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April 15, 2007

SAARC welcomes Afghanistan, proposes South Asian Economic Union

The 14th SAARC summit, held in New Delhi on April 3 and 4, ended with leaders of the eight-nation grouping calling for a South Asian Economic Union and a South Asian Customs Union to accelerate economic development of the world's most populous region.

Heads of state or government of Afghanistan - which joined the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on April 3 - India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives also came down heavily on "targeted killing of civilians" by terrorist groups.

A declaration adopted at the end of the 14th SAARC summit, which for the first time drew representatives of the U.S., the European Union, Japan, China and South Korea as observers, also covered a variety of other subjects aimed at deepening ties within the 22-year-old regional grouping.

In his closing remarks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, who will be the chairperson of SAARC until the next summit, said he had witnessed a new sense of purpose in the two days of deliberations. "It is occasion to make SAARC truly a people's association," added President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives. Maldives will host the 15th SAARC meeting in 2008. The declaration said the SAARC leaders called for an early roadmap that would lead to a South Asian Customs Union and South Asian Economic Union "in a planned and phased manner".

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India tests intermediate range missile Agni-III

Indian scientists successfully tested a fire-and-forget Agni-III Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) last week. Fired from the Wheeler Island in the Bay of Bengal on India's eastern coast, the missile reached its designated target in the Indian Ocean in 15 minutes, proving the success of the Made-in-India propulsion and guidance systems, Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman Sitanshu Kar said.

He did not say how far the dummy target was but indications are that it was around 3,000-km away, and the impact of the missile's kinetic energy and the explosion of the single, conventional warhead had the desired result.

"It was a textbook launch with precision hit," Kar said adding that ground control did not guide the missile although stations along India's eastern coast, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and two naval ships monitored the flight path.

Details are likely to be made public after the test parameters are assessed and a report of the newly acquired capability is submitted to the government.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju, Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) head M. Natarajan congratulated the team of scientists behind the test.

The test was "an impressive illustration of the indigenous capacity developed by our scientists and technologists in mastering strategic high technologies essential for maintaining the nation's defence and security", the Prime Minister said in his message. Antony said the "Agni-III test has confirmed India's strategic capability for a minimum credible deterrence".

Defence sources said that Indian scientists were working on putting multiple warheads on the missile. There is a substantial use of lightweight carbon composite materials in the two-stage Agni-III, but after some more tests and further development, its weight would be reduced to give it multiple warhead capability.

The 16-metre Agni-III weighed 48 tonnes and carried a warhead of 1.5 tonnes.

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Pune India's first 'unwired' city

Taking a leap forward, Pune will become the first Indian city to have a high-speed wireless Internet network. The ambitious project, when complete, will enable people to access the Internet from anywhere in the city, without a cable, through their laptops or personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Christened 'Unwiring Pune', the project was jointly announced by global chip-maker Intel Corporation and Pune Municipal Corporation in March 2006 and will be kick-started soon.

Intel, along with Chennai-based Microsense, will establish infrastructure for a wireless communication network covering the entire 280 sq km of this cultural centre of Maharashtra in a couple of years.

While Intel will provide design and planning support, Microsense will carry out network deployment.

Shahrukh's wax statue unveiled

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan became the latest Indian to be featured in the Madame Tussauds museum when his life-size wax statue was unveiled in London on April 3.

Shah Rukh is the third Indian actor to figure in the popular tourist attraction - the other two are Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai.

The actor was present with his family when his statue was unveiled. The statue was sculpted by Stephen Mansfield.

The decision to have a wax model of King Khan was based on feedback received from thousands of visitors and tourists who visit the museum featuring prominent personalities every year.

A spokesman of the museum said that Shah Rukh's statue reflected the growing popularity of Indian films in Britain, which are now watched not only by British Asians but others too.

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India top offshoring destination

An unbeatable mix of low costs, deep technical and language skills, mature vendors and supportive government policies have taken India to the top among global destinations for offshoring services. And this is despite all the recent concerns expressed about overheating, wage inflation and service levels, a recent survey by AT Kearney said.

India is followed by China, Malaysia, Thailand and Brazil, the survey, christened Global Services Location Index 2007 said. To arrive at the final ranking, AT Kearney surveyed over 50 countries for different aspects related to offshoring, like people's skills, financial attractiveness and business environment.

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