News & Current Affairs

November 27, 2008

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Troops confront Mumbai attackers

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Employees and guests of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel are rescued by fire crews

Indian security forces have been exchanging fire with gunmen holding dozens of hostages in two luxury hotels in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay).

Troops surrounded the premises shortly after armed men carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the city, killing 101 people and injuring 287.

The hotels were among several locations in the main tourist and business district targeted late on Wednesday.

Police say four suspected terrorists have been killed and nine arrested.

The situation is still volatile in two of the most high-profile targets of Wednesday’s attacks – the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident hotels, where armed men are believed to be holding about 40 hostages.

Flames and black smoke billow from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Mumbai

There are reports of intermittent exchange of fire between security forces and the armed attackers barricaded inside both hotels.

Correspondents say security personnel have so far not stormed the premises perhaps for fear of endangering the lives of hostages, some of whom could be Westerners.

There are also unconfirmed reports that five gunmen have taken hostages in an office block in the financial district of Mumbai.

The city’s main commuter train station, a hospital, and a restaurant were among at least seven locations caught up in the violence.

In other developments:

• Fire crews evacuate people from the upper floors of the Taj Mahal Palace, where police say a grenade attack caused a blaze

• Israel says it is concerned for the safety of its citizens in Mumbai, as a rabbi and his family are feared captured by gunmen

• The head of Mumbai’s anti-terrorism unit and two other senior officers are among those killed, officials say

• The White House holds a meeting of top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, and pledges to help the Indian government

• Trading on India’s Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange markets will remain closed on Thursday, officials say.

Gunmen opened fire at about 2300 local time (1730 GMT) on Wednesday at the sites in southern Mumbai.

“The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed,” said AN Roy, police commissioner of Maharashtra state.

Local TV images showed blood-splattered streets, and bodies being taken into ambulances.

One eyewitness told the BBC he had seen a gunman opening fire in the Taj Mahal’s lobby.

“We all moved through the lobby in the opposite direction and another gunman then appeared towards where we were moving and he started firing immediately in our direction.”

One British tourist said she spent six hours barricaded in the Oberoi hotel.

BOMB ATTACKS IN INDIA IN 2008
30 October: Explosions kill at least 64 in north-eastern Assam
30 September: Blasts in western India kill at least seven
27 September: Bomb blasts kills one in Delhi
13 September: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
26 July: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
25 July: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
13 May: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63

“There were about 20 or 30 people in each room. The doors were locked very quickly, the lights turned off, and everybody just lay very still on the floor,” she said.

Eyewitness reports suggest the attackers singled out British and American passport holders.

If the reports are true, our security correspondent says it implies an Islamist motive – attacks inspired or co-ordinated by al-Qaeda.

A claim of responsibility has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

Our correspondent says it could be a hoax or assumed name for another group.

There has been a wave of bombings in Indian cities in recent months which has left scores of people dead.

The timing and symbolism of the latest attacks could not have been worse.

By choosing to target the richest district of India’s financial capital in such a brazen and effective manner, he says those behind the attacks have perhaps dealt the severest blow to date to the morale and self esteem of the Indian authorities.

The attacks have come amidst elections in several Indian states and exposes the governing coalition to the charge that it has failed to combat terror, our correspondent says.

Aerial map of Mumbai showing sites of shootings


Are you in the region? Have you witnessed the attacks? Send us your comments

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September 14, 2008

Turkmen violence ‘drug related’

Turkmen violence ‘drug related’

A Turkmen policeman in Ashgabat in February 2007

Bordering Afghanistan, Turkmenistan is a known route for the heroin trade

Authorities in Turkmenistan say they have “neutralized” a gang of drug traffickers in a security operation overnight in the capital Ashgabat.

The statement contradicted earlier media reports that security forces had been engaged in heavy gun battles with Islamist militants.

Some reports said at least 20 police officers had died in the fighting.

The claims are extremely difficult to confirm, as Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most tightly controlled states.

‘Sealed off’

The Central Asian nation borders Afghanistan to the east and is a known route for the global heroin trade.

In what analysts said was a rare confirmation of unrest in the ex-Soviet republic, the Turkmen foreign ministry said in a statement that “a criminal group involved in the illegal drug trade” had been “neutralized”.

The ministry did not say whether there were any casualties, or if any traffickers had been detained.

Foreign media organizations earlier said that Islamic militants were involved in the fighting, though the ministry made no reference to this.

The neighbourhood where the fighting took place, in Ashgabat’s northern suburbs, was sealed off until Sunday morning, an AFP reporter said.

August 30, 2008

Police killed by India mine blast

Police killed by India mine blast

Map

Twelve police officers have been killed by a landmine explosion in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, police say.

The officers were carrying out a patrol in a police vehicle through the Maoist rebel stronghold of Burudih, 160km (100 miles) south of the capital, Ranchi.

A police spokesman said the rebels had been planting mines in the area to deter attacks by the security forces.

More than 6,000 people have died during the Maoist rebels’ 20-year fight for a communist state in parts of India.

Last week, at least nine people, including six policemen, were killed in clashes between security forces and Maoist rebels in Bihar state.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist insurgency is the “single biggest threat” to India’s security.

The rebels, who operate in several Indian states, say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.

August 21, 2008

Pakistan bombers hit arms factory

Pakistan bombers hit arms factory

Police at the scene of the Wah bomb

The emergency services rushed to the scene of the bombings

At least 55 people have been killed in twin suicide bombings outside a munitions factory in the Pakistani town of Wah, police say.

The attack is the deadliest on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The bombs hit the city, 30km (18 miles) north of Islamabad, as workers left. Many people were injured.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban said they had carried out the attacks, which he said were a response to army violence in the country’s north-west.

Speaking to the BBC, Maulvi Umar of the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan said the bombings in Wah were in retaliation for the deaths of “innocent women and children” in the tribal area of Bajaur.

Map

He said more attacks would take place in Pakistan’s major urban conurbations unless the army withdrew from the tribal areas.

Correspondents say Wah, in the province of Punjab, is a strategically important town normally under heavy security as it is home to a large industrial complex producing conventional arms and ammunition.

Local police chief Nasir Khan Durrani told : “Many others have been injured and we expect casualties to rise in the coming hours.

“At least 25 people have been critically injured.”

Mr Durrani said none of the dead was military personnel.

‘Disturbing’

The first blast took place outside the gate of the factory as workers were leaving work during a shift change.

Minutes later, another blast took place at another gate of the same factory.

Pakistan's Al-Zarar tanks are made at Wah

Tanks used by the Pakistani army are made at Wah

Mohid Ahmed, a student from Wah, was on a tour of the ordnance factories and witnessed the immediate aftermath of the blast from his bus.

“It was very disturbing,” he told.

“There was smoke, bodies and blood. Those who were left alive were in great suffering. I saw a man clutching his leg and crying in pain and asking for help. I saw people running away from the scene.”

On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in a suicide attack on a hospital in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan.

It is the second recent direct attack on a Pakistani military installation.

Last September, 17 officers and soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on a special forces base in the nearby town of Tarbela-Ghazi.

The ordnance factories at Wah lie on the road into Pakistan’s troubled north-west, where fighting between security forces and Islamic militants has raged in recent weeks.

Established in the early 1950s, it is a sprawling complex manufacturing everything from tanks and small arms to artillery shells.

Militants have often threatened to increase the level of violence unless the army pulls back from tribal areas close to the border with Afghanistan.

On Monday, President Musharraf, a key ally of President Bush’s “war on terror” resigned after nine years in power to avoid being impeached.


Are you in Wah? Have your been affected by the bombings? Send us your comments

August 14, 2008

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russian soldier near Gori, 13 August 2008

Russia insists its troops remain in Georgia for security purposes only

Russian troops have begun handing over control of the area around the town of Gori to Georgian security forces.

But a Russian general in the area said Moscow’s troops would remain nearby for several days to remove weaponry and help restore law and order in Gori.

Overnight the US secretary of state urged Moscow to meet its own pledge to pull troops out of Georgia altogether.

Georgia attacked the rebel region of South Ossetia from Gori a week ago and the town has remained a key flash point.

Russian troops occupied the town after they pushed Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, sparking a mass retreat from the city by Georgian troops and civilians.

Gori has also come under air attack, with reports of Russian planes bombing the town after Moscow declared an end to its military operation on Tuesday.

And Russia’s continued deployment of troops in Gori raised concerns that the Kremlin would not make a quick withdrawal from Georgian territory, despite agreeing to a European peace plan.

Safety ‘improved’

Moscow insists that the purpose of its continuing presence in Georgia proper is to hand over security to the Georgian police and to remove abandoned weapons and ammunition.

In Gori, I saw lorries full of bodies being delivered to the hostpial every day. So many people have died, why is the government lying?

Local residents reported feeling safe and secure on Wednesday night, our correspondent says, with Russian troops clearly in charge of the town.

The Russian general co-ordinating the return of Georgian police and security forces to Gori urged residents – many of whom left town as the Georgian army retreated on Monday – to return to their homes and re-open their shops, our correspondent adds.

Russian troops were allowing armed Georgian police back into the town, and would not leave until order is restored, Gen Vyacheslav Borisov said.

US steadfast

The Georgian government says that 175 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the conflict with Russia and South Ossetian separatist forces.

Russia, which says that 74 of its troops were killed, reports that more than 2,000 people died in South Ossetia, the vast majority civilians allegedly killed in the Georgian attack.

While none of the casualty figures have been verified independently, the UN refugee agency estimates that some 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, both from South Ossetia and Georgia proper.

Both sides have accused each other of committing atrocities during the conflict, although little conclusive evidence has been found.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said on Wednesday night Russia faced international “isolation” if it refused to respect the truce, brokered by French and current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She spoke hours after Russian tanks were seen moving out of Gori on the main road to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Amid widespread concern the armored column eventually turned off the main road and troops began work to destroy or disable Georgian army bases.

“We expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,” Ms Rice said later in Washington, before leaving on a diplomatic mission to France and Georgia.

There was, she said, a “very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be”.

And the US special envoy to the region, Matthew Bryza, told the BBC that the outbreak of violence in the Caucasus strengthened Georgia’s case to join the Nato alliance.

“Russia, a country with 30 times the population [of Georgia] decided to roll into its much smaller neighbour and tried to roll over it. It failed to roll over Georgia, but it would never have even thought of doing this if Georgia were already a member of Nato,” he said.

Map of region

August 12, 2008

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters shot dead in Kashmir

Protesters defying curfew in Srinagar on August 12 2008

Protests over land erupted in June

At least seven people were killed and many injured when security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir opened fire on  stone-throwing Muslim protesters.

Thousands defied a curfew in Srinagar and other towns in the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley for a second day. One person died in clashes in Jammu region.

The curfew was imposed ahead of the burial of a senior separatist who died after police opened fire on Monday.

Tensions are rising and threaten peace hopes after years of relative calm.

The BBC’s Chris Morris in Delhi says Kashmir has now become dangerously polarized, in a dispute which began over the control of a small piece of land.

Protests and counter-protests have been taking place for weeks in the Kashmir valley, and in the mainly Hindu region around the city of Jammu further south.

The demonstrations in the valley are some the biggest since a separatist rebellion against Indian rule broke out nearly 20 years ago.

‘Freedom’

Security forces opened fire on Tuesday on a number of protests by Muslims who defied the curfew.

If the blockade continues it will be a disaster for us
Mohammad Yousuf,
Kashmir Fruit Growers’ Association

The army fired to disperse a procession in the northern district of Bandipora, killing three people and injuring five. Three other people were killed in the Lasjan and Rainawari areas.

“We have imposed a curfew to ensure the peaceful burial of Sheikh Aziz,” local police chief Kuldeep Khuda told reporters.

In the Jammu region, one person was killed and more than a dozen injured after Hindus and Muslims clashed in the town of Kishtwar. Houses, vehicles and other property were damaged before police opened fire to restore order.

No other violence has been reported from the Jammu region.

Sheikh Aziz was a prominent leader of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella of separatist groups which opposes Indian rule.

His body has been kept in a mosque in Srinagar. Mourners have stayed with the body and shouted slogans like “We want freedom”.

The police said they were trying to find out why security forces opened fire on the protesters on Monday.

Police say several of their personnel were injured by stones thrown by those at the protest.

Pilgrims

Sheikh Aziz was among thousands of protesters who marched on Monday towards the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border with Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslim protester runs for cover as tear gas shell explode near them during a march in Srinagar 11 August

The violence is spreading

They were supporting fruit growers who wanted to sell their produce. Muslims say Hindus in the state are blockading a key highway that links the Kashmir valley with the rest of India.

The government, which denies the blockade, says lorries are moving between the two regions with security escorts.

Hindus have protested for weeks since the authorities scrapped plans to transfer land to a Hindu trust.

With the highway blocked for days, the Muslim fruit growers have complained that their produce is rotting.

The land row started when the state government said it would grant 99 acres (40 hectares) of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board to be used by Hindu pilgrims.

Muslims launched violent protests, saying the allocation of land was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

But following days of protests, the government rescinded the order, prompting Hindu groups to mount violent protests of their own.

More than 20 people – Muslims and Hindus – have been killed and hundreds wounded in clashes with police since the unrest began.

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