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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Distraught relatives protest over Bangladesh ferry tragedy

Posted: 17 May 2014 05:57 AM PDT

GAJARIA, Bangladesh, May 17, 2014 (AFP) - Anguished relatives protested a decision Saturday to stop searching for bodies of passengers they feared were trapped inside a ferry that sunk in central Bangladesh leaving at least 54 dead, police said.

Two salvage vessels managed to float the sunken ship, MV Miraz, and brought it closer to the shore, allowing divers to search inside of the 90-feet (30 metre)-long boat three days after it sank.

Scores of relatives waiting on a river bank reacted in anger after divers failed to find more bodies, prompting authorities to halt the search, a police officer said. Some have relatives still unaccounted for.

"They chanted slogans against the inland water transport authority," district police chief Zakir Hossain said of the relatives, some of whom have been waiting on the bank since the accident on Thursday.

"Some of them boarded small fishing boats and tried to attack a salvage vessel as soon as the search of the vessel was called off," he told AFP.

The search for bodies in the Meghna river, one of the world's widest, would continue as authorities feared that some could have been washed downstream by strong currents.

More bodies have been discovered "floating in the river", taking the death toll from 45 to 54, Hossain said, adding that at least "12 people are still missing" based on the reports of their relatives.

The exact number of passengers aboard was not immediately known as Bangladeshi ferries do not maintain passenger logbooks.

Authorities initially said the ship was carrying up to 350 people when it embarked for a trip to southern Bangladesh, but later reduced the number to 150-200. Some 40 people have managed to swim ashore.

Survivors blamed the ship's captain for refusing to take shelter from a gathering storm. An investigation has been launched into whether it had been carrying too many passengers.

"We'll take action against the ship's driver and the owner as we have got evidence that the driver defied warnings to continue the journey despite the storm," the country's inland water transport authority chief Shamsuddoha Khandaker said. 

Khandaker and several survivors told AFP that the ship capsized after it was swamped by giant waves, which were unleashed by the early summer storm popularly known here as Kalboishakhi. 

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest nations, which is criss-crossed by more than 230 rivers.

Experts blame poorly maintained vessels, flaws in design and overcrowding for most of the tragedies.

Boats are the main form of travel in much of Bangladesh's remote rural areas, especially in the southern and northeastern regions.

Myanmar rally calls for charter change

Posted: 17 May 2014 04:20 AM PDT

YANGON, May 17, 2014 (AFP) - Thousands of people joined a rally in Myanmar's main city on Saturday to call for changes to a military-drafted constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

The former political prisoner-turned-politician has been campaigning to amend the charter since she became a lawmaker two years ago.

The 2008 constitution blocks anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from leading the country - a clause widely believed to be targeted at the Nobel laureate, whose two sons are British.

It also ring-fences a quarter of the seats in parliament for unelected military personnel, leaving the army with a significant political role despite the end of outright junta rule.

Addressing a crowd at the rally in Yangon, Suu Kyi urged the military top brass as well as rank-and-file soldiers to support a petition campaign to amend the charter.

"I would like you all to consider whether getting more opportunities than ordinary citizens is really fair," Suu Kyi said.

"The main strength of the military forces is weapons. So I would like you to consider whether getting special opportunities because of the power of arms is dignified or good for yourself," she said.

Parliamentary elections due to be held in 2015 are seen as a definitive test of whether the military is willing to loosen its grip on power.

The country's president is selected by the legislature, and Suu Kyi has declared her ambition to lead the country.

Any change to the charter needs the support of over 75 percent of the legislature, so at least some soldiers would have to vote for the reforms.

Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest during military rule in Myanmar, before she was freed after controversial elections in 2010 that her party boycotted.

Since then President Thein Sein has pushed through sweeping changes, including releasing other political prisoners and welcoming Suu Kyi and her party into parliament following landmark by-elections in 2012.

Hero's welcome for PM-elect Modi as he arrives in Delhi

Posted: 17 May 2014 12:50 AM PDT

NEW DELHI, May 17, 2014 (AFP) - Thousands of flag-waving supporters mobbed Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi as he made a triumphant entrance in New Delhi Saturday after securing a historic victory for his Hindu nationalist party.

The 63-year-old flew into Delhi's main airport in the late morning from his home state of Gujarat to bask in the glory of a landslide for the Bharatiya Janata Party and begin organising his cabinet.

The controversial politician, a former tea boy tainted by anti-Muslim riots on his watch as chief minister in Gujarat, has the strongest mandate of any Indian leader in 30 years.

A crowd of party supporters, waiting at the airport since early morning but entertained by a marching band and thumping dance music, burst through police barricades at the sight of his cavalcade.

He emerged from the door, smiling and flashing victory signs, as many strained for a glimpse and showered the vehicle in rose petals.

"Modi is our lion! He will work for the people of India, he will work for development, he will work for every Indian," shouted Om Dutt, a 39-year-old shop owner, reflecting heady expectations of what he will deliver.

As he drove to his party headquarters in the centre of the capital, thousands lined the streets dressed in t-shirts bearing his face, with police having to frequently push back well-wishers.

"I thank the BJP workers wholeheartedly," he said at a festive headquarters flanked by senior party figures such as Rajnath Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad who are likely to take government roles.

The BJP won the first majority in parliament for 30 years on Friday after a campaign by Modi focused on delivering new jobs, development and clean government.

The triumph redrew India's political map, handing him a huge mandate for change, and heaping humiliation on the ruling Gandhi political dynasty whose Congress party has been in power for 10 years. 

He won't discriminate

In national capitals across the world, leaders readjusted to the change in leadership, with the US and Europe having to quickly embrace a man who has been shunned for a decade.

Modi was boycotted by many Western countries over anti-Muslim riots in 2002 that left about 1,000 dead and a legacy of suspicion that the religious hardliner did too little to prevent the killing.

The strict vegetarian, steeped in the ideology of Hindu nationalism, has always denied wrongdoing and investigators have found no evidence to prosecute him.

The United States, Britain and Australia were quick to extend invitations for him to visit, while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from neighbouring Pakistan rang to offer congratulations on an "impressive victory."

Outgoing Prime Minster Manmohan Singh was set to resign on Saturday, ending his 10 years in charge, and a final televised address thanked the Indian people for their support.

"Today India is a far stronger country than it was a decade ago," the 81-year-old said in a typically low-key speech - a great contrast to the bombastic high-energy style of his successor.

Modi's supporters on Saturday were insistent that their hero had been elected on a mandate to change India by creating jobs, developing infrastructure and battling endemic corruption.

"He won't discriminate, he will take everyone with him," Shubham Anand, a 19-year-old student, told AFP as he stood waiting for Modi in eastern Delhi. "We need a strong government in India," he added.

In his first comments on Friday night, Modi was at pains to stress that he would work for all of India's 1.2 billion people - including its 150 million Muslims - to make this "India's century".

"It is my responsibility to take all of you with me to run this country," Modi said as thousands chanted his name.

Indian newspapers hailed the game-changing election results but said it was vital that Modi allayed the fears of religious minorities who did not vote for him.

"Narendra Modi has scripted one of the most gloriously spectacular political triumphs in the history of independent India," wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta from the Centre for Policy Research think-tank.

Figures from the Election Commission showed the BJP had secured 279 seats and was projected to win another three in the 543-member parliament, the first majority by a single party since 1984.

The Congress, India's national secular force that has ruled for all but 13 years since independence, was left obliterated, holding just 44 seats - a quarter of its tally in 2009.

The defeat raises questions about the endurance of the Gandhi political dynasty after 43-year-old Rahul, leading campaigning nationally for the first time, suffered such humiliating rejection.


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