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Today's Hot Stories - July 10, 2009

10 Headlines for Today

(1) PM Manmohan Singh meets Obama; G-8 denounces terrorism in all its forms
(2) Oil prices will be reviewed if global prices stabilise: Deora
(3) Suicide attacks, Bombings killed at least 42 people in Iraq
(4) Sterlite Industries (India), the country’s largest private sector power producer, is investing Rs 20,000 crore over the next one year to create additional capacity of 4,500 mw
(5) Moser Baer India reported a net loss of Rs 150.86 crore for the year ended March 31, 2009
(6) Nooyi among 13 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 list
(7) Norwegian Thor Hushovd of the Cervelo team won the sixth stage of the Tour de France
(8) Sachin Tendulkar not fit for T20: John Buchanan
(9) India dominate South Asian Shooting, wins six more gold to stay on top in the medals tally with figures of 20-10-5
(10) Neuroscientists have located the neurons responsible for fear conditioning in the mammalian brain

5 Stories for Today

(1) Maoists extort $60 million annually in mineral-rich state
(2) G8 calls upon all countries to sign NPT
(3) Murdoch tabloid under police investigation
(4) Infosys Q1 profit up 17%, beats forecast
(5) Air India may rope in Murthy, Ramadorai in the Advisory Board

(1) Maoists extort $60 million annually in mineral-rich state

Maoist rebels are extorting up to $60 million annually from business and industry across Chhattisgarh, home of one of India's largest mineral reserves, the state's Chief Minister said.

The Maoists have recently stepped up attacks against police, officials and civilians away from remote rural areas and closer to towns and cities across India- a worry to potential investors as the country grapples with the global slowdown.

"Maoists extort a whopping sum of at least Rs 250-300 crore ($50-60 million) annually in Chhattisgarh," Chief Minister, Raman Singh, told reporters.

State business leaders and politicians are jittery over Chhattisgarh, whose violence-wracked Bastar region is home to 20 percent of India's iron ore stocks and has attracted big hitters like Tata Steel and the Essar Group.

The extortion operation stretches from the state's southern tip near Bastar to the northern area of Surguja, which is rich with coal, he said.

The rebels demand cash from traders of Tendu patta (leaves), used to make hand-rolled cigarettes, mining firms, contractors and transporters, he said, adding many are scared to go to police.

The Maoists, who say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and the landless, feed off local resentment against industry and government in one of India's least developed states.

Businesses and politicians fear the mineral reserves in Bastar, where Tata Steel plans to build a steel plant, could fall into Maoist hands within a few years.

Steel is a key sector to India's economic growth, which has slowed to around 7 per cent compared to 9 per cent or more per year before the global financial crisis bit.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said the Maoist army of 22,000 fighters is one of the greatest threats to India's internal security.

The rebels killed 721 people, including members of the security forces, in 2008, mainly in India's eastern and central states known as the "red corridor", up from 696 in 2007.

(2) G8 calls upon all countries to sign NPT

The G8 countries called upon all countries to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) while deciding to step up efforts for swift implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), in a message that seems aimed at India -- the only `outlier' country at the summit.

Insisting that countries that have not signed NPT should do so immediately, the G8 emphasised the importance of the treaty to pursue non-proliferation and disarmament. India has refused to sign NPT describing it as a discriminatory regime.

"We underscore that NPT remains the cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament, and reiterate our full commitment to the objectives and obligations of its three pillars: non-proliferation, peaceful uses of nuclear energy and disarmament. We will work together so that the 2010 NPT Review Conference can successfully strengthen the Treaty's regime and set realistic and achievable goals in all the Treaty's three pillars," the L'Aquila Statement on Non-Proliferation said.

Though only the latest of the reminders to India and other holdouts, the insistence is a clear indication that divergence over NPT remains a potential point of tension between India and the developed world. As NPT members move towards the RevCom of the NPT in 2010, there will be increased calls to India to sign up.

The G8 stand on non-proliferation highlighted the increasing possibility of India coming under renewed pressure also on the issue of CTBT, with member countries resolving to speed up their efforts to ensure ban on nuclear testing.

After remaining in cold storage for almost a decade, because the Bush administration did not consider it to be priority, the non-proliferation crowd received a shot in the arm with Barack Obama, who has promised to get the US Senate to ratify CTBT. He is still short of the required two-thirds majority, but experts believe that could be made to happen, overcoming doubts that US's nuclear warheads need to be updated.

"We welcome the announcement made by the President of the USA that has decided to seek ratification of Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and we will intensify our efforts towards the early entry into force and universalisation of the CTBT as one of the principal instruments of the international security architecture and a key measure of non-proliferation and disarmament," the G8 countries stated.

(3) Murdoch tabloid under police investigation

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch, owner of Star TV, was at the centre of a growing scandal after it was reported, that one of his leading British tabloids, the News of the World, had been involved in “criminal methods” to get stories.

Police launched an investigation into claims in a front-page splash in The Guardian that the News of the World hired detectives who hacked into mobile phone messages of “thousands” of prominent figures, including politicians and celebrities, to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data.

Andrew Neill, a former editor of The Sunday Times and one-time close associate of Mr. Murdoch, described it as one of the “most significant media stories of modern times.” Those targeted included London Mayor Boris Johnson, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and actor Gwyneth Paltrow. Mr. Murdoch’s News Group, publisher of the News of the World, reportedly paid out more than £1 million to settle legal cases that threatened to expose evidence of its journalists’ “repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods” to obtain stories.

However, Mr. Murdoch, who also owns The Times, The Sunday Times and the Sun, denied any knowledge saying: “If that had happened I would know about it.”

The News International, the parent company of News Group, said it was “inappropriate to comment at this time.” The scandal threatened to acquire a political complexion as a former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, is now the Tory leader David Cameron’s Director of Communications.

Mr. Coulson was forced to quit the News of the World in 2007 after one of his reporters, Clive Goodman, was jailed for hacking into the mobile phones of three royal staff members.

Details in The Guardian report emerged during a court case involving Professional Footballers’ Association head Gordon Taylor and the News Group. He sued the Group after a private investigator Glenn Mulcaire who worked for it admitted to hacking into phones of a number of people.

Mr. Taylor received £700,000 in damages but on condition that he signed a “gagging clause” to prevent him speaking about the case.

(4) Infosys Q1 profit up 17%, beats forecast

Infosys Technologies Ltd, India's No. 2 software services exporter, reported a 17.2 percent rise in quarterly profit, beating market expectations, as it boosted sales in newer markets.

The NASDAQ-listed firm, which develops applications, designs supply chains and offers back-office services, said net profit rose to 15.27 billion rupees ($314 million) in April-June, its fiscal first quarter, from 13.02 billion a year ago. Reuter's poll had estimated a net profit of 13.97 billion rupees for Infosys, which counts Goldman Sachs, Philips Electronics, BT Group Plc and Australia's top phone company Telstra Corp among its clients.

Powered by an army of low-cost, English-speaking workers, India's $60 billion outsourcing sector provides services ranging from managing complex computer networks and call centres to software coding to maintaining technology operations. The industry's leading customers are struggling to stay afloat, have gone bankrupt, or are tackling severe cost cuts, leaving little room to boost technology spending.

Infosys, rivals Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro also face competition from big players, IBM, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard who have raided their home-turf and are winning contracts. Shares in Infosys, valued at more than $20 billion, climbed 34 percent in April-June versus a 44 percent rise in the sector index and a 49 percent jump in the main index.

(5) Air India may rope in Murthy, Ramadorai in the Advisory Board

Air India is in the process of having a seven-member international advisory board, with former top officials of global carriers, to turn the organisation around.

The Board, which is likely to be headed by industrialist Ratan Tata, may have former heads of leading carriers like Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, sources said.

Discussions are on to finalise the names of other members on this global advisory board, sources said, adding that an advertisement would soon be issued for the newly-created post of Chief Operating Officer so that a professional airline manager works under Chairman cum Managing Director Arvind Jadhav to improve AI's operations.

The names of National Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda, Infosys mentor and Chairman N R Narayana Murthy and TCS CMD S Ramadorai are doing the rounds for appointment as independent directors of the airline.

Hectic activity is on at the national carrier's headquarters for preparing a comprehensive financial restructuring plan, which is to be submitted to the government in the next few weeks. AI's losses mounted to about Rs 5,000 crore in 2008-09.

The plan would be vetted by a high-level committee headed by Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar, which would be monitoring each month the steps taken by the airline to cut cost and enhance revenue generation.

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