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WASHINGTON: Airline passengers will soon be allowed to use a range of mobile electronic devices in flight with very few restrictions, US aviation authorities said Thursday.

The move by the Federal Aviation Administration put an end to stricter regulations that have barred the use of electronics during taxi, takeoff and landing for the past 50 years.

The changes are expected to take effect on most US-based carriers by the end of this year.

“Airlines can safely expand passenger use of portable electronic devices during all phases of flight,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta told reporters at Reagan National Airport.

The relaxed safety guidelines came from a committee convened last year to study the matter, and included input from pilots, passengers, flight attendants, aviation manufacturers and experts from the mobile technology industry.

“The committee determined that most commercial airplanes can tolerate radio interference from portable electronic devices,” Huerta said.

“It is safe to read downloaded materials like e-books and calendars, and also to play games.”However, in rare cases passengers may be asked to turn off their devices when there is low visibility due to poor weather, he said.

“Some landing systems may not be proven to tolerate the interference,” Huerta said, describing this as “a very small percentage -- we are saying one percent of flights.””If the captain asks you to shut off the device, it is for a good reason,” he added.

Mobile phones still cannot be used for voice calls while in flight, due to rules from another federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission.

Passengers will be advised to use their mobile devices in airplane mode, which shuts off the cellular band technology.

But flight attendants will not be required to check individual devices, so the rule will likely go unenforced. “There is no safety problem if it isn't (in airplane mode),” Huerta added.

“But you are going to arrive at your destination with a dead battery, and I don't think anyone wants that.”He also addressed concerns that passengers may become more distracted by their devices, making them more likely to ignore the flight attendants as they describe emergency procedures prior to takeoff.

The changes affect airline carriers that are under the regulatory authority of the FAA, meaning US-based carriers, and will apply to the full scope of their international and domestic operations, Huerta said.

The committee called on the FAA to work with international regulatory authorities so that expanded use of personal devices is “universally accepted.”European aviation authorities also said that they are planning to allow the usage of portable electronic devices during flights.

“It is clear that it is necessary to develop the rules in force and the conditions of their application,” a spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) told AFP.

The new FAA guidelines are being distributed to airlines now.

Delta Air Lines said it was already making changes and would be ready to allow passengers to use mobile devices below 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) as early as November 1.

The very first FAA restrictions on personal electronics in flight date back to 1966, when studies showed that portable FM radio receivers caused interference with some plane navigation systems.

But some concern was expressed by Senator John (Jay) Rockefeller, chair of the committee on commerce, science and transportation.

“Having access to e-mail or a movie is not worth compromising the safety of any flight,” he said, calling for “exhaustive oversight” of the changes by the FAA.

The new rules say bulkier electronic items must be still be stowed, either in the overhead bin or under the seat, during takeoff and landing.

Smaller devices can be held or put in the seat back pocket during takeoff and landing.

Browsing the Internet will continue to be possible on air carriers that provide Wi-Fi in flight, and Bluetooth technology for wireless keyboards will also be allowed.

“I think it'll be great,” said Mike Sullivan, 62, a musician and therapist who described himself as a frequent traveler.

“It seems like there is always someone who doesn't want to turn off their device. It creates a little bit of tension.”

WASHINGTON: A Pakistani elementary school teacher, whose mother was killed in a US drone strike last year, Tuesday urged the United States to end unmanned operations and help bring peace to the tribal areas through cooperative efforts with Pakistan.

Rafiq-ur-Rehman made the plea in a joint Congressional briefing, where his children nine-year-old daughter Nabila Rehman, and 13-year-old Zubair Rehman, who were both injured by the drone strike, also recounted their emotional experiences.

The family traveled to Washington on the invitation of Congressman Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida, to provide their accounts of the attack that killed Rafiq's 67-year-old mother, Momina Bibi in North Waziristan, a year ago.

Nobody has been able to explain why this drone hit his home, Rehman told the hearing, also attended by other members of Congress. His mother, Rehman said, was the binding force for the family and life has not been the same for the family since her death.

He said in North Waziristan, people live under fear of drones. “Drones are not the answer” to the problems, he said, speaking through an interpreter. Justice must be delivered to those who have suffered as a result of drone attacks, the school teacher said.

The unprecedented briefing by survivors of drone strikes took place amid international calls for greater transparency. Washington has defended its drone campaign, saying the counterterrorism actions are the least harmful and effective against militants.

If he has the opportunity to meet President Obama, he will ask him to “find a peaceful end to the war in my country, and end these drones,” Rehman said at the briefing.

He said he has seen people living peacefully in the United States and wanted a similar peaceful environment in North Waziristan and dreams that his children would be able to complete their education and help rebuild Pakistan. “We can achieve peace through education,” he said.

A preview from the upcoming Brave New Films documentary Unmanned: America's Drone Wars was shown at the briefing, moderated by Robert Greenwald, the documentary's director.

The lawmakers, attending the briefing, expressed their profound regrets over what had happened to the family and noted that the briefing highlighted the importance of transparency and conversation on the costs and benefits of the drone operations.

Congressman Grayson, Representative Jan Schakowsky and Representative Jon Conyers also addressed the hearing.

Human Rights Charity Reprieve Staff Attorney Jennifer Gibson called for bringing the drone war out of the shadows, stressing transparency.

DUBAI: The Gulf Emirate of Dubai on Sunday opened passenger operations at its second airport, Al-Maktoum International, touted to be the world’s largest once it is completed.

A Wizz Air plane from Budapest was the first passenger aircraft to land at the sprawling new facility, and it was welcomed on the tarmac with a water cannon salute.

Jazeera Airways, another low-cost carrier, will follow suit on Thursday with daily flights to and from Kuwait, while Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air, will begin operations on December 8.

No other airlines have announced intentions to use the new airport, which lies some 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Dubai International, one of the world’s busiest hubs for air passengers.

Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer of Dubai Airports, was confident that other companies would follow “in the coming months”.

He pointed out that 36 cargo carriers currently operate out of the new airport, compared to only two in 2010.

Dubai International handled 57 million passengers in 2012, as it has become a major stop for air traffic between the West, Asia and Australasia.

Al-Maktoum International was opened only for cargo in June 2010, while passenger operations were repeatedly delayed.

The new airport is situated in Dubai World Central, an economic zone the government hopes to turn into what it calls an “aerotropolis”.

Once completed, it is to feature five runways that will be able to handle an annual capacity of 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo.

It is built next to Dubai Jebel Ali Free Zone and its port, which is one of the world’s largest man-made harbours, and a major containers terminal.

It is part of a grand project announced during Dubai’s economic boom, but the pace of progress slowed during the global financial crisis that also hit the Gulf Emirate in 2009.

The airport “will play a vital role in the future development of Dubai as a centre for trade, commerce, transport, logistics and tourism”, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Airports, said in a statement.

The new airport is not aimed at replacing Dubai International, where expansion work is continuing, at least not for the time being, according to Mr Griffiths.

“If DXB (Dubai International) is to close, it isn’t a decision we have to make probably for the next 30, 40 years,” he told journalists.—AFP

 

PATNA: A series of small bomb blasts killed six people and injured dozens near a park in eastern India where tens of thousands of people had gathered to hear a speech by the main opposition party’s prime ministerial candidate.

Panic erupted briefly among those who had gathered in the park in the Bihar state capital of Patna after at least five small blasts went off nearby.

Police detained one man for questioning, but did not say whether he was a suspect.

At least 50 people were being treated, according to the head of Patna Medical College hospital, Vimal Karak.

The first blast came from a crude bomb that exploded in a public toilet building on an isolated railway platform, Patna district police chief Manu Maharaj said.

A man who was wounded in the blast later died in a hospital.

Another bomb went off near a movie theater, and two more exploded just outside the park, sending plumes of gray smoke swirling above the crowd.

''All the bombs produced low-intensity blasts,'' Maharaj said.

Bomb disposal and forensic teams found two unexploded bombs around the railway station and were defusing them, railway police superintendent Upendra Kumar Sinha said.

Authorities quickly restored order at the rally, and it went ahead as scheduled with a speech by Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

In the first half hour of his speech, however, Modi did not mention the blasts.

His plans to visit Bihar have been controversial since the state’s highest elected leader, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, severed ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party six months ago to protest Modi’s candidacy. Kumar has questioned Modi’s secular credentials and suggested that he could exacerbate communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India.

TRIPOLI: Libya marked the second anniversary yesterday of its “liberation” from loyalists of veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi with no official celebrations as it struggles to heal the wounds of the conflict. The post-Gaddafi authorities are still struggling to assert their writ over large swathes of the country. Many rebel units which fought in the bloody NATO-backed revolt against Gaddafi’s forces have refused to lay down their arms and now operate as more or less autonomous militias, sometimes in outright defiance of the government.

The government did issue a brief statement on Tuesday, congratulating the people on the “decisive day that ended tyranny and despotism.” On October 23, 2011, the victorious rebels declared the “liberation” of Libya from Gaddafi loyalists three days, after the once-feared dictator was captured and killed outside his home town Sirte in the final battle of the eight-month conflict. But two years on, there was no sign of any preparations for festivities in either the capital or second city of Benghazi, birthplace of the uprising. The anniversary comes less than two weeks after a former rebel militia briefly kidnapped Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, exposing the persistent weakness of the central government. Tripoli resident Abdelhadi Al-Sultan, 41, was downbeat about the anniversary. “Nothing has changed in Libya,” he said as he left a mosque. “Libya is not getting better, it is heading towards worse things because of the militias that really govern the country”.

With the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, the country’s once-pervasive security apparatus also collapsed, and the new authorities have struggled to create a replacement army and police force. Instead it has had to rely on the former rebel militias which have their own competing ideological, regional and tribal loyalties. Despite the chaos, Fethi Terbel, the lawyer and human rights activist whose arrest on February 15, 2011 sparked Libya’s uprising, was tentatively optimistic. “I have a positive outlook two years after the liberation, despite the bitterness that dominates most people’s feelings and which seems to me to be the natural result of a revolution still in its infancy,” he said. Terbel said that Libya’s instability was the “legacy of the former regime,” which left “state institutions in meltdown”.

The roadmap for the transition to democracy was supposed to give the country sustainable institutions to help bring stability. But the current turmoil has cast doubts over the roadmap. The failure of the government to set up a professional police and army has prompted mounting criticism of its human rights record. Residents of Tawargha, a town that was a base for Gaddafi’s forces during the 2011 uprising, have been hounded out of their homes and prevented from returning by former rebels, Amnesty International said yesterday. “The Libyan authorities must urgently find a durable solution to end the continued forcible displacement of tens of thousands of Tawarghas,” the watchdog said.— AFP

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels blew up an army checkpoint outside Damascus yesterday and more than 30 combatants from both sides died in the blast and ensuing clashes, a monitoring group said. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 rebels and at least 16 soldiers were killed. Elsewhere near the capital, Syrian forces tried to storm the suburb of Mouadamiya, which the army has blockaded for months, leading to a rising death toll from hunger and malnutrition. The British-based Observatory said the checkpoint explosion, near the suburbs of Mleiha and Jaramana, was detonated by a suicide bomber from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. Nusra supporters on Twitter, however, said the bomber had intended to blow himself up in the car, but instead got out before setting off the explosives inside.

They said rebel forces had captured the checkpoint hit by the car bomb and were battling to take a second one nearby. Syrian state television reported the blast but gave no death toll, saying only that several people had been killed or wounded in a “terrorist bombing”. The Observatory, which has a network of activists across Syria, said Syrian fighter jets retaliated by striking nearby opposition- held areas such as Mleiha. Video uploaded by activists showed a huge column of smoke billowing up from the scene and the sound of fighter jets streaking overhead could be heard. Rebels also fired rockets into Jaramana, a suburb held by the government, according to the Observatory. It said the air force carried out four strikes on adjacent rebel-held districts. More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 2-1/2-year-old conflict, which began with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad before degenerating into civil war. In Mouadamiya, activists said they were facing heavy bombardment during an assault by Assad’s forces.

The army had advanced, but had yet to enter the suburb, said Qusair Zakariya, an activist there. “Our rebels are fighting hard to repel the regime … We’ve been doing our best to try to evacuate civilians from the western front of the town because they’re now exposed to shelling and tank fire,” he said, speaking by Skype over audible bursts of rocket fire. Like most rebel enclaves in the suburbs that ring Damascus, Mouadamiya has been under an army-imposed siege for months, causing a particularly acute shortage of food and supplies. Doctors in the town have reported an increasing number of deaths from malnutrition, especially among children. The United States condemned the siege on Friday, saying the Assad government had only allowed a limited number of civilians to escape from Mouadamiya and that it must allow food, water and medicine to reach those still inside. “We also warn the regime … not to use limited evacuations of civilians as an excuse to attack those residents who remain behind,” it said. “The regime’s deliberate prevention of the delivery of life-saving humanitarian supplies to thousands of civilians is unconscionable.”

Western powers have mostly backed opposition forces trying to end four decades of Assad family rule, but have hesitated to supply military aid to the rebels, fearing the rising influence of Al Qaeda. Russia and Iran have supported Assad unstintingly. International efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria have stuttered for months, but Russia and the United States are now planning to hold peace talks in Geneva next month. The deeply divided opposition remains reluctant to attend, however, and Assad’s government has already said it will not consider any deal that requires the president to step down. — Reuters

MUMBAI: Pakistani musician Adnan Sami was given a notice on Tuesday by Mumbai police for overstaying in India after his visa expired earlier this month.

The 44-year-old singer and composer, who has made India his second home for the last several years, has been asked to reply to the notice explaining reasons for overstaying and efforts being made by him for renewal of the visa within a week, sources in the special branch of city police said.

His last visa was valid from September 26, 2012 to October 6, 2013.

Sources said Mr Sami had informed Mumbai police that he had applied for an extension of his visa in Delhi but failed to produce any valid documentary evidence to support his claim.

If he fails to reply to the notice and follow the norms prescribed for foreigners, the ministry of home affairs would be informed for taking appropriate action, they said.

The expiry of the singer’s visa came to light recently during the hearing of a court case between him and his former wife Sabah Galadari over possession of a duplex flat in Lokhandwala complex.

Following this, the film wing of Raj Thackeray-led MNS had demanded that Mr Sami be deported.

The singer had met M.N.S. Chitrapat Karmachari Sena leader Amey Khopkar on Saturday seeking their cooperation on the matter.

“Sami met us at our office seeking our cooperation. We told him to leave the country as his visa has expired,” Mr Khopkar had said.

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