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The Index — May 7, 2009

There was a break in the curfew imposed in Pakistan's Swat valley today allowing thousands to flee the region as government aircraft and helicopters attacked various Taliban militant strongholds there. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met with President Obama Wednesday in Washington and assured him that Islamabad is committed to "defeating Al Qaeda and it's allies." The government's handling of the Swat region has been an on-going and trying test of its resolve to fight the growing Taliban influence there. But with this latest air campaign many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, are worried that an already advanced humanitarian crisis will intensify. The safety of the "tens of thousands" of displaced people due to the fighting is also on the minds of the UN and other members of the international community. Khushal Khan, the Swat region's top administrator, said that residents are not being advised to leave but authorities are helping those who want to. Millions of people turned out to vote in the fourth round of India's staggered month-long general election today. Seven states voted, including the "federally-administered" capital, New Delhi. The polling to choose a new parliament will be completed after one more round of voting next week. Results will be tallied on May 16. Many in the suburbs are voting on "bread-and-butter" issues, the economy and job creation weighing heavy on their minds. Others want the new government to have a significant focus on the country's poor infrastructure. In the villages, however, many are choosing to support the candidates or parties that represent their caste. In the last two decades, many regional and caste-based political groups have emerged in India in addition to the two main parties—the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Other parties are expected to grab a significant number of the 543 Parliament seats. In addition, as in past years, separatist groups in regions like Kashmir are boycotting the election. Also sporadic violence has broken out in places like West Bengal, considered a stronghold of leftist parties. The Sri Lankan Defense Ministry has released what it is calling "recently captured photographs" of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) leader. Saying that the images "unravel dark corners of Mr. Prabhakaran's duplicitous and pampered life style," one photo reportedly shows the Tamil leader in an inflatable swimming pool "inside rebel-held territory," while another has him in a beret similar to those worn by UN peacekeeping troops. The ministry is not revealing how, or where, it obtained the photos. According to the ministry's website, the photos "clearly show" that the rebels have been duped by their own leader: "Had they been aware of the lifestyle of their so-called liberator—who was nothing more than a glorified bandit—they would have banished him before the army fought its way into the last rebel stronghold—a thin ribbon of coastal land in the Mullaittivu district." In addition to these photos, the ministry also release video footage alleged to show Tamil Tigers "forcing civilians" into assisting with their effort against the government forces. One part of the video shows a person in street clothes firing a heavy machine gun. There has been no word on these claims from the Tiger rebels, who are surrounded but still fighting in the northeast region of Sri Lanka.

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