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Today's Hot Stories - January 05, 2013

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Delhi gang rape case: Robbery chargesheet to hit accused
(2) Centre seeks proposals on CCTV inside state buses
(3) Chavez fighting severe lung infection
(4) Cairn, RIL can drill more in producing fields
(5) Insurers gear up for collective bargaining
(6) US job growth cools slightly, recovery grinds on
(7) Aussies on verge of series sweep over SL
(8) Somdev loses, Indian challenge ends
(9) Boozer leads Bulls to win against Heat
(10) U.S. regulators approve new tuberculosis drug

5 Stories for Today

(1) Maintain maryada or face music, BJP minister Kailash Vijayvargiya tells women
(2) Chavez could be sworn in by court: Venezuela VP
(3) Eyeing social justice, Moily puts brakes on new LPG dealerships
(4) Oldest Swiss bank Wegelin to close after guilty plea
(5) NCDEX in talks with MP govt for modernisation of mandis

(1) Maintain maryada or face music, BJP minister Kailash Vijayvargiya tells women

After RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat's ill-informed observation about rape being an urban phenomenon, a BJP minister in Madhya Pradesh tied himself in knots quoting from the Ramayana, making it two back-to-back bloopers from the saffron camp on violence against women.

Industries minister Kailash Vijayvargiya, speaking to reporters in Indore, said women must keep themselves within the limits of 'maryada' (morality/dignity) or face the music.

"Laxman rekha har vyakti ki khinchi gayee hai. Uss rekha ko koi bhi paar karega to Ravan samney baitha hai, woh Sita haran kar le jayega (everyone must stay within Lakshman rekha. Ravan grabs and takes away those who cross the line just as he kidnapped Sita)."

An enraged leader of the Opposition, Ajay Singh, asked him to define 'maryada' or morality. "Nearly 80% rapes in Madhya Pradesh are committed on women toiling the fields or are daily wage labourers? What maryada (limits of morality) do they cross?"

But an unrepentant Vijayvargiya said he was sorry only for the way the media had distorted his views. He called reporters following a phone call for damage control by senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad from Delhi. Quoting Prasad, the minister said, "He (Prasad) called up to say what I said was sounding good, but the way it is being interpreted in the media was not correct. So clarify your stand."

Last July, Vijayvargiya had made even BJP supporters cringe when he had said "provocative dresses of women (are responsible) for all deviations in society" and demanded girls clothe in a way that earns respect of men.

Vijayvargiya faces keen competition from his colleagues. Recently, another minister, Babulal Gaur, called for dress code for women in line with "Indian culture". "Youth here must follow our value system unlike women in Paris who roam the streets half naked," Gaur said. Incidentally, Gaur was caught on camera slapping a woman priest and then ludicrously denying the incident.

Another senior minister Ram Krishna Kusmane made a bonfire of jeans and T-shirts to liberate girls from "immoral dress preference". He also presided over a function in Damoh last month where a decision to ban jeans was passed. Scion of Dewas royal family and tourism minister Tukojirao Puar was jailed three years ago for assaulting a female election officer.

On demands of resignation from former CM Digvijay Singh, Vijayvargiya said there was no question of this. "Who takes Digvijay Singh seriously?" he asked.

(2) Chavez could be sworn in by court: Venezuela VP

Venezuela's vice-president said on Friday that President Hugo Chavez could be sworn in by the Supreme Court later on if he's not able to take the oath of office next week before lawmakers because of his struggle with cancer.

VP Nicolas Maduro made the comment in a televised interview on Friday night, dismissing the argument by some opposition leaders that new elections must be called if Chavez doesn't take office as scheduled on Thursday. His stance appeared likely to generate friction between the government and opposition over the legality of putting off the swearing-in, which the constitution says should occur on Thursday before the National Assembly.

Maduro says Chavez, as a re-elected president, remains in office beyond the inauguration date stipulated in the constitution, and could be sworn in if necessary before the Supreme Court at a date to be determined.

"The formality of his swearing-in can be resolved before the Supreme Court of Justice, at the time (the court) deems in coordination with the head of state, Commander Hugo Chavez," Maduro said.

As for the opposition, Maduro said, "they should respect our constitution." The vice president held up a small copy of the constitution and read aloud passages relating to such procedures.

Opposition leaders have demanded that the government provide more specific information about Chavez's condition, and say that if the president doesn't return to Venezuela by inauguration day, the president of the National Assembly should take over the presidency on an interim basis. But Maduro echoed other Chavez allies in suggesting the inauguration date is not a hard deadline, and that the president should be given more time to recover from his cancer surgery if needed.

"Maduro's comments are not surprising. The government holds all the cards in the current situation, particularly given the compassion for Chavez's serious illness. It has interpreted the constitution loosely, to its own political advantage," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "In this way Maduro is able to buy some time, assert his authority, and rally support within Chavismo. He puts the opposition on notice and throws it off balance."

As for Chavez, Maduro reiterated that the president is fighting a "complex" health battle but expressed hope that eventually "we'll see him and we'll hear him."

"He has a right to rest and tranquility, and to recuperate," Maduro said on state television, speaking with Information Minister Ernesto Villegas.

The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken Jan. 10 before the National Assembly. It also says that if the president is unable to be sworn in before the National Assembly, he may take the oath office before the Supreme Court, and some legal experts have noted that the sentence mentioning the court does not mention a date.

The constitution says that if a president-elect dies or is declared unable to continue in office, presidential powers should be held temporarily by the president of the National Assembly and a new election should be held within 30 days.

Venezuelan lawmakers will meet Saturday in a session that could shed light on what steps may be taken if Chavez is too sick to be sworn in for a new term next week.

Legislators will choose a president, two vice presidents and other leaders of the National Assembly, which is controlled by a pro-Chavez majority. Whoever is elected National Assembly president could eventually end up being the interim president of Venezuela under some circumstances.

Brewing disagreements over how to handle a possible transition of power could be aired at the session, coming just five days before the scheduled inauguration day specified in the constitution.

The government revealed this week that Chavez is fighting a severe lung infection and receiving treatment for "respiratory deficiency" more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba. The announcement suggests a deepening crisis for the 58-year-old president and has fed speculation that he likely is not well enough to travel to Caracas for the inauguration.

But Maduro criticized rumors surrounding Chavez's condition, saying: "He has a right to his privacy, and to recover."

National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello called on Chavez backers to show up for the legislative session and demonstrate their support.

"This National Assembly is revolutionary and socialist. It will remain beside the people and our commander," Cabello said in one of several messages on his Twitter account. "If the opposition thinks it will find a space in the National Assembly to conspire against the people, it's mistaken once again. It will be defeated."

Chavez hasn't spoken publicly or been seen since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba. In a Thursday night update, the government for the first time described the president's respiratory infection as "severe," the strongest confirmation yet that Chavez is having serious trouble breathing after days of rumors about his condition worsening.

The government's characterization raised the possibility that Chavez might be breathing with the assistance of a machine. But the government did not address that question and didn't give details of the president's treatment.

Independent medical experts consulted by The Associated Press said the government's account indicated a potentially dangerous turn in Chavez's condition, but said it's unclear whether he is attached to a ventilator.

Dr. Gustavo Medrano, a lung specialist at the Centro Medico hospital in Caracas, said he has seen similar cases in cancer patients who have undergone surgery, and "in general it's very bad, above all after a surgery like the one they performed on him."

"I don't know the magnitude of the infection he has, how much of his lungs have been compromised, how much other organs are being affected. That's not clear," Medrano said.

"What's most likely is that he's on mechanical ventilation," Medrano added. However, he said, while respiratory deficiency means there is an abnormally low concentration of oxygen in the blood, depending on the severity it can be treated in various ways.

Dr. Michael Pishvaian, an oncologist at Georgetown University's Lombardi Cancer Center in Washington, agreed that such respiratory infections can run the gamut from "a mild infection requiring antibiotics and supplemental oxygen to life-threatening respiratory complications."

"It could be a very ominous sign," Pishvaian said. He said it's possible Chavez could be on "life support," but added it's impossible to be sure without more details.

Opposition leaders have blamed vague information coming from the government for the persistent rumors about Chavez's condition, and demanded a full medical report.

The Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional criticized what it called an "information vacuum" in an editorial on Friday, saying Venezuelans are in the dark because "no one speaks clearly from the government." The newspaper called the situation reminiscent of secrecy that surrounded the deaths of Josef Stalin in the former Soviet Union and Mao Zedong in China.

State television repeatedly played video of a song in which rappers encourage Venezuelans to pray, saying of Chavez: "You will live and triumph." A recording of a speech by Chavez appears during the song, saying: "I will be with you always!"

Chavez has undergone four cancer-related surgeries since June 2011 for an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer. He also has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

He was re-elected in October to another six-year term, and two months later announced that the cancer had returned. Chavez said before the operation that if his illness prevented him from remaining president, Maduro should be his party's candidate to replace him in a new election.

This week, Cabello and the president's elder brother Adan joined a parade of visitors who saw Chavez in Havana, and then returned to Caracas on Thursday along with Maduro.

Brazil's state-run Agencia Brasil news agency reported Friday that President Dilma Rousseff's top international adviser, Marco Aurelio Garcia, made a one-day visit to Cuba and spoke with Venezuelan and Cuban officials about Chavez's health. It was unclear if Garcia actually saw Chavez, or what day he visited Cuba.

On the streets of Caracas, some of Chavez's supporters say they're still holding out hope he can recover.

"He's the only leader of the revolution," said Miriam Bolivar, who belongs to a grassroots pro-Chavez group. "We can't imagine life without him. He's our life. This is one more battle and we have faith that he'll come out it unscathed once again."

(3) Eyeing social justice, Moily puts brakes on new LPG dealerships

Oil minister M Veerappa Moily has applied brakes on new cooking gas dealerships and asked state-run fuel retailers to revise their expansion plans in a way that these do not hit existing dealers but provide livelihood opportunities to weaker sections across a wider geographical area.

The three state fuel retailers had recently advertised 2,500 new dealerships. The decision was taken after oil minister M Veerappa Moily told the company brass at a review meeting there was need to expand the dealer network for catering to the rising number of consumers and maintaining good service levels.

While suggesting the expansion of dealer network, ministry sources said, Moily had also asked the fuel retailers to consider certain factors. One of the major concerns expressed was to ensure that the new dealerships become a tool for employment generation for local youth, women, disabled people, victims of crime and members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The locations for new distributorships advertised by the fuel retailers have upset many existing distributors, who have complained that these would eat into their business. The widespread discontent prompted Moily to seek a review of the guidelines for appointing new dealerships.

Moily has asked the fuel retailers to come back with revised guidelines, which take into consideration the ministry's concerns, within a week. The minister is expected to examine these guidelines next week before approving them.

Ever since he took over the ministry's reins from S Jaipal Reddy in October, Moily has been on a drive to improve customer service by state fuel retailers and rationalize their investments in marketing networks.

Last month, as first reported by ToI on December 7, Moily ordered state fuel retailers to stop spending money on new petrol pumps and directed that prospective dealers would have to pick up the tab for equipment and other infrastructure.

That move was expected to arrest unchecked growth in the number of outlets that was threatening investments made into the 42,000 existing outlets. It was also Moily's way of checking unwanted investments by retailers from financially weaker states.

(4) Oldest Swiss bank Wegelin to close after guilty plea

Wegelin & Co, the oldest Swiss private bank, said on Thursday it would shut its doors permanently after more than 2 1/2 centuries, following its guilty plea to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts.

The plea, in US District Court in Manhattan, marks the death knell for one of Switzerland's most storied banks, whose original European clients pre-date the American Revolution. It is also potentially a major turning point in a battle by US authorities against Swiss bank secrecy.

A major question was left hanging by the plea: Has the bank turned over, or does it plan to disclose, names of American clients to U.S. authorities? That is a key demand in a broad U.S. investigation of tax evasion through Swiss banks.

"It is unclear whether the bank was required to turn over American client names who held secret Swiss bank accounts," said Jeffrey Neiman, a former federal prosecutor involved in other Swiss bank investigations who is now in private law practice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"What is clear is that the Justice Department is aggressively pursuing foreign banks who have helped Americans commit overseas tax evasion," he said.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment immediately.

Wegelin admitted to charges of conspiracy in helping Americans evade taxes on at least $1.2 billion for nearly a decade. Wegelin agreed to pay $57.8 million to the United States in restitution and fines.

Otto Bruderer, a managing partner at the bank, said in court that "Wegelin was aware that this conduct was wrong."

He said that "from about 2002 through about 2010, Wegelin agreed with certain U.S. taxpayers to evade the U.S. tax obligations of these U.S. taxpayer clients, who filed false tax returns with the IRS."

INITIALLY VOWED TO RESIST

When Wegelin last February became the first foreign bank in recent memory to be indicted by U.S. authorities, it vowed to resist the charges. The bank, founded in 1741, was declared a fugitive from justice when its Swiss-based executives failed to appear in U.S. court.

The surprise plea effectively ended the U.S. case against Wegelin, one of the most aggressive bank crackdowns in U.S. history.

"Once the matter is finally concluded, Wegelin will cease to operate as a bank," Wegelin said in a statement on Thursday from its headquarters in the remote, small town of St. Gallen next to the Appenzell Alps near the German-Austrian border.

But the fate of three Wegelin bankers, indicted in January 2012 on charges later modified to include the bank, remains up in the air. Under criminal procedural rules, the cases of the three bankers - Michael Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller - are still pending.,

Although Wegelin had about a dozen branches, all in Switzerland, at the time of its indictment, it moved quickly to wind down its business, partly through a sale of its non-U.S. assets to regional Swiss bank Raiffesen Gruppe.

A corporate indictment can be a death knell. In 2002, accounting firm Arthur Andersen went out of business after being found guilty over its role in failed energy company Enron Corp. A 2005 Supreme Court ruling later overturned the conviction, but it was too late to save the company.

Wegelin, a partnership of Swiss private bankers, was already a shadow of its former self - it effectively broke itself up following the indictment last year by selling the non-U.S. portion of its business.

Dozens of Swiss bankers and their clients have been indicted in recent years, following a 2009 agreement by UBS AG, the largest Swiss bank, to enter into a deferred-prosecution agreement, turn over 4,450 client names and pay a $780 million fine after admitting to criminal wrongdoing in selling tax-evasion services to wealthy Americans.

'WAKE-UP CALL'

William Sharp, a tax lawyer in Tampa, Florida, with many U.S. clients of Swiss banks, said Wegelin's plea "should serve as a wake-up call" to the world banking community servicing U.S. clients to takes steps to ensure compliance with U.S. law.

Sharp called Wegelin's change of heart "shocking."

Banks under U.S. criminal investigation in the wider probe include Credit Suisse, which disclosed last July it had received a target letter saying it was under a grand jury investigation.

Zurich-based Julius Baer and some cantonal, or regional, banks are also under scrutiny, sources familiar with the probes previously told Reuters. So are UK-based HSBC Holdings and three Israeli banks, Hapoalim, Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Ltd and Bank Leumi, sources also said previously.

Those banks have not commented on the inquiries.

In a statement after the plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kathryn Keneally said it was a top Justice Department priority "to find those who continue to shirk their tax obligations," as well as those who help them and profit from it.

"The best deal now for these folks is to come in and 'get right' with the IRS, before either the IRS or the Justice Department finds them," she said.

Under its plea, Wegelin agreed to pay the $20 million in restitution to the IRS as well a civil forfeiture of $15.8 million, the Justice Department said.

Wegelin also agreed to pay an additional $22.05 million fine, the Justice Department said. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who must approve the monetary penalties, set a hearing in the case for March 4 for sentencing.

Last year, the U.S. government separately seized more than $16 million of Wegelin funds in a UBS AG account in Stamford, Connecticut, via a civil forfeiture complaint.

Since Wegelin has no branches outside Switzerland, it used UBS for correspondent banking services, a standard industry practice, to handle money for U.S.-based clients.

In court papers, Bruderer said that Wegelin "believed it would not be prosecuted in the United States for this conduct because it had no branches or offices in the United States and because of its understanding that it acted in accordance with, and not in violation of, Swiss law and that such conduct was common in the Swiss banking industry."

(5) NCDEX in talks with MP govt for modernisation of mandis

The National Commodities and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) is in talks with the state government in connection with the modernisation of mandis in the state. As part of the proposed modernisation programme, the firm will provide facilities like grading, shorting and storage to the farmers at the mandi itself.

"My firm has already completed the modernisation of 15 such mandis in Karnataka and it has plans to modernise mandis in eight states, including Madhya Pradesh," said MK Ananda Kumar, chief, corporate services, NCDEX, here on Friday. He was here to make a company announcement.

NCDEX has registered a healthy rise in turnover of oil seeds and edible oil. The oilseed contracts like soybean, refined soya oil, rape mustard seed and castor seed have witnessed tremendous growth in turnover, volume and open interest in the year 2012, as compared to the year gone by. Soybean contract showed a turnover of Rs 2,35,231.4 crore and total traded volumes was 71.0 mn tons, with a healthy growth of 144% & 74% respectively, as compared to last year.




           
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