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Traces of ammonium nitrate found in Hyd blasts site

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February 21, 2013


23:30  Traces of ammonium nitrate found in Hyd blasts site:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: An official from the NIA who visited the site of the twin blasts in Hyderabad -- that killed at least 15 and injured 78 others on Thursday evening -- said that there were traces of ammonium nitrate at the spot.

 

This would indicate the use of the ammonium nitrate in preparing the bomb which was packed with an improvised explosive device of very high quality The official says that the two bombs were packed in a tiffin box and connected to a timer device.

 

The device was timed to take off within a span of ten minutes and there was absolutely no flaw in the preparation of the bomb. It appears to have been prepared by a professional bomb-maker and it was set to precision, and hence there was such a major impact that was caused.

 

Both the bombs were placed meters away from each other and were placed on bicycles. The substance will be sent to the forensic sciences laboratory where the exact material will be ascertained. In 2002 at the Sai Baba temple blasts, the material used was neogel 90 along with IEDs.

 

However, the subsequent blasts that rocked derabad saw the use of ammonium nitrate which again proves the easy availability of the substance. The Indian Mujahideen has used the ammonium nitrate regularly and has adopted the cycle as a carrier for the bombs in the past as well.

 

Meanwhile, the police have formed special teams to track down the culprits. The Hyderabad police are in touch with their counterparts in the neighbouring states to get more clues. Eyewitnesses are being questioned to get a fair description of who could have placed the bomb. The police are, however, not able to confirm the presence of a CCTV as of now.

23:17  Dilsukh Nagars second tryst with terror:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: Hyderabad's Dilsukh Nagar became a victim of terror for the second time on Thursday. On November 21 2002, a blast occurred at the Sai Baba temple in the same area in which two persons were killed and 22 others were injured after an improvised explosive device triggered the explosion.

 

That blast was blamed on the Students Islamic Movement of India, which was allegedly taking revenge after it was banned by the Union government. The case was handled by the Andhra Pradesh crime investigation department.

 

During the course of the investigations the police found that members of the SIMI had coordinated with some Lashkar-e-Tayiba officials, namely Syed Aziz and Mohd Azam, and carried out that attack. The latest attack appears to be similar in nature.

 

In the blasts that occurred on Thursday and the one in 2002, IEDs were packed in tiffin boxes and the intensity was extremely high. Dilsukh Nagar has been targeted repeatedly because of the immense number of people that gather there at all times. It is a busy area and also houses a market, which is one of the biggest in the world.

 

During the 2002 blasts probe, the police were able to ascertain the role of the SIMI in the attack. They had even brought down Syed Salahuddin Salar, a former president of organisation, in connection with the blast. Salar had gone out off the police radar after the ban on SIMI and it was only two years back that he was arrested in Kochi while he was returning from Dubai.

 

Salar was initially taken to Ujjain and later brought down to Hyderabad in connection with the 2002 blasts. The police said that the SIMI network was strong at that time and it had coordinated the attack with the Lashkar in order to avenge the ban. However, over the years, the Lashkar introduced the HuJI in Hyderabad and this has been the group that has been the strongest since then under the leadership of Shahid Bilal, who was killed recently in Pakistan.

22:50  Had sounded a terror alert on Tuesday: Centre:  

  Two days before the Hyderabad blasts, the Centre had alerted all states that Pakistan-based terrorist groups may carry out attacks in a major city to avenge the hanging of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru.    

 

Sources said the central security agencies had sent an advisory on Tuesday asking all states to tighten security in sensitive places as Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen may launch attacks.     

 

The security agencies sent another advisory on Wednesday saying banned Indian Mujahideen too may carry out terror attacks to avenge the hanging of Kasab and Afzal.        

 

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, without disclosing details, Thursday said that all states were alerted about a possible terror strike by militant groups.         However, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy said these were general alerts and keep coming often.  

22:37  Condolences for blast victims pour in:  

Political parties on Thursday night condemned the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserting that those responsible for the "dastardly" act would not go unpunished. "This is a dastardly attack, the guilty will not go unpunished," he said.        

 

Condemned the attacks, Vice President Hamid Ansari conveyed his condolences to the families of the innocent victims who lost their lives. Both Singh and Ansari appealed to the public to remain calm and maintain peace in this difficult hour. Singh announced Rs 2 lakh each to next of kin of those killed in the blasts and Rs 50,000 each to those seriously injured from the PM's Relief Fund. He directed the central agencies to extend all possible help to the Andhra Pradesh state authorities in relief operations.        

 

Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed her sorrow and anguish on the blasts in Hyderabad.        

 

BJP president Rajnath Singh condoled the loss of lives and demanded a thorough probe into the blasts. "I express my condolences to the family members of those killed in the blast. This is a condemnable incident. I hope the government will take appropriate action to provide immediate and adequate relief to those injured in the blast," Singh told PTI.  

22:23  Hyd blasts: Too early to pin point blame on IM:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: Although the Hyderabad blasts bear the signature of the Indian Mujahideen, the police and the Intelligence Bureau say that it is too early to pin point the blame on the infamous terror outfit. "The group is capable of carrying out an attack of this magnitude, but their base is considerably weaker in Hyderabad, sources in Intelligence Bureau say.

 

The city of Hyderabad has been a victim of terror several times in the past. The two major incidents have, however, been the Mecca Masjid blasts and the twin blasts five years back. Both these attacks were carried out by separate groups.

While the Mecca Masjid blasts were the alleged handiwork of some radical right-wing groups, the twin blasts as per investigations pointed towards the involvement HuJI. The HuJI is said to have been controlled by Shahid Bilal who was a resident of Musrambagh in Hyderabad.

 

However, a couple of years back he was killed. It is said that he had set up the modules in the city and it was this very same network which carried out the twin blasts.

 

The Indian Mujahideen is said to be regrouping, but its area of focus has not been too much in Hyderabad. It has strong networks in Karnataka, but a lower presence in Andhra Pradesh. Most of the youth who have been arrested have had their association with HuJI as per investigations.

 

Even the recent assassination plot in which several youth were arrested pointed towards a HuJI network. Sources in the IB say that the IM angle would also be probed by the police and investigations would give a better picture on the strength of this outfit in Hyderabad.

21:57  Modi offers condolences to kin of blast victims:  

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi today said he was saddened by the news of bomb blasts in Hyderabad and condoled the loss of lives in the terror attack.         "News of blasts in Hyderabad is saddening. My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. Praying for peace & calm there," Modi tweeted.         The blasts rocked a busy commercial hub of Hyderabad close to a crowded bus stand at Dilsukhnagar.        

 

Meanwhile, police administration in Gujarat has been put on high alert in the wake of the explosions. "We have asked all District Superintendents of Police (SPs) and city Police Commissioners to keep a tight vigil at crowded places like railway and bus stations, malls and markets," Director General of Police Chittaranjan Singh told PTI.        

 

Gujarat's Anti-Terrorism Squad and Intelligence Bureau of the state have been asked to be in contact with their counterparts in Hyderabad, he added.

21:55  Alert in Kerala after Hyderabad blasts:  

A security alert has been sounded across Kerala in the wake of the bomb blasts in Hyderabad this evening, police said.        

 

Police and security personnel have been asked to heighten vigil in airports, bus and railway stations and closely monitor movement of suspicious persons in public places, they said. 16 people were killed and 32 injured when at least three powerful serial blasts rocked a busy commercial hub of Hyderabad close to a crowded bus stand at Dilsukhnagar.

21:47  NIA will take over probe on Hyd blasts:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: The National Investigation Agency will take over the probe into the twin blasts in Hyderabad. A unit of the NIA is already present in Hyderabad and another team from Delhi would also participate in the probe.

 

However, the Hyderabad police would assist the NIA in this probe as the investigation agencies would need to join the dots and compare the modus operandi with the earlier blasts.

 

The NIA is already handling the Mecca Masjid blasts case in Hyderabad whereas the twin blasts that took place five years ago is with the Hyderabad police. The NIA would not only probe a Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami or IM angle but would also look into a possible modus operandi that was used to carry out the Mecca Masjid blasts as well.

 

A NIA official said that all angles would be looked into and "we would seek the assistance of the local police to provide us more information on the investigation into the earlier twin blasts'.

21:46  Live inputs over Hyderabad twin blasts from local TV channels ETV and Andhra Jyoti.
21:35  No crackdown yet in Hyderabad:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: The Muslims in the Old City of Hyderabad would be reminded of the police action against them following the Mecca Masjid and twin blasts. However, this time around, they say that the police have not jumped the gun and would look to investigate this matter in a free and fair manner.

 

Lateef Mohammad Khan, the convenor of the Civil Liberties Movement Committee which had fought for the cause of the Muslim youth, says that there has not been a witch hunt as yet. "I have not got any complaints of the Muslim youth being rounded up,' Khan told rediff.com.

 

The police unlike their reactions during the earlier blasts have not made any irresponsible statement against the Muslims as yet, although the media is going hammer and tongs against the Muslim youth. "This should not only be seen in the light of a terror strike. It has come at a time when the Centre was all set to announce Telangana. This looks like a deal breaker for the movement and there is every chance that a decision will be delayed," Khan added.

 

"One must also look at the area in which the blasts have taken place. It is an area which has more people from Andhra when compared to Telangana. The police must also investigate that angle and we sincerely hope that there is no witch hunt against the Muslim youth unless there is a proper probe,' he added.

21:30  Three-pronged probe on Hyderabad blasts begin:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: The angles of investigation into the twin blasts in Hyderabad are several. The police and the Intelligence Bureau are conducting investigations on three points. While the revenge angles pertaining to the hanging of Afzal Guru and the arrest of the youth in connection with both the assassination plot and Mecca Masjid blasts are being probed, the agencies are also looking into an angle of personal rivalry.

 

The police say that all angles are open at the moment and a possible retaliation following the arrest of Akbar Owaisi is also being looked into. Although this angle looks extremely remote, the police say that they would go into that angle as well.

 

The routine questioning of several operatives who are in the custody of the police for various acts of terror is also being conducted by the Hyderabad police. At the moment, the biggest possible link points towards revenge following the Afzal Guru hanging, police sources say.

 

A clear picture would emerge soon, the police also point out. The police in the neighbouring states have been alerted and all possible attempts are on to nab the culprits, the police also point out.

21:20  PM sanctions compensation for Hyd blasts victims:  Meanwhile, the PM has sanctioned Rs 2 lakh each to next of kin of those killed in Hyderabad blasts and Rs 50,000 each to those seriously injured.
21:19  Hyd blasts: Debate over intelligence inputs begins:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: The debate over intelligence regarding the Hyderabad blasts has already commenced. While the Intelligence Bureau says that there was intelligence that was provided, the Hyderabad police say that the intelligence was not specific in nature.  

 

Sources in the IB tell rediff.com that there were at least four alerts that were sent in the past couple of weeks to Hyderabad. Two alerts were sent following the arrest of MIM MLA Akbarrudin Owaisi, sources say. There was a lot of anger following the arrest of Owaisi and the IB had warned of trouble following this arrest.  

 

Following the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, there were angry protests in Hyderabad and many had spoken against this hanging. At this time too the IB had put out two alerts in Hyderabad and Karnataka.

 

"The alerts were general in nature and it is the duty of the police to step up the vigil in the wake of such alerts,' sources in Hyderabad police say. There was nothing specific which suggested a bomb blast, they say.

21:12  High alert sounded in Maharashtra:  

A high alert has been sounded across Maharashtra in the wake of the blasts in Hyderabad this evening, Home Minister R R Patil said.  "I have spoken to senior police officials and directed them to beef up security," Patil said.       

 

The state home minister reviewed the security situation in the state this evening, official sources said. Police have been asked to keep a vigil on suspicious activity and persons in view of the Hyderabad blasts.

21:10  Hyd blasts: Centre had warned of terror strikes:  

Mohammed Siddique reports from Hyderabad: Intelligence officials in Hyderabad said that the bombs were triggered through timer devices and kept on two wheelers -- one on a bicycle.  

 

Large crowds had gathered at the blast sites as well as the four hospitals where the injured have been admitted.   Ten bodies have been brought to Osmania Hospital and anxious relatives were going around to find out the well being of their missing members.  

 

Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, after visiting the scenes of the blast, has ordered a high level probe in to the incident.   What has added to his woes was that the central government and the intelligence agencies had given a warning to all the states about possible terrorist attacks in retaliation to the recent hanging of Afzal Guru in 2001 Parliament attack case.

20:59  Hyd blasts perpetrators won't go unpunished: PM:  PM condemns Hyderabad blasts, says those behind the dastardly act will not go unpunished.
20:49  BJP condoles loss of lives, demands thorough probe:  

BJP president Rajnath Singh today condoled the lost of lives in Hyderabad blasts and demanded that the government conduct a thorough probe into the incident.        

 

"I express my condolences to the family members of those killed in the blast. This is a condemnable incident. I hope the government will take appropriate action to provide immediate and adequate relief to those injured in the blast," Singh told PTI.        

 

16 people were killed and 32 injured tonight when at least three powerful serial blasts rocked a busy commercial hub of Hyderabad close to a crowded bus stand at Dilsukhnagar.        

 

Singh also demanded that a thorough probe be ordered to find out the culprits and bring them to book. He also said government should take steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future.        

 

The blasts took place during the peak hour outside a roadside eatery near Konark cinema theatre in the locality resulting in a stampede-like situation with people trying to run for safety.  

20:47  Unexploded device found near blast site:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: The police were also examining reports of a third explosion in the same area. However, police sources confirm only two blasts for now. The police also add that they are examining another suspicious object near the blast site.

 

The police say that based on eyewitness statements they can now confirm that one of the bombs were placed on a motorcycle while the second one on a bicycle. It appears that the bombs were placed only a few minutes before the blasts. The police say that there were reports of a third explosion at the same area and are looking into this. However, we can confirm only two blasts for now, police sources informed. The police also add that they are examining another suspicious object at the blast site.

20:39  HuJI-linked local module may be behind Hyd blasts:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: The twin blasts at Hyderabad today point towards the existence of a local module which is very much active in the city. The modus operandi points towards a similar operation that was used during the Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat attacks. There has been very high surveillance in the Old city of Hyderabad since a very long time and the police confirm that there are many disgruntled elements in this area who are capable of carrying out such attacks.

 

This part of the city has always volatile and there has been a lot of disgruntlement after the investigations into the Mecca Masjid blasts. At the moment both the police and the IB are sticking to the version that it could be a local module attached to the Harkat-ul-Juhadi Islami behind this attack.

 

This was the same module which was behind the twin blasts that rocked the city five years back. If one looks at the terror modules in Hyderabad it has a stronger network of the HuJI when compared to the Indian Mujahideen. The police will now revisit the HuJi modules and also the investigation files into the previous cases to join the dots in this case.

20:38  NSG team rushing to Hyderabad: Home secretary:  

Union Home Secretary R K Singh said the NSG team is leaving by a BSF aircraft. A team of NIA hub stationed in Hyderabad has also rushed to the spot. The previous major attack in Hyderabad was on August 25, 2007 when two blasts took place almost simultaneously.        

 

The first blast was reported at a park and it was followed by another in a eating joint in Hyderabad. Chief Minister N Kiran Reddy rushed to the blast site.   Meanwhile, A team of forensic experts of NSG, the country's premier counter-terror force, was tonight flown to Hyderabad in the aftermath of the serial blasts that claimed at least ten lives.        

 

The 'post-blasts' analysis team have been sent to Hyderabad, sources said, adding experts from the Chennai hub of the 'black cat' commandos force have also been rushed to the Andhra Pradesh capital.        

 

The NSG, which is also the key force for counter-hijack operations, operates the National Bomb Data Centre which has detail information about such acts in the country. The team will collect samples from the spot and analyse the 'trigger mechanism' used in the blasts, the sources added.

20:26  Security stepped up in Delhi following Hyd blasts:  

Security was stepped up in the national capital today in the wake of the twin blasts in Hyderabad.         

 

A senior Delhi Police official said the personnel of the force have been alerted and they were keeping a tight vigil on the city. "We are always on alert. There is nothing to panic," the official said.         

 

At least three powerful blasts rocked the busy commercial hub of Hyderabad close to a crowded bus stand at Dilsukhnagar this evening claiming several lives.          The blasts took place during the peak hour outside a roadside eatery near Konark cinema theatre in the locality resulting in a stampede-like situation with people trying to run for safety.

20:19  Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has confirmed that 10 people have been killed in the Hyderabad blasts.
20:17  Hyderabad bombs placed in tiffin boxes:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: Preliminary investigations have revealed that the bombs were placed in tiffin boxes. Traces of improvised explosive devices too have been found. The police have also found that the bombs were placed on motor bikes and had a timer device.

 

The preliminary investigation also reveals that the bombs were triggered off by a timer device and not a remote controlled device. The impact could have been higher as there was a cylinder next to the device.

 

The police have cordoned off the area as they would not any of the evidence to be disturbed. A team of the NIA will reach Hyderabad along with a NSG team late tonight and would commence investigation.

20:14  From a correspondent: Dilsukh Nagar in Hyderabad, where two blasts reportedly killed 16 people on Thursday evening, was dominated by Andhra settlers from the Rayalseema region, known as Seemant Andhraites.   The shopping area was abuzz with activities.
20:12  Local terror module behind Hyderabad blasts:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: Even as the police hunt for clues into the serial blasts that rocked Hyderabad, sources say that it was a local module which could have orchestrated the attack with the help of external sources.

 

The Intelligence Bureau had warned of such attacks in the country after the Afzal Guru hanging and had specifically put Hyderabad on the radar. The IB had said that the terror threat at Hyderabad following the Afzal hanging was put at high. There has been a lot of disgruntlement following the hanging of Afzal and certain groups have been threatening to hit back.

 

These local groups have been in touch with certain elements from other parts of the country and there has been movement since a long time. In fact there was movement following the Kasab hanging, but it appears that the blasts were carried out to time it with the Afzal hanging. The terrorists have chosen the bus stand area knowing fully well that the security is low due to the huge crowds.

20:09  YSR Congress expresses shock, deep anguish over blasts:  YSR Congress party, in a statement, expressed shock and deep anguish over the bomb blasts. "YSRCP president Smt Vijayamma expressed shock and deep anguish over the bomb blasts in Diluskh Nagar. She mourned the death of innocent people who died in the explosion and conveyed her heartfelt condolences to the families of the blast victims," said the statement.
20:08  From a correspondent: Police officials have expressed concern for the lives of the 400-odd people who are still inside movie theatres in the area.
20:06  Hyderabad hit by a terror attack, say IB sources:  Vicky Nanjappa reports: Sources in the Intelligence Bureau and the Hyderabad police have now confirmed that the twin blasts that occurred at Hyderabad is an act of terror.
19:58  16 killed, 40 injured in three blasts in Hyderabad:  16 killed, 40 injured in three blasts in Hyderabad, Vicky Nanjappa reports.
19:56  A high alert has been sounded in the entire city as Andhra Pradesh home minister Sabitha Indra Reddy has left home to gauge the situation, TV reports claim.
19:50  The blasts occurred near two cinema halls at Hyderabad's Dilsukh Nagar.
19:45  No cylinder blast, it's a terror attack in Hyderabad:  Also, the initial reports of cylinder blasts have been ruled out as it is indeed a terror attack in Hyderabad.
19:43  Twin blasts in Hyderabad kill seven, injure 20:  

Vicky Nanjappa reports: The Intelligence Bureau and the Hyderabad police have now confirmed that the twin blasts that occured at Hyderabad is an act of terror.   Two blasts ripped the bus station at Dilkushnagar in which seven persons are reportedly killed. The police have cordoned off the area and are looking for more bombs in the area.

It appears to be a well-planned operation and the timing was aimed causing major destruction. The police and the IB say that there was an alert regarding Hyderabad.  However, it is too early to say which organisation is behind the attack.

19:33  7 killed, 20 injured as two explosions rock Hyderabad:  

At least seven people are feared killed and 20 injured in two explosions near a busy bus stop at Dilsukh Nagar in Hyderabad on Thursday evening, TV channels reported quoted regional channels.  

 

The injured have been rushed to the nearby hospitals as police has cordoned off the entire are. The cause of the explosions is still unknown.

 

The casualty figures are expected to rise.

19:16  Shinde not backtracking on Hindu terror remark: Cong:  The controversy over Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde's Hindu terror remark refuses to die down, with the RSS today saying that he should have "at least apologised" and Congress insisting that his regret does not mean his statement was factually incorrect.

Party spokesperson P C Chacko suggested the expression of regret by Shinde on Wednesday was aimed at ensuring a smooth budget session in which the government wants a number of key bills to be passed.
19:14  Will cash transfers help end cycle of poverty?:  Will the direct cash transfer system end India's relentless cycle of poverty or will it add to the woes of an inefficient system?

Read the discussion here
19:08  Tarapur nuclear plant unsafe?:  
Former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board A Gopalakrishnan has revealed that American nuclear experts had urged Indian authorities to shut down the nuclear plant at Tarapur 17 years ago, as they were considered unsafe.

India may be on the brink of a nuclear disaster, Gopalakrishnan has warned.

Read the full interview here
18:23  Nervy moment for PM as Prez protocol puzzles him:  While images on TV showed the majesty of the opening session of Parliament, here's the inside story: The PM did not know where he was to stand to welcome the President into the Central Hall. "Where do I stand and behind whom in the procession?" Dr Manmohan Singh asked Secretary General Lok Sabha T K Viswanathan.

Dr Manmohan Singh, Dr Hamid Ansari and Meira Kumar were standing outside the main gate of Parliament to receive the President. Viswanathan fished out his protocol chart and said the PM had to stand behind the Speaker and was supposed to follow the Speaker and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha to Central Hall. 
18:20  Just when the President entered Parliament House (Bengali journalists went into a photographing frenzy) a huge peacock flew by. This is apparently some kind of good omen. The government will certainly need it. 
18:18  President Pranab's wife watches him address Parliament:  Suvra Mukherjee, the wife of President Pranab Mukherjee was present at Central Hall when the President addressed the joint session of Parliament. Obviously, she had a special seat. Suvra Mukherjee, who is an accomplished Rabindra Sangeet singer, was at times bored (as her expression suggested), and at other times, hapy to see her husband on the podium. President's bodyguards escorted her to her seat. 
18:07   Many feared dead in huge Syria bombing:  A car bomb in the Syrian capital Damascus has sent smoke billowing across the capital's skyline, with many feared dead.State media blamed the blast near the headquarters of the ruling Baath party on "terrorists". TV pictures showed images of dead people. Overseas activists said at least 31 people had been killed. More
18:05  Oppn compares TMC to Nazis: CM should rein in stormtroopers:  Accusing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of unleashing terror in a bid to foil the ongoing two-day strike by trade unions, Leader of the Opposition Suryakanta Mishra today said she should try to control the 'storm troopers' of her party.

Mishra compared the ruling Trinamool Congress's party activists with the 'storm troopers' of Nazi ruled Germany in the 1930's.

"Our Chief Minister has unleashed an atmosphere of terror in the state in a bid to foil the strike call. She has tried to foil the strike but has failed to do so. The terror unleashed by Trinamool activists reminds us of Hitler's storm troopers," said Mishra.

"She should try to reign them, otherwise the people of this state will be in great trouble and will rise in protest against this regime," Mishra added
18:03  Campaigning for Nagaland Assembly polls ends today:  The campaigning for the February 23 elections to the 60-member Nagaland Assembly ended today. A total of 188 candidates including 39 Independents and two women are in the fray. The electioneering for the polls came to an end at 1600 hours. Polling will be held from 7 am till 4 pm on February 23 while counting of votes will be carried out on February 28.
17:41  Bigger actions after 'magnificent success' of strike: Left:   Describing the two-day nation-wide general strike as the "biggest" working class action since Independence, Left parties today warned the government that "bigger actions" will follow if demands raised by workers are not immediately met.

In a joint statement, CPI(M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc said the strike has been historic as all Central Trade Unions gave a joint call for the first time for the two-day strike.

"This makes it the biggest working class action since Independence. The Central government has to immediately address the demands raised and take steps to fulfil them, otherwise bigger actions will follow. This is a wake-up call to stop the anti-people and anti-working class policies," it said.
17:24  No electricity since the 1970s: Power shock for Miss Universe :  Beauty queens are known for making politically correct speeches, off and on the ramp. But a Bihar girl who represented the country at the recent Miss Universe 2012 pageant in Las Vegas, could not hold back from calling a spade a spade when she saw no lights and good roads in her village during the visit to her home state. Read more
17:20  Raisina Hill plans major reshuffle, top babus to retire:  With vacancies coming up in several top-level positions, a mega reshuffle of the bureaucratic setup is on the anvil. As most of these posts have a fixed tenure, the UPA government is being cautious about the choice of officers so as to leverage them to its future advantage. Read more
17:04  What's life like in a South African prison?:  A stuffy, overcrowded cell. At times, two or three men to a single bunk. Lock-down for 23 out of 24 hours. Is this what awaits South Africa's Oscar Pistorius if he is not released on bail while he awaits trial for the murder of his girlfriend? Read
17:03  VHP leader Togadia packed off from Jammu airport:  The Jammu police today prevented VHP leader Praveen Togadia from entering the state and detained him at Jammu airport here, fearing his presence would create law and order problems. "I was served notice by the Additional Deputy Commissioner Jammu which said that I will not be allowed to enter Jammu as it will create law and order problem," Togadia said. The VHP leader said, "They did not allow me to exercise my fundamental rights as a citizen of India."
16:56  The trials and tribulations of India's Armed forces:  While spending billions of dollars on defense equipment, India's military faces a number of challenges in its quest to enter the 21st century. Read
16:42  Prince Philip to Filipino nurse her country 'must be half empty':  Ah! the British royals. Prince Philip told a Filipino nurse on Wednesday that her country 'must be half empty' you're all here running the NHS -- in a demonstration that his ability to raise eyebrows remains undiminished at the age of 91. Read
16:38  Spare us your shame, Mr Cameron:  No one asked British Prime Minister David Cameron to visit Amritsar. Nor did anyone want him to apologize for the trigger-happy colonialists who butchered Indians in Jallianwala Bagh 94 years ago. No one asked him to describe the shootings as a "deeply shameful event". Read
16:31  How Robert Vadra made a killing in the Rajasthan sun:  You could call him India's canniest real estate investor. Or you could suggest that he was helped by those who knew he was the son-in-law of India's most powerful politician.

But whichever way to you want to seeRobert Vadra, there is little doubt that he made, and is still making, his biggest killing in the deserts of Rajasthan, a state run by a Congress government under Ashok Gehlot. Read
16:27  Beginning of the end: Nike suspends Pistorius contract:  US sportswear giant Nike has suspended its contract with Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of murdering his girlfriend. "We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely," a Nike spokesman said. It recently pulled ads that featured Pistorius and the line "I am the bullet in the chamber". More
16:18  Body in Gadkari's car: Court rejects closure report:  A Nagpur rejects the the CID closure report in the Yogita Thakre case. Yogita's  body was found inside a car in 2009 on the premises of BJP president Nitin Gadkari's residence. The CID closure report says that seven-year-old Yogita Thakre's death was accidental. Her father says Yogita was found murdered under mysterious circumstances and had raised a contention in court. The court accepted the contention as a private complaint. This will come as a setback for Nitin Gadkari and the BJP when the Budget session of Parliament opens tomorrow.
16:06  5800: Number of taped conversations between Radia, others:  Excerpts from the tapes earlier leaked in the media had sparked a political storm with the conversations bringing out the nature of corporate lobbying and also its purported impact on politics. The income tax department placed transcripts of 5,800 tapped telephone conversations in 50 sealed envelopes.

The conversations were recorded as part of surveillance of Radia's phone on a complaint to Finance Minister on November 16, 2007 alleging that within a span of nine years she had built up a business empire worth Rs 300 crore.

The government had recorded 180 days of Radia's conversations--first from August 20, 2008 onwards for 60 days and then from October 19 for another 60 days. Later, on May 11, 2009, her phone was again put on surveillance for another 60 days following a fresh order given on May 8.
16:05  SC sets up 6-member team to examine Radia tapes:  The Supreme Court has set up a six-member team -- five from the CBI and one from the Income Tax department to examine tapes containing conversation of Niira Radia and others.

The Supreme Court on February 8, said the tapped telephone conversations of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia with politicians, corporate honchos and others needs to be scrutinised by the CBI to find out the element of criminality.

A bench of justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhaya said that it had gone through transcripts of some of the conversations which were not personal and innocuous in nature.

16:00  Should British politicians apologize for colonialism? Read

British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday joined a fair queue of compatriot eminences to hang their heads at the ringside of a most ignoble theatre of Empire but return without shaking it in regret.Over nearly a century now British protagonists have approached the 1919 massacre ground of Jallianwala Bagh thumbing the thesaurus for an appropriate word to pick. "Sorry' has not been among them
15:55  In praise of Bangla, my mother tongue:   "I take pride in the fact that despite being born and raised in New York City, I speak Bangla fluently. I credit this mostly to my Bangladeshi parents for being brutal in their approach to teaching my younger sister and me a language that that was so violently fought for."  Read

Feb. 21 is recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as International Mother Language Day in honor of linguistic diversity, prompted by Bangladeshs 1952 National Language Movement.
15:41  Jane Austen stamps go on sale:  A set of stamps featuring illustrations of Jane Austen novels goes on sale today, including newly-commissioned artwork depicting scenes from her books.All six published novels are included in the new stamps, which are being issued to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. Read
15:37  Do you know how fat you are? :  Are you overweight, or are you a healthy weight? Do you know? Try this interactive obesity chart and find out. Good fun
15:31  The cartoon in the Hindu today. It's self explanatory...  See
15:28  BJP: President must have read an old speech:  As expected, the BJP today said that President Pranab Mukherjee's joint address to Parliament, was a damp squib.

"It has not actually touched upon what is relevant today and we are very disappointed," BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said outside Parliament after the President's address.

Rudy also dubbed the address as a "old one". "I think he read the old speech because there was nothing new thing in the speech," Rudy said.

In the hour-long maiden address to the joint sitting of Parliament, Mukherjee touched upon various issues like slower growth of economy and steps to deal with factors responsible for the slowdown.

"The President has given a joint statement in both Houses. It has not referred to the issue of corruption after all. UPA government is besieged with charges of corruption especially in the latest copter case," Rudy said. He said the government did not talk about corruption deliberately. "Since this seems to be the last joint session before the election, I think by design government has chosen not to talk about corruption and other factors about inflation and price rise, which is affecting every household. Petrol and diesel prices are constantly going up," he said.
15:24  A swim test in the ocean:  The mess in the Maldives shows that Indian foreign policy needs to focus more on improving engagement with South Asia. Read
15:19  Getting ahead of the sum of all fears:  During his address to Parliament to open the Budget session, President Pranab Mukherjee said India continued to seek peace, stability, cooperation and economic development in the sub-continent.

On the Hindu: The safest way to reduce the subcontinent's nuclear dangers is through consistent efforts to improve relations between India and Pakistan, particularly economic ties. Read
15:12  Oscar Pistorius back in court on third day of bail hearing:   Oscar Pistorius back in court for the third day for his bail hearing. He is facing charges of premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The big news of the day, so far, has been that the South African detective leading the Pistorius inquiry is facing seven charges of attempted murder. Detective Hilton Botha, who has faced fierce questioning at Mr Pistorius's bail hearing, was allegedly involved in a shooting two years ago.

Read:Oscar Pistorius' defence affidavit in full.
15:00  Maha rape-murder: Want to set accused afire, says mother :   Bhandara city and its adjoining villages and towns observed a total bandh called by the BJP on Wednesday to protest the gruesome rape and murders of three sisters. As The Indian Express met the mother of the three girls, she said the perpetrator(s) should not be hanged. Instead, she wants to set them afire herself in front of the entire village. "I want to do it myself. It's my right," she said. Read
14:55  Special court issue summons to Mallya:  In fresh trouble for the head of crisis-ridden Kingfisher Airlines, Vijay Mallya, the Special Court for Economic Offences here has issued summons to him on an Income-Tax Department criminal case for not remitting to government the tax deducted at source from salaries of its employees.

The court's action came after it took cognisance of the offence under sections 276B and 278B of the I-T Act, 1962, for not remitting Rs 74.94 crore deducted as TDS in 2009-10 fiscal and Rs 23.70 crore imposed as interest for not meeting the deadline stipulated for payment.
14:47  TMC workers chop off Panchayat employee's ear :   In West Bengal, the TMC displays characteristic brutality. Trinamool Congress workers allegedly chopped off an ear of a panchayat employee after he failed to report for work on day one of the trade unions' strike in West Bengal. The incident took place at Debipur in the Murshidabad district. While the victim was admitted to hospital and is said to be in a stable condition, no formal complaint has been lodged yet. 
14:47  All the gupshup from the Central Hall of Parliament:  What you missed inside the Central Hall of Parliament today.

-- Union Minister Panapakkam Lakshmi went up to the podium in the Central Hall of Parliament when union minister Kumari Selja was photographing it. Many MPs then stood before the podium to get pictures clicked. The Central Hall was decorated with flowers and looked beautiful. 

-- K S Rao, a Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh, withdrew his resignation after he met Speaker Lok Sabha Meira Kumar today. Rao was angry at his non- inclusion in the union cabinet and submitted his resignation from the Lok Sabha claiming that he was a five-time MP and therefore fit for inclusion in the cabinet.

-- The Rajya Sabha will take up a motion of thanks to the President on March 4 and 5th, the Lok Sabha will do the same on February 27th and March 4th. This was finalised today between the Opposition and the ruling party today.
14:24  Gang-rape victim's family to get flat in west Delhi:  The Union Cabinet meeting slated for 5 pm today will take up the issue of allotting a DDA flat in Dwarka for the family of the Delhi gang-rape victim.The Cabinet is taking this up because it is a case of special allotment.

Sources said the Cabinet in all likelihood will clear the allotment of an MIG flat in Dwarka. The government had earlier decided to provide accommodation for the family in Bhawana. During UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's visit to the family they had requested for a flat closer to main town Delhi. More
14:20  More curry, please. We are British:  It was once stated at the House of Commons (on the issue of recycling and disposal) that every Englishman is entitled to enjoy his chicken tikka masala without worrying about the difficulties of disposing its remains. The speaker was alluding -- inadvertently perhaps -- to the cultural signifier tikka masala has become in Britain over the decades. Read
14:15  Why Cameron did not apologise for Jallianwala massacre:  British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday joined a fair queue of compatriot eminences to hang their heads at the ringside of a most ignoble theatre of Empire but return without shaking it in regret.Over nearly a century now British protagonists have approached the 1919 massacre ground of Jallianwala Bagh thumbing the thesaurus for an appropriate word to pick. "Sorry' has not been among them. More
14:04  Ishrat Jahan encounter: IPS Singhal arrested:   G L Singhal, a prime suspect in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, has been arrested.  Singhal was the ACP when the encounter took place in 2004. Singhal, who had been moved out of Ahmedabad as SP of Kheda district after the probe started in the encounter case, is now in the state intelligence bureau in Gandhinagar. Jahan and three of her friends were killed in 2004.
14:04  No, India, Kohinoor is ours, not yours: Cameron:  British Prime Minister David Cameron says a giant diamond his country forced India to hand over in the colonial era that was set in a royal crown will not be returned.

Speaking on the third and final day of a visit to India aimed at drumming up trade and investment, Cameron ruled out handing back the 105-carat
Kohinoor diamond, now on display in the Tower of London.

The diamond had been set in the crown of the current Queen Elizabeth's late mother.One of the world's largest diamonds, some Indians - including Mahatma Gandhi's grandson - have demanded its return to atone for Britain's colonial past.

"I don't think that's the right approach," Cameron told reporters on Wednesday after becoming the first serving British prime minister to voice regret about one of the bloodiest episodes in colonial India, a massacre of unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar in 1919. "It is the same question with the Elgin Marbles," he said, referring to the classical Greek marble sculptures that Athens has long demanded be given back. -- Reuters
13:55  Lobster and steak at Hina Rabbani Khar's 'baby':  The ambience at the Polo Lounge is serene and reeks of old money, a lot like its owner, some would say. After all, the fine-dining restaurant is Hina Rabbani Khar's 'baby'. On the menu are steak, prawn and lobster - quite fittingly "foreign" for an eatery owned by Pakistan's foreign minister. Read
13:38  Voters will prevail despite bandh: Meghalaya CEC:  Archana Masih reports: Rediff.com spoke to Meghalaya Chief Election Commissioner P Naik about the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council's call for a 36-hour bandh from Friday evening to Sunday morning -- that will effectively be a poll boycott since the state goes to the polls on Saturday. Naik told Rediff.com that in spite of the HNLC's bandh call, he is confident people will defy the bandh and come out in large numbers to vote. The state government, Naik added, is making adequate arrangements to see the peaceful completion of the polls.
13:26  Kerala remains paralysed as strike enters second day:  Normal life in Kerala was paralysed as the two-day nationwide strike called by Central trade unions entered the second day today with workers from most sectors ranging from transport to banking keeping away from work. Reports from across the state said buses and taxis were off the roads and markets remained shut. Train and air services were not affected.
13:24  'I can't remember a thing after 120 in that innings':   Australia and India meet at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai this week for the seventh Test between the teams at the venue. The third of those encounters, played 26 years ago, was one of the great Test matches and remains one of only two Tests to be tied. One of Australia's heroes of that match, Dean Jones, reflected this week on the match and its aftermath. Read
13:09  First look: Dan Browne's Inferno:  Dan Brown, author of the No.1 international blockbusters The Lost Symbol and The Da Vinci Code, recently completed work on a new novel, Inferno, that will be published by Random House India on May 14th 2013.

In Inferno Browne returns to the heart of old Europe and to the territory so compellingly occupied by The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown said, "Although I studied Dante's Inferno as a student, it wasn't until recently, while researching in Florence, that I came to appreciate the enduring influence of Dante's work on the modern world. With this new novel, I am excited to take readers on a journey deep into this mysterious realm'a landscape of codes, symbols, and more than a few secret passageways."  Another gripping, page-turner for your library. 
12:59  Commuters in Delhi face hardship as strike continues:  While we go to the Pistorius case in a bit, on day 2 of the labour unions strike: Commuters in Delhi continued to face hardships for the second consecutive day today as majority of auto-rickshaws and taxis stayed off the road in support of the two-day nationwide strike called by 11 trade unions.

Students and office goers were the hardest hit as auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers either refused to go or overcharged. Various industrial units and banks either remained closed or witnessed thin attendance while markets and commercial areas remained open.

Yesterday, the strike had evoked a mixed response.Five major auto-rickshaw and taxi unions in the city have joined the strike to demand a hike in auto and taxi fares.

Long queues were seen at metro stations. DTC services were near normal though a section of the employees extended support to the strike.

Also read: 70 held in Delhi, how the Bharat Bandh affected your city.
12:51  Pistorius investigator faces attempt to murder :  Moving on to other news...

The sensational case of Oscar Pistorius took a new turn today when police said the lead investigator is facing seven counts of attempted murder stemming from an incident four years ago. That investigator, Hilton Botha, and several other police officers apparently fired at a minibus they were chasing in late 2009, spokesman Neville Malila told CNN affiliate eNCA.

The officers were allegedly drunk at the time, the spokesman said.They were arrested on seven counts of attempted murder -- for the number of occupants in the minibus, the spokesman said. More
12:48   The House observes a moments silence in the memory of those who have passes away. Parliament adjourns till tomorrow. Basically, the Speaker formally announced that the Budget session had been thrown open. The functioning of Parliament is crucial to both the Opposition parties and the government given its likely to be the last Budget Session before the next national elections.  
12:45   Budget session of Parliament begins. Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar opens the session. After the national anthem, obituaries are read out. Leader of the Opposition in the LS, Sushma Swaraj, listens in. Expect fireworks soon.
12:41  Hitler, Mafia, Bomber seeking votes in Meghalaya:  Hitler, Mafia, Bomber, Kennedy and Alexander are among 346 candidates seeking votes in Meghalaya. Not to be left behind, some voters in the state also have peculiar names like Thailand, New York and Submarine.

Among the other contestants for the February 23 polls who have equally colourful names are Hilarius, Predecessor, Boldness, Hamlet and Nesting.

Historians in the state say the different names are a result of a colonial hangover Dr Amanda Passah, a historian at the North Eastern Hills University, said, "It is unfair to laugh at them (names) since they are not to be blamed for having such names." "It is the result of fascination of anything western or European of their parents," he said.
12:34   The Budget session of Parliament is to begin on 12:38 pm. 
12:24  Look who missed Pranab's maiden speech as Prez in Parl:  Outside Parliament, MPs from Left parties stage demonstrations against price rise, disinvestment of shares of public sector units etc., near the Gandhi statue in front of Parliament.

Pro-Telangana Congress MPs blocked  entry for other MPs at the Parliament entrance and staged a sit-in dharna seeking a separate Telangana state. MPs present include Ponnam Prabhakar, Dr G Vivekananad, Rajaiah Siricilla, Mandha Jagannath, Gutha Sukanthar Reddy.
12:20  DMK MPs who raised slogans during Prez speech:  Our sources in Delhi tell us that when the President began his speech, it was the DMK MPs who rose to their feet and shouted slogans over the Sri Lanka. They were pacified by AICC general secretary V Narayanasamy who went up to their seats and requested them to calm down.
12:14  President Pranab Mukherjee leaves Parliament and is escorted with his cavalry of Presidential guards back to Rashtrapati Bhawan. As a Parliamentarian for over six decades, the President will surely miss this session. 
12:11  Pranab's speech to Parl ends:  Pranab now towards the end of his speech.

"India stands tall as a nation because we are seen as a liberal and plural democracy, which has faced and overcome tremendous odds.  

"The world recognizes India's demonstrable democratic and secular practices as a major achievement. 

While we should rejoice in the benefits that our plurality brings, the challenge is to relentlessly pursue our efforts to accelerate economic growth and widen opportunities within our democratic framework. It is only if we constantly renew and defend the democratic values that define our nationhood that we will be able to face the great challenges that lie before us. 

On behalf of my Government, I appeal to all of you to support our endeavours in marching ahead as a proud nation. Jai Hind."

Vice President Hamid Ansari now reading out the President's speech in Hindi.
12:09  Prez tackles mission to Mars, space programmes :   "Our space programme epitomizes India's scientific achievements and benefits the country in a number of areas. The launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on 9 September 2012 marked our 100th space mission. India's first remote sensing satellite RISAT-1, with all-weather imaging capability, was also launched in 2012. Several space missions are planned for 2013, including India's first mission to Mars and the launch of our first navigational satellite," says the President.   

Mention of the Mars mission draws applause.
12:06  Army prepared to take on any threat to nation: Pranab :  Pranab Mukherjee also said the Army was completely prepared to take on any threat to the nation. Paying tribute to the soldiers who had been martyred, he said Pakistan must desist in acts that reduce regional instability. "My government is determined to thwart any attempt to violate peace in the region," he said.

Pranab also touched upon violence in Assam, Naxal-related deaths, which he says has reduced over the last year. At least 400 police stations in Naxal-affected areas were in place, roads (critical to maintaining peace in the areas) were underway.

Peace prevails, to a large extent in J&K and the Northeast and terrorism-related deaths have fallen.
11:57  Pranab: Pakistan should NOT reduce trust deficit :   Government will encourage domestic production of arms and armament.
The government attaches the highest importance to the welfare of servicemen and ex-servicemen. We have announced schemes that will benefit 13 lakh personnel. Applause from all MPs across party lines. Defence minister AK Antony smiles like a proud father. 

Pranab says India will continue to seek peace, development, cooperation in the sub-continent.

"We have taken all the requisite measures for the normalization of relations, we remain committed to taking the peace process forward, but it is important for Pakistan to avoid acts that results in trust deficits.

"We will continue to help Afghanistan fight terrorism and in Sri Lanka, India will continue with its process of engagement so that a life of peace, dignity and equality can be pursued by the Tamil people." DMK MPs, thankfully, silent.

That's the big brother part of Pranab's speech.  
11:48  External Affairs minister Salman Khurshid listens to Pranab with knitted brows and a frown on his face. Seems like he has a tummy ache.

Pranab says new ports have been planned in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. The auction of new competitive rules in coal block allocation is in the process. LS TV cameraman doing a good job, panning to coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, who looks irritated.  
11:44  India's performance at the Olympics and paraolympics has been encouraging. The government will now identify sports talent from the panchayat level.
11:42  Govt committed to creating 100 million jobs in 10 years:  President Mukherjee says the government is committed to creating 100 million jobs in a decade.

"The dependance on oil imports will be reduced," says Pranab, "75 per cent of oil is imported now."

Backbencher DMK MP Kanimozhi is chatting with someone, who can't be seen. All smiles, even as the Enforcement Directorate is set to tighten its noose in the 2G spectrum allocations case as the agency will soon file its charge sheet against her and A Raja.
11:35  Infrastructure projects on the anvil:   The President announces concessional credit for the handloom sector, which  will benefit 10 lakh handloom weavers.

Government clearances for new airports, including the one at Navi Mumbai and other green field (projects with eco clearance) are announced.
A state-of-the-art coach production facility at Rae Bareilly to produce stainless steel coaches.

A sip of water, and Pranab continues...

2600 km of new roads on the anvil, including 900 km of highways, on a BOT (built, operate, transfer basis).   
11:28  The President enumerates other schemes like mid-day meals, free treatment of pregnant women in state run hospitals. Camera pans to Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. Beatific smile is noted. 
11:26  Maternal, infant mortality rates have gone down: Prez:  Applause in Parliament as the President announces that India has been declared polio-free for the second year running and the longest period since the eradicaton programme began. The President announces existing schemes in health care for women, children, mothers; schemes to prevent diseases, disabilities. Maternal mortality, infant mortality rates have gone down, says the President.  
11:22  Stringent laws to prevent sexual offences against women:  Women is deeply concerned about sexual offences against women. The government will look into the recommendations put forth by the Justice Verma commission on these issues.  
11:20  Pranab announces funds, schemes, fellowships... :  The President is now rattling off changes in existing schemes for minorities, education schemes, scholarships, funds and fellowships for the disabled, rehabilitation manual scavengers, funds for widows, etc. "The MNREGA provided employment to 5 crore people," he says
11:17  Govt committed to enacting Food Security Bill:  Pranab Mukherjee says that despite problems in rains, agricultural output was expected to be better than hoped. "Schemes for the benefit of farmers have been undertaken. Youth energy and enterprise will take India to a new height," he promises. The government is also committed to enacting the Food Security Bill.
11:12  Pranab: Women's security a concern for all of us:  Addressing the issue of women's security, Pranab says, "The security of women is an important factor and people are concerned about it."

The government is also working to reduce inequalities in the country through the direct cash transfer system using Aadhar. "It will be a trendsetter," he promises.
11:09  Persisting economic condition is a worry: Pranab:  President Mukerjee says the past year has been difficult for the economy, but the government took several measures to curtail inflation and revive the economy. "But the persisting economic condition is a worry for all of us," says Pranab.

MPs are finally listening quietly after their token protest. Pranab Mukherjee is addressing a joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha at the Central Hall of Parliament.

"Inflation is easing gradually, but is still a problem," says Pranab.
11:04  The National Anthem is being played as Pranab Mukherjee takes the seat of honour, straddled by Hamid Ansari and Meira Kumar.
Pranab begins his speech: "I hope this session will be productive," he says, but MPs raise a din. Pranab, used to ruckus (when he was the finance minister) carries on regardless.    
11:01  Pranab Mukherjee is being led inside Parliament by LS Speaker Meira Kumar, chairman of the Upper House, Hamid Ansari, PM Dr Manmohan Singh, Parliamentary Affairs minister Kamal Nath. The trumpeters announce the President's arrival inside the Central Hall of Parliament.

Sushil Kumar Shinde sitting next to Sushma Swaraj! 
10:59   President Pranab Mukherjee arrives in Parliament.
10:58  Sushma's promises ahead of the Budget session:  Sushma Swaraj said parties want discussion on several issues including VVIP chopper scam, Indo-Pak ties in the backdrop of beheading of two Indian soldiers, situation in Maldives, attempts by China to encircle India, severe drought in Maharashtra and plight of farmers due to hailstorm in MadhyaPradesh as also the burden of rising prices on the common man.
10:54  Sushil Kumar Shinde finally apologises for Hindu terror remark:  A possible confrontation between the government and the BJP over home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's "Hindu terror" remark was averted on the eve of the session as he expressed regret and the main opposition welcomed it. Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj had demanded that Shinde withdraw his comments and tender an apology, failing which the party would boycott him.

The President's car on the way to Parliament accompanied by the cavalry.  
10:51  What the PM said just before the Parl session begins:  The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, earlier on Wednesday called for a productive, constructive debate in the upcoming Budget Session leading to agreed solutions to many national problems that the country faces.

"This session of Parliament is going to transact the important financial business before the House and it is our sincere hope that we will have a productive, constructive debate leading to agreed solutions to many national problems that our country faces. I have said this before and I repeat it again Parliament is a forum for discussions, for dialogue and all parties have an obligation to ensure that Parliament runs smoothly," Dr. Singh told the media after an all-party meeting called by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.
10:49  President Pranab Mukherjee heads to Parliament:  His car is being led by a cavalry, part of the Presidential guard. He is likely to reach Parliament any time now, where he will address a joint session of Parliament. The speech is unlikely to be controversial.
10:46  President Pranab Mukherjee, dressed in a black achkan, heads to Parliament. There is a small ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, before he enters the portals of Parliament. He is now heading to Parliament in a convoy. 
10:41  PM: Conduct in Parliament crucial determinant:  Ahead of the Parliament session, the first in 2013, PM Manmohan Singh tells MPs that the conduct in Parliament will be a crucial determinant of the country's ability to cope up with formidable challenges.

The Budget Session starts today with President Pranab Mukherjee's first address to the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. President Mukherjee will address both Houses of Parliament assembled together at 11 am in the Central Hall.

The Budget (Railways) for 2013-2014 will be presented to the Lok Sabha on February 26 immediately after Question Hour.  The Economic Survey of India will be laid in the Parliament on February 27.  The Budget (General) for 2013 - 2014 will be presented at 11 am on February 28.

To finalise the government business for the 2013Budget Session, Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath took a meeting with Secretaries/senior officers of various Ministries/Departments on February 15. The Minister of State in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs co-chaired the meeting.  During the meeting, 71 items [55 Bills, 13 Financial items and 03 Non-legislative items] were identified for 2013 Budget Session.
10:29  Want a constructive Budget session, says PM:   Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the media ahead of the Budget session today. Here is what he said.

"Our conduct in Parliament will be crucial determinant of country's ability to cope up with formidable challenges," he said.

"I hope the opposition allows Parliament to function. We wish to engage constructively, peacefully with all members. People want a constructive session of the Parliament," he added.

10:24  Foreign Secretary Mathai to meet John Kerry:   Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai will hold talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry tomorrow during which discussions on cooperation in key strategic areas and the regional situation is likely to be the focus.

Mathai, who arrived in Washington on a three-day United States trip -- his first of the Obama Administration's second term -- would also hold a series of meetings with top American officials on a range of bilateral and regional issues. Prominent among them include Deputy Secretary of State William Burns; Under Secretary of State for Energy, Economic Growth and the Environment Robert Hormats.
09:37  Oscar Pistorius' lawyers question police investigation :  The bail hearing for South African paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his girlfriend, is due to enter its third day.

The magistrate's line of questioning indicated he may be considering bail, reports BBC.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Pistorius challenged the testimony of veteran Detective Hilton Botha at the hearing in Pretoria.

Read the full report here
09:34  Rape-murder of 3 minors: 6 days on, no case filed:  Temper are flaring among  residents of Bhandara, a village near Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district, after the police failed to make any arrest six days after three minor sisters were brutally raped, murdered and thrown into a well, reports NDTV.

The family of the girls is still in a state of shock and the locals allege that the cops are still not doing enough to nab the culprits.

Read the full report on NDTV
09:14  8.2 per cent of Indian Americans live below poverty line:   Boasting of having the highest per capita income among all the major ethnic groups,more than eight per cent of the nearly three million IndianAmericans are living below the poverty line in the United States, a latest Census report revealed yesterday.   

According to the 2007-2011 American Community Survey, 42.7million people in the United States had income below the poverty level. The national poverty rate is 14.7 per cent.   

With 8.2 per cent of poverty rate, Indian Americans are far less poor than other ethnic groups and the national average,the Census Bureau report said.
09:00  Rail Budget 2013-14: 100 trains to be launched:  Railways are planning to introduce about 100 trains, including AC double deckers, new passenger services and extension of services to cater to the demands of various states in the Rail Budget 2013-14.

As far as rolling stock programme is concerned, the announcement will be made for manufacturing of 4200 new coaches including 600 LHB coaches in the Rail Budget.

While provision for manufacturing of 670 new locomotives including 20 LNG locos will be made, the budget will also account for manufacturing of about 16,000 new wagons. "The focus of the Rail Budget this year is on providing more amenities to passengers. Attempts have been made to cater to the demands of all regions including Northeast as there were representations for new trains from various states," sources in railway ministry said.
08:43  Day 2 of Bharat Bandh: 65 arrested for Noida violence :   The two-day Bharat Bandh called by trade unions entered Day 2 today. Banks will continue to remain shut.

In Noida, schools are shut today after yesterday's violence where factories and vehicles came under mob attacks. At least 65 people have been arrested for vandalising factories at the hosiery complex in phase 2 and setting 25 vehicles, including a fire engine, on fire. Violence was also reported from phase 3.

Mumbai: Expect a normal Thursday in the city, which remain largely unaffected by the bandh yesterday. Banks and RTOs will be shut today.

Public transport in other cities could be affected again.

Delhi: Few autos are off the roads. However, DTC buses are not participating in the strike.

Kolkata: Few taxis are plying on roads. Most of the factories and shops are open, reports NDTV.

Lucknow: State transport buses are not running here today and all public sector banks are closed.

Bangalore: Schools and colleges are shut. Fewer autos and taxis can be seen on the roads. Shops are open.
 
08:36  Sony announces PlayStation 4 with touchpad:   Sony has announced its next-generation gaming console -- the PlayStation 4 --at an event in New York. The announcement gives the struggling Japanese electronics company a head start over Microsoft and an Xbox 360 successor.

Sony said it will go on sale in at least some countries in or around December, reports BBC.

The new PlayStation's updated controller closely resembles the PlayStation 3 controller but adds a touchpad, motion control and a "share" button. The Japanese electronics giant said the console will be part of a new ecosystem focused on hardware, software and "the fastest, most powerful gaming network."

The PlayStation 4 will be Sony's first major game console since the PlayStation 3 went on sale in 2006.
02:34  Nigeria busts Iran-backed terror cell:  Nigeria today busted a terrorist cell backed by 'Iranian handlers' with plans to kill a former military ruler and gather intelligence on movements of Americans and Israelis, officials said.

The cell planned to assassinate Nigeria's former military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida, and a former traditional ruler of Sokoto caliphate, Ibrahim Dasuki but was foiled by the country's secret police, the State Security Service.

The secret police paraded before journalists in Abuja, one Abdullahi Mustapha Berende, the group's head, said to be a leader of a Shiite Islamic sect in the north central city of Ilorin who confessed to planning to kill the men and expand a new terrorist network with the aid of a group from Iran.

Berende, who was arrested with three other persons said they were also spying on American, Israeli and some other Western countries' interests in the oil-rich African nation with the aim of attacking their facilities.
01:05  Pistorius case: What really happened?:  CNN reports: Sounds of arguing for an hour before the shooting. Blood stains on a cell phone and cricket bat. Boxes of testosterone and needles.

The shape of prosecutors' case against Oscar Pistorius began to come into focus Wednesday as they argued the Olympian charged with killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, should be denied bail because he might disappear if released from jail.

Read the full story here
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