Thursday, March 17, 2011

Allies threaten to dump AIADMK, explore third front option

CHENNAI: AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa's design to choke her alliance partners by sniffing out MDMK and thrusting "unwanted" seats to other allies boomeranged on her. Leaders of DMDK, CPM, CPI and Puthiya Thamizhagam met at the DMDK office on Thursday and explored the option of forming a third front if Jayalalithaa remained adamant.

Jayalalithaa's allies are peeved over her taking away many seats, which were promised to the allies, for her own party. She had announced on Wednesday AIADMK candidates for 160 seats that her party was planning to contest. The list included 12 seats, represented by members of CPI and CPM in the current assembly. DMDK was upset because out of the 41 seats offered to the party, only 21 were from the wishlist it gave to AIADMK.

The crisis in the front forced Jayalalithaa to postpone her plan to kickstart the poll campaign at Madurai on Friday. Even as DMDK district secretaries, during their meeting on Wednesday, insisted on the party walking out of the AIADMK front, Vijayakanth chose to give a "24-hour deadline" to AIADMK to resolve the crisis.

Striking a cautious note, Vijayakanth said: "We don't want to decide anything in haste. We will meet again on Friday and decide what action to take." The mood in the DMDK camp was belligerent. While the district secretaries' meeting was going on in the party office, some cadres burnt an effigy of Jayalalithaa in front of the office.

CPM and CPI leaders, also met Vijayakanth and insisted that all affected parties adopt a united stand. Poovai Jegan Moorthy (a sitting DMK MLA) and All India Christian Makkal Katchi leader Ester also urged Vijayakanth to form a third front. Although the Left invited Vaiko for the meeting, he conveyed that unless they leave AIADMK front, he would not meet them.

England stay alive in another thriller

In a campaign of ludicrously slender margins, England gave themselves a fighting chance of reaching the World Cup quarter-finals after emerging victorious by 18 runs in a monstrous battle of wills against West Indies at Chennai. In a contest that fully lived up to the "arse-nipper" billing that Graeme Swann had given it beforehand, England once again teetered on the brink of oblivion before the spin of Swann and James Tredwell hauled them back into contention in a sensational denouement. Needing 244 for victory, West Indies were coasting on 222 for 6, before losing their last four wickets for three runs in 20 deliveries.

It was a finale that would have been remarkable in any other context, but coming from a team that has managed to turn each of its six qualifying fixtures into horror-shows best viewed from behind the sofa through cracks in the fingers, it was a conclusion that teetered towards self-parody. Following a schizophrenic batting performance, in which Jonathan Trott shed his demure image to crash six fours from his first nine balls, England themselves crashed from 121 for 2 to 151 for 6, before Luke Wright justified his first call-up of the campaign with a vital 44. Their eventual total was at least 30 runs below par, but not for the first time, the team's fighting spirit made up for it lacked in planning and application.

West Indies' reply was a tale of three cameos. Between them, Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy slammed 84 runs from 50 balls, while Andre Russell launched his own innings with 45 from 29 before going into his shell after a hugely controversial reprieve on the long-on boundary. While those three were cutting loose, aided and abetted by a string of silent partners, not least the obstinate Ramnaresh Sarwan, it was clear that England had no option but to take all ten wickets to progress.

Cue the spinners - one whose last dew-sodden performance had resulted in an ICC fine for an audible display of petulance; the other whose solitary appearance of the winter came in a forgotten ODI at Hobart back in January. Between them Swann and Tredwell scalped seven of the first nine wickets, including three in the last 11 balls of their allocation, before a sharp throw from fine leg sealed the victory with Sulieman Benn well short.

That it was Trott who delivered the decisive throw was fitting, because it was his superb catch running round at cow corner that looked to have removed Russell for 39 and turned the contest in England's favour at 204 for 7. However, as he landed Trott's momentum slid him agonisingly close to the boundary rope, and though the fielder insisted he had taken the ball cleanly, the third umpire overturned the decision and Russell came back to the crease with six more runs to his name.

It was a moment that might have knocked the stuffing out of lesser sides, but England's bottle is the one aspect of their cricket that cannot be questioned after the events of the past month. Chastised by his let-off, Russell added a further four runs from 16 deliveries before Tredwell, whose three top-order breakthroughs had given England a glimmer, nailed him lbw as he attempted to work a single to leg. One ball later, Benn survived a referral by the skin of his bails as he padded up to a straight one, but England had the bit between their teeth and the desperation to make their opportunity count.

Though Strauss might have been tempted to wait for the tailender Benn to come onto strike, he decided there was no time to wait and unleashed Swann's final over on the well-set Sarwan, who had been in the toilet at the fall of the first wicket but whose belated appearance at No. 6 looked set to seal the game. He had eased along to 31 from 67 balls with scarcely a shot in anger, but Swann's first delivery turned sharply into the gloves, and looped tastily to Ian Bell at a commendably attacking short leg. Two balls later Kemar Roach slogged to Chris Tremlett at mid-off, whose extra height proved invaluable in reaching a low chance, and Bopara's subsequent over delivered the decisive run-out.

The start of the West Indies innings had been scarcely any less breathtaking. With his abdominal strain still appearing to cause him some discomfort, Gayle decided that boundaries, not singles, were the order of the day. He smashed the usually reliable Tim Bresnan for four fours in his second over of the match, before welcoming Tremlett to World Cup cricket in no-less-devastating fashion, with three fours and a dismissive six over wide long-on.

After five overs, West Indies already had 50 on the board, but in a portent of thrills to come, the spinners signalled a change of tempo. Swann's first over went for a tidy three runs, before Tredwell struck with his fourth ball of the tournament, one delivery after Gayle had swatted him for his ninth boundary in 20 balls. Leaning onto the front foot, he was rapped on the pad in front of middle, and a full four years after his maiden England tour, Tredwell finally had his first ODI wicket.

One over later, he had his second, when Devon Smith got in a muddle against a yorker, and allowed Matt Prior to pull off a sharp stumping as he scooped the rolling ball in his right glove. And Tredwell made it three wickets in four overs when Darren Bravo was caught in two minds as he pushed outside off, for Strauss at slip to cling onto a sharp low catch.

Sammy continued to attack the off-colour Bresnan, who switched ends to no avail, before another big six off Tredwell took him to 36 from 21 balls. However, after a relative period of calm, Bopara nailed him via an inside-edge onto the off stump, and the same mode of dismissal then accounted for Devon Thomas, who had been playing the anchor role in his 10 from 20 balls. Though Kieron Pollard played responsibly for his 27-ball 24, Swann eventually got the better of his block-it-or-slog-it approach, and at 150 for 6, the balance of power had veered towards England once again.

It was a scoreline that England themselves would have recognised, for the nadir of their own innings had been 151 for 6, after a calamitous collapse of 4 for 40 in 10.2 overs. All told, it was a batting performance that epitomised England's extraordinary campaign. While Trott was at the crease, caressing boundary after boundary in a 38-ball 47, there seemed no reason to doubt that, at the sixth time of asking, his team would finally produce the command performance that has been so glaringly absent from their efforts to date. But then, when he fell in the 22nd over to a feeble clip to short midwicket, the middle order lost all semblance of direction before Wright's run-a-ball stand of 41 with Tredwell prompted a vital revival.

Devendra Bishoo, the Guyanese legspinner, bowled supremely on debut to claim 3 for 34 in his ten overs, including 2 for 23 in a massively composed first spell of eight off the reel, while the bustling Russell was a constant threat as he mixed boundary balls with wicket-taking deliveries to finish with a career-best 4 for 49. But as they face up to yet another head-scratching post-mortem, both sides may wonder how on earth it came to this. With Bangladesh taking on South Africa on Saturday, and West Indies still to face a daunting finale against India, the tussle for qualification is far from over, even if England have taken their own fight as far as it will stretch.

NASA spacecraft spies on Mercury

Washington: For the first time, Earth has a regular orbiting eye-in-the-sky spying on the solar system's smallest and strangest planet, Mercury. NASA's spacecraft called Messenger successfully veered into a pinpoint orbit Thursday night after a 6 1/2-year trip and 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion kilometers) and tricky manoeuvering to fend off the gravitational pull of the sun.

It is the fifth planet in our solar system that NASA has orbited, in addition to the Earth and the moon. "It was right on the money," Messenger's chief engineer, Eric Finnegan, said. Messenger is in orbit that brings it as close as 120 miles (193 kilometers) above the planet's surface.

"This is as close you can possibly get to being perfect."

"Everybody was whooping and hollering; we are elated," Finnegan said. "There's a lot of work left to be done, but we are there." Mercury is not only difficult to get to, but it's has some of the most extremes in the solar system.

Temperatures there swing wildly by 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 Celsius). While it gets up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit (425 Celsius) on the planet closest to the sun, it also is so cold and dark in some craters that the temperatures don't get above 300 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (184 degrees Celsius below zero).

Radar even shows that there is likely frozen ice in those craters, something Messenger will try to confirm. In the 1970s, NASA sent a spacecraft, Mariner, whizzing by Mercury, but only got pictures of less than half of the tiny rock. Robert Strom of the University of Arizona was a scientist on the Mariner and current Messenger missions and he said for a while he thought he wouldn't get a second peek at the eccentric Mercury.

"I am just so thrilled it isn't funny," Strom said by telephone minutes after NASA confirmed that Messenger was in orbit. "Thirty-six years waiting for this day. It's just unbelievable."

Strom said he and all his colleagues were nervous as the desk-sized spacecraft automatically shifted into an egg-shaped orbit, with controllers on Earth unable to change commands because it took eight minutes for signals to travel the approximately 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) from Mercury to Earth.

"This was not easy. This was a very, very difficult maneuver to get into orbit," Strom said. A NASA Twitter account under Messenger's name gave play-by-play accounts as it arrived at the small planet. This ''Messenger'' ''exchanged tweets'' with Voyager 2, one of NASA's oldest and most-distant spacecraft. Voyager 2, launched in 1977 and now at the edge of the solar system, tweeted good luck and Messenger ''answered'' with a tweet: ''Many thanks! Cold out there? Kinda warm where I am.''

Messenger, which cost NASA $446 million, was launched in 2004. Next month it should start transmitting pictures and investigate Mercury's mysterious magnetic field and unusual density.

''This is when the real mission begins,'' Messenger chief scientist Sean Solomon said an hour after Messenger was safely in Mercury's orbit. ''We are really ready to learn about one of Earth's nearest neighbors for the first time.'' For example, Solomon said Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars formed at the same time, but Mercury ''came out very different.'' ''Mercury is a planet where there are many things going on,'' Solomon said.

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WikiLeaks cash-for-votes exposé rocks Parliament

NEW DELHI: Proceedings in both Houses of Parliament were marred on Thursday by repeated adjournments and uproar as a united Opposition demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following fresh disclosures alleging bribing of MPs during the July 2008 confidence vote, which the UPA-I government won by a slim majority.

Citing the 2008 correspondence from the U.S. Embassy to its government, revealed by the WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu, the Opposition parties launched a scathing attack in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on the Congress-led UPA government, accusing it of surviving “on the strength of a political sin.”

The Opposition sought to mount pressure on the government outside Parliament too. At separate press conferences, both the National Democratic Alliance and the Left parties said that Indian democracy had been “maligned” and demanded the immediate resignation of the government. While NDA working chairman L.K. Advani said the disclosures had confirmed “our suspicions” and the “cash-for-vote” scam, CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury described the alleged act of buying votes as “gross moral de-generation and crass political opportunism.”

The Opposition attack, spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties, focussed on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They demanded that he either deny the allegations of pay-offs to some MPs or resign immediately.

Amid interruptions by Congress members, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said the exposé shamed Indian democracy. Certain matters that occurred right under the nose of a “so-called honest Prime Minister have come to light.”

“An official of the American Embassy was shown a chest full of cash. Is this a display of the bullying tactics of the government or its utter shamelessness?” The UPA government, she said, had lost the moral authority to continue in office and demanded that the Prime Minister resign immediately.

Raising the issue in the Rajya Sabha as soon as it met, Mr. Jaitley said: “It is conclusively clear that this government survived on the strength of a political sin.”

As the BJP members shouted “shame, shame,” Mr. Jaitley said: “A government which survived on such a political sin has no authority to continue even for one minute. We demand this government resign immediately after this episode.”

As interruptions by Congress members continued, Mr. Jaitley said the exposé reflected the extraordinarily depressing situation to which Indian democracy had been reduced.

Karunanidhi to contest from Tiruvarur

CHENNAI: The following is the list of 119 candidates released by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi on Thursday:

Tiruvarur – M.Karunanidhi, Villivakkam – K.Anbazhagan, Kolathur – M.K.Stalin, Egmore (R) – Parithi Ellamvazhuthi, Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar – P.K. Sekar Babu, Chepauk – Thiruvallikeni – J. Anbazhagan, Thousand Lights – Hasan Mohammed Jinnah, Virugampakkam – K. Dhanasekaran, Saidapet – M. Mahesh Kumar, Ponneri (R) – A. Manimekalai, Thiruvallur – E.A.P. Sivaji, Ambattur – B. Ranganathan, Madavaram – Kanimozhi, Tiruvottiyur – K.P.P. Sami, Pallavaram – T.M. Anbarasan, Tambaram – S.R. Raja, Uthiramerur – Pon Kumar, Katpadi – Durai Murugan, Ranipet – R. Gandhi, Kilvaithinankuppam (R) – K. Seetharaman, Gudiyattam (R) – K. Rajamarthandan, Tiruppathur – S. Rajendran, Thiruvannamalai – E.V.Velu, Kilpennathur – K. Pitchandi, Arni – R. Sivanandam, Vandavasi (R) – S.P.J. Kamalakannan, Vanur (R) – S. Pushparaj, Viluppuram – K. Ponmudy, Vikravandi – K. Radhamani, Tirukkoilur – M. Thangam, Sankarapuram – T. Udayasuriyan, Panruti – Saba. Rajendran, Cuddalore – Ela. Pugazenthi, Kurinjipadi – M.R.K. Panneerselvam, Thiruvidaimarudur (R) – Kovi. Sezhiyan, Kumbakonam – K. Anbazhagan, Thiruvaiyaru – Kallanai S. Chellakannu, Thanjavur – S.N.M. Ubayadullah, Orathanadu – T. Mahesh Krishnasami, Kilvelur (R) – U. Mathivanan, Mannargudi – T.R.P. Raja, Nannilam – R. Elangovan, Srirangam – N. Anand, Tiruchi (West) – K.N. Nehru, Tiruchi (East) – Anbil Periyasamy, Thiruverumbur – K.N. Sekaran, Lalgudi – A.Soundarapandian, Manachanallur – N. Selvaraj, Thuraiyur (R) – S. Parimaladevi, Perambalur (R) – M. Prabhakaran, Kunnam – S.S. Sivasankar, Aravakurichi – K.C. Palanichami, Krishnarayapuram (R) – T. Kamaraj, Kulithalai – R. Manickam, Gandharvakottai (R) – Kavithaipithan, Viralimalai – S. Reghupathy, Pudukkottai – Periyannan Arasu, Gangavalli (R) – K. Chinnadurai, Yercaud (R) – C. Tamilselvan, Sankari – Veerapandi S. Arumugam, Salem (South) – S.R. Sivalingam, Salem (West) – R. Rajendran, Veerapandi – Veerapandi A. Rajendran, Rasipuram (R) – V.P. Duraisami, Senthamangalam (R) – K. Ponnusamy, Kumarapalayam – Veppadai G. Selvaraj, Pennagaram – P.N.P. Inbasekaran, Pappireddippatti – V. Mullaivendan, Veppanahalli – T. Senguttuvan, Thalli – Y.Prakash, Mettuppalayam – B. Arunkumar, Kavundampalayam – T.P. Subramanian, Coimbatore (North) – M. Veeragopal, Coimbatore (South) – Pongalur N.Palanisamy, Kinathukadavu – M.Kannappan, Dharapuram (R) – R.Jayanthi, Tiruppur (North) – C.Govindasami, Madathukulam – M.P.Saminathan, Erode (East) – S.Muthusamy, Anthiyur – N.K.K.P.Raja, Bhavanisagar (R) – Lokeshwari, Gudalur (R) – M.Dravidamani, Coonoor – K.Ramachandran, Melur – Rani Rajamanickam, Madurai East – P.Murthy, Madurai Central – S.S.Ghouse Batcha, Madurai West – K.Thalapathy, Thirumangalam – M.Manimaran, Usilampatti – S.O.Ramasamy, Palani – E.P.Senthilkumar, Oddanchatram – R.Chakrapani, Athoor – I.Periasamy, Natham – K.Vijayan, Andipatti – L.Mukkaiah, Periyakulam (R) – V.Anbazhagan, Bodinayakanur – S.Lakshmanan, Cumbum – N.Ramakrishnan, Tiruvadanai – Suba Thangavelan, Mudhukulathur – V.Sathyamurthy, Tiruppattur – K.R.Periakaruppan, Manamadurai (R) – Tamizharasi Ravikumar, Rajapalayam – S.Thangapandian, Srivilliputhur (R) – R.K.V.Durai, Sattur – A.Kadarkarai Raj, Sivakasi – Vanaraja, Aruppukkottai – K.K.S.S.R.Ramachandran, Tiruchuli – Thangam Thennarasu, Sankarankovil (R) – M.Uma Maheshwari, Tenkasi – V.Karuppasamy Pandian, Alangulam – Poongothai Aladi Aruna, Tirunelveli – A.L.S.Lakshmanan, Ambasamudram – R.Avudaiappan, Palayamkottai – T.P.M.Mohideen Khan, Tuticorin – Geetha Jeevan, Tiruchendur – Anitha R.Radhakrishnan, Ottapidaram (R) – S.Raja, Kanyakumari – N.Suresh Rajan, Nagercoil – R.Mahesh and Padmanabhapuram – Pushpaleela Alban.

UN backs action against Gaddafi

The UN Security Council has backed a no-fly zone over Libya and "all necessary measures" short of an invasion "to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas".

In New York, the 15-member body voted 10-0 in favour, with five abstentions.

Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi's forces have recently retaken several towns seized by rebels in an uprising.

Rebel forces reacted with joy in their Benghazi stronghold but a government spokesman condemned UN "aggression".

Loyalist forces are bearing down on Benghazi, home to a million people.

'Threatens unity'

Following the vote US President Barack Obama called the French and British leaders to discuss the next move. They said Libya must comply immediately with the resolution.

It is not thought that the US would be involved in the first strikes, but the British and French are likely to get logistical backup from Arab allies. There were reports military action could come soon.

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