- India gang rape victim dies in Singapore hospital
- South Sudan says president ready to meet Sudan's Bashir
- U.S. Senate approves $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy aid bill
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 08:02 PM PST
SINGAPORE/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian woman whose gang rape in New Delhi triggered violent protests died of her injuries on Saturday in a Singapore hospital, bringing a security lockdown in Delhi and recognition from India's prime minister that social change is needed.
The Indian capital braced for a new wave of protests, closing metro stations and banning vehicles from the city centre district where young activists had converged to demand improved women's rights. The news came in the early hours of the morning in India and there were no signs of protests as morning broke.
The 23-year-old medical student, severely beaten, raped and thrown out of a moving bus in New Delhi two weeks ago, had been flown to Singapore in a critical condition by the Indian government on Thursday for specialist treatment.
"We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4:45 a.m. on Dec 29, 2012 (2045 GMT Friday). Her family and officials from the High Commission (embassy) of India were by her side," Mount Elizabeth Hospital Chief Executive Officer Kelvin Loh said in a statement.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement he was deeply saddened by the death and described the emotions associated with her case as "perfectly understandable reactions from a young India and an India that genuinely desires change.
"It would be a true homage to her memory if we are able to channelize these emotions and energies into a constructive course of action."
Delhi's Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit, expressed revulsion.
"It is a shameful moment for me not just as a chief minister but also as a citizen of this country," she said.
The woman, who has not been identified, and a male friend were returning home from the cinema by bus on the evening of December 16 when, media reports say, six men on the bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman. The reports say a rod was used in the rape, causing internal injuries. Both were thrown from the bus. The male friend survived the attack.
Singh's government has been battling criticism that it was tone-deaf to the outcry that followed the attack and was heavy handed in its response to the protests in the Indian capital.
Most rapes and other sex crimes in India go unreported and offenders are rarely punished, women's rights activists say. But the brutality of the December 16 assault sparked public outrage and calls for better policing and harsher punishment for rapists.
VEHICLES BARRED FROM DELHI CITY CENTRE
T.C.A. Raghavan, the Indian High Commissioner to Singapore, told reporters hours after the woman's death that a chartered aircraft would fly her body back to India on Saturday, along with members of her family. The woman's body had earlier been loaded into a van at the hospital and driven away.
In New Delhi, the Joint Commissioner of Traffic Police, Satyendra Garg, told NDTV news channel that residents and commuters were advised to avoid the city centre.
The case has received blanket coverage on cable television news channels. Some Indian media have called the woman "Amanat", an Urdu word meaning "treasure".
Talking to reporters earlier on Saturday, Raghavan declined to comment on Indian media reports accusing the government of sending her to Singapore to minimise the possible backlash in the event of her death.
Some Indian medical experts had questioned the decision to airlift the woman to Singapore, calling it a risky manoeuvre given the seriousness of her injuries. They had said she was already receiving the best possible care in India.
But Dr B.D. Athani, medical superintendent of the New Delhi hospital where she had initially been treated, told Indian television the intention was to give the victim the best chance of surviving in what he described as "an extreme case".
"Her condition was very critical from day one. We had managed what best we could do at our end ... she had to be shifted to a centre with much better facilities."
On Friday, the Singapore hospital had said the woman's condition had taken a turn for the worse. It said she had suffered "significant brain injury". She had already undergone three abdominal operations before arriving in Singapore.
The suspects in the rape - five men aged between 20 and 40, and a juvenile - were arrested within hours of the attack and are in custody. Media reports say they are likely to be formally charged with murder next week.
Commentators and sociologists say the rape tapped into a deep well of frustration many Indians feel over what they see as weak governance and poor leadership on social and economic issues.
Many protesters have complained that Singh's government has done little to curb the abuse of women in the country of 1.2 billion. A global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June found that India was the worst place to be a woman because of high rates of infanticide, child marriage and slavery.
New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures. Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.
(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Devidutta Tripathy in New Delhi; Saeed Azhar, Edgar Su and Sanjeev Miglani in Singapore; Editing by Michael Roddy, Ron Popeski and Mark Bendeich)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 06:13 PM PST
JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is willing to meet his Sudanese counterpart Omar Hassan al-Bashir to sort out conflicts and resume vital oil flows, a South Sudanese minister said on Friday after Bashir agreed to hold a summit.
The neighbours agreed in September to set up a demilitarised border zone and resume oil exports from landlocked South Sudan through Sudan. Oil is the lifeline of both economies.
Neither country has yet withdrawn its army from either side of the border, a precondition to resume oil flows. Both sides accuse each other of supporting rebels on the other's territory.
South Sudan initially had planned to resume exports by year-end after shutting down its output of 350,000 barrels a day in January after failing to agree an export fee with Sudan.
On Wednesday, Bashir said he was ready to meet Kiir after the African Union had urged both to hold a summit as soon as possible. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn visited Khartoum and Juba this week to mediate between the presidents.
"Our president had sent him (Bashir) an invitation before which is still open and we believe our president has all along been open to a serious and meaningful meeting with the president of Sudan," South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told Reuters.
"Since the message was brought to us by His Excellency the Prime Minister of Ethiopia...we believe that President Omar al-Bashir will honour the meeting," Benjamin said.
He did not say when a meeting could take place. Delegations from both countries are scheduled to resume talks in Ethiopia in mid-January.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan under a 2005 peace agreement which ended decades of civil war. But both countries have yet to demarcate their disputed border which straddles oil production facilities.
They are also at odds over Abyei, a contested area between Sudan and South Sudan prized for its fertile grazing land.
(Reporting by Carlvins Odera; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Michael Roddy)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 06:10 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Friday approved a $60.4 billion aid package to pay for reconstruction costs from Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, after defeating Republican efforts to trim the bill's cost.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to quickly take up the bill, which includes $12 billion to repair and strengthen the region's transportation system against future storms.
"There is no time to waste," Reid said.
Both chambers have to agreed on a package by January 2, when the current term of Congress is expected to end, or restart the process of crafting legislation in 2013. The Senate approved the bill 62-32, with most Republicans voting no.
"We beat back all of the crippling amendments," said Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, which suffered the largest monetary damage in the storm.
"The century-old tradition of different parts of the country rallying to help those who are beleaguered because of difficult natural disasters continues," Schumer said.
The bill's chances in the next few days could depend on whether President Barack Obama and congressional leaders reach a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts set to begin taking effect in the new year.
House Republican leaders have not yet decided whether to take up the Senate bill, a Republican aide said.
The bill also provides $17 billion in Community Development Block Grants to help rebuild homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings destroyed by the late October storm, help small businesses and improve the power infrastructure.
Senate Republicans complained the $60.4 billion reconstruction package requested by Obama is more than the annual budgets for the departments of Interior, Labor, Treasury and Transportation combined.
HOUSE ACTION UNCLEAR
Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, offered an alternative that would have provided $23.8 billion in funding to help victims of the storm through the end of March and give Congress time to determine additional needs.
"Let me just say, we simply are allowing three months for the Congress of the United States, the representatives of the taxpayers' dollars, to assess, document and justify additional expenditures that go beyond emergency needs," Coats said just before his amendment was defeated.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky, would still prefer to pass a stop-gap bill to meet immediate needs and wait to do another package after better estimates come in, a committee aide said.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated about $8.97 billion of the Senate bill would be spent in 2013, with another $12.66 billion spent in 2014 and $11.59 billion spent in 2015.
The Senate bill is considerably less than the $82 billion in aid requested by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the states that bore the brunt of damage from the storm.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, was in Washington this month, lobbying lawmakers for the larger amount.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund now has less than $5 billion available.
The damage to New York and New Jersey coastal areas was on a scale not seen since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast and flooded New Orleans in 2005. Two weeks after that storm hit, Congress approved $62.3 billion in emergency appropriations.
Lawmakers passed numerous subsequent emergency funding requests over several years to cover damages from Katrina, which topped $100 billion. A number of Gulf State Republicans supported the Sandy relief bill.
Republicans were successful in requiring offsetting spending cuts for $3.4 billion in mitigation work to prevent future disasters. Some Democrats said this would set a precedent for future disaster aid bills.
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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