Stampede in India leaves 10 dead

A stampede during a religious ceremony in central India has left at least 10 people dead.

Senior police officer Rajesh Vyas says the stampede occurred early Saturday when a large number of people surged forward to gain entry into a Muslim shrine, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

Vyas says some pilgrims fell down and were crushed to death.

The shrine is near Ratlam, a town in Madhya Pradesh state nearly 760 kilometres southwest of New Delhi. Police in the region could not be immediately reached for details.

Deadly stampedes are relatively common at religious places in India, where large crowds gather in tiny areas with no safety measures or crowd control.

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In grief, Bashar al-Assad is their man

TENS of thousands of Syrians flocked to the ancient Omayyad Mosque in Damascus yesterday for the funeral of 44 people killed by suicide bombers, turning the occasion into a gigantic show of support for the embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

Charge and counter-charge swirled over who was behind the attacks last Friday night.

The United Nations voiced grave concern over the bombings, which marked an ominous step up in the violence that has rocked the Arab nation for nine months, claiming at least 5000 lives.

Thousands of people gathered to pay homage to the victims, waving the Syrian flag and kneeling in group prayer behind the coffins, which also were draped in the red, black and white colours of the flag. State television broadcast the funeral live.

The crowd appeared to be supporters of Mr Assad, facing an uprising against his regime. They chanted slogans of support, saying the victims were “martyrs” and shouting, “We want no one but Assad.”

Friday’s explosions, for which no group has claimed responsibility, marked the first appearance of suicide bombers in the uprising. Analysts warned that it could be the start of a dangerous phase, where armed militants could try to create chaos for their own interests.

The Syrian regime blamed elements of al-Qa’ida for the attacks, which occurred minutes apart in a high-security area of Damascus.

The opposition, however, has blamed the government for staging the attacks to make it appear as if Syria would fall into chaos if Mr Assad lost power.

A delegation from the Arab League is in Syria to investigate the regime’s crackdowns on the protesters and some critics said the attack could deter them from their mission.

At the funeral, the Religious Affairs Minister Abdel Sattar al-Sayyed read a statement from Christian and Muslim religious leaders “denouncing the criminal attacks on Friday … and the murder, destruction and sabotage” as part of a “dangerous plot against Syria”.

“We call upon the Syrian people to be aware that Syria is being targeted, and affirm that we stand with them in the face of this plot. We reject any sort of extremism represented by terrorist organisations,” the statement said.

Leading Sunni Muslim cleric Said al-Bouti said he hoped the attacks would lift “the veils on the eyes of the Arab League … so that they see who is the murderer and who is the victim”.

 

But the opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council said “the Syrian regime alone bears all the direct responsibility for the two terrorist explosions”.

Adding to the confusion was what the Muslim Brotherhood said was a bogus website fabricated to resemble its own, which claimed yesterday that the group itself had carried out the attacks and promised more.

Hamas, a Sunni Islamist Palestinian militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, condemned the bombings and called for a “quick” political solution to end the bloodshed in Syria. Hamas has its headquarters in Damascus, but diplomats say dozens of its operatives have quietly returned to Gaza from Damascus as the group scaled back its presence in Syria and gauged the uncertain future of Assad. Hamas denies such reports.

US soldier shot at own homecoming party

A US soldier who served in Afghanistan is in a critical condition after being shot at his homecoming party in California.

Family members tell the San Bernardino Sun newspaper that 22-year-old Christopher Sullivan was shot on Friday night at a party that friends threw for him.

Police said two partygoers got into an argument after midnight and one of them opened fire on Mr Sullivan.

The gunman fled the scene.

Mr Sullivan was wounded in a suicide bombing attack last year and has been recovering in Kentucky where he is stationed.

He was home on leave when the shooting occurred.

One in 10 UK banknotes tainted with cocaine

More than one in every ten UK banknotes in circulation is tainted with cocaine powder, new research suggests.

UK police say growing use of the class A drug means the number of notes carrying traces of it has trebled in six years.

Worryingly, specialist drugs officers say cocaine taken in combination with alcohol is fuelling violence on Britain’s streets.

Yesterday, one warned that Labour’s 24-hour drinking laws had sparked a rise in cocaine use – as it is often taken by drinkers who want to stay out all night.

Details of the growing prevalence of cocaine were given to a meeting of the Government’s official drugs body yesterday. Pc Adrian Parsons, Kent Police’s drug expert evidence coordinator, told the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that users were taking ‘coke’ so they could carry on drinking into the early hours.

He said: ‘It’s my personal view that the change in licensing laws led to a rise in the use of cocaine.

‘We have got extended licensing hours, we have got people who are not ramming as much down their necks as before 11pm and who are going all night.

‘Cocaine is everywhere, it’s a drug we see all over the place.’

Kent constabulary, along with ten other forces, routinely tests banknotes – which are often rolled up by users to ‘snort’ lines of the drug – seized during raids. Up to 70 per cent taken from suspected drug dealers have cocaine traces.

But the programme has also tested 5,000 ordinary notes and found startling rises in positive cocaine tests in recent years.

Six years ago, around 4 per cent of notes showed cocaine residue from a simple swab test. But the most recent figures show that has nearly trebled to 11 per cent.

Tests have also shown rising evidence cocaine is being mixed with MDMA, the active ingredient in dance drug ecstasy.

Users are unaware they are taking a drug cocktail.

Pc Parsons pointed to figures from Liverpool John Moores University that showed before the 2003 Licensing Act – which let pubs stay open after 11pm from November 2005 – most users took the drug for ‘social confidence’.

But recently the same study, of 17- to 29-year-olds, has shown the reason given most often is to ‘keep going and stay awake’.

Around one in 11 adults in England and Wales admits having taken cocaine. Pc Parsons said cocaine and alcohol in combination led to users having an ‘air of invincibility’, and made them more likely to be aggressive towards the police.

Other evidence showed use was highest among higher earners, and users in England are most likely to be aged 20 to 24.

Figures from Drugscope show cocaine cost £70 a gram in 2003 but is now as little as £40 a gram.

Drug experts warn the addictive substance can lead to heart attacks, strokes and brain seizures.

Early snow storm wreaks havoc on US east coast

SNOW and icy rain has pelted the US east coast, with forecasters warning the “historic early season” storm could dump up to a foot (30cm) of snow in some areas.

The rare October snowstorm was wreaking havoc on air and road traffic from Washington to Boston, with the National Weather Service warning that travel at night would be “extremely hazardous.”

Air travellers were seeing an average delay of six hours on flights to and from Newark International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Similar problems were affecting New York’s Kennedy international airport.

Forecasters issued a winter storm warning for large parts of the northeast, predicting heavy snow, freezing temperatures and strong winds with gusts up to 60 miles per hour (100 km/ph).

Up to a foot of snow was expected in parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, the weather service said. In Manhattan, forecasters said up to 10 inches (25cm) could fall.

Trees that have yet to shed their leaves toppled from the weight of the snow and knocked out power to thousands of homes, the National Weather Service said.

Unseasonably cold air was pouring into the northeast, and deep tropical moisture was set to surge northward along the east coast and “fuel an expanding area of heavy rain and snow”.

Much of the region was socked in August by Hurricane Irene, whose heavy rains and wind left millions without power, destroyed homes and caused record flooding. More than 40 people died.

Colombian President wants dope legalised

Call to legalise dope Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has called for the global legalisation of marijuana to help combat the trafficking of harder drugs and related violence.

Santos added his voice to a growing list of influential Latin American figures demanding a rethink of the policies that have been used for four decades to fight the drug trade.

“The world needs to discuss new approaches.”

MC Hammer’s new search engine bigger than Google

MC Hammer says his new internet search engine will be bigger than Google.

The infamous 80s rapper, whose hits include You Can’t Touch Thisand 2 Legit 2 Quit, has spent the last two years developing something he calls WireDoo.

CNN reported WireDoo would not only deliver direct results for search queries, but also detailed related content.

“It’s about relationships beyond just the keywords,” Hammer, real name Stanley Burrell, reportedly said when he unveiled WireDoo at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Hammer released his last album in 2006, and since then has focused his attentions on clothing lines, tech ventures and Twitter, on which he has 2.2 million followers.

Eight killed as battles rage in Yemen

DEADLY clashes have erupted in the Yemeni capital as tension spiked following a new wave of killings of anti-regime protesters by troops loyal to veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Eight people were killed and 27 wounded in the street battles overnight, which saw tribes and troops opposing Saleh ranged against loyalists, medics and a tribal source said today.

Four of the victims were killed in shelling that targeted the Change Square where protesters demanding the ouster of Saleh have camped out for months, medics said.

Some 10 rockets landed around the square, including one close to a field clinic, a medic at the facility said.

Fierce clashes took place in the northern Sanaa neighbourhood of Al-Hassaba between tribesmen led by Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, who opposes Saleh, and followers of Sheikh Saghir bin Aziz, who remains loyal to the embattled leader.

The brother of Aziz, Sheikh Saleh, 35, was killed when shrapnel hit his head, a medic at the Saudi German hospital said, adding that five others were wounded.

Two people killed in clashes in Al-Hassaba, and one of the four killed in the shelling of Change Square, were taken to the Science and Technology Hospital, according to Dr Mohammed al-Sarmi.

He said 22 wounded were hospitalised.

A tribal source in the office of Sheikh Sadeq, who leads the influential tribe of Hashid, said a civilian was killed when a rocket hit his house in Bahrain Street, in Al-Hassaba.

Saleh yesterday charged that the protests were being militarised and were part of a coup led by Islamists, apparently referring to the Islah (reform) party, which is known as the Muslim Brothers of Yemen.

Protesters said Saleh’s forces were trying through the shelling to force them to leave Change Square.

“The shelling came after Saleh’s speech. He is trying to terrify us to force demonstrators to go home, but they will not before achieving all their goals by bringing down the regime,” leading protester Walid al-Ammari told AFP.

Clashes also broke out overnight in Ziraa Street, east of Change Square between troops from the dissident First Armoured Division, led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, which provides protection for protesters, and Central Security forces loyal to Saleh.

Tension had escalated in Sanaa after demonstrators raised the stakes on Saturday, marching towards zones of the capital controlled by Saleh’s forces, prompting deadly response from loyal troops and gunmen.

Saleh’s forces shot dead 12 protesters on Saturday, while six people, including four demonstrators and two soldiers of Ahmar’s division, were killed on Sunday, according to medics. Dozens of others were wounded.

Meanwhile, Ahmar’s First Armoured Division said it lost 10 soldiers, including a major, in gunfire from Saleh loyalists over the past two days.

It accused the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh’s son Ahmed, and other security bodies led by relatives of the veteran leader, as well loyal “thugs” of being behind the killings.

“This was part of the series of crimes committed by Saleh and his bloody gang against peaceful demonstrators and their guards of the soldiers of the free Yemeni army that backs the revolution,” according to a statement.

Violence also erupted on Sunday in the flashpoint city of Taez, where Aziza Ghaleb, 21, became the first woman to be killed while marching in anti-Saleh protests since January.

General Ahmar has called on the international community to take immediate action to stop the bloodshed and force Saleh to step down.

Despite mounting pressure from Western governments as well as the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saleh has for months refused to sign the deal, even though he has repeatedly promised that he would.

According to a letter from Yemen’s youth movement sent to the United Nations earlier this month, at least 861 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded since mass protests erupted across the country.

Microsoft completes $8.5bn Skype acquisition

Internet video chat service Skype is now officially a part of Microsoft.

The two companies finished joined forces late last week when Microsoft completed its $8.5 billion purchase of Skype. The closing came five months after Microsoft announced the deal.

Microsoft is counting on Skype to help it catch up in some the hottest markets in technology and media. Those areas include online socializing, mobile phones and digital video.

Skype’s roughly 170 million users made 207 billion minutes of voice and video calls last year – almost 400,000 years’ worth.

Microsoft says Skype will operate as a division within the world’s largest software maker.

Skype CEO Tony Bates is joining Microsoft to run the division. He will report to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.