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     Volume 5 Issue 79 | January 20, 2006 |

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News Notes

The Asian Highway Conundrum
Once again Bangladesh loses out on an opportunity that might have connected it to the world outside. The government's refusal to join the Asian Highway network connecting 32 Asian countries with Europe has led to an opportunity for Bangladesh's neighbours to develop road network bypassing Bangladesh.
In April 2002, India, Myanmar and Thailand signed an agreement to develop a road network among themselves and a number of high-level discussions followed to accelerate the work. Under the agreement, India offered financial assistance to Yangoon for developing its road and establishing a road link between its eastern provinces and Myanmar port city Akyab. As for India, it has agreed to develop its road from Assam to Kolkata and New Delhi in order to give the network its final shape.
"These countries may accelerate the development of the network and declare it as part of the Asian Highway following the refusal of Bangladesh," said Dr M Rahmatullah, former director of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific, the sponsor of Asian Highway.
While the neighbours are planning to upgrade the already existing road in conformity with the standard of Asian Highway, Bangladesh refuses to join in. Experts believe that this unwillingness is detrimental to the future economic prospects of the country. "It may cause a great damage to the interest of Bangladesh," opined Rahmatullah, adding that if Dhaka had agreed to take part, the other countries would have easily agreed on the roads through Bangladesh as part of the Asian Highway, because it would then be much shorter. "As Bangladesh declined to join in it lost the chance to exploit financial benefits from the road network," he said.
What experts fear is that because Bangladesh did not join in the network it may lose out on many an economic opportunity. They are of the opinion that foreign investors will hesitate to invest in the country due to lack of suitable connections with its neighbours.

Kuwaiti Emir Passes away
The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah passed away on the 15th of January at the age of 79. The Emir, who had ruled since 1977, died after a long illness and the country's ailing crown prince is set to take over as ruler of this major Gulf oil producer. Sheikh Jaber's body was buried in an unmarked grave in a ceremony attended by thousands of weeping citizens. The government of Bangladesh declared a National Mour-ning Day at the death of the Emir.

Free Phone Calls Forbidden
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission has ordered mobile phone operators to stop offering free calls after midnight after receiving scores of complaints from parents of young people. Parents have complained that their children are losing sleep at night to form romantic relationships. Some are apparently also indulging in "vulgar talk". Spokespersons from mobile phone operators have expressed their disbelief at such an order saying that if young people are to be kept from meeting each other then fast food joints and universities should also be shut down.

The Government Move to Give CEC Majority
First it was the young party cadres who were appointed to make the voter list that caught the countrymen by surprise. After that it was the appointment of two more election commissioners to help win the chief election commissioner (CEC) the majority in the commission that dealt another blow to the credibility of the incumbent government. In the second phase of this two-fold drama the BNP-led four party alliance sought to push for the fresh voter list with a renewed enthusiasm. CEC has been alone in the Election Commission (EC) with the other two members who opposed the idea of a fresh voter list. Sources said that CEC made a verbal request to the government to appoint two new election commissioners who would favour the CEC's move for the fresh list.
Following the government's advice, President Iajuddin Ahmed on January 16 appointed former judge of High Court (HC) Justice Mahfuzur Rahman and the immediate past secretary to the EC Secretariat SM Zakaria as election commissionars. With these two newly appointed commissioners, the number of members in the EC rose to five, the highest in the history of the commission.
Awami league (AL) led 14-party opposition alliance described the hasty appointments as "a brazen attempt of the ruling coalition to manipulate the next parliamentary election". It yesterday called a countrywide hartal for January 22 to protest the appointments.

Mephistophelian Verses
Omega 2001 and Wine Press, two US publishers, have published a book called "The True Furqan" (TTF), which claims itself to be the 21st century Qur'an. It is not clear though who is funding this project. The so-called "True Furqan", which has not been banned in the country yet, contains 77 verses; some are even called Al-Fatiha, Al-Jana and Al-Injil. Instead of Bismillah, all the verses in the book start with "In the name of the Father, the Word, the Holy Spirit, the One and Only True God." It opposes the basic tenets of Islam describing divorce as being non-permissible and in another verse calls Jihad haram.
Interestingly this blasphemous text contains principles that Christian evangelists have been propagating in the US for a long time. The publication of such a book is going to antagonise Muslims, some of who see the recent wars on Afghanistan and Iraq as the Christian dominated West's ploy to destroy Islam. Incidents of torture and human rights abuse in US-occupied Iraq and at Gunatanamo Bay have made many weary Muslims think that the West-- the US in particular--has launched a 21st century crusade against their religion. Books like this will fanaticise a section of Muslims further.


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