Friday, February 6, 2009

Criticized, Putin Says Europe Has Rights Abuses of Its Own

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin responded Friday to a European official’s criticism of what appeared to be several contract killings here by saying rights abuses occurred in Western Europe, too, citing the ill treatment of migrant workers.

With that, Mr. Putin told the official, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, that the “hockey puck” was back in Europe’s zone on the issue of human rights abuses.

Even as Russia and Europe work toward better understandings on trade and energy, European Union officials say lapses in the rule of law and democratic norms remain major stumbling blocks to improving relations.

At a joint news conference with Mr. Putin late on Friday, Mr. Barroso said he had raised the issue of contract murders during a meeting that day with the Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev. At that point, Mr. Putin interjected his comments about Europe’s human rights problems.

Two recent deaths have drawn wide attention. Stanislav Y. Markelov, 34, a human rights lawyer, and Anastasia Baburova, 25, a reporter, were shot dead by a man with a silencer-equipped pistol on a busy Moscow street last month. The gunman escaped.

Ms. Baburova, a freelance journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was its fourth reporter to be killed in a contract-style attack or under mysterious circumstances in recent years.

In November, Mikhail Beketov, a journalist for a suburban Moscow newspaper who was campaigning against what he called local corruption, was beaten into a coma and has yet to recover. In recent months, two former Chechen officials have been killed in Moscow, and last month in Vienna, a former bodyguard of the Chechen president was killed after filing a complaint against him with the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Putin’s response to Mr. Barroso stood in sharp contrast to a gesture last week by Mr. Medvedev, who met with the editor of Novaya Gazeta and expressed his “deepest sorrow” over the reporter’s death.

At the news conference on Friday, Mr. Barroso said: “In public opinion there is some concern regarding some recent events that happened in Russia. Namely, the murder of some journalists and some rights activists.”

Mr. Putin said Russia was willing to discuss human rights abuses, but wanted Europe to admit its own shortcomings. He said Russia was “not satisfied” with the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in new member states of the European Union. He added: “We know about the rights of migrants in Europe, and how they are violated. So please, Mr. Barroso, here is the answering hockey puck from the government of the Russian Federation.”

How Long to Fix a New York Streetlight? A Year, if You’re Persistent

At first, Martin Daniels let it go. Hey, streetlights die all the time. But after a few days, with the light on East 96th Street still out, he could no longer help himself. On Jan. 22, 2007, he called 311.

So it began, smoothly enough, as one of the 50,000 or so daily complaints to New York’s call center for nonemergencies. After all, how many months does it take to change a light bulb?

As it turned out, a year and a day.

There are 330,000 street lights in the naked city; this is the story of only one of them. Pieced together through work orders provided by the Transportation Department and Mr. Daniels’s own meticulous notes, it shows how miscommunication, unresponsive officials, corroded equipment and a change in contractors combined to turn what is normally a two- or three-day job into a 52-week adventure.

But the story also illustrates the hair-pulling frustrations ordinary citizens often experience in getting potholes filled or obnoxious noises silenced and even, to a degree, what the mayor faces in trying to improve New York’s quality of life, or light.

It almost certainly made a difference in the outcome that Mr. Daniels is one of those quintessential New York characters: a confessed nudnik. Dozens of times a year, he telephones city officials about local irritants, from the lack of sidewalk curb cuts to accommodate wheelchairs to a mound of asphalt left on a sidewalk after a repaving job.

“I may be a pain, but I want these things done,” Mr. Daniels said, noting that his wife, a nurse, had to navigate the darkened street when she left work at Mount Sinai Hospital. “If you walk on the street, you want to be safe.”

The street light in front of 65 East 96th Street, on the north side of the street, east of Madison Avenue, became a particular passion for Mr. Daniels, a 66-year-old semiretired computer programming analyst who lived around the corner. So much so that he kept a diary documenting every call, explanation and excuse. It grew to four pages; excerpts read like a study in despair.

He called Con Ed. “Phone message said 20-minute wait — I hung up,” one entry reads. He called the office of City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and was referred to Community Board 11. “Already did — matter unresolved,” he noted with apparent dismay. “Also, told her how 311 does not work. Always say fixed when not fixed and treat it as a new complaint.”

He called the councilwoman’s office back and asked for an aide: “Put on hold for 20 minutes. Then was told to call back. I gave my name and number and said ‘call me back.’ She did not.”

Mr. Daniels even enlisted his wife, Christina. On Jan. 9, 2008, he wrote, “Con Ed truck working at base of light. Christina spoke with repairman. He said some lights out since 2001. Depends upon how active community complains.”

The complaints began almost a year earlier, at 10:01 p.m. on Jan. 22, 2007, when Mr. Daniels called 311 to report two defective streetlights — one of the nearly 100,000 such calls 311 receives each year.

Ordinarily, officials said, once the city is notified by a call to 311, the routine time for the city’s contractor to repair a defective street light is two days — down from 19 days three years ago. Even if the repair is more complicated and requires Con Ed’s intervention, the average repair time last year was under 13 days, compared with nearly 84 days as recently as 2005.

This repair job started routinely enough. The Department of Transportation was notified immediately. But then things began to go awry, Mr. Daniels’s diary and the department’s work logs show.

According to Mr. Daniels’s account, he called again on Feb. 2 and was told to resubmit his two complaints. By Feb. 12, three weeks after the first call to 311, the light at 96th Street and Lexington Avenue had been repaired. But not the one in front of 65 East 96th.

On Feb. 13, after a complaint from another resident had been logged at 311, Mr. Daniels was told that the streetlight had been fixed. It hadn’t been. When he called again on March 1, he was told no complaint was pending, so he submitted one again.

On March 12, the pole was removed.. A new pole (cost: $1,320) was installed a month later, by April 14, but the light still wasn’t working. Mr. Daniels informed 311 on April 17 and then began calling Con Ed directly.

He also turned to the community board and his councilwoman, to no avail. Finally, on Aug. 23, he phoned in another complaint to the city. He was told later that one was already pending; it turned out to be his call from April.

On Sept. 18, he reached a human being at Con Ed, who promised the light would be fixed within a week. It wasn’t. He said he called Con Ed again on Oct. 16 and someone said the light would be inspected within 48 hours and fixed within a week.

Finally, on Oct. 25, he called the office of the public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, which contacted the Department of Transportation’s chief of street lighting.

The version of city officials, while not poles apart from Mr. Daniels’s, describes complications that undoubtedly slowed the repair work.

They said the pole lost power and blamed the problem on a “deteriorating conduit” from the Con Ed feeder cable, which meant that the foundation of the light had to be rebuilt and the pole replaced.

In the meantime, the city changed streetlight-repair contractors, so the inspection and repair process had to start over, delaying things for months. Con Ed had to get permits to dig a trench from its manhole to the lamppost.

“Our electrical engineers went to the location, inspected the street light and found a condition that required Con Ed to remove the electrical cable so that we could remove the light pole and work on the foundation,” said Ted Timbers, a city spokesman.

“We notified Con Ed. Once Con Ed had completed their work, we went back to the location, removed the light pole, reworked the foundation, removed an obstruction and replaced the light pole. We then notified Con Ed that they could reinstall the electrical cable,” Mr. Timbers said.

The city says the repairs were completed on Sept. 26. But sometime after that (Mr. Daniels’s calls resumed on Oct. 16), the light went out. Con Ed was summoned again by the city on Jan. 7, 2008. Everyone agrees it was finally fixed on Jan. 23, 2008 — a year and a day after the first complaint.

“You get frustrated, but I’m a persistent kind of person,” Mr. Daniels said. “I just don’t give up.” When would the light have been fixed without his noodging? “Maybe never,” he replied. A spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who initiated the 311 system, which now handles an average of 68,000 calls a day, deferred to the Transportation Department for comment.

“Most streetlights are repaired within three days of being reported to 311,” said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the department. “And while we work hard to keep each of the city’s 333,000 streetlights lit, a lifetime on the street can take its toll, requiring more than just a replacement bulb to fix.”

Mr. Daniels doesn’t take the delay personally. He said the neighborhood, on what has been considered the customary border between the Upper East Side and East Harlem, gets short shrift: “To tell you the truth, it’s north of 96th Street. That’s the end of the story. We’re at the very beginning of East Harlem and with rats running around; they don’t care if there’s a light out.”

After his wife retired late in 2007, the couple moved south — a dozen blocks — from Park Avenue north of 96th Street to a neighborhood where, he is convinced, public officials are more responsive to citizen complaints.

“I’m not going to give up calling,” he said, “but the number of phone calls will be down.”

7 policemen killed in Mianwali checkpoint ambush

MIANWALI: As many as seven policemen were killed in an ambush attack by unknown militants on a Qudratabad police checkpoint located on Mianwali road in Mianwali on early Saturday, police sources said.

Armed militants opened fire on the policemen standing on checkpoint following an explosion occurred there, which all of a sudden collapsed checkpoint with a loud blast, sources maintained confirming, “All police personnel, deployed on the checkpoint, have been feared dead in the incident.”

DSP Qudratabad police station Jamat Ali Bukhari told Geo News, “This was an important checkpoint while the attack took place at 3:30am on Saturday. Rescue efforts are underway.” He feared all deployed police officials have died.

Sources further stated, the checkpoint was completely shattered in the offensive.

ANP women MPs to visit Swat valley

PESHAWAR: The women parliamentarians of Awami National Party (ANP) have decided to send a delegation to restive Swat district to provide financial and moral help to the affected women in the wake of the closure and destruction of educational institutions.

Addressing a news conference here Friday, member of the NWFP Assembly, Shagufta Malik said that they have formed two committees for resolution of the problems of women hailing from the district.

Shagufta said that a three-member committee was constituted under the headship of Zara Khattak that would contact women leaders associated with different political parties and other segments of the society. The committee would assess the condition of the affected women and present recommendations to the government for resolution of their problems. She said another committee has been formed to raise funds for the affected women. The committee, to be headed by MNA Jameela Gilani, would collect funds at national and international level, which would be utilised for rehabilitation of the affectees, particularly women.

The female MNA also announced that the women parliamentarians of ANP would donate their one-month salary for the affected women. She also urged the well-off people to extend maximum financial aid for rehabilitation of the affectees of the militancy-hit areas. She also announced that a grand jirga of women would be held by the end of the current month.

Flanked by MNAs Bushra Gohar, Jameela Gilani, former member NWFP Assembly Farah Aaqil Shah, Zara Khattak and others, Shagufta strongly condemned the demolishing of educational institutions in the district. She said that keeping women away from education was against the teachings of Islam.

“Islam is the religion of peace and there is no restriction on women education,” Shagufta said, adding: “Our Pakhtun culture, too, does not discourage female education.” She said the provincial government was taking every step for restoration of peace in the province and for the purpose it was in touch with the federal government.

Extremists won’t be allowed to impose their will: Zardari

President Asif Zardari said on Friday the government may hold talks to improve law and order in NWFP and FATA, but warned that extremist elements would not be allowed to impose their will by force. According to a private TV channel, the president told a meeting on law and order at Governor’s House in Peshawar that the country’s solidarity would be safeguarded. He said the NWFP was facing trained and well-organised militants, adding that law enforcement agencies would be strengthened to control militancy. According to another news channel, the president said no one would be allowed to destabilise the government. He said non-state actors were trying to rewrite the foreign policies of Pakistan and India through the Mumbai attacks, adding that this would not be permitted, APP reported. Earlier, the president was briefed about the overall law and order in NWFP and FATA, Online reported.

Job Losses in U.S. Spreading to Workers With College Degrees

In this recession, not even an education can shield you from losing your job.
The unemployment rate among workers with college degrees rose to 3.8 percent, the highest level since records began in 1992, the Labor Department reported today. The rate for workers with some college or an associate’s degree also climbed to a record, at 6.2 percent.“This particular recession is hitting workers with more levels of schooling harder than past recessions have hit them,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington research group typically aligned with the labor movement. “It’s just a deeper recession, it’s more widespread, its tentacles are reaching everywhere.”According to EPI data, the level of unemployment among people with college educations is the highest since January 1983. With banks merging and manufacturers like Caterpillar Inc. eliminating management positions, the ranks of college-educated unemployed may continue to grow, economists said.“This is a deeper recession and it has really accelerated over the last several months,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “There will be income losses throughout the economy.”Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, dropped 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter, following a 3.8 percent fall in the previous three-month period. It was the first time decreases exceeded 3 percent back-to-back since records began in 1947.
Job Losses
The U.S. lost 598,000 jobs in January and the total unemployment rate soared to 7.6 percent, the highest since 1992, from 7.2 percent in December, the Labor Department said today.According to today’s report, 45.2 million workers, or 30 percent of the civilian labor force, have at least a bachelor’s degree. That was the biggest share of civilian workers.President Barack Obama today said rising U.S. unemployment shows the urgent need for government action on the economy and any delay of his stimulus plan in Congress would be “inexcusable and irresponsible.” He also announced the formation of a panel of advisers, led by Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Swat, Fata on agenda of Zardari’s Peshawar visit today

PESHAWAR: President Asif Zardari will arrive in Peshawar today (Friday) to discuss a host of issues with the ANP-led NWFP government, including the security situation in Swat and FATA. “We will discuss Swat, law and order and FATA with Zardari,” ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak told Daily Times.
President Asif Ali Zardari has said that non state actors responsible for the Mumbai blasts wanted to dictate their own agenda and rewrite the foreign policies of Pakistan and India which would not be permitted. He was addressing a reception attended by provincial ministers, senior government officials, senators, MNAs, political leaders of ANP, PPP here at Frontier House on Friday night. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman and Advisor on Interior Rehman Malik were also present on the occasion.

The President said that fight against terror could be won with the active support of the community and referred to the incidents in Lakki Marwat district where the local population stood against the militants and flushed them out of their area.

President Zardari said that a handful of elements wanted to make the majority hostage and declared the people of the country were brave enough to frustrate their nefarious designs. “We will take our decisions at our own in the national interest”, he said, adding that they will have to surrender as they have no other option with them.

Pakistani forces kill 52 militants

Pakistani government forces killed 52 Islamist militants on Friday to the south of the Khyber region, where a vital supply route for Western forces in Afghanistan passes.Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on the road into land-locked Afghanistan since last year, exposing the vulnerability of Western supply links just as the United States is planning a surge of troops to tackle the Taliban.Army helicopter gunships attacked the militants near the border between the Khyber and Orakzai regions, said Tariq Hayat, Khyber's top administration official."Fifty-two militants were killed and a huge ammunition depot and eight vehicles were destroyed," Hayat told Reuters."Most of the deaths occurred because the destruction of the ammunition depot triggered a series of explosions," he said.There was no independent verification of the casualty figure that Hayat said came from the helicopter pilots and air surveillance.Security has deteriorated sharply in northwestern Pakistan along the Afghan border including in the Khyber region, since last year.Earlier, a suicide car bomber blew himself up and wounded seven people when police stopped him at a checkpoint on a small bridge on the road through the Khyber Pass.The blast damaged the bridge and a truck waiting to cross it but administration official Fida Bangash said he suspected the bomber was heading to a bigger bridge destroyed in a blast on Tuesday that soldiers are repairing."The bomber was probably heading towards where army engineers are fixing the bridge destroyed on Tuesday," Bangash said.Traffic on the road was suspended for two days after the Tuesday attack on the 30-metre (100-foot) iron bridge, 23 km (15 miles) west of the city of Peshawar.But soldiers have cleared a detour over a dried up river and trucks have resumed taking supplies up to the border.The U.S. Defence Department says the U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops.

Escalating violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has raised concern about the stability of a country seen as vital to efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and defeat al Qaeda.
The violence has also eroded investor confidence, which in turn has contributed to economic difficulties that forced the country into a $7.6 billion (5 billion pound) International Monetary Fund loan agreement in November.Security has also deteriorated sharply in the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, where troops are struggling to stem spreading Taliban influence.But the violence has not been confined to the northwest and militants have set off bombs in all of Pakistan's main cities over the past year.Police said 27 people were killed on Thursday evening in a suspected sectarian attack outside a Shi'ite Muslim mosque in the town of Dera Ghazi Khan in the centre of the country.Angry Shi'ite protesters ran riot in the town on Friday, burning a police station, ransacking a Sunni Muslim religious school and blocked roads in the town.Sunni Muslim militants linked to al Qaeda have been blamed for a series of attacks on minority Shi'ite Muslims in recent years. About 80 percent of Pakistanis are Sunni Muslim.

A.Q. Khan, Pakistani nuclear scientist, freed by Pakistan court

Khan admitted in 2004 to providing sensitive nuclear technology to rogue regimes. 'I will always be proud of what I did for Pakistan,' he says after being freed from house arrest.
Islamabad, Pakistan -- A Pakistani court today freed nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan from unofficial house arrest, capping a rehabilitation that began almost from the moment he confessed in 2004 to providing sensitive nuclear technology to rogue regimes around the world.Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, held a jubilant impromptu news conference with his lawyer outside his home on a leafy, tree-lined street in the Pakistani capital. "I have got my freedom," he told reporters shortly after a ruling by the Islamabad High Court.The full text of the ruling was not released, but a short statement confirmed that the court had declared Khan a "free citizen." His lawyer, Ali Zafer, said he had been cleared of all charges, but the court document made no such reference.Pakistani officials suggested some restrictions on Khan's movements might remain in place. Prosecutor Amjad Iqbal Qureshi said the 72-year-old scientist, who suffers from a variety of ailments including prostate cancer, would be subject to unspecified "security measures," and his lawyer said he was willing to accept having guards for personal protection.
The issue is clouded by the fact that the government never formally acknowledged Khan was under house arrest, though guards outside his villa for the past five years have curtailed his comings and goings and screened his guests. Last year, however, Khan was allowed some limited travel privileges, including a trip to the port city of Karachi, and he began granting telephone interviews to Pakistani media.While widely viewed in the West as a disgraced figure responsible for disseminating secret nuclear technology to dangerous regimes in Iran, North Korea and Libya, Khan is regarded by many Pakistanis as a national hero.After confessing on Pakistani TV five years ago to his involvement in the international nuclear black market, Khan was pardoned by then-President Pervez Musharraf and largely confined to his home.Pakistan has consistently refused to make Khan available for questioning by international nuclear regulatory authorities and other investigators, a policy that has been kept in place by the new civilian government.Asked by reporters at his home today about his role in leaking atomic secrets, Khan said: "We don't want to talk about the past."Repercussions of Khan's activities have continued to the present. As recently as last month, more than a dozen companies and individuals were sanctioned by the U.S. State Department over ties with his technology-smuggling network.In interviews he granted during house arrest, Khan has been unrepentant, saying the Musharraf government was aware of his activities and he had been made a scapegoat. Today, he again described himself as a patriot."I don't care about the rest of the world," he said. "I care about my country.... I will always be proud of what I did for Pakistan."