Sonia, Shah Rukh among 50 most powerful
Famous as well as the infamous find mention in the Newsweek list
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan have been ranked among the 50
most powerful people in the world by the Newsweek magazine. President-elect Barack Obama topped the list.
Placing Sonia Gandhi at the 17th spot, the magazine said: "Although India's political scene is riven by factions,
Congress remains the strongest national force, and the Italian-born wife of Rajiv Gandhi rules it unchallenged. In
the world's largest democracy, she's queen." Shah Rukh Khan, ranked 41st, was described as the "King of
Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who controlled the country's nuclear weapons, was placed 20th on
the list of the global "power elite" at the beginning of 2009 in the magazine's January issue.
Obama, who scripted history by becoming the first black-American to be voted to the White House, was followed
by Chinese President Hu Jintao, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown,
German Chancellor Angela Markel and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
A surprise inclusion, which the magazine admitted was subjective, was Osama Bin Laden, termed a "global
terrorist." North Korean dictator Jim Jong II also found a place. About 47-year-old Obama, the magazine said the
Democrat would be judged on how he handled the economic crisis that now enveloped the U.S.
Others on the list include the Dalai Lama, the former U.S. president, Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, Iranian
strongman Ayatollah Ali Khemenei, Saudi King Abdullah-bin-Abdul Aziz-al Saud, American General David
Petraeus, Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg,
Pope Benedict XVI, media mogul Rupert Murdoch and popular show host Oprah Winfrey.
Thaksin's allies booted out in Thailand
Anti-Thaksin alliance's candidate is the new PM
Thailand's Constitutional Court unseated politically beleaguered Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat by ordering
that his People's Power Party be disbanded for electoral fraud. Somchai stands disqualified for elective office for
With this, the Court in Bangkok has disqualified both leaders to become Prime Minister since the "restoration of
democracy" earlier this year under a Constitution that was crafted by coup masters and approved in a
"referendum." The Army had toppled Thaksin Shinawatra, a twice-elected leader, in September 2006.
Somchai and his predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, are seen by their critics as "proxies" for Thaksin, now in exile
as a "fugitive" after his recent conviction in a case of "conflict of interest" relating to his tenure as Prime Minister.
The Court held that the disqualification of any member of a party for poll irregularities of any kind would warrant
the dissolution of the party itself under the present Constitution, according to diplomats and independent
observers. It was not Somchai but his associate who was found guilty of electoral malpractice.
The Court's ruling, amid escalation of unrest against the Somchai Government, was greeted with enthusiasm by
the protesters with diverse interests, banded as the "People's Alliance for Democracy" (PAD).
Meanwhile, Thailand's House of Representatives have elected 44-year-old Abhisit Vejjajiva of the opposition
Democrat Party as the country's youngest Prime Minister. The parliamentary vote in Bangkok was widely seen
as an exercise to end a prolonged political crisis over the popular appeal of Thaksin Shinawatra, the militarydeposed
leader in self-imposed exile. The pro-Thaksin United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship has
vowed to oppose Vejjajiva's appointment.
Abhisit, seen by his critics as the military's "proxy"," is supported by the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for
Democracy, which recently seized the Bangkok international airport for several days and occupied the
Government House compound for over three months.
China, Taiwan set up direct links
Beijing, Taipei begin transport, mail services
China and Taiwan started direct air and sea transport and postal services recently, a historical step in cross-
Strait relations. Formerly, air and sea movements, including mail, had to go by way of a third place. The flight
time from Shanghai to Taipei has been cut by more than one hour, to 80 minutes, as planes are no longer
required to fly through Hong Kong's airspace, a detour that the Taiwan authorities formerly insisted on citing
The start of direct flights marked a key step in the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. The two sides
also agreed to launch regular passenger charter flights, which formerly only flew on weekends and the four major
The two countries have also started direct shipping and postal services across the Taiwan Straits. Under the
agreement on direct shipping, passenger and cargo vessels owned by China and Taiwan may sail directly across
the Taiwan Straits subject to official approval.
Bush visits Baghdad to sign security pact
Status of Forces Agreement will govern US troops in Iraq
U.S. President George W. Bush made a surprise farewell visit to Baghdad recently, five weeks before he hands
over the task of overseeing the withdrawal from Iraq to his successor Barack Obama.. Bush met his Iraqi
counterpart Jalal Talabani at the start of his fourth visit since U.S.-led troops toppled Saddam Hussein's regime
in April 2003 during a deeply unpopular war.
His visit comes hot on the heels of a trip to Iraq by U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who said the U.S.
mission in the country was in its "endgame."
Bush met Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the two signed a ceremonial pact marking the adoption of an Iraq-
U.S. security pact, which calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011. Iraq's Parliament in
November approved — after months of intense political wrangling — the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA),
which also sets June 30 as the deadline for the pullout of combat forces from cities and villages. The pact will
govern the presence of 1,46,000 U.S. troops stationed in more than 400 bases when their U.N. mandate expires
at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, said that U.S. troops would stay in Iraqi cities in a
support and training role even after the June target date for their withdrawal. As part of political bargaining
leading up to the vote, Iraq agreed to demands by Sunni parties to hold a referendum on the accord no later than
Obama has said he favours "a responsible withdrawal from Iraq" within 16 months after taking office. While the
security situation in Baghdad and other parts of the country has significantly improved, violence remains a major
factor in Iraq's everyday life. More than 4,200 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers have been killed
in the country since the invasion. Problems continue to dog the massive economic reconstruction programme
undertaken since the 2003 invasion.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that an unpublished U.S. government report had found that U.S.-led
efforts to rebuild Iraq were crippled by bureaucratic turf wars, violence and ignorance of the basic elements of
Iraqi society, resulting in a $100-billion failure. It cited a 513-page federal history of the reconstruction effort
circulating in Washington in draft form among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior
Harold Pinter passes away
The Nobel Prize winner created a distinct genre of playwriting
Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize-winning British playwright, passed away at the age of 78. Pinter, whose plays
were famously punctuated with long silences, had the distinction of spawning a distinct genre of playwriting which
came to be known as "Pinteresque"–a term that became part of the English vocabulary and was included in the
Oxford English Dictionary. Author of more than 30 plays—the best-known among them being "The Caretaker"
and "The Homecoming" — he also wrote film scripts including that of 'The French Lieutenant's Woman'.
Pinter was a passionate advocate of unilateral nuclear disarmament and a bitter critic of U.S. involvement in
Central and South America. As a young man, he became a conscientious objector and was fined for refusing to
undergo National Service in 1949. Later, he was to turn down knighthood though he accepted a string of other
Pinter started off as an actor under the stage name David Baron. His first triumph as a playwright came in 1957
when his play "The Room" was hailed as marking the start of a new era in British theatre. His long career as a
playwright, poet and film writer was marked as much by praise as by controversies mostly relating to his political