Thursday, March 19, 2009

Villagers protest ‘undue’ loadshedding

PESHAWAR: People from five suburban villages of the provincial capital Thursday staged a protest demonstration against what they termed step-motherly attitude of Peshawar Electric Supply Company (Pesco) towards their areas and demanded immediate end to ‘undue’ loadshedding.

Coming from Mashokhel, Balarzai, Mushtarzai, Mera and Shaikhan villages, the people alleged that there was an unannounced 24-hour loadshedding in the areas, which was unjustified and unacceptable.

The people first staged a protest demonstration at the Peshawar Press Club where they chanted slogans against Pesco and then addressed a press conference to let the media know about their grievances.

Speaking on the occasion, sitting and former elected representatives Zar Khan, Samin Jan, Jamshed Khan and others from the five villages said the present power outages were unjustified. They said sometimes the power disruptions extended to 24 hours, bitterly disturbing the routine life in the areas.

The villagers said the people of the five villages had been subjected to the practice for the past four years and no remedy was in sight despite several complaints lodged with the concerned authorities.

“It seems as if we are not the inhabitants of this land,” said Samin Jan, former nazim of the Shaikhan union council, while referring to what they called long hours loadshedding in the area.

To a question, the villagers said they were regularly paying electricity bills, but not getting the required service. “Those among us who did not pay the power dues were doing so just because of the undue loadshedding,” they added. They said they had approached their respective members of the provincial and national assemblies, but to no avail. The villagers said the standing crops in the area had been damaged due to water shortage because of loadshedding.

Formation of government with PML-N in Punjab: senior PPP leaders back Gilani's efforts

ISLAMABAD ( 2009-03-20 03:06:19 ) :Top PPP leadership has backed the Prime Minister for launching serious efforts for reconciliation with PML (N) to form the government in Punjab. The Prime Minister is likely to take Shujaat formula of "the three parties" government in the province with the PML (N) president Shahbaz Sharif.

The top leadership of the ruling party met here at the Presidency and discussed various issues including the new constitutional package for amending the constitution. The top leadership after meeting the President, cancelled the party's central executive committee meeting. The top leadership was to discuss certain important issues for political reconciliation. That was why the CEC meeting was initially postponed, a party leader said.

There was considered opinion that the PPP and the PML (N) should re-establish its coalition at Punjab level. This will ensure smooth functioning of the provincial government as there would be no uncertainty. The issue of replacing the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer with whom the former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and the PML (N) leadership had serious problems was disqualified by the Supreme Court.

In the meeting, the issue of government's review petition against the disqualification of Sharif brothers in Supreme Court was also discussed. The scenario can be changed if the Supreme Court came up with a different decision like restoring Shahbaz Sharif government.

Sources in the PML (N) said that party leadership is not against the idea of reviving the PPP-PML (N) coalition in Punjab. The only problem is Salman Taseer. On his removal, we would welcome the PPP to join hands. The PML (N) would take this decision in the larger interest of democracy and political stability in the country.

The press release issued by PPP Spokesman Farhat Ullah Babar said that a meeting of the senior leadership of the PPP was held on Thursday night in the Presidency under the chairmanship of the President and co-chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari.

The meeting was attended among others by the Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Ms Faryal Talpur, MNA, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, a number of federal ministers and senior party leaders including the president of provincial chapters of the party.

The meeting lasted for over four hours in which the political situation in the country was discussed threadbare. The issues on which the participants expressed their views ranged from Governor Rule in the Punjab, formation of government in the province, the recent restoration of remaining deposed judges, the Charter of Democracy (CoD) and the process of forging reconciliation with all political forces in the country.

The President and co-chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari opened the meeting with the remarks that we need to take stock of the current situation, understand the challenges that lie ahead and chart out clearly the way forward. He explained the background and rationale of some of the recent political decisions. He said that although the participants were aware of the background of these decisions, yet he thought it was important to place them in a clear perspective once again for making informed decisions. Thereafter, the floor was opened for the members to candidly express their views on a host of issues and also to make recommendations.

Those who expressed their views included Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Nazar Muhammad Gondal, Dr Babar Awan, Syed Khurshid Shah, Mian Raza Rabbani, Jehangir Badr, Qasim Zia, Afzal Sindhu, Islamuddin Shaikh, Fouzia Wahab, Qazi Sultan, Chaudhry Abdul Majid, Sajjad Bokhari and Farhatullah Babar.

The Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani also addressed the meeting. The meeting resolved to continue its political struggle for democracy, rule of law and emancipation of the people and reiterated to uphold the principles laid down in the Charter of Democracy with renewed vigour and determination under the leadership of co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. The meeting commended President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani for restoring the deposed judges in line with the position that had been taken by the party, from the beginning.

The participants also made concrete suggestions on the political issues facing the country. The meeting expressed full confidence in the leadership of Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and authorised him to take appropriate decisions in the light of the discussions held.

Eight killed as militants attack army base

LANDI KOTAL: Suspected Taliban militants fired a rocket that killed eight people in a northwest Pakistan town Thursday, in an attack targeting security forces near a key supply route for international forces in Afghanistan, an official said.

The militants fired three rockets near a base used by security forces in the town of Landi Kotal, about 10 kilometers west of the Afghan border, said Rashid Khan, an area government administrator.

One of them hit the town's commercial area, killing at least eight people, injuring more than 30 and setting fire to a timber yard and a string of nearby shops, Khan said. The other two struck villages outside town, and it was not immediately known if there were casualties there.

‘The death toll could rise because we are still searching through the rubble in the dark,’ Khan said.
Soon after the attack the security forces resorted to heavy firing and artillery shelling targeting suspected locations of the militants.

The town lies in tribal region on a key road where militants have carried out a wave of attacks on trucks carrying supplies to US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

The security forces had launched an operation on Dec 28, 2008, in the agency which was extended to Landi Kotal in Jan last. A local militant Hazrat Ali, brother of a radical cleric Hazrat Nabi alias Tamanche Mullah, had accepted responsibility of the earlier attacks.

He is also suspected of being involved in attacks on the container-trucks passing through the area while carrying goods for Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Regular courts to function in Swat: ANP

PESHAWAR: Terming the closure of regular courts in Swat by Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi chief Maulana Sufi Mohammad, merely ‘a misunderstanding’ Afrasiab Khattak, the provincial president of ruling Awami National Party, has said that all courts would function there.

'All courts will be functioning in Swat, I assured you’, said Mr Khattak, brushing off the speculation that regular courts were asked to stop functioning in Swat.

Mr Khattak was talking to journalists after attending a seminar on ‘Challenges to education in NWFP and Fata’ organised by Bacha Khan Education Foundation. He said that he had been regularly visiting Swat and normalcy was returning to the valley. He said that he had several meetings with people in the area and was sure that soon the government would establish its writ there.

Regular courts in Swat stopped to function when Maulana Sufi asked the judges on March 16 not to come to their courts as he termed those courts against Sharia. After the announcement by the TNSM chief, 16 courts in Mingora stopped functioning since Tuesday.

Mr Khattak, a Senator as well as peace envoy of provincial government which signed a declaration with the TNSM to bring peace to the conflict-ravaged valley, said that there was some misunderstanding which created a sort of impression as if other courts would not function in Swat.

He said that Nizam-i-Adal Regulation would be signed by the president in near future and as soon as it was done the hierarchy of the courts would be clearly defined based on new regulation.

He said that the role of Maulana Sufi Mohammad was not more than a reformer assisting the government in this process. ‘The government will appoint judges, not Maulana Sufi Mohammad,’ he said, while answering a question as to who would be exercising the authority to appoint judges in Swat.

About troop pullout from Swat, Mr Khattak said that it would be done slowly and gradually. ‘Army is not going to stay there indefinitely but since it is a war zone so it would be pulled out slowly as police and Frontier Constabulary take control of the area,’ he added.

To another question regarding a list of 200 prisoners forwarded to the government for their release, he said that those who were not involved in heinous crimes would be released.

However, the government would pardon those who committed crimes against the state but those who had harmed an individual would have to be tried in the court.

Kidnapped Canadian

Friday, March 20, 2009
The sequence of kidnapping of foreign nationals on our soil continues. The latest story to emerge is that of a Canadian woman journalist, coincidently a Muslim, who has been held since November last year in the Bannu Frontier Region. Her kidnappers have now demanded they be paid $2 million and warned that the journalist would otherwise be killed by the end of March. The targeting of persons visiting Pakistan by militants has continued now for months. A Polish engineer was brutally killed a few weeks ago after being taken away from near his place of work in Attock. The Polish government remains unsatisfied with the current state of the investigation into his abduction and subsequent murder in Darra Adamkhel. A US aid worker, an Iranian diplomat and several other victims are thought also to be in the hands of groups that have carried out similar abductions. Once known for its hospitality to visitors, Pakistan has been converted into a region where most fear to tread.

The fact that our agencies have been unable to determine which forces are behind these abductions is appalling, given that we maintain so huge a network of intelligence outfits. The past failures of law enforcers have only emboldened militants who launch ever-more audacious attacks. People have been whisked away from the heart of our biggest cities, including Peshawar and Quetta. This has an extremely adverse impact on business, investment and a great deal else. We must make an all-out effort to act against groups involved in such kidnappings. Otherwise we will only see more such abductions in the days ahead.

Taliban Militants turn to Dir districts

PESHAWAR: There are indications that some militants have shifted their activities from Swat to the adjoining Dir Lower and Dir Upper districts. The Maulana Fazlullah-led Taliban militants haven’t fully stopped their activities in the restive Swat district despite declaring a permanent ceasefire. The guarantor of the Swat peace deal, Maulana Sufi Muhammad and his Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) organization, have failed to criticise the militants for violating the ceasefire and kidnapping government officials, attacking security forces, carrying out target killings and undertaking armed patrolling in parts of the valley. Instead, the TNSM has been blaming the government, which is already facing criticism for capitulating to the militants. On Wednesday, a bridge in Chamtalai, Swat, was damaged with explosives in an unprovoked act blamed on the militants. Bullet-riddled bodies are still being found at roadsides or in fields and kidnappings haven’t stopped. The government and the security forces have shown patience despite the provocations by the militants. Maulana Sufi Muhammad managed to get concessions for the militants, but he is finding it difficult to persuade the Taliban to abide by the peace accord. The militants are defying him as they know he doesn’t have the power to tackle them. Maulana Fazlullah-led militants’ activities in the valley are not new or a matter of surprise, but they have been trying rigorously to extend their sphere of influence to the peaceful areas. A large number of heavily armed men attacked the Malakand University in Chakdara town of Lower Dir district and killed four cops and a guard. The incident seems unprovoked, as it was not involved in any dispute with the militants. Sources claimed that militants who were 40 to 60 in number wanted to occupy the varsity. Malakand Commissioner Syed Muhammad Javed was reported to have said that the attackers were not Taliban, but members of a criminal gang. However, locals are not ready to believe his assertion and say that the saboteurs were not ordinary criminals because they were equipped with rockets and other sophisticated weapons. They posed a question as to why a criminal gang would attack an educational institute. Kidnappings in this district have also been on a constant rise. The militants recently also attacked a police post in Sharmai area of Upper Dir with rockets and rifles. Both the attacks were carried out the same day. These incidents of violence in Upper and Lower Dir districts drew concern from the people who believed that whenever peace deal was signed in Swat valley, the militants started their activities in Dir Upper and Lower districts. When a peace agreement between the NWFP government and militants was signed on May 21, 2008, the militants had started blowing up and torching schools across Dir. Seven to 10 schools, most of them of girls, were destroyed in 2008 during the “peace time.” Now that there is again peace agreement in Swat, the militants shifted their focus to the two districts. However, it may be mentioned that the present peace agreement is for the whole of Malakand division — Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Chitral, Buner, Shangla, Malakand and Swat — as Nizam-e-Adl which led to the deal has been enforced in the entire Malakand region and Kohistan district of Hazara division. The militants are bound not to launch attack anywhere in the region. When asked at the time of the announcement of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation about the possible regrouping of the militants during the truce, NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haidar Hoti had said they would keep a close eye on them. Since the regrouping of militants in Swat is now an open secret, other peaceful districts are also slipping from the hand of the government.

U.S. 'wise men' on diplomatic mission to Russia

MOSCOW: Trying to pull America's relations with Russia out of a tailspin before the presidents of the two countries meet for the first time next month, three former U.S. secretaries of state and a former secretary of defense were in Moscow on Thursday for informal meetings with top officials.

A month after the Obama administration sent a letter proposing a dialog that would link U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe with Russian support for curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, the flurry of diplomacy by figures outside of government marked another sign of outreach to Russia.

Henry A. Kissinger, who is 85 years old and the architect of the original détente policy with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, led a group of former U.S. officials known as the "wise men" on a visit to the Russian capital. They are advocating a new round of international arms reductions talks intended to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

Separately, James A. Baker 3rd, who was secretary of state when the Berlin Wall fell, was in Moscow for a conference on the politics of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas riches that Russia and the West are maneuvering to access.

Mr. Baker, in a speech, called the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons laudable but said Russian and American relations could be improved with a more modest resumption of talks to prolong a nuclear arms reduction treaty, Start I, which expires in December.

The visits by these men, though long out of government, were seen as testing the waters in Russia for President Barrack Obama's plan to press the "reset" button on bilateral relations.

The former secretaries of state from the Reagan and the first Bush administrations have strong contacts in Russia related to a turbulent period during the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Today, issues are again piling up.

Russia has declared a sphere of privileged interest over Ukraine and Georgia, former Soviet states that the United States would like to see admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Russia is considering opening long-range bomber bases in Venezuela. That is seen as a response to U.S. plans to position anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, the Start I cornerstone of nuclear arms reduction treaties expires in December, and no replacement has been negotiated.

Along with Mr. Kissinger, George P. Shultz, a former secretary of state; William Perry, a former secretary of defense; and a retired U.S. senator, Sam Nunn, were scheduled to meet President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Friday.

The visit by the former officials was surely a gesture of outreach to an ever more prickly Russia. Still, the Obama administration's policies are seen as works in progress. Administration officials recently solicited policy ideas, for example, from the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia.

Australian Soldier Killed in Roadside Explosion in Afghanistan

An Australian soldier was killed in a roadside explosion in Afghanistan yesterday, the military said.The soldier, a technician, died while trying to defuse an explosive device yesterday, Angus Houston, Australia’s defense force chief, said in an e-mailed statement. He’s the second Australian soldier to die in Afghanistan in a week.“They were undertaking a route clearance when the device was detected, there was an explosion and he was killed,” Houston said. “ He was an expert in countering IEDs and he lost his life trying to make the environment safer for his mates and the people of Afghanistan.”The death was Australia’s tenth in combat operations in Afghanistan. Some 40 Australian soldiers have been wounded since the conflict began in 2001.Australia is a partner of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and has 1,000 personnel in Uruzgan province and around Kandahar Airport in the south.

No drone attacks in Balochistan: Gates

WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said that the United States was concerned about the activities of the Quetta shura in Balochistan but disagreed with the suggestion to use drones against them as well.At a regular briefing at the Pentagon, Mr Gates also vowed to catch Osama bin Laden no matter how long it takes.
Asked to comment on media reports that a group of Taliban militants known as the Quetta shura were using Balochistan as a base to conduct operations inside Afghanistan, Mr Gates said: ‘We all have a concern about the Quetta shura and the activities of the Taliban in that area.’
But he disagreed with the suggestion that the United States should use CIA-operated unmanned drone aircraft to attack the Quetta shura as well.
‘I think this is principally a problem and a challenge for the Pakistanis to take on. And as we have indicated, we are prepared to do anything we can to help them do that,’ the secretary said.The United States uses these drone aircraft, known as the Predators, to attack al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Fata.Besides eliminating some of the militants, the drone attacks also have killed scores of civilians, causing widespread resentment against the United States.Another journalist at the briefing observed that while Pakistan was helping the United States against al Qaeda, it was not cooperating in the fighting against the Taliban militants.Asked to comment on this assessment, which the journalist attributed to US intelligence officials, Mr Gates said: ‘I'm not going to get into that.’
Osama bin Laden
Talking about the possibility of catching Osama bin Laden, Secretary Gates recalled that it took the US Federal Investigation Agency 17 years to catch convicted Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.He dismissed the notion that something might be amiss because bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, remain free more than seven years after the September 11 attacks.‘To a certain extent, I think too many people go to too many movies. Finding these guys is really hard, and especially if they have some kind of a support network,’ he said.
The United States blames Bin Laden and Zawahri for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on US soil. US officials believe they are hiding in the rugged terrain along Afghanistan's mountainous border with Pakistan.
‘We've done some serious damage to al Qaeda over the last number of months,’ Mr Gates, a former CIA director, said without confirming any missile attacks against al Qaeda targets.
‘Everybody continues to look for No. 1 and No. 2. And we will continue that effort and I think everyone's hope is that one of these days, we'll be successful,’ he said.

France braced for riots on day of protests against Nicolas Sarkozy

People protest during France's second nationwide strike in two months, to demand a boost to wages and greater protection form the crisis, in Marseille Photo: AFP
Up to two million people were expected to take part in more than 200 demonstrations protesting against President Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the global financial crisis.the biggest was in Paris, where militants called for an increased minimum wage and higher taxes for the rich.
By early morning hundreds of riot police vans from the French CRS public order squad were lining major boulevards and squares.A spokesman said: "The warm, sunny weather is likely to bring out very big crowds - we are on full alert.' They were hoping to prevent a repeat of the violence which followed the last general strike in France on January 29.Then, luxury cars and designer goods shops were attacked by a mob which was held back from the Elysee Palace by police barricades.There were also numerous delays today on public transport, as major stations were closed along with schools, colleges, post offices and hospitals, with only skeleton staffs dealing with emergencies.The latest strike has wide support across the country, with 75 per cent of those questioned in several polls published on Wednesday saying they feared for their future and supported industrial action.President Sarkozy unveiled a package of proposals, including tax breaks and social benefits after January's strike, but protesters said the £2.3billion deal was not enough.The President said on Wednesday that he "understands the concerns of the French people", but ruled out plans for further measures.He rejected mounting calls by unions and the opposition for him to suspend a 50-per cent cap on income tax, arguing that it would drive wealthy taxpayers abroad.Many people are angry that companies like the oil giant Total is making staff redundant while simultaneously announcing record profits.
The CGT (Confederation of Labour) trade union said it expected today's general strike to be "big if not bigger" than the Jan 29 work stoppage.

IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m

Last update - 12:40 19/03/2009

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

During Operation Cast Lead, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive.

The soldiers are graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon. Some of their statements made on Feb. 13 will appear Thursday and Friday in Haaretz. Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion fought in the Gaza operation.

The speakers included combat pilots and infantry soldiers. Their testimony runs counter to the Israel Defense Forces' claims that Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation. The session's transcript was published this week in the newsletter for the course's graduates.

The testimonies include a description by an infantry squad leader of an incident where an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children. "There was a house with a family inside .... We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sniper position on the roof," the soldier said.

"The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire and he ... he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders."

According to the squad leader: "The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.

"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way," he said.

Another squad leader from the same brigade told of an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed; she was walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered.

The squad leader said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, the squad leader's soldiers complained that "we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist."

The squad leader said: "You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything. To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."

Israel troops admit Gaza abuses

BBC.COM---An Israeli military college has printed damning soldiers' accounts of the killing of civilians and vandalism during recent operations in Gaza.One account tells of a sniper killing a mother and children at close range whom troops had told to leave their home.Another speaker at the seminar described what he saw as the "cold blooded murder" of a Palestinian woman.The army has defended its conduct during the Gaza offensive but said it would investigate the testimonies.The Israeli army has said it will investigate the soldiers' accounts.The testimonies were published by the military academy at Oranim College. Graduates of the academy, who had served in Gaza, were speaking to new recruits at a seminar.“ The climate in general [was that] lives of Palestinians are much, much less important than the lives of our soldiers ”
Soldier testimony
"[The testimonies] conveyed an atmosphere in which one feels entitled to use unrestricted force against Palestinians," academy director Dany Zamir told public radio.Heavy civilian casualties during the three-week operation which ended in the blockaded coastal strip on 18 January provoked an international outcry.Correspondents say the testimonies undermine Israel's claims that troops took care to protect non-combatants and accusations that Hamas militants were responsible for putting civilians into harm's way.
'Less important'
The Palestinian woman and two of her children were allegedly shot after they misunderstood instructions about which way to walk having been ordered out of their home by troops."The climate in general... I don't know how to describe it.... the lives of Palestinians, let's say, are much, much less important than the lives of our soldiers," an infantry squad leader is quoted saying.In another cited case, a commander ordered troops to kill an elderly woman walking on a road, even though she was easily identifiable and clearly not a threat.Testimonies, which were given by combat pilots and infantry soldiers, also included allegations of unnecessary destruction of Palestinian property."We would throw everything out of the windows to make room and order. Everything... Refrigerators, plates, furniture. The order was to throw all of the house's contents outside," a soldier said.One non-commissioned officer related at the seminar that an old woman crossing a main road was shot by soldiers."I don't know whether she was suspicious, not suspicious, I don't know her story… I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out… It was cold-blooded murder," he said.The transcript of the session for the college's Yitzhak Rabin pre-military course, which was held last month, appeared in a newsletter published by the academy.Israeli human rights groups have criticised the military for failing to properly investigate violations of the laws of war in Gaza despite plenty of evidence of possible war crimes.
'Moral army'
The soldiers' testimonies also reportedly told of an unusually high intervention by military and non-military rabbis, who circulated pamphlets describing the war in religious terminology."All the articles had one clear message," one soldier said. "We are the people of Israel, we arrived in the country almost by miracle, now we need to fight to uproot the gentiles who interfere with re-conquering the Holy Land."
"Many soldiers' feelings were that this was a war of religion," he added.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio that the findings would be examined seriously."I still say we have the most moral army in the world. Of course there may be exceptions but I have absolutely no doubt this will be inspected on a case-by-case basis," he said.Medical authorities say more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed during Israel's 22-day operation, including some 440 children, 110 women, and dozens of elderly people.The stated aim was to curb rocket and mortar fire by militants from Gaza. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians were killed.

Taliban blow up power tower in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: Suspected Taliban militants blew up a 500 KV Sheikh Mohammadi Peshawar-Tarbela Transmission line at Mirza Village in Ormar (upper) area plunging major parts of Peshawar in darkness at 5.12am on Thursday.

A police official said that four powerful explosives packed in plastic bottles had been planted beneath all the (four) pillars of the tower where three of them were blasted and one was later on defused by the bomb disposal squad.

The pylon destruction had also caused disruption of power supply to 132 KV Peshawar University, Peshawar Industrial, Rehman Baba and Matni Grid Stations and all 11 KV feeders areas fed through these grid stations.

The local police said they had heard three bomb blasts simultaneously but the area was very risky and they couldn’t move in the darkness.

‘We avoided going to the area soon after the blasts as a few days ago an encounter with criminals had taken place in the same area,’ the police official said.

An official of the bomb disposal squad told Dawn that the explosives had been tied up to he pillars by digging out the concrete.

He said it was similar to the cases which had happened on August 8 and November 6 where a 500-KV tower had been blown up twice at Shaikh Mohammadi in Badbher, but the accused had not been identified so far.

A Peshawar Electric Supply Company spokesman said that technical staff of the Water and Power Development Authority had reached the blasts site and have started the rehabilitation work.

The rehabilitation work and supply of electricity on permanent basis, he said would take some time and till that time the affected areas would be supplied electricity through alternative sources.

He said load management would be carried out in limits of these grid stations.

The spokesman said that Pesco had restored the power supply to affected areas through alternative source but the alternative source had become overloaded.

He said it was Pesco’s compulsion to observe load management for small intervals in the affected areas, requesting the consumers to extend cooperation in power utility.

The power consumers from various localities complained that the supply of electricity remained suspended to their areas till evening.

They said power supply was restored for about one hour and was suspended again from two to three hours the same night.

Six to eight hours load shedding announced

LAHORE :According to Wapda press release IRSA reduce water releases from Tarbela and Mangla Reservoirs will result in reduction of hydro-power generation to the extent of 1200 MW to 1500 MW during different times of the day.

In view of the above situation, Pepco announced load shedding in urban and rural areas will be kept to a maximum of 06 Hrs and 08 Hrs respectively, which will be managed by the DISCOs in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

The DISCOs will consult/interact with industry to fix their load shedding hours/timing while considering their convenience and constraints of the Sector.

DISCOs have also been required to issue their respective load management schedules today.

PEPCO spokesperson has requested the valued customers to reduce ostentatious use of electricity and adopt all possible conservation measures.

How the Fed Failed to Tell Obama About The Bonuses

Federal Reserve officials knew for months about bonuses at American International Group but failed to tell the Obama administration, according to government and company officials, exposing problems in a relationship that is vital to addressing the financial crisis.

As pressure mounted on AIG employees to return the bonuses, new details emerged yesterday about what the Fed, the Treasury Department and the White House knew regarding the payments and when. AIG executives said the Fed was informed three months ago by the company that it would pay $165 million by March 15 to employees working at its most troubled division. The Treasury and White House said they learned of the payments from Fed officials only days before they were due.

Close coordination between the Fed and the administration is now more important than ever as they near the launch of two signature programs to rescue the financial system, which together could reach $2 trillion and are aimed at reviving consumer lending and purchasing soured assets and loans from ailing banks.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, a central figure in the decision to bail out AIG last fall as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in an interview yesterday that he had not been aware of the size of the bonuses and the timing of the payments.

"I was stunned when I learned how bad this was on Tuesday [March 10]," Geithner said. "I shouldn't have been in that position, but it's my responsibility and I accept that."

Two days later, Geithner told the White House. The last-minute disclosure irked some of the president's senior advisers, but they refuse to point fingers now, saying the timing had little impact on the outcome or the president's public statements this week.

"Would I have liked an earlier warning system on this? Yeah," said David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser. "Would it have markedly changed things? Probably not. The legal constraints are the legal constraints."

One source familiar with the discussions said the company had provided details about the bonuses to senior Treasury officials at least a month ago. A Treasury spokesman said last night that was not true.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are increasingly questioning how Geithner could not have known about the bonuses, given his past role in AIG's bailout, which has totaled more than $170 billion.

"I'm sick and tired of hearing the administration and the Secretary of the Treasury say, 'I just found out about it,' " Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D-Pa.) said yesterday.

The dispute over AIG's payouts represents the most pressing controversy confronting the administration as it addresses the financial crisis. Some private firms say the furor has made them wary of joining the federal initiatives to help save the economy. Government officials add that the newly charged political environment will make it difficult to ask Congress for more rescue funds.

When the government rescued AIG in mid-September, no one was more central to the decision than Geithner.

AIG officials met with Geithner and then Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. in New York on Sept. 14 to warn them of the dire threat posed by the derivative business developed by AIG's Financial Products unit. Executives told the two men the firm needed help but had at least a week before it faced collapse, sources said.

Paulson left for Washington. But Geithner stayed up all night with officials at the New York Fed to examine AIG's situation. He discovered not only an enormous number of complicated trades, estimated at $2 trillion, but that AIG had backed retirements funds across the nation. He also realized that a collapse of AIG was imminent, and that the fallout would ripple across the banking system, sources familiar with the episode said.

Geithner, with Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, decided to lend the company $80 billion in exchange for an 80 percent ownership equity stake.

About a month later, Geithner redesigned the bailout package for AIG, which raised the total to about $123 billion.

During this period, Geithner's primary concern was keeping the financial system from collapsing, not what firms were paying their employees, a source said. Other staff members at the Fed and Treasury were in charge of the compensation issues and only briefed Geithner, two sources said. Once nominated for the Treasury post in December, Geithner recused himself from affairs related to specific firms.

AIG executives said they disclosed in a quarterly filing late last year to federal regulators that employees at Financial Products would receive retention bonuses but the filings, with the Securities and Exchange Commission, did not detail how much individuals would be paid or the dates of the payments. The company revealed those details in meetings with New York Fed officials in January, AIG chief executive Edward M. Liddy said at a congressional hearing yesterday.

"What we've assumed is that, in our discussions with the Federal Reserve, that they were properly communicating with others," Liddy said. "It appears that we need to improve upon that process."

While declining to answer questions about the AIG bonuses, Fed spokeswoman Michelle Smith said in a statement: "The Fed and Treasury officials have coordinated closely on all aspects of the U.S. government's support for AIG during this extraordinary period."

The Fed officials did not anticipate the political firestorm that would erupt over the bonuses, a senior government official said. "They clearly underestimated the matter," the source said.

AIG executives say the Fed had been intimately involved in reviewing the contracts before the first dime was paid. The payments, which were due by March 15, were ready to be distributed last Tuesday, a senior AIG executive said. But the firm didn't get the go-ahead from government officials to make the payments until late last week.

"We weren't authorized until Thursday night," the AIG executive said. "We were negotiating with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Treasury indicated that they needed it cleared by the White House, as well. We hit the go button for the payments on Friday."

Geithner said the Fed did not tell him about the bonuses until March 10. He immediately huddled with his senior staff, examining options, but ultimately concluded that the government could not change contracts for work that had already been done.

He confronted Liddy over the phone March 11, demanding that he renegotiate the bonus contracts. Some minor changes were made, but the bulk of the bonuses were paid. Company and Treasury officials say they will seek changes to bonuses promised for work done this year.

Obama learned of the bonuses March 12, the day before they were paid out, from Axelrod, whom Geithner had briefed on the situation. The president was "aggravated" and "a little bit disbelieving," Axelrod said in an interview yesterday.

For the new administration, the bonuses were a distraction from what senior aides called the main focus: getting the economy working and people back to work. "People are not sitting around their kitchen tables thinking about AIG," Axelrod said. "They are thinking about their own jobs."

Obama's top economic aides -- including Geithner -- sought to identify any recourse. The task was made more difficult Friday, when millions of dollars were disbursed. Their message to the president when the group assembled for their first extended conversation about AIG in the Roosevelt Room on Sunday was not optimistic: They told him they had "done and will do what we legally can," Axelrod said.

But Obama made clear at that meeting that he was unwilling to throw up his hands. He instructed Geithner and the others to seek legal ways that the government might recover the bonuses. And he made plans to tell the public what he thought the next day.

That decision ran counter to the belief among some in his inner circle that the bonus issue while an outrage was a small problem compared with the economic issues confronting his young presidency. "The first and most important job we have is to get this economy moving again," Axelrod said. "As galling as this is, it doesn't go to the main issue."

Over the following days, Obama came out swinging, denouncing the bonuses while expressing "complete confidence" in Geithner. Yesterday, he continued the effort, saying that "I don't want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry. I'm angry."