with the general confusion among the citizens.

President of the Dhaka University Teachers' Association, Dr Anwar Hossain, told, "All proceedings of controversial courts martial to have taken place in Bangladesh should be declassified."

A younger brother of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal leader Col Mohammed Abu Taher who was summarily executed in a secret trial by a special military tribunal during the 1976 army regime, Hossain said, "The records and papers of that farcical trial have not yet been given to the court even though a [High Court] order is there."

Col Taher hanged on July 21 that year, a few years after he retired from active military service. Commander of the Sector 11 during the nation's war of independence from Pakistan, he and 32 others were charged with mutiny and treason. Anwar Hossain was one of those accused.

When it was pointed to him that the law in question had safeguards against making public such documents that could compromise national security, Hossain said, "At least the next of kin of those who were sentenced in court martial should be allowed to know what their offences were."

The execution of Col Taher in 1976 under the then chief martial law administrator, Gen Ziaur Rahman, was described by the High Court in a verdict on March 23 last year as "a cold-blooded murder".

Sultana Kamal, head of the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International's Bangladesh chapter, said, "The records [of courts martial] can be made public through the Right to Information Act."

"People will never get to know the truth unless these documents are made public," said the executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra, an NGO that provides legal aid and advocates human rights.

"Once declassified, the people would know the trend of our history, how democracy was choked in the past," remarked the long-time human rights activist.

Justice Golam Rabbani was on the same wavelength, saying that the right to information act was sufficient enough for disclosure of a preposterous trial like that of Col Taher.

"In my opinion, MPs can bring a bill to this effect in parliament," said the former judge regarding systematic declassification of secret documents.

"No matter during which regime or tenure but trial proceedings of courts martial like that of Col Taher should be disclosed."

Rabbani said the truth must be made public and the public has all the right to know the facts. "The refusal to declassify such secret documents citing national security was merely a hoax. These excuses are nothing but cheating with the people."

A former adviser to the caretaker government, Akbar Ali Khan said "sooner or later" these records would certainly have to be made public.

"But some countries take longer to do that (make them public), while some others take less," added the retired career civil servant who was a Cabinet Division secretary.

"If needed the state could take such a decision."

Records of some of the trial proceedings should be declassified, said former ambassador Syed Waliur Rahman. He drew the example of the 'farcical' trial of Colonel Taher.

Rahman said that the United States declassifies its secret documents after a lapse of 30 years and they are then kept in the Library of Congress for the public to see. Britain declassifies its documents after 28 years.

It has been 30 years since some courts martial were conducted during the regime of military strongman General Ziaur Rahman.

Waliur Rahman said numerous officers had been executed through military trials during Gen Zia's tenure. "Can't we get those records? Can't we discuss those deaths?"

British journalist Anthony Mascarenhas wrote in his authoritative book, 'Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood', that Ziaur Rahman's five-and-a-half-year tenure saw over 20 revolt, coup attempts which triggered a number of courts martial.

After Zia's assassination in a successful military coup, 13 officers were hanged but their records of their trials are yet to be disclosed to the public. 

Chilling tape from Air Force One on day JFK shot

It's been nearly a half-century since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

But new information from that day in Dallas has just been released -- audiotape of conversations between Air Force One and Washington.

For the first time, the complete audio record of the flight back from Dallas to Washington is available to the public online, from the National Archives, for free.

It helps to fill in the record of that day of sorrow, confusion and fear.

"Gonna put Mrs. Rose Kennedy on the line now," one voice can be heard saying.

Lyndon Johnson, newly sworn-in as president of the United States, and his wife, Ladybird, attempted to console President Kennedy's mother.

"I wish to God," Lyndon Johnson said, "there was something that I could do. And I wanted to tell you that we are grieving with you."

"Thank you very much," Rose Kennedy responded. "Thank you very much. I know you loved Jack. And he loved you."

"Mrs. Kennedy," Ladybird said, "We just wanted to -- we feel like we've lost..."

"Thank you very much," Rose Kennedy repeated." Then, goodbyes all-around.

Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other cabinet members were over the Pacific in an aircraft code-named Wayside. They had just turned back from a trip to Asia when the White House confirmed their worst fears.

"This is the (White House) Situation Room. Relay following to Wayside. We have report quoting that the president is dead, that he died about 35 minutes ago."

The full audio of transmissions from White House Communications Agency (which captured the tapes) that day includes 42 minutes edited out of the original public version. It's likely to peak the interest of conspiracy theorists who are already asking why this material was cut out of the original. 

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Curtis LeMay had been a frequent opponent of Kennedy's. His whereabouts on the day of the assassination has always been a mystery. 

In the newly public audio, we learn that LeMay was airborne, even as JFK's body was being flown back to Washington. And an aide to LeMay tried urgently to reach his boss.

"General LeMay," the aide said, "is in a C 140. ... He's inbound. His code name is Grandson. And I wanna talk to him. ... If you can't work him now, it's gonna be too late, because he'll be on the ground in a half-hour."
Historian Robert Dallek suggests doubters will wonder if the aide's comments about not reaching LeMay within 30 minutes may be "too late" could have some sinister meaning. "I'd doubt these tapes will put the conspiracy theory to rest," he says. "They continue to believe it was a conspiracy and again, they just can't accept the proposition that a lone wolf, a single, and someone as dysfunctional as Lee Harvey Oswald, could have carried off this assassination of the president."

At the end of that fateful day, the body of the fallen president arrived in Washington -- and the new president made a promise to the nation.

"I will do my best," Johnson said, "That is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's."

The complete audio record of the flight back to Washington was lost for years until the estate of JFK's top military aide, Army Gen. Chester "Ted" Clifton Jr., sold his copy of the tapes to The Raab Collection, historical document dealers, which gave a copy of the audio to the National Archives.

Tk 10,000 Doel laptops off

The government has temporarily stopped the assembly and marketing of Tk 10,000 Doel laptops.

Telecommunications minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju told parliament on Tuesday that the step had been advised by an expert committee.

In reply to a question, the minister said the committee that had been formed to study the mass production and marketing of the laptops had asked that the Tk 10,000 Doel-2012 models be temporarily taken off production.

A handful of them had been distributed after prime minister Sheikh Hasina launched the brand last year, he said.

The prime minister launched the distribution and marketing of Doel on Oct 11 last year, the first laptop manufactured in the country.

The low-priced laptops with four models are priced between Tk 10,000 and Tk 26,000.

Raju said the ministry was considering launching a tablet PC assembly under Telephone Shilpa Sangstha soon. 

Romney looks for win in Florida

Floridians are set to vote in the state's Republican primary as rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich look to capitalise on earlier wins.

Romney has surged ahead in the Florida polls, ahead of Gingrich by 15% in the most recent survey.

The other hopefuls, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, have abandoned campaigning in Florida, making it in effect a race between two candidates.

Latinos and retired voters make up key voting blocs in the state.

Both Romney and Gingrich are looking for increased momentum after early primaries split wins among three different candidates.

Polling stations will be open from 0700 to 1900 (1200-0000 GMT). Early voting has been allowed for the past 10 days, and it is estimated that 600,000 people have already voted.

Republicans are vying to oust Barack Obama from the White House in November.

Primaries and caucuses will be held in every US state to pick a Republican candidate until the eventual winner is crowned at the party's convention in August.

Gingrich scored a resounding victory in South Carolina's primary earlier this month, but his momentum has since been stymied in the face of a Romney fightback.

Both candidates crisscrossed Florida on Monday in a final hunt for votes.

"My goal would be by the end of that first day, about the time that President Obama arrives back in Chicago, that we will have dismantled about 40% of his government," Gingrich told voters in Jacksonville, Florida as part of his stump speech.

Romney finished his day of campaigning at The Villages, a retirement community that has become a popular political stop.

The former Massachusetts governor had attacked Gingrich throughout last week but spent most of the rally focusing on Obama.

Reagan's son campaigns

Several surveys released on Sunday gave Romney a lead of between five and 16 points.

But Gingrich vowed to continue his campaign in the Sunshine State and beyond, attacking Romney's conservative credentials.

"On big philosophical issues, he is for all practical purposes a liberal and I am a conservative and that's what this fight is going to be about all the way to the convention," he told CBS News on Monday.

At least 1,114 delegates are needed to win the Republican nomination at the August convention. In Florida, there are 50 delegates are at stake.

"This race is just getting started," Martin Baker, Gingrich's national political director, told reporters, saying there was "a long way to go" before the nomination was decided.

The former House speaker also campaigned with former President Ronald Reagan's son Michael on Monday, hoping to strengthen his campaign's ties to the revered Republican leader's legacy.

States in which the electorate is relatively evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, making them targets for aggressive campaigning by both sides. In recent elections, the most important swing states were Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Those have a high number of electoral votes, making them prime battlegrounds during the election. The list of swing states changes with their demographics. In the 2008 election, for instance, historically Republican Virginia and North Carolina voted for Barack Obama, anticipating their status as hard-fought swing states in 2012. Others that were close in previous elections, like Iowa and New Mexico, appear to be solidly Democratic. 

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum left Florida over the weekend to be at the hospital bedside of his three-year-old daughter, who has a rare genetic condition.

Rather than return to Florida, he will campaign in Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Nevada over the next two days.

Libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul, meanwhile, is already focusing on Nevada.

Gingrich picked up the endorsement on Saturday night of former rival Herman Cain, who dropped out of the Republican race in December.

The former House speaker is portraying himself as the only viable conservative in the race.

Romney has struggled to dispel misgivings among some Republicans about his political record as governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts and his Mormon faith.

In the past, Romney has adopted a pro-choice stance on abortion, switched positions on gay rights and pushed through a healthcare reform in Massachusetts that was the template for President Obama's overhaul of the system nationally.

The next contest after Florida will be Nevada on Saturday.

Is the Earth getting lighter?

The recent crash landing of Russian spacecraft Phobos-Grunt has focused attention on the increasing amount of space junk orbiting the planet. So does this mean the Earth has been getting lighter? The BBC's Radio 4 programme More or Less turned to a group of Cambridge University academics for the answer.

There are factors that are causing Earth to both gain and lose mass over time, according to Dr Chris Smith, a medical microbiologist and broadcaster who tries to improve the public understanding of science.

Using some back-of-the-envelope-style calculations, Dr Smith, with help from physicist and Cambridge University colleague Dave Ansell, drew up a balance sheet of what's coming in, and what's going out. All figures are estimated.

By far the biggest contributor to the world's mass is the 40,000 tonnes of dust that is falling from space to Earth, says Dr Smith.

"[The dust] is basically the vestiges of the solar system that spawned us, either asteroids that broke up or things that never formed into a planet, and it's drifting around.

"The Earth is acting like a giant vacuum cleaner powered by gravity in space, pulling in particles of dust," says Dr Smith.

Another much less significant reason the planet is gaining mass is because of global warming.

"Nasa has calculated that the Earth is gaining about 160 tonnes a year because the temperature of the Earth is going up. If we are adding energy to the system, the mass must go up," says Dr Smith, referring to Einstein's equation that energy equals mass times the speed of light.

This means that in total between 40,000 and 41,000 tonnes is being added to the mass of the planet each year.

But overall, Dr Smith has calculated that the Earth - including the sea and the atmosphere - is losing mass. He points to a handful of reasons.

For instance, the Earth's core is like a giant nuclear reactor that is gradually losing energy over time, and that loss in energy translates into a loss of mass.

But this is a tiny amount - he estimates no more than 16 tonnes a year.

And what about launching rockets and satellites into space, like Phobos-Grunt? Dr Smith discounts this as most of it will fall back down to Earth again.

But there is something else that is making the planet lose mass. Gases such as hydrogen are so light, they are escaping from the atmosphere.

"Physicists have shown that the Earth is losing about three kilograms of hydrogen gas every second. It's about 95,000 tonnes of hydrogen that the planet is losing every year.

"The other very light gas this is happening to is helium and there is much less of that around, so it's about 1,600 tonnes a year of helium that we lose."

So taking into account the gains and the losses, Dr Smith reckons the Earth is getting about 50,000 tonnes lighter a year, which is just less than half the weight of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise liner, that ran aground recently.

Charges against Kamaruzzaman accepted

The International Crimes Tribunal accepted the crimes against humanity charges against Jamaat Leader Mohammad Kamaruzzaman on Tuesday.

The three-judge tribunal headed by its Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq also fixed February 29 for hearing on the charge framing against Kamaruzzaman, who is charged with nine counts of crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 Liberation War.

The tribunal asked the prosecution to submit copies of the formal charges against Kamaruzzaman and other relevant documents to the tribunal’s registrar by February 6.

The defence should collect the copies from the registrar office on February 7, the tribunal said.

The prosecution on January 15 submitted the charges against the Jamaat assistant secretary general before the tribunal, which later fixed January 31 (today) to pass an order whether it will take the charges against Kamaruzzaman into cognisance. 

Earlier on December 28 last year, the tribunal sent the formal charges against Kamaruzzaman back to the prosecution as the charges were not classified and organised properly.

Bangladeshi to lead UN peacebuilding commission

Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dr AK Abdul Momen, will lead the UN Peacebuilding Commission for the next one year.

The prestigious election, which is first for the country, came on Monday.

Upon his election, the new chairman pledged that he would pursue “the path of inclusion” throughout 2012 to enhance the six-year-old body’s ability to mobilise resources and align key actors in assisting the populations of countries emerging from conflict.

“The commission is heading forward, but we have yet to reach our destination,” a press statement posted on the website of the UN Peacebuilding Commission quotes Momen as saying. 

He acknowledged that while the multi-stakeholder body had charted solid successes since its establishment in 2005, countless post-conflict societies were still bogged down by social, economic and governance challenges. 

Indeed, since no fragile or conflict-affected country had achieved a single Millennium Development Goal, it was clear that much remained to be done, he added.

While aware that such situations could not be reversed overnight, Momen said under his chairmanship, the commission would work to bolster its “field-centric” approach to mobilising resources, while encouraging flexible and adaptable instruments of post-conflict engagement. 

Grounded in national ownership, local capacity-building and the gender dimension, the commission would target employment generation, infrastructure development and the management of natural resources – sectors considered key to speeding the delivery of peace dividends.

Momen said he would also work throughout the year to bring global and regional stakeholders together for a more coherent approach to achieving the objective of sustainable peacebuilding. 

He would “narrow gaps” and promote better coordinated responses with the aim of improving the way in which the commission did business so that it could take the global peacebuilding agenda forward.

Momen’s address set the stage for the opening of the commission’s sixth session, during which its Organizational Committee also elected Ranko Vilović ( Croatia) as Vice-Chair. Looking ahead to 2013, the commission also decided that its next chairperson would be elected from among the Group of Eastern European States. 

The remaining vice-chair, as well as the heads of the commission’s country-specific configurations, would be elected at a later date.

Adopting its 2011 report, the commission also approved a “road map of actions for 2012”, proposed by its previous chairman.

Siddika Kabir passes away

Siddika Kabir, a noted nutrition expert and culinary artist, died at a city hospital on Tuesday, Independent TV reports.

A famous TV face who used to run the show ‘Siddika Kabir’s Recipe’, Prof Kabir was 80. 

She also worked as the consultant of consumer brands Dano, Nestlé and Radhuni.

In 1966, Siddika started attending different cookery shows on television. She authored a number of recipe books to her credit and was recognised with different awards.

Obtaining a higher degree in food nutrition and institutional administration from the United States, she joined the nutrition department of Home Economics College.

Born in 1931, Prof Kabir had a bright academic life. She started her career in teaching profession by joining mathematics department of Eden Girls’ College in 1957.