Sunday, 28 February 2010

Shashi Tharoor's twitter on Saudi `mediation' kicks off major political row

2010
By Syed Akbar
Riyadh, Feb 28: Union Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has kicked off yet another political controversy when he told visiting Indian mediapersons here late on Saturday night that he valued Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor to resolve the bilateral crisis between India and Pakistan.
“We feel that Saudi Arabia of course has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia even a more valuable interlocutor for us,” he said. The minister’s remarks are a clear departation from India’s long-standing view that there should be no role for a third party in the resolution of bilateral problems with Pakistan.
But with the BJP and other political parties reacting sharply to his comments back home in New Delhi, the minister retracted his statement clarifying that by interlocutor he does not mean “mediation”.
Even as the External Affairs Ministry was busy chalking out a damage control exercise, Dr Tharoor as usual twitted that his remarks had been misinterpreted. “If I speak to you, you are my interlocutor! I mentioned the Saudis are our interlocutors, ie the people we are here to speak to. Some misinterpretation”.
Later in the day, Dr Tharoor issued a one-sentence statement blaming a section of the media for “misreading” the remarks. “What I basically said was that Saudi Arabia is a valuable interlocutor for India. Any other interpretation was neither meant nor warranted”.
Dr Shashi Tharoor, who attended a dinner party at the residence of Talmiz Ahmad, Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, late on Saturday night, held an impromptu press briefing.
When a reporter sought his views on Saudi role in resolving Indo-Pak crisis, the minister said he valued Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor. Though several other dignitaries too interacted with the media, they wanted it to go “off the record”.
Dr Tharoor is part of the high-level Indian media delegation currently visiting the oil-rich Arab kingdom, along with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. "We feel that Saudi Arabia of course has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia even a more valuable interlocutor for us”.
The minister, who is known for his frank twitters on various issues, has often been in trouble. The latest is his remarks on Saudi being an interlocutor.
Stating that Saudi Arabia has its own issues with Al Qaeda, he said "We expect to have a constructive conversation on the issue. The tentacles of terror have already spread from Afghanistan to Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, and latest is Yemen," he added.
To a question he said when India tells Saudi Arabia about its experience, the Arab nation “listens as somebody who is not in any way an enemy of Pakistan but rather is a friend of Pakistan”.

King Saud University confers honorary doctorate on Dr Manmohan Singh

2010
By Syed Akbar
Riyadh, Feb 28: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be conferred with a doctorate (honoris causa) by the King Saud University here on Monday.
Dr Manmohan Singh will latter address the students of the university, which is a rare honour. The Indian Prime Minister has been receiving a royal welcome, which is unprecedented for any foreign dignitary. Breaking the tradition, the Saudis accommodated Dr Manmohan Singh in the royal Saud Palace. No foreign dignitary has been given accommodation in the palace in the past.
Indians make up the largest foreign nationals in this oil rich kingdom contributing to its economic and industrial advancement, and considering this fact, the Saudi government has been breaking its established protocol to welcome Dr Manmohan Singh.
Saudi ruler King Abdullah later in the day met the Indian Prime Minister and accorded a ceremonial welcome to the visiting dignitary. The Indian delegation later signed as many as 10 bilateral agreements.

Saudi Arabia has cut off links with Taliban forces, says Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal

2010
By Syed Akbar
Riyadh, Feb 28: In a major boost to fight against global terrorism, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal said Saudi Arabia had no relations whatsoever with the Taliban forces.
Interacting with mediapersons from India at the Royal Saud Palace here on Sunday, Prince Saud Al Faisal said Saudi Arabia does not maintain relations with the Taliban since the latter was providing sanctuary to Al Qaida. “We do not have any relationship with the Taliban. This shows the seriousness we attach to the fight against terrorism,” he observed.
To a question on terrorism in Pakistan, the Saudi Foreign Minister said there should be political unity in that country to ensure that terrorism does not raise its ugly head.
Pakistan is a friendly country. There’s a dangerous trend. Therefore, one is not only sorry but worry about it. We hope united leadership in Pakistan is achieved to fight the problem.
He said Saudi Arabia is very proud to receive the prime minister. The visit will help in the relations moving in meaningful ways . “We are moving towards strategic cooperation.
There’s lot more to talk about the strategic cooperation. We have clear understanding of the common issues,” the foreign minister observed.
Emphasing the need for peace and well being in the region, Saud Al Faisal said both the countries were moving in the right direction. “We have built the basis from the statement of Delhi to the statement of Riyadh,” he said.
On the need to increasing the quota for the Haj pilgrims, the Saudi minister made it clear that there were lot of logistics problems and until the facilities were improved the quota cannot be increased. India has been demanding an increase in the Haj quota from the present 1.65 lakh since the country has the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia.

Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry: India all set to achieve growth rate of 9 per cent per annum, says Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh

2010
By Syed Akbar
Riyadh, Feb 28: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday said India, despite global economic slowdown, was poised to achieve a growth rate of over seven per cent in the current financial year.
Addressing the who’s who of the Saudi industry and a business delegation from India at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry here, Dr Manmohan Singh said he expected to get back to the growth level of about 9 per cent per annum within two years.
Inviting Saudi businessmen and industrialists to invest in India, the prime minister said the Indian domestic saving rates are high, and can support investment rates of as high as 38 per cent of gross domestic product. “India is an economy with a huge market, and a young and expanding work force. We have a vibrant and innovative private sector,” he said.
Incidentally, it was Dr Manmohan Singh, who had played a key role in the evolution of the India-Saudi Arabia economic partnership way back in 1994 when he was the Union Finance Minister.
Emphasing the need for further exploring trade and business activities between India and Saudi Arabia, the prime minister said both countries had in place a sound institutional mechanism to facilitate trade and investment, including a double taxation avoidance agreement and bilateral investment protection agreement.
“I would specifically refer to the construction, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, health, agriculture, energy, telecommunications, tourism and other service sectors. We deeply value Saudi Arabia’s role as a reliable partner in meeting our energy needs. We believe that conditions are ripe for moving beyond a traditional buyer-seller relationship to a
comprehensive energy partnership,” he said.
Indian companies, he said are well equipped to participate in upstream and downstream oil and gas sector projects in Saudi Arabia. There should be new partnerships in the area of new and renewable energy through sharing of clean technologies and joint collaborations.
Indian investments into Saudi Arabia have risen considerably and today stand at more than 2 billion US dollars covering over 500 joint ventures. Several major Indian companies have already established their presence in the kingdom.
The prime minister said both the countries should also look at new areas of cooperation. Education and skill development are of primary importance to both our countries. India has a proven track record in the field of knowledge-based industries, which have great potential for improving the skill set of the work force.
Calling for greater exchanges among the chambers, industry associations and business houses of both sides, Dr Manmohan Singh said more frequent participation in trade fairs and exhibitions will create greater awareness of each others’ capabilities.
“The Gulf countries are our natural partners in every sense of the term. Such interactions will bring vitality and dynamism in the cooperation between our two economies. India sees Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner for promoting peace, stability and economic development. Such a partnership will bring benefits not only to our two countries but to the region we both belong to, and to the world at large,” he said, amidst a standing ovation.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Indo-Saudi relations: Extradition treaty will help fight terror

2010
By Syed Akbar
Riyadh, Feb 27: The signing of extradition treaty between India and Saudi Arabia will herald a new phase in diplomatic relations of the two nations in curbing terrorism and terror-related activities.
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who arrived here on Saturday on a three-day bilateral visit to Saudi Arabia, will sign an extradition treaty on Sunday with the oil-rich nation, which commands quite an influence on the Muslim and the Arab world. And as the Prime Minister said, “the Gulf region is an area of vital importance for India’s security and prosperity”.
Extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia has been on the anvil for quite a few years. Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi, the first by an Indian prime minister in 28 years, is likely to give a boost to the revolve of the two countries to fight against global terrorism. Security issues concern Saudi Arabia as much as India, with international terrorism raising its ugly head of late, in the neighbourhood.
India is likely to gain much from the extradition treaty as some of the terror suspects involved in bomb blasts in various Indian cities, including Hyderabad, are reportedly taking shelter in Saudi Arabia.
“Once the extradition treaty is through, no person with criminal backgrround will dare to take shelter there,” a senior official felt. India will be able to lay claim on Indian terror suspects who have taken shelter in Saudi Arabia, or those operating from there. The extradition of underworld don Abu Salem from Portugal after India signed agreement with that country is cited as the best example.
On the issue of terrorism, King Abdullah too has been unwavering in his condemnation of the taking of innocent lives. He has always denounced deviant groups that falsely claim to be Islamic. The king has been leading successful tirade against terrorism and there has been no reported terrorist incident since he has become King.
India and Saudi Arabia have already been sharing information on terror suspects. The current visit will pave way for sharing of intelligence in real time and devising counter-terrorism strategies.
“they will tell us their security concerns, we will tell them about our security concerns and this will help in evolving common strategies to fight terrorism,” the official said.
Security concern is high on Indian agenda, since India has been a victim of international and cross border terrorism. This is clearly reflected in Dr Manmohan Singh’s pre-departure statement, “I believe India and Saudi Arabia have much to gain by cooperating with each other in combating extremism and terrorism. I expect to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and other regional issues of mutual interest”.
The prime minister added that he would be holding talks with Saudi Arabian ruler king Abdullah on how the two countries can promote greater stability and security in the region and impart a strategic character to our relations beyond the traditional areas of cooperation|.
Earlier, Dr Manmohan Singh received a rousing reception at the royal terminal of king Khaled international airport in Riyadh on his arrival from new Delhi.
Departing from the Saudi tradition, all the three minister-brothers of the king and the entire cabinet received the prime minister. A formal welcome will be done by king Abdullah at the royal palace on Sunday before the two leaders meet and sign as many as 10 agreements on various issues.

Friday, 26 February 2010

India to discuss terror issues with Saudi Arabia

2010
By Syed Akbar
New Delhi, Feb 26: Terrorism, peace on earth and outer space, exchange of convicted prisoners, business and diplomatic expansion, a mega common investment fund, regional and global issues, and information technology will dominate the Indo-Saudi talks during the three-day tour of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia.
Dr Manmohan Singh will leave for Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh on Saturday with a high level official and business delegation to boost bilateral ties and commerce between the two countries. New Delhi and Riyadh will sign as many as nine agreements which include an extradition treaty and creation of a $ 680 million joint investment fund. The
extradition treaty has been pending for long. Labour issues will also be discussed, since Indians make a large chunk of workforce in the oil-rich Arab nation.
Incidentally, this is the first visit by an Indian premier to Saudi Arabia in nearly three decades. Indira Gandhi visited Saudi Arabia 28 years ago, in 1982. Dr Manmohan Singh will address Saudi Arabia's highest legislative body, the Shura council, on the last day of his trip on March 1, a rare honour for a foreign dignitary. The prime minister is likely to throw light on the long relation between India and the Arab world, dating back to thousands of years.
Both the countries will look forward to new investment opportunities during Dr Manmohan Singh's visit. The prime minister will also address the Council of Saudi Chamber, which is likely to give a fillip to trade and commerce between the two nations. He will also address the local Indian community in Riyadh.
According to Vijaya Latha Reddy, secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs, the visit provides an opportunity for the two leaders to review bilateral relations and also to discuss regional and global issues in the spirit of “Delhi Declaration” which was signed in 2006.
“The visit aims at reinforcing the strategic partnership between the two countries. Several agreements and MoUs representing a broad range of cooperation in the areas of security, science and technology, culture, media etc will be signed which will further enrich and institutionalise the strategic objectives and cooperation between India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” she said.
The prime minister will discuss wide ranging issues with Saudi king Abdullah during the talks, including terrorism and security. Indian has historic ties with the Arab world and the both the nations will look forward to further boosting it. Palestine as also Afghanistan is likely to figure during the discussions. There’s also a possibility of India seeking increase in the Haj quota.
India and Saudi Arabia have both been victims of global terrorism and extremism, and Dr Manmohan Singh's visit will help the two nations in devising strategies to fight against the menace.
On the economic front, Saudi Arabia is an important trading and energy security partner. The bilateral trade between India and Saudi Arabia during 2008-09 exceeded 25 billion US dollars. Many Indian companies are active in various sectors. A 25-member CEOs delegation is also visiting Saudi Arabia and it will have interactions with their Saudi counterparts
to establish mutually beneficial business partnerships, she said. Saudi Arabia meets 20 per cent of India”s energy needs.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Crease on earlobe? Then take care of your eyesight

2010
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 23: Diagonal crease on earlobe has long been associated with coronary heart disease and latest research by a group of Indian scientists link the presence of earlobe crease to sight-threatening diabetes retinopathy.

People with crease on their earlobes are relatively more prone to diabetes retinopathy (damage to retina, which ultimately causes blindness) than those without crease on their earlobes.

A team of researchers from Sankara Nethralaya, comprising Dr Tarun Sharma, Dr Rajiv Raman, Dr PK Rani and Dr V Kulothungan, has noticed that earlobe crease is present in nearly 60 per cent of urban south Indian population with diabetes, aged above 40 years. The presence of earlobe crease is somewhat related to sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy.

"The study is representative of a large population and results could be extrapolated to the whole of urban India," says Dr Tarun Sharma.

According to the researchers, in predicting any diabetic retinopathy, the presence of earlobe crease had sensitivity of 60.4 per cent, and specificity, 40.5 per cent. The earlobe crease was observed in nearly 60 per cent of the urban south Indian population.

The study revealed that the subjects in the earlobe crease group were older, had longer duration of diabetes and had poor glycemic (blood sugar) control. They had a higher socio-economic status as compared to the group without earlobe crease. "This could be an indirect measure of the population that is at a greater risk for coronary artery disease," the study pointed out.

The team also noticed that people with earlobe crease had almost twice the risk of developing sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy. The researchers explain that people with earlobe crease had loss of elastin (a protein that gives skin its shape). This loss of elastin in retinal blood vessels leads to increased leakage and dilatation, and gradual blindness.

"We also speculate the presence of ischemia (shortage of blood supply to particular part or parts of the body) in people with earlobe crease. The focal ischemia of the dermal fat might cause ear lobe crease, and ischemia in retina causes sight- threatening changes," the scientists pointed out.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Novel human influenza A virus may evolve into a supervirus with unique genetic makeup

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 13: The novel human influenza A virus, which is currently creating problems in north India particularly Delhi, may evolve into a "supervirus" with unique genetic make-up, infecting and replicating in multiple hosts.

This supervirus may develop resistance to all know anti-viral drugs, warn city biologists, adding that "future preparedness is mandatory".

A team of scientists from the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Vellore Institute of Technology and Florida International University, Miami, USA, found that the novel influenza virus A/H1N1/2009 attaches to the same glycosylation receptor sites as its predecessor influenza A/H1N1/2008 virus.

"But it is antigenically different and may have the potential for initiating a significant pandemic". The study may facilitate the development of better therapeutics and preventive strategies, as well as impart clues for novel H1N1 diagnostic and vaccine development.

The researchers' team comprising Dr Shailendra K Saxena, Dr Niraj Mishra, Dr Rakhi Saxena, Dr ML Arvinda Swamy and Dr Shrish Tiwari noted that the evolution of H1N1 2009 by triple reassortment (from three different hosts and co-infections with other influenza A viral strains) is an alarming concern "because it suggests that the virus is not only assorting in multiple hosts, but also getting more chances to reassort in humans".

Along with antigenic shift and antigenic drift, H1N1 may evolve into a novel influenza A supervirus, which may be antigenenically unique, the study pointed out adding that it may transmit as well as infect and replicate in multiple hosts. "It may have resistance to known antivirals. Therefore, future preparedness is mandatory. Long-term preventive measures should be considered along with short-term prevention".

According to the scientists, the antigenic analysis showed H1N1 strains of 2009 and 2008 have large differences in antigenicity. This finding might be correlated with the large penetrance of H1N1/2009 because this strain has novel antigenicity. Therefore, the human population lacks herd immunity.

Co-infections during bouts of influenza might play a crucial role in the evolution of H1N1 and may cause the development of resistance to known antivirals. "This virus, therefore, can be used to study the involvement of new determinants, which may help us to develop effective vaccines against lethal H1N1 strains," the scientists observed.

The team members emphasised the need for studies on the evolution of H1N1 immunity, as for the first time, they provided evidence that H1N1/2009 uses the same glycosylation sites as its predecessor H1N1/2008 and may have a potential to initiate a more seriously mortal pandemic, owing to its antigenic difference with H1N1/2008.

"Our study may facilitate the development of better therapeutics and preventive strategies," they said.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

CCMB develops system to identify sub-types of HIV

2010
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Feb 8: The city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology has developed a system to identify various sub-types of HIV, which will ultimately help in the development of drug to fight human immunodeficiency virus and AIDS.
HIV-1, which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, exhibits very high genetic diversity with different variants or subtypes prevalent in different parts of the world.
According to CCMB senior scientist Dr Somdatta Sinha and senior research fellow Aridaman Pandit, the existing methods to classify HIV-1 sequence subtypes was based on the focus on specific genes/regions and they lack the capability to analyse whole genome variations.
To overcome the problem, the CCMB team adopted a new approach to identify the distinctive genomic signature in different HIV-1 subtypes. The team applied the approach to cluster the five unclassified HIV-1 sequences from Africa and Europe, and predicted their possible subtypes.
"HIV hijacks the human cellular machinery to make its own proteins and is completely dependent upon human cells for its survival and growth. There exist two types of HIV, of which type-1 (HIV-1) virus is more infectious, and has higher mortality rate," Aridaman Pandit told this correspondent.
High genetic diversity for HIV-1 exists that is a result of high rates of mutation and multiple cross-species transfers from chimpanzees to human. Because of high mutation rate, variants continuously emerge that have subtle genetic differences.
As a response to HIV-1, the immune system of human engages its cells to eliminate the pathogen. Human immune system is highly variable and has evolved to flight against a large number of pathogens. However, the variability of immune system leads to differences in response of every infected individual.
"Thus, HIV continuously evolves due to both its high mutation rate and the necessity to evade human immune system leading to emergence of new variants. Inability of human immune system to control HIV-1 spread and lack of cure both add to the success story of HIV-1 as a pathogen," they said.
Some of the variants adapt towards the human sub-population in a geographical region and are called subtypes of HIV. These subtypes represent antigenically distinct types of strains. Subtle genetic differences that exist in HIV subtypes lead to difference in their infectivity, disease progression, mode of transmission, and development of resistance towards drugs.
Thus, proper recognition of HIV subtype is important for monitoring the ongoing epidemics. As different subtypes also have different rates to develop the drug resistance, it can also play a role in monitoring the drug therapy.
"Our methodology of detecting the genomic signatures can be used to detect emergence of new subtypes, and can also curate HIV-1 sequences that the earlier methods could not classify properly," the CCMB scientists added.

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