The NewsFuror

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Video of Bhutto Assassination May Contradict Government Version of Events

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A newly released video of Benazir Bhutto's assassination and an inconclusive medical report raised new doubts Monday about the official explanation of her death and were likely to intensify calls for an independent, international investigation.

The footage, obtained by Britain's Channel 4 television, showed a man firing a pistol at Bhutto from just feet away as she greeted supporters through the sunroof of her armored vehicle after a rally Thursday.

Her hair and shawl then moved upward and she fell into the vehicle just before an explosion — apparently detonated by a second man — rocked the car.

Bhutto's aides, including one who rushed her to the hospital, said they were certain she was shot. She was buried Friday without an autopsy.

The government, citing a report from doctors at the hospital where she died, said she was not hit by any of the bullets, but was killed when the force of the blast slammed her head into a lever on the vehicle's sunroof.

However, a copy of the medical report sent to reporters by a prominent lawyer who is a board member of the hospital said the doctors had made no determination about whether she was shot.

It gave the cause of death as "open head injury with depressed skull fracture, leading to cardiopulmonary arrest."

The report, signed by seven doctors at the hospital, said that when Bhutto was brought in, she had no pulse and was not breathing.

Blood trickled from a wound on the right side of her head and whitish material that appeared to be brain matter was visible. Her clothes were soaked with blood.

The medical team worked for 41 minutes to try to resuscitate her before declaring her dead.

The report said her head wound was an irregular oval shape measuring about 2 inches by 1.2 inches. No surrounding wounds or blackening were seen.

"No foreign body was felt in the wound. Wound was not further explored," it said.

The report was released by prominent opposition lawyer Athar Minallah, who is a member of the board that oversees Rawalpindi General Hospital.

He said that the doctors had called for an autopsy to definitively determine the cause of death, but that Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz refused.

"The wound might appear to be a bullet wound, but without an autopsy no doctor would ever be able to give a conclusive opinion that it was or it wasn't a bullet wound," Minallah said. "Without an autopsy there can be no investigation at all."

However, Aziz denied that he refused to authorize an autopsy.

"I have not told anyone about stopping the post-mortem," he told The Associated Press. "It is a legal requirement, but again it is dependent upon the legal heirs of the deceased."

In a news conference Sunday, Bhutto's widowed husband, Asif Ali Zardari, confirmed that he had refused a request to perform an autopsy, saying he did not trust the government of President Pervez Musharraf to carry out a credible investigation.

He also rejected the government's account about his wife's death as "lies."

Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said Bhutto's family was free to exhume her body for an autopsy if it wished.

The dispute undermined already shaky confidence in Musharraf, a former army chief who seized power here in a 1999 coup. Many of Bhutto's supporters have demanded a U.N. probe similar to the one investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"It's difficult to believe that they are so incompetent that they would handle this whole affair in such a shabby manner so as to create so much doubt," Minallah said.

Musharraf agreed to consider international support when he spoke by phone Sunday with Gordon Brown, the British prime minister's office said. But Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for the Pakistani president, said Monday that Musharraf had made no such promises.

The government has blamed an Islamic militant leader for Bhutto's killing, an accusation the militant and Bhutto's party dismissed.

Talat Masood, a former army general and security analyst, said the government was "outright stupid" for coming out with firm conclusions about her death just one day later, saying a more thorough investigation was required.

"They should have waited at least a few days," he said.

NASA Releases Results of $11.3 Million Air Safety Study After Congressional Criticism

NASA begrudgingly released some results Monday from an $11.3 million federal air safety study it previously withheld from the public over concerns it would upset travelers and hurt airline profits.

It published the findings in a format that made it cumbersome for any thorough analysis by outsiders. Released on New Year's Eve, the unprecedented research conducted over nearly four years relates to safety problems identified by some 29,000 pilots interviewed by telephone.

Earlier characterizations from people who have seen the results said they would show that events like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than previously recognized. Such information could not be gleaned from the 16,208 pages posted by NASA on its Web site, however, because of information that was edited out. The data was based on interviews with about 8,000 pilots per year from 2001 until the end of 2004.

The NASA Web site shows formatted, printed reports that the space agency scrubbed to ensure none of the pilots who were interviewed and promised anonymity could potentially be identified. The data was posted as NASA officials began a telephone news conference, allowing no time to look at the material and ask them questions about it.

NASA did not provide documentation on how to use its data, nor did it provide keys to unlock the cryptic codes used in the dataset.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told reporters the agency typically releases information in Adobe System's portable document format, known as pdf, which presents the information on formatted, printed pages. But there are dozens of reports available from NASA's Web site about other subjects in Microsoft's Excel data format, which would permit researchers to conduct a meaningful analysis more easily.

Griffin said NASA wanted to ensure that no one modified the survey results and circulated false data as NASA's research product. He said even inexpensive optical character recognition software could convert the formatted reports. Such software can risk introducing errors in the data as it performs these conversions.

"We've gone the extra mile with this data, and well beyond our original intentions," Griffin said.

He dismissed suggestions that NASA chose to release the data late on New Year's Eve, when the public is distracted by holidays and news organizations are thinly staffed.

"We didn't deliberately choose to release on the slowest news day of the year," Griffin said.

NASA drew harsh criticism from Congress and news organizations for keeping the information secret. Rejecting an Associated Press request under the Freedom of Information Act, NASA explained that it did not want to undermine public confidence in the airlines or hurt airline fortunes.

Griffin later overruled his staff and promised Congress that he would release at least some data by the end of the year.

NASA's survey, the National Aviation Operations Monitoring System, was launched to see if a massive pilot survey would help pinpoint problems and prevent accidents. Survey planners said it was unique because it was a random survey, with an 80 percent response rate, that did not rely on pilots to take the initiative to report problems but rather reached out and interviewed them.

Griffin said NASA never intended to analyze the data it collected, but rather they planned on passing on its methodology to the aviation community.

He said he had only looked at a few results, but that, "It's hard for me... to see any data here that the traveling public would care about or ought to care about." That would be up to others who chose to analyze the data, he said.

Pilots were asked how many times they encountered safety incidents in flight and on the ground, such as near-collisions, equipment failure, runway interference, trouble communicating with the tower and unruly passengers.

Griffin outraged some NASA employees by saying the project had been poorly managed and its methodology not properly vetted. Survey experts who worked on it, however, said they used state-of-the-art industry techniques and carefully validated the results.

NASA's handling of the matter prompted a congressional investigation and separate investigations by its inspector general and by a union representing NASA workers.

Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who helped design the project for NASA, said the release of information was inadequate.

"The data they released are intentionally designed to prevent people from analyzing the rates properly and are designed to entrap analysts into computing rates that are much higher than the survey really shows," he said Monday.

Health Officials Seek Airline Passengers Who Shared Flight From India With Tuberculosis Patient

SAN FRANCISCO — Health officials were searching Monday for dozens of airline passengers who may have come in contact with a 30-year-old woman infected with a hard-to-treat form of tuberculosis on a flight from India.

The 30-year-old woman, who authorities declined to identify, was being treated at a Bay Area hospital. Officials said the chances that she had infected anyone else were minimal.

The woman arrived in San Francisco on Dec. 13 aboard an American Airlines flight that she boarded in New Delhi. The flight stopped in Chicago before continuing to San Francisco International.

"She did have symptoms on the flight," said Santa Clara County Health Director Dr. Marty Fenstersheib. "She was coughing."

Health officials said she was diagnosed with TB in India, but boarded the flight anyway. Such passengers are typically barred from boarding flights originating in the United States, but U.S. officials have little authority over who boards incoming international flights.

About a week after the flight landed, the woman showed up at the Stanford Hospital emergency room with advanced symptoms of the disease. Hospital spokesman Gary Migdol said the woman is in isolation and is in stable condition.

The woman will remain hospitalized until she tests negative for the disease, which will take at least two weeks, Fenstersheib said. Her stay could last longer because she has a strain of the disease that resists the most common antibiotics, he said.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are asking health authorities in 17 states to contact 44 people who sat within two rows of the woman and urge them get checked for tuberculosis. The risk of infection is far lower than passing on influenza or the common cold, doctors said.

"TB requires pretty constant contact with someone," Fenstersheib said. About 1 percent to 2 percent of all tuberculosis cases are of the multi-drug resistant variety, he said.

CDC spokeswoman Shelly Diaz said the agency has not received any reports back. Diaz said it will take more than eight weeks to receive definitive results.

In May, a TB patient caused an international health scare when he flew to Europe for his wedding. There has been no evidence that the man spread the disease.

Existing Home Sales Rise 0.4% in November to 5M

WASHINGTON -- Sales of previously owned homes inched up in November but that didn't change the overall bleak picture for an ailing housing industry that has been suffering through a painful slump.

The National Association of Realtors reported Monday that sales of existing single-family homes, condominiums and townhouses rose 0.4% in November from October, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5 million units. Over the last 12 months, however, existing home sales have plunged 20%, underscoring the troubles in the housing sector.

Economists were calling for sales to either move up slightly or hold steady for November.

Home prices continued to sink.

The median price of a home sold last month was $210,200. That marked a 3.3% drop from a year ago.

It was the fifth biggest annual decline on record. The median price is where half sell for more and half sell for less.

Sales were mixed across different regions of the country.

Existing home sales jumped 10.3% in November from October in the West. They were flat in the Midwest. However, they fell by 2% in the South and by 3.3% in the Northeast.

The inventory of unsold homes in November was 4.27 million homes. At the current sales pace it would take 10.3 months to exhaust that overhang.

"Inventory is still high and further reduction in prices may be required in some areas to induce buyers back into the market," said the association's chief economist, Lawrence Yun.

A dip in 30-year mortgage rates in November probably helped give nationwide existing home sales the small boost last month, the association suggested. Yun thought the small increase could be taken as a sign that the market might be stabilizing. That said, previous signs of stabilization earlier in the year have been dashed. A credit crunch which took a turn for the worse in the summer has aggravated housing problems.

The housing market has been suffering through a severe slump following five years of record-breaking activity from 2001 through 2005. Sales turned weak as did home prices. The boom-to-bust situation has increased dangers to the economy as a whole and has been especially hard on some homeowners.

Foreclosures have soared to record highs and probably will keep rising. A drop in home prices left some people stuck with balances on their home mortgages that eclipsed the worth of their home. Other home buyers were clobbered as low introductory rates on their mortgages jumped to much higher rates, which they couldn't afford.

Problems in housing are expected to persist well into 2008 -- a major election year.

The housing and mortgage meltdowns have raised the odds that the country will fall into a recession. And, the situation has given Democrats and Republicans-- including those who want to be the next president -- plenty of opportunities to spread blame around.

The economy's growth is expected to have slowed sharply to a pace of just 1.5% or less in the final three months of this year. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently warned that the economy is "getting close to stall speed." The big worry is that housing and credit troubles will force individuals to cut back on spending and businesses to cut back on hiring and capital investment, throwing the economy into a tailspin.

To help bolster the economy, the Federal Reserve has sliced a key interest rate three times this year. Its latest rate cut, on Dec. 11, dropped the Fed's key rate to 4.25%, a two-year low. Many economists are predicting the Fed will lower rates again when it meets in late January.

On Friday the government reported that new-home sales plunged by 9% in November to a pace of 647,000, the lowest in more than 12 years.

The new-home numbers are thought to give a more current account of the health of the housing market because they are recorded when a contract is signed. The existing home figures lag behind because they are based on contract closings, many of which reflect deals negotiated months earlier.

Kenyan Police Battle Opposition After Kenyan Elections

NAIROBI, Kenya — Police fired tear gas and bullets Monday as they struggled to contain tens of thousands of opposition supporters accusing President Mwai Kibaki of stealing his re-election. The death toll in the demonstrations and ethnic clashes rose to at least 125 people, police and witnesses said.

Three police officers said they had orders to shoot to kill, while opposition supporters said they would risk death to protest what they called a stolen election.

The vote ignited smoldering resentment between Kenya's two largest tribes, with supporters of Raila Odinga, a Luo who officially came in second, clashing with members of Kibaki's Kikuyu. The head of Kenya's Red Cross said many of the dead were killed in ethnic violence across the country.

The Kikuyu comprise the largest ethnic group in Kenya, and are frequently accused by other tribes of monopolizing business and political power.

Thousands of people struggling to break out of Nairobi's burning slums surged back and forth under clouds of tear gas, and were pushed back with water cannons and baton charges. Police fired live rounds over their heads. Opposition supporters blocked a road into the city center with blazing refuse and tried to set a gas station alight.

Alex Busisa, 22, said police shot him and a friend after he walked out of his home near a demonstration. He spoke from a hospital bed after an operation for a gunshot wound to the stomach.

While politicians "could afford a plane to fly away ... it is the man on the ground who suffers, like me," Busisa said.

Odinga compared Kibaki to a military dictator who "seized power through the barrel of the gun," and he postponed a rally planned for Uhuru Park after police warned the opposition not to hold it. Odinga instead called on a million people to gather Thursday in the park — where protesters demanded multiparty democracy in the early 1990s.

In the run-up to multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997, hundreds of people perceived to be opposition supporters were killed and thousands more forced off their land in politically manipulated violence in Rift Valley and Coast provinces. But there has been little violence on voting and postelection days in the past.

"We will inform police of the march. We will march wearing black armbands because we are mourning," said Odinga, who had been ahead in early voting results and public opinion polls.

Kibaki vowed to step up security across the country to "deal decisively with those who breach the peace."

Inside Nairobi's Kibera slum, riot police fired shots into the air and tear gas into homes and businesses.

An Associated Press reporter saw a man who had been shot in the head being carried out in a blanket. Men around him said he had been shot by police. Police were not immediately available for comment.

Panicked residents called journalists to report ethnic gangs were roaming the narrow, sewage-filled alleyways of Kibera, seeking to avenge members of their tribe killed in overnight violence and setting homes on fire.

"Why are we burning these shops?" asked 26-year-old Abdi Ochieng as he watched his Luo neighbors cart away looted sheets of corrugated iron from smoldering Kikuyu businesses. "Kibaki does not own them. Neither does Odinga."

The violence has killed at least 125 people since Saturday across the country, police and witnesses said, although the tally was likely far higher. The head of the Kenyan Red Cross, Abbas Gullet, said that in many provinces Kikuyu homes had been attacked and families forced to seek refuge in police stations.

"They need food, water, blankets, but we cannot access them," he said. Enraged demonstrators had even demanded to know the ethnicity of Red Cross workers offering first aid to the wounded, he said.

Kibaki, 76, was sworn in almost immediately after the results were announced. Within minutes, the slums exploded into violence.

Suspicions over rigging were fueled by the fact that the opposition took most of the parliamentary seats in Thursday's vote, but Kibaki still won the election. A ban on live media broadcasts and partial suspension of the news have spurred the rumor mill, with gossip spread by text message and shouted from neighbor to neighbor across barbed wire fences and winding alleys.

Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, expressed concern at the ban on live broadcasts and urged the government to ensure that journalists were free to carry out their work.

The Kenyan government "must abide by its international human rights obligations in responding to demonstrations," Arbour said, adding that "security forces must employ force only in proportion to the actual threat faced."

Echoing previous statements by the European Union, the United States said on Monday it was concerned over "serious problems" during the counting of votes.

The State Department on Monday suggested the U.S. is not ready to recognize any winner in the questionable election.

"We do have serious concerns about irregularities in the vote count," Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey, said. "We call on the political parties in Kenya, as well as the Kenyan people, to avoid violence."

"I am not offering congratulations to anybody because we have serious concerns about the vote count," Casey said. "What's clear is that there are some real problems here and that those need to be revolved in accordance with their constitution and in accordance with their legal system."

Britain's Foreign Office issued a travel advisory for Kenya, warning people against nonessential visits to many parts of the country and urban centers because of the "serious and continuing outbreaks of unrest."

Kenya is one of the most developed countries in Africa, with a booming tourism industry and one of the continent's highest growth rates. Many observers saw the campaign as the greatest test of this young, multiparty democracy and expressed great disappointment as the process descended into chaos.

Kibaki's supporters say he has turned Kenya's economy into an east African powerhouse, with an average annual growth rate of 5 percent. He won by a landslide in 2002, ending 24 years in power by the notoriously corrupt Daniel arap Moi. But Kibaki's anti-graft campaign has largely been seen as a failure, and the elections have reopened festering resentment over tribalism and widespread poverty.

Sonam-Abhishek in Mumbai after Bereavement

Sonam-Abhishek in Mumbai after Bereavement

It's been a trying time for the lead pair of Dilli 6. First Abhishek Bachchan lost his grandmother and had to rush back from Jaipur to Mumbai. Then Sonam Kapoor, with whom director Rakeysh Mehra was doing solo shots in Abhishek's absence, lost her grandfather (her mother's father) and had to return to Mumbai too.

However, professionalism being a part of the duo's heritage, Abhishek and Sonam have both flown back on Friday to Jaipur to resume shooting. Not that Rakeysh was sitting idle. He has a huge cast assembled in Jaipur. And that includes Rishi Kapoor, Tanvi Azmi, Divya Dutt and the amazing Waheeda Rehman whom Rakeysh coaxed out of retirement.

Preity off to Phuket to bring in New Year

Preity off to Phuket to bring in New Year

She's taking a well-earned vacation. After playing, the derelict NRI wife in Deepa Mehra's Heaven On Earth Preity is off to Phuket with her friends to bring in new year. Last year at this time, Preity injured herself during a vacation.

"2007 has been a tough year for me. Not only did I suffer a serious injury it has also been a year of tough challenges for me as an actor. In 2007 I went into another kind of cinema altogether. From doing Yash Raj Films to playing a woman who finds herself at the receiving end of life in Heaven On Earth has been quite a creative and cultural shock for me," groans Preity.

Preity is however quick to point out the film is not only about a battered wife. "It's about all the people who leave India and hope to find paradise abroad, only to be stuck on wretched 16-hour jobs with no happiness or sunshine. I never knew how such marginalized women existed until I played one. Deepa Mehta and Heaven On Earth have proved eye-openers for me. But the film was tough on me emotionally. In the month that I was in Toronto, I went out just twice and that too only to maintain my sanity. I really need a break now."

Preity returns from her vacation in the second week of January with a clear date diary. "I haven't said yes to any of the scripts I've heard. I'll take a call when I return from my holiday. However, since 2007, has been my year of unconventional films. I hope 2008 will probably be a year of hardcore ‘masala’ movies."

Welcome and TZP benefit due to Jodha Akbar's delay

Welcome being a super-success and Taare Zameen Par showing steady escalation isn't news any more. What is news though is an extended great run at the box office for both the films, which is pretty much on the cards now due to Jodha Akbar being postponed to February. Though the official date being cited is February 15, there are still doubts if this would stick on to be the final date.

With coming weeks boasting of mostly small/medium budget productions with a limited market and only a handful of films which could be taken seriously, it greatly helps the prospects of Welcome and Taare Zameen Par to enjoy a longish stay at the screens.

Coming Friday sees Return of Hanuman and Showbiz. While Anurag Kashyap has been quoted as saying that "Return of Hanuman could be as big a blockbuster as Om Shanti Om,” Mukesh Bhatt has maintained that "Showbiz would work with word of mouth going in it's favor". The fact still remains that none of the two films are expected to embark on an earth-shattering opening, hence allowing Akshay and Aamir to stay strong even in the second week.

A film like Manthan Ek Kashmakash that may release on January 4 (deadly first weekend of a year), spells Z grade from miles away and the only thing it guarantees is an inauspicious beginning to 2008.

A week later things turn better but still not in a way which could announce Halla Bol at the box office. Bombay To Bangkok is a small film by Iqbal team of Subhash Ghai, Nagesh Kukunoor and Shreyas Talpade and would see a limited release. Raj Kumar Santoshi, who would be desperate for a box office, has announced, "Halla Bol is a wake-up call for our collective conscience" while also clarifying that this Ajay Devgan (who plays a superstar) starrer is not set in the film industry. The film again belongs to ‘wait and watch’ category, as is the case with the third release of the January 11-My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves, which marks the debut of Nikhil Dwivedi.

Earlier this month, producer Surendra Bhatia had postponed his Rajpal Yadav, Ashish Chaudhary, Neha Dhupia starrer Rama Rama Kya Hai Dramaaa stating, "There are number of biggies slated for a release in December, and we would be forced to vacate theatres/multiplexes once these films release." The situation definitely has improved as January 18 currently stands as an open weekend for this comedy. Still, it is more or less a negligible competition for Welcome and Taare Zameen Par.

The first major competition, which comes, the way of Akshay and Aamir is Sunday which hits the screens on January 25, 2008. "The film unabashedly promises to be a mix of action, comedy, romance, and thrills. Director Rohit Shetty appears to have a winner in hands," says a trade insider. A solo release, it is followed by small/medium budget films like Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na and Superstar, promotion for which is still to begin.

What this means for both Welcome and Taare Zameen Par is that both the films would now have more or less an uninterrupted run for an almost 8 weeks! Astonishing, since in the times when there is competition arriving every Friday, Akshay and Aamir would have as many as two open months for their films.

SRK to perform at Airtel Bindaas India concert

SRK to perform at Airtel Bindaas India concert

Shahrukh Khan along with other Bollywood celebrities is all set to perform at the two hour live Airtel Bindass India concert, organized by UTV’s Bindass.

Boman Irani, Priyanka Chopra, Dia Mirza, Dino Morea, Rakhi Sawant, Kunal Ganjawala, Ganesh Hegde, Nitin and Mauli Dave are the other bollywood stars who will be joining Shahrukh Khan.

The concert will also have Bindaas comical Hass Ley India Duo Mantra and Anirudh performing at the MMRDA grounds, Mumbai, on January 13, 2008. And the telecast is scheduled on January 26.

Second time lucky directors

Second time lucky directors
2007 seems to have created a record when it comes to second time directors bringing their films to the silver screen. For most of the film makers, their second outing turned out to be better than their debut effort, both critically and commercially.

Shimit Amin - Chak De India (First film - Ab Tak Chappan)
Shimit Amin has inarguably given one of the best reviewed, appreciated and loved films of 2007. As a narrator, Shimit struck an excellent balance while interspersing his Ab Tak Chappan style of shot-taking in a Yash Raj Films setup. What could well have been a humongous task came across quite convincingly with coming together of entertainment and real emotions! For cynics, Shimit can take a bow as a director who finally made Shahrukh Khan act!

Farah Khan - Om Shanti Om (First film - Main Hoon Naa)
Main Hoon Naa was termed as shameless entertainment in spite of being a big success. Did the allegation make any difference to Farah Khan's style of film making? Yes, it did. Her Om Shanti Om only took giant leaps to be an even more unabashed manner of pushing entertainment down your throat. Status of biggest box office grosser ever notwithstanding, Om Shanti Om presented dozen odd item sequences that tied the script together for creating a circus that was amusing as well as entertaining.

Imtiaz Ali - Jab We Met (First film - Socha Na Tha)
His first film Socha Na Tha was good and his second film is fast gaining cult status! As a writer-director Imtiaz Ali was always special, as seen in Socha Na Tha. But what one got to witness in Jab We Met was a complete feel-good riot that was an amalgamation of dozens of short but effective scenes. Spicy and imaginative dialogues which were out of real life only made you grin from ear to ear.

Sriram Raghavan - Johnny Gaddaar (First film - Ek Haseena Thi)
Sriram loves thrillers. If he created a new genre with Ek Haseena Thi, he went leaps and bounds to make sure that Johnny Gaddaar was an entirely new experience for a viewer. So much was the control behind the wheel for Raghavan that he cared least about bringing his gears down even as his protagonists faced obstacles in form of speed breakers like double cross, counterfeit, death, a gambling gone wrong, petty fights, loss of moolah and last but not the least, infidelity.

Siddharth Anand - Ta Ra Rum Pum (First film - Salaam Namaste)
Ok, so the film and it's director has been a favorite punching bag this year. However, the fact is that this was Yash Raj Films' only success outside Chak De India. After a mushy Salaam Namaste, Siddharth Anand decided to go the family way while delivering a sermon on judicious spending. Banks and credit card companies may not be too happy with him though since Siddharth termed the trend of 'buy-now-pay-later' as bad! Moral of the story - "Installments are bad, going down heavy on credit cards is bad, saving is cool and spending lavishly is not so cool!"

Vivek Agnihotri - Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal (First film - Chocolate)
Director Vivek Agnihotri was panned for his first film Chocolate as critics felt that the film's narrative was too complex. With Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal, it was a Catch-22 situation for him as this time around he was accused of coming up with an overtly simplistic treatment. All said and done, audience didn't quite mind drooling over John. Coming together of the theme of sports, self-respect and international integration further added up to make Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal a decent watch.

Rahul Dholakia - Parzania (First film - Kehta Hai Dil Baar Baar)
From mushy popcorn romcom -Kehta Hai Dil Baar Baar, Rahul Dholakia took a 180 degrees turn and brought nation's attention to social and communal issues. His Parzania faced quite some problems during it's filming and even struggled to reach the theaters. Poor marketing and lack of promotion meant that only a select few eventually got an opportunity to watch the film. And those who did were left stunned. The film is now making it's presence felt in the DVD circuits.

Meghna Gulzar - Just Married (First film - Filhaal)
Her first film Filhaal was too heavy and serious for most. With Just Married, she decided to take a light hearted route though with her genetic sensibilities in place. Even though Just Married too didn't quite hit the bull's eye, it turned out to be pretty likeable with some endearing moments that stayed on with the audience. If only, the film's culmination would have been exciting and the pace a little faster, Just Married may have been the first breezy box office success for Fardeen-Esha combo!

Raksha Mistry, Hasnain Hyderabadwala - The Train (First film - The Killer)
Director duo of Raksha and Hasnain may be left wondering what went wrong with their second outing The Train. Ok, so the film had major portions of the script coming right from the English film Derailed but what mattered in the end was the entertainment qoutient that it brought along with. This Emraan Hashmi, Geeta Basra and Sayali Bhagat starrer wasn't bad and only showed an improved storytelling from the director duo who had made their debut with The Killer.

Robby Grewal - MP3 - Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar (Samay - When Time Strikes)
Robby's first film Samay - When Time Strikes, a thriller, was all good till the last 10 minutes when the climax turned out to be a damp squib. He kept this in mind in his second outing MP3 - Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar, a romantic comedy, and made sure that the culmination held it's ground. He extracted decent performances from newcomers Ruslaan and Hazel and made a polished product too. Sadly, the film's promotion and marketing left a lot to be desired and hardly anyone even got a chance to see this fun flick.

Bhutto murder: the key questions

Several days after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, the exact circumstances of her killing remain unclear. The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Karachi has been examining the differing accounts of her death and the direction in which the murder inquiry is heading.


Benazir Bhutto
Many questions remain about Ms Bhutto's murder

In the immediate aftermath of the blast, police said that Miss Bhutto had safely escaped the attack. But later it became apparent that she had been taken to the Rawalpindi General Hospital's emergency section.

A seven-member team of doctors which examined her sent a report to the health ministry saying Ms Bhutto had open wounds on her left temporal region from which "brain matter was exuding". The report did not say what caused the wound, apparently because no autopsy had been performed on the body.

A day later, an Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema, told the media that Ms Bhutto died of a skull fracture caused by a lever attached to the sun-roof of her bullet-proof vehicle. He said she must have hit her head against the lever when she ducked to escape the assassins' bullets. He denied that her body carried any gunshot wounds.

These differing accounts inevitably fuelled speculation about a possible cover-up at worst, and an attempt by the government to sidestep its responsibility at best.

The interior ministry's version has been rubbished by Miss Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) which says that she was shot in the neck, and that the bullet exited from the back of her head.

Party spokeswoman Sherry Rehman said that she was with Miss Bhutto when the attack took place, and later cleaned her body at the hospital. She says that she saw two wounds that were bleeding profusely.


A militant in Swat district
Militants made no secret of their dislike of Ms Bhutto

One point of contention between the PPP and the government has been the security provided to Ms Bhutto.

Given Ms Bhutto's status as a former prime minister and her popularity, the government would not like to be seen as having failed to provide adequate security to her, more so since the government itself had warned Ms Bhutto about threats to her life.

But if the PPP's version is held to be true and the assassin indeed got so close to Ms Bhutto as to be able to hit her at almost point-blank range, then all sorts of questions are raised, ranging from lax security to complicity by elements within the government.


At least two pieces of information that have come to light since the assassination suggest that security for Ms Bhutto was indeed lax.

One is an e-mail she sent to her long time friend and lobbyist in the US, Mark Siegal, on 26 October.

Police on the streets of Islamabad 3/11/07
There are questions over the level of security

She wrote in the e-mail that she had been made to feel insecure by (President) Musharraf's "minions" and had not received the requested improvements to her security.

She said she was being prevented from using private cars or vehicles equipped with tinted windows. She said that she had also not been provided with jammers to prevent remote controlled bombs or police mobile outriders to cover her vehicle on all sides.

The other material is amateur video footage that appears to show a man in sunglasses shooting her from close quarters and another man draped in a white robe blowing himself up soon afterwards.

No security presence is seen in the entire video clip.

Media reports suggest that the police and rangers guarding checkposts around the exit gate of Liaquat Bagh, where Ms Bhutto addressed the rally, left their posts before Ms Bhutto's vehicle drove out of the park.


Ms Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, said that he was contacted by the Punjab home secretary who wanted permission to hold a post mortem examination, but that he refused the request.

"We know how these autopsies are conducted and how the reports can be manipulated. We also know how she died," he told the media on Sunday.

In conservative Pakistani society, women's bodies are rarely allowed by their relatives to be subjected to a post mortem examination. It is even avoided in the case of men due to the belief that it constitutes disrespect to the deceased.


The scene of the blast was washed with a high pressure hose of the fire brigade hours after the incident, apparently to clean the road.

The interior ministry spokesman said the spot was washed after all the required evidence had been collected by the investigators.

He brushed aside observations by the media that the investigators may still have had to revisit the site for verification of evidence they had collected earlier.


After the attack, the interior ministry provided the media with transcripts of a telephone conversation between a top Taleban commander in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, and an unnamed person.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf 3/11/07
PPP supporters disagree with the government's version of events

The two congratulate each other on a job well done, but Miss Bhutto's name is not mentioned in the brief conversation.

The ministry spokesman says an audio tape of the Pashto language conversation can also be provided to the media, adding that the government has Mr Mahsud's voice signature to prove that it is him talking.

The transcripts were made public on the day an Italy-based news agency - Adnkronos International - quoted an al-Qaeda spokesman, Mustafa Abu al-Yezid, as claiming responsibility for the assassination.

Shortly before Ms Bhutto's return to Pakistan in October, the Daily Times newspaper carried a statement from Mr Mahsud, saying he was determined to kill her because she was an American agent.

A senator from South Waziristan who had reportedly passed the statement to the newspaper denied having done so two weeks later, when Ms Bhutto's convoy was bombed in Karachi on 18 October.

Mr Mahsud's spokesman has promptly denied the interior ministry's allegation, claiming that the audiotape of the alleged telephonic conversation is a fake.

He has also demanded investigation into the killing by "independent" agencies to identify the actual culprits.

Berbatov could leave, says agent

Dimitar Berbatov
Berbatov joined Tottenham in summer 2006
Dimitar Berbatov's agent Emil Dantchev has told BBC Sport the striker is happy at Tottenham but would be interested in a move to "a big club".

The 26-year-old has been a huge hit since joining Spurs in 2006, but Dantchev said he had spoken to chairman Daniel Levy about his future.

"Dimitar wants to fulfil his potential and win trophies now," said Dantchev.

But Levy has repeatedly insisted he is building for the long term, rather than being interested in selling players.

Fans must understand Dimitar is 27 next month and time is running out for him to play for a club that can match his ambition
Berbatov's agent Emil Dantchev

The Bulgarian has regularly been linked with Manchester United and his agent's comments came just before the mid-season transfer window opens.

He scored 22 goals in his first season at White Hart Lane, and so far this campaign he has netted another 11, including four in the 6-4 win over Reading.

"His performances for the club are a testament to his commitment to the fans and his team-mates," Dantchev told The Sun newspaper.

"Fans must understand Dimitar is 27 next month and time is running out for him to play for a club that can match his ambition.

"I would like to stress this is not about money. This is about sporting ambition.

"But after Tottenham's bad start to the season, it is unlikely they will have the chance to do something big this season."

Colombian hostage release halted

A Colombian policeman guards a Venezuelan helicopter in Villavicencio on 29 December 2007
The negotiations have been punctuated by diplomatic spats
A Venezuelan-led mission to free three hostages held by Colombian left-wing Farc rebels has been suspended.

The rebels said the planned release was not possible because of government military operations, according to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

But the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe said no new operations were under way and that the rebels may not be in possession of one of the hostages.

The Farc had promised Mr Chavez that they would release two women and a boy.

Venezuelan military helicopters that were to have collected the hostages are now on their way back home.

Two of those slated to be freed were Clara Rojas, an aide to ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, with whom she was kidnapped in 2002, and Ms Rojas's son, Emmanuel, said to have been fathered by one of her captors.

The third was former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, who was kidnapped in 2001.

Child 'in Bogota'

On Monday, the Venezuelan leader read out what he said was a letter from the Farc on television.

Clara Rojas appeared in a video released by the Farc in 2003
Several hundred hostages overall are being held by the Farc

Military operations "impede us for now from turning over" the three hostages, the Farc were quoted as saying.

But President Uribe accused the rebels of lying, and said the boy may actually be in a children's home in the Colombian capital, Bogota.

"The Farc can't keep the promise to free the hostages because they no longer have the child, Emmanuel, in their power," he said.

President Uribe has asked relatives of Ms Rojas for DNA samples to prove that a three-year-old boy in the Colombian capital is really the missing Emmanuel.

The planned handover operation had to be postponed on Sunday when Venezuelan officials said the Farc had not provided the co-ordinates for the handover and that there was not enough time to complete the mission.

Fifteen members of the hostages' families, who have not seen their loved ones for more than five years, have been waiting in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

Mr Chavez has been trying to negotiate an exchange of other hostages for guerrillas imprisoned in Colombian jails but he has been accused by the Colombian authorities of overstepping his mandate as a mediator.

In response, he has threatened to freeze ties with the neighbouring state, which is a close trading partner.

It is believed that the Colombian government wants to regain the initiative with respect to the prisoner exchange and does not want Mr Chavez, perceived as being too friendly with the Farc, to hijack negotiations.

Pakistan delays election decision

Election banners in Karachi
Elections were less than two weeks away when Bhutto was killed

Pakistan's election body has delayed a decision on whether to put back elections planned for 8 January in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

A formal statement is now expected on Tuesday, although officials have told reporters that the vote will be delayed by several weeks.

Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party does not want the poll to be postponed.

Meanwhile, the government says the country suffered colossal damage in the turmoil following Ms Bhutto's death.

A cabinet meeting was told that losses to the railway system alone amounted to about $200m (£100m), with carriages and locomotives destroyed and signals damaged.

Correspondents say that life has been returning to normal in much of Pakistan, with many shops and offices re-opening.

Stocks fell by 4.7% as trading was resumed after three days of mourning following Ms Bhutto's death.

Sympathy vote

The ruling PML-Q party has said the 8 January vote should be delayed for several weeks, on the grounds that the vote would "lose credibility" if held under current conditions.

But the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) - now led by Ms Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari and his son, Bilawal - says it wants the elections to go ahead as planned.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Islamabad says the PPP wants elections as soon as possible, in order to take advantage of what could be a big sympathy vote.

The other main opposition party, led by Nawaz Sharif, has said that it is also in favour of holding the elections on 8 January, after dropping plans for a boycott and calling for a national unity government.

"Nobody here wants the elections to go after January 8," Mr Sharif said in the eastern city of Lahore.

The electoral commission has asked each of Pakistan's four provincial governments to compile reports on their readiness for an election.

At least 10 local election offices have been burnt down in the rioting which followed Benazir Bhutto's death.

Bilawal Bhutto
Asif Ali Zardari Benazir's widower and former political ally, has faced corruption and other charges
Bilawal Bhutto (pictured) Benazir's son, a 19-year-old Oxford University student, considered too young by some PPP members
Makhdoom Amin Fahim Senior PPP figure and top aide to Benazir

Ballot boxes and voting screens have been destroyed and the printing of ballot papers - and their delivery around the country - has also been disrupted.

Too young

If the election does go ahead, it is not clear who the PPP would propose as prime minister.

At 19, Bilawal is legally too young to stand for parliament.

And his father has been repeatedly accused of corruption - though he denies the charges and has never been convicted in court.

Mr Zardari said PPP vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim would probably be its candidate for prime minister.

Bilawal was chosen to take over the PPP leadership from his late mother at a meeting in the party stronghold of Naudero, near Larkana in the south of the country.

Bilawal, who will be a titular head while he finishes his studies at Oxford University, said: "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge."

The Dawn newspaper highlights suspects accused of killing Benazir Bhutto
Pakistani media picked out two suspected attackers, one of whom apparently raised a gun (bottom)

Mr Fahim said Mr Zardari had been named party chairman, but had turned down in favour of his son - a decision Mr Fahim said the party leadership had endorsed.

Mr Zardari also announced that the couple's children would now change their names and be called Bhutto Zardari.

Mr Zardari added that he had refused to allow a post mortem examination on Ms Bhutto's body.

"I've lived here long enough to know how and where an autopsy would have been conducted," he said.

Instead, he said the party was asking the United Nations and the British government to conduct an investigation similar to the one carried out after the killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

And he appealed for an end to the unrest in Pakistan, which has killed at least 38 people since Ms Bhutto's murder.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also called for calm in the country and stressed the importance of holding free elections, in an article for Pakistan's Daily Jang newspaper.

Fears mount over Kenya violence

Looter in Kibera, Nairobi
Some of the violence has taken on an ethnic dimension
Diplomatic pressure on Kenya's leaders is mounting as concerns rise over violence that has left at least 100 people dead after disputed polls.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has urged both sides to work for a solution after what his government called "horrific killings".

The US government said it had "serious concerns" about the vote count.

Mwai Kibaki was officially re-elected president while Raila Odinga says he was robbed of victory by voting fraud.

There were running battles in Nairobi slums on Monday, and violence broke out at protests in Mr Odinga's home town of Kisumu.

Some of the clashes took on an ethnic dimension with the Luo community seen as pro-Odinga and the Kikuyus viewed as Kibaki supporters.

If the two sides cannot be persuaded to start talking in the next few days, there is fear that the violence could spiral out of control and turn into full-scale tribal revenge killings, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.

Kenya's Red Cross said many of the dead were killed in ethnic clashes and that gangs were checking the tribal affiliations of Red Cross workers trying to help the injured, the Associated Press reported.


Mr Brown telephoned Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga amid diplomatic efforts to broker a compromise, urging both to work for "unity and reconciliation".


"We're appalled by and condemn the incidents of violence taking place in Kenya, including horrific killings in several Kenyan cities and towns," said UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The US and the EU both expressed concern over the election.

"What's clear is that there are some real problems here and that those need to be resolved in accordance with their constitution and in accordance with their legal system," said Tom Casey, a US State Department spokesman.

"I am not offering congratulations to anybody because we have serious concerns about the vote count," he added.


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged security forces "to show utmost restraint" and appealed to Kenyans "for calm, patience and respect for law."

Mr Odinga has called for a million-strong rally by supporters in Nairobi on Thursday.

A nurse attends to Jacob Ochieng in Masaba Hospital, Nairobi
Demonstrators have been involved in running battles with police

Police banned his supporters from holding a mass alternative inauguration ceremony in the centre of the capital on Monday, a day after Mr Kibaki was sworn into office again.

In his New Year's message, the president urged reconciliation but warned that his government would "deal decisively with those who breach the peace".

Mr Odinga called on his supporters not to "ethnicise" the disputed poll. He compared Mr Kibaki to a military dictator who "seized power through the barrel of the gun."

International news agencies have counted at least 100 deaths across Kenya since Thursday's elections- with some death tolls as high as 135 - either in clashes between protesters and security forces, or in ethnic violence.

  • A hospital in the north-western city of Eldoret told AFP news agency it had recorded 24 violent deaths since Saturday, with most victims either injured by gunfire or machetes
  • An AFP count puts the death toll in Kisumu at 53 and that in Nairobi's slums at 48
  • Seven people were killed in Nakuru, in the Rift Valley, and at least four people were killed in Mombasa
  • In the coastal town of Mombasa, angry crowds on the streets set fire to cars and buildings.

Correspondents say violence was worst in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, where a BBC reporter saw about 40 bodies with gunshot wounds at a mortuary. A witness said police had opened fire.

Mwai Kibaki. File photo
Mwai Kibaki (pictured): 4,584,721 votes
Raila Odinga: 4,352,993
Kalonzo Musyoka: 879,903

Police fired indiscriminately, even after the protesters started running away in the Kisumu suburbs of Manyatta and Nyamasira, an eye-witness told the BBC's Noel Mwakugu.

European Union monitors have said they were barred from counting centres.

They reported seeing altered voting forms and said results declared in Nairobi for one constituency differed from those announced locally.

Mr Kibaki's national margin of victory was 230,000 votes.

Elections chief Samuel Kivuitu has admitted some problems, including a reported voter turnout of 115% in one constituency, the Associated Press reports.