Thursday, April 14, 2011


Campaign ends for April 13 south India polls

Chennai/Thiruvanthapuram, Apr 11 : A high-pitch, often acrimonious and below the belt, campaigning for the April 13 assembly polls in two southern states of Tamil Naduand Kerala along with the Union Territory of Puducherry came to an end Monday evening.

While election campaign in TamilNadu turned into a slanging match between Jayalalithaa'sAIADMK and the ruling DMK with both parties' leaders trading personal attacks and inviting the rebuke of the Election Commission, in Kerala the presence and remarks of Rahul Gandhi provoked some sarcastic comments of the ruling communists.

In both states it is going to be a close contest, poll pundits predict.

While Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister M K Stalin allegedly attacked Jayalalithaa over her single status, Jayalalithaa was pulled up by the EC earlier for alleged personal attacks on DMK leader and chief minister M Karunanidhi.

The election in Tamil Nadu was also called a mixie-grinder poll this time owing to the freebies promised by the ruling DMK and the opposition AIADMK.

They all promised voters mixie, grinder, laptop and washing machine, even fans and even goats. It rained freebies in this election in Tamil Nadu.

While both parties wooed voters with freebies they harped before media on their growth oriented election manifestos.

J Jayalalithaa said her party will garner no less than 218 seats in the 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly, claiming a tidal wave of support for her and a cyclonic storm of anger against her rival DMK led by M Karunanidhi.

“I am very confidence that our alliance will sweep the polls,” the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader said at a campaign trail interview recently.

She said while opinion polls have predicted 164 to 184 seats for her alliance, she will bag around 218 seats in her own assessment.

“The main issue is the all pervasive corruption indulged by Karunanidhi [Tamil Nadu chief minister and the DMK head], his family members, and the DMK,” she said, adding that people would vote against the domination of one family in the state.

She said all theories supporting DMK, reeling under the slur of 2G scam allegedly enacted by party leader A Raja, will be gone with the wind.

AIADMK is fighting the polls with alliance partners like the Left parties and the DMDK of actor-turned-politician Vijayakant.

While AIADMK has fielded candidates in 160 seats, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) is contesting in 41 seats.

Karunanidhi, on the other hand, said he would return as the chief minister. Karunanidhi-led Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) is in alliance with Congress.

While Congress is contesting in 63 seats, DMK is contesting 121 seats, while its partners PMK is fighting in 30, VCK 10, KMK 7, IUML two and MMK one.

The total electorate in Tamil Nadu is 4.6 crore. Altogether 2,773 candidates are in the fray.

The big shots in this elections are chief minister M Karunanidhi and his sworn rival Jayalalithaa. All eyes will also be on Karunanidhi's son M K Stalin and Jaya's alliance partner DMDK leader and actor Vijayakanth.

In Kerala, the last moment campaigning turned feverish with the presence of Congress poster boy Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul, the youth face of Indian politicians, urged voters to support his party claiming that only Congress has the right mix of youth and experience.

He took a dig at the Left by pointing out the age of Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan. He said Achuthanandan would be 93 year old by next elections, sparking a war-of-words.

After Rahul commented on Achuthanandan advanced age, the veteran Left leader hit back calling the young Congress MP an ‘Amul baby’.

“Is it my fault that I am 87 and even at this age I am going on like this?.” Achuthanandan questioned Rahul.

Achuthanandan further added that by the age of 16 he was fighting the British and questioned, “Please tell me where was Rahul Gandhi (politically) before he was 40 years.”

“The Amul baby has come here to campaign for some Amul baby candidates of the Congress party,” he added.

In the 140-seat Kerala assembly polls, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF)-led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) is pitted against the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) which did well in the last Lok Sabha polls in 2009.

The LDF currently controls a majority of 99 seats (out of the 140 seats) in the state legislative assembly.

After the 2006 polls, veteran CPI-M leader V.S. Achuthanandan is heading the LDF government in Kerala as the CM.

In Kerala a total of 971 candidates are in the fray. The total electorate is 2.31 crore.

In Puducherry, a low key union territory compared to Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the campaign came to a close Monday evening as well.

It is Congress versus a former Congress chief minister in Puducherry.

In Puducherry, ruled by the Congress, the fight is between the ruling party and its ally DMK and the alliance of AIADMK with All India N. R Congress (AINRC).

AINRC is floated by former Congress chief minister N Rangasamy that promises to "ensure an excellent government and full statehood for the Union Territory of Puducherry."

While the Congress is aiming to return to power for the third consecutive term in the 30-member Legislative Assembly, the opposition left no stone unturned to challenge them.

Rangasamy has been projected as the chief ministerial candidate of the AIADMK-AINRC combine.

Claiming that there would be no discrimination for Puducherry if they come to power, as against the theory that a small union territory like Puducherry will benefit if governed by the party at the centre, the N.R. Congress with AIADMK is taking on the Congress on the issue of 2G scam and price rise.

Congress and its chief minister V Vaithilingam on the other hand said Rangasamy during his regime had failed to procure allotted funds from the centre owing to lack of planning and initiative.

Congress also tom-toms the improved law and order situation in Puducherry in the past years.

Congress is fighting the polls in alliance with the DMK, PMK and VCK parties.

Congress is fighting in 17 constituencies and its ally DMK in 10. PMK is contesting two while VCK is fighting one.

In the rival camp, All India NR Congress is contesting 17 seats while ally AIADMK has fielded candidates in 10. CPI, CPI-M and DMDK have fielded candidates in one seat each.

Puducherry has a total electorate of 8.05 lakh.

A total of 187 candidates are in the fray this time. Of them 162 are in Puducherry district which consists of Puducherry, Mahe and Yanam. The rest are in Karaikal district.

Tsunami hit more than 100 designated evacuation sites

Thursday, April 14, 2011

News photo
No safe haven: Koganji Temple in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, lies in ruins after being devastated by a tsunami on March 11. The temple had been designated as an evacuation site, but it was not far enough from the coast to escape the powerful waves. KYODO

More than 100 evacuation sites designated by local governments were swept away or inundated by the tsunami triggered by the March 11 earthquake just off the Tohoku region's coast, according to a tally compiled by Kyodo News.
Many people are thought to have lost their lives after fleeing to those sites, believing they would be safe, but no data have so far been collected on the death toll at those places.
There have been no moves so far among citizens to hold local governments responsible for designating those sites, apparently because the scale of the tsunami was beyond what had been foreseen.
But calls will likely grow for a review of locations of evacuation sites along coastal regions. Municipalities throughout the country had picked around 70,000 such sites as of April 1, 2008, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
At least 101 designated sites were hit by the disaster in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the three Pacific coast prefectures struck hardest by the gigantic waves after the quake, according to the tally.
Local governments in Fukushima Prefecture have not been able to grasp the extent of damage because the ongoing crisis at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has made it difficult to conduct research in the area around the plant. The sum of tsunami-hit evacuation sites may well thus rise further.
In Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, for instance, 31 of its 80 designated sites were hit. "Most of them were washed away," said an official.
In the same prefecture, Onagawa's 25 sites were set up at locations at least 6 meters above sea level, a lesson the town learned from the major tsunami that reached the region after the 1960 Chile quake. The March 11 tsunami, however, smashed 12 of the 25 sites.
In Iwate Prefecture, the city of Kamaishi had four of its 69 sites damaged and the city of Ofunato six of its 58 sites. In the town of Yamada, public buildings were wiped out by the tsunami and fires, leaving at least a dozen people missing.
Local governments designate sites for evacuation from tsunami and quakes. Many are public structures such as elementary and junior high schools or local assembly buildings, as well as shrines and temples. Some are upland parks or vacant land lots.
In Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, Koganji Temple, located just under 1 km from the shore, was a designated evacuation site. The temple survived the big tsunami of 1896 and had held a disaster preparedness drill just one week before the March 11 tsunami.
On March 11, neighbors gathered after a tsunami warning was issued. Deputy chief priest Ryokan Ogayu, 52, and his wife, Tomoko, directed people to move farther upland at the temple entrance gate but the temple was soon swallowed by waves.
The couple were eventually rescued but their 19-year-old son, Hiroumi, and Tomoko's father-in-law and chief priest, Hideaki, 82, who were with the couple before the tsunami, are missing. There were also 30 others within the temple's premises, she said. The temple was later hit also by a fire.
"We thought it was safe," said Tomoko, adding that it should be studied why it came to be designated as an evacuation site. If standards for selecting sites no longer fit the reality, they should be revised, she said.

Millions vote in Tamil Nadu -- amid bribery charges

Chennai, April 13 (IANS) Some 35-37 million people, or 75-80 percent of the electorate, voted Wednesday in Tamil Nadu amid allegations of largescale bribery by candidates in an election whose outcome is bound to impact Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government.
'The voting percentage will be between 75 and 80 percent. The final figure will be known only when data from all the polling booths is compiled,' Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar told reporters here.
According to him, the Karur district saw the highest voter turnout with 86 percent and the lowest polling was recorded in Tuticorin with 74 percent.
In 2006 elections, the voting percentage was 73 percent.
He said the elections were free and fair with no major incidents. There were 65 complaints about voting machines' malfunctioning. In 11 of these cases, the machines were set right while 54 machines were replaced.
By the time nine hours of hectic balloting ended at 5 p.m., both the ruling DMK and the opposition alliance led by the AIADMK claimed they would form the government -- with or without allies.
A confident AIADMK general secretary and former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa predicted a landslide win for her alliance and said that her own party could get a clear majority.
Chief Minister and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi was dismissive of the claim. He told reporters after casting his vote: 'The DMK's chances are as bright as the 'rising sun' (the party's election symbol).'
Pre-election surveys have predicted a victory for the AIADMK and its allies, including actor Vijayakant's DMDK, but Karunanidhi has branded this as hogwash.
Tamil Nadu is to elect a 234-member assembly. Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar told IANS that the total poll percentage was 75 percent -- more than the 73 percent of 2006.
A total of 2,748 candidates were in the fray, including 141 women.
The DMK's links with the spectrum allocation scandal has made the Tamil Nadu battle keenly contested. A possible defeat of the DMK is expected to cast a shadow on Manmohan Singh's government of which it is a key part.
Both during campaigning and during vote, there were allegations -- partly confirmed by Election Commission officials -- that money was used widely to woo voters, particularly from the poor sections.
The authorities seized scandalous amounts of currency from vehicles that were apparently being transported to help candidates influence the voters.
One report said that some NGOs and student activists were used to hand over money to villagers -- and told to vote for candidates giving away the cash.
Although voting started at 8 a.m., many people assembled at polling booths early in the day to avoid the scorching sun later in the day.
Some said they wanted to prevent others from casting their vote in their name.
'I went early to vote,' R. Raghunathan of Chennai's middle class district of T Nagar told IANS.
Technical glitches held up polling in some booths but these were quickly set right. In many booths voters complained of slow working of the polling staff.
Karunanidhi is contesting from Tiruvarur near Thanjavur. His party has put up 119 candidates, leaving the other seats to its allies, the Congress (63 seats) included.
'It will be a DMK-led government. It could be a single party government or a coalition,' he said.
Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin and Finance Minister K. Anbazhagan also predicted a victory for the DMK.
The AIADMK is contesting from 160 places -- leaving the rest to friendly parties including the Communists.
Jayalalithaa alleged that the DMK had spent around Rs.5,000 crore in campaigning and in bribing voters but added that people were determined to throw out the government.
Though the Election Commission had said there would be separate queues for senior citizens, that was not the case in many places. However, senior citizens got precedence over others.

A polling official marking the fingers of Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and his wife Vasumathi as they arrive at a polling booth to cast their vote during assembly elections in Alappuzhza on April 13, 2011.