Saturday, July 31, 2010

UN says floods affect 1 million Pakistanis

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The United Nations says devastating floods have affected 1 million people in Pakistan. Officials say floods have killed 430 people in the deadliest such disaster to hit the region since 1929. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the cost of damage from floods was not clear. Rescuers were using army helicopters, heavy trucks and boats to reach flood-hit areas. Government official Lutfur Rehman said Saturday floodwaters were receding in the northwest, but rescuers were facing problems reaching affected people because of damage caused to roads and bridges. The flooding capped an already deadly week in Pakistan. A passenger jet slammed into hills overlooking Islamabad killing all 152 people on board Wednesday.

Wedding bells for Chelsea Clinton

Floods kill more than 400 in Pakistan's northwest

Heavy monsoon rains have triggered the worst floods in decades in Pakistan's northwest, killing more than 400 people and forcing thousands from their homes as authorities struggle to reach stranded villagers. Three days of torrential rains caused rivers to burst their banks in several places and unleashed widespread destruction in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, destroying houses, bridges, schools, roads and railway tracks. "According to initial reports received from all districts, 408 people have so far been killed" since Wednesday, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told reporters in the provincial capital of Peshawar. "We fear the death toll will rise once the water recedes. We are facing the worst disaster in the history of our province." The towns of Nowshera and Charsadda and the northwestern valley of Swat were the worst hit where gushing flood waters washed away houses and hotels around the banks of swollen rivers. "Half of Nowshera is already under water," said Imran Khan, whose ancestral home is beside the river in the garrison town, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Islamabad. "The military hospital, and many other buildings in the cantonment area, are also half under water. ... Some trucks of military rescue convoys are stuck on the road," he said. The Pakistan army, which is leading the rescue and relief activity, said it had evacuated about 14,250 people from the flooded regions so far. About 50 tons of rations had been airlifted into affected areas, the army said in a statement. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has seen some of the fiercest fighting in Pakistan's war against Taliban insurgents, with Swat and regions nearby especially hard hit. Militants came within 60 miles of the capital last year, prompting a major military offensive. The province has received more than 312 mm rains in the past three days -- the highest figure recorded in the last 35 years -- chief meteorologist Ghulam Rasul said. The monsoon season in Pakistan lasts until the first week of September. Weather officials are forecasting continued heavy rains for the next 10 days. About 70 people were killed in flash floods in the southwestern Baluchistan province last week, which also uprooted nearly 100,000 people. Minister Hussain appealed for help from the international community and said the assistance must reach the province now, or the provincial government would be forced to cut employees' wages and development work to meet losses. "If they want to help, help now."

Pakistan's intelligence agency cancels UK visit

Pakistan's intelligence agency cancelled planned talks with security experts in the UK in protest at David Cameron's claim that elements within the country were promoting the export of terror. The cancelled trip is the most concrete indication so far of damage done to Anglo-Pakistani relations by Mr Cameron's comments, which sparked outrage in Islamabad when he made them during this week's trip to India. Answering questions following a speech, Mr Cameron said he wanted to see "a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan", adding: "But we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror whether to India, whether to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the world." The Times reported that senior officers from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been due to come to London for talks on counter-terrorism co-operation with British security services. But an ISI spokesman told the paper: "The visit has been cancelled in reaction to the comments made by the British Prime Minister against Pakistan." The spokesperson added: "Such irresponsible statements could affect our co-operation with Britain." It comes days ahead of a three-day visit to the UK by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, during which he is expected to stay with Mr Cameron at his country retreat Chequers.

Chelsea Clinton's 'wedding of the year'

Chelsea Clinton took great pains to keep the details of her wedding extravaganza a secret even as the media pointed cameras at the posh estate in Rhinebeck, New York, where the ceremony will be held.