Sunday, March 29, 2009

Madonna's adopted son reunited with father in Malawi

Madonna’s adopted son, David, was reunited with his biological father yesterday amid emotional scenes at an upmarket safari lodge hours after the pop star arrived in Malawi to adopt a second child.Workers at the Kumbali lodge outside the capital Lilongwe said that David’s father Yohane Banda, who checked in at noon on Saturday, was clearly delighted to see his son again.“He was hopping from foot to foot, you could see he was very happy,” one employee said. “He had been waiting here all morning, you could see he was over the moon when Madonna arrived with David, but the reunion itself was private,” said the employee – who asked not to be named – in a telephone call to The Times shortly after the reunion.Security at the lodge was tight with all staff asked to hand over mobile phones while at work and roadblocks manned by private security guards across the main approach road.“I have waited for two years, it is a dream come true,” Mr Banda, a peasant farmer, told The Times in an interview last week when it was announced that Madonna was coming to the impoverished Southern African country and he would see his son for the first time in nearly three years.“I just wish I could see him more often, but I know one day my prayers will be answered and he will come back and live here,” he said.He added that he had been worried about his son’s future when he heard stories about her divorce from Guy Ritchie, the film director, but that he had been assured by staff at Madonna’s charity Raising Malawi that all was well.Under the deal which allowed Madonna, 50, to take the 13-month-old David out of Malawi in 2006, she has to bring him back regularly to see his natural father. The adoption was declared legal last year.The American pop singer arrived in Malawi at around noon yesterday in a private jet at a part of the airport normally reserved for cargo flights.Reporters were kept at a distance and she was driven away in a convoy of four 4x4 vehicles that sped off to the lodge where Mr Banda was waiting. Madonna was also accompanied by her other children, Rocco and Lourdes.A little while later she reemerged with Lourdes, whose father is Carlos Leon, a personal trainer. Wearing a white fedora hat, Madonna and her daughter toured the nearby village of Chinkhota.Dozens of reporters looked on, but she refused to answer shouted questions about reports that she was in Malawi to adopt a four-year-old girl, Mercy James. Officials say that Madonna is scheduled to appear in the High Court today to finalise the adoption of Mercy, whom she first saw at the same Mchinji orphanage where she found David.One court official said that her Malawian lawyer, Alan Chinula, would file adoption papers at a procedural hearing for Mercy.It is not clear if Madonna, who has to satisfy the authorities that as a single parent she is capable of caring for an adopted child, has to be present in court.The pop star faced harsh criticism from some quarters over David’s adoption. Children’s advocacy groups accused her of using her wealth and influence to circumvent Malawian law requiring an 18 to 24-month assessment period before adoption.The Raising Malawi project is preparing to start work on a multi-million-pound secondary school for girls. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa where only a small minority of people live above the internationally accepted poverty line of 50 pence a day.Speaking about her latest adoption move, Save the Children UK said that the singer risked sending the wrong message.“International adoption can actually exacerbate the problem it hopes to solve,” a spokesman, Dominic Nutt, said.“The very existence of orphanages encourages poor parents to abandon children in the hope that they will have a better life.”However, Austin Msowoya, legal researcher with the Malawian Law Commission, played down concerns that a second adoption by Madonna would violate any laws. He said that the best interests of the child needed to be taken into account – whether that was staying in an orphanage in Malawi or getting an education with Madonna.“When you look at these two options, then perhaps it becomes in the best interests of the child to allow the adoption if the parents and the guardians consent to it,” he told the Associated Press news agency.Madonna’s spokeswoman in New York said that she would not be responding to comments from Save the Children.

Students forced to take exam under umbrellas

DIR UPPER: Students of a girls’ middle school in Bibyawar Town are taking their annual examinations under umbrellas due to torrential rain in the area as the school building was blown up by militants in June last year which could not be repaired so far.
The school is situated the fields and most of its rooms are destroyed completely while some were partially damaged.
However, the process of education was not stopped despite threats and unfavourable atmosphere. The girl students continued their studies in the courtyard of the school for about nine months.
However, after a period of nine-month classes being conducted under the open sky, the government and education department failed to make arrangements for the annual examinations and now the students are forced to take their papers under umbrellas.
The Child Rights Committee (CRC) Upper Dir demanded of the government to provide a suitable atmosphere to the students to for their annual examinations.
It asked the education department and district government to instantly provide tents to the school so that the students had a shelter.
Death sentence awarded
The district and sessions judge Upper Dir awarded death sentence to a cop in a murder case and fined him Rs1 million.
The constable, Yaqoob Khan, resident of Talash Lower Dir, was accused of firing on a van in which a close relative of union council nazim, Noor Muhammad, was killed.
The court of Asim Imam found Yaqoob Khan guilty of committing the crime.
Announcing the verdict in the case, he awarded death sentence to the police official.
In addition, the murderer would also pay a fine of Rs1 million besides facing a two-year rigorous imprisonment in case he failed to pay the fine.
Meanwhile, a man was killed in a clash between two rival groups in Belanzai area of Upper Dir.
The reason behind the clash was stated to be land disputes.
Police registered a case against the culprits and started further investigation.

Death by bombing

Monday, March 30, 2009
Once again the image of us, our faith and our country that goes around the world is one of violence and intolerance. Between 48 and over 70 people were killed on Friday as they prayed at a mosque – and more than 170 injured according to most reports. The explosion was probably caused by a suicide bomber and he struck just as the Imam began to recite the opening prayer. The mosque was a popular stopping point for people travelling between Afghanistan and Pakistan and was always crowded on a Friday – the softest of soft targets. Tariq Hayat Khan the administrator of Khyber Agency opined that the blast was the work of the supposedly-defunct Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Who knows? There are very rarely arrests subsequent to the bombing of a mosque or imambargah and it is almost as if the agencies of law enforcement have given up even trying to prevent them, never mind catching those responsible for the planning and logistics of such an attack. This is unlikely to be something which can have the label ‘hidden hand’ attached to it. This butchery is entirely home-grown and springs from either the internal denominational conflicts or a local dispute, a struggle for power, by one group or another in the area where the blast happened.
Almost inevitably, given the culture of eye-for-an-eye that prevails here somebody will already be plotting a reprisal. It may not come tomorrow or next week or next year, but come it will. The cycle will continue and breaking the circle becomes ever more difficult as the numbers of dead rise and with them the numbers of fathers and brothers and cousins seeking revenge for the death of their relative. The world watches this. We live in a time of globalized instant communication to the most remote places on the surface of the earth. The world watches and judges, it sees things in black-and-white and is mostly unaware of the inflections and nuances that lie behind even this most barbarous of acts. We should not be surprised when our northwest borderlands are talked of by President Obama as ‘the most dangerous place on earth’ – because on the evidence of this blast and many other incidents, it is. We have only ourselves to blame if others see us a nation of barbarians and should not be surprised if, as a consequence, they sometimes treat us accordingly.

TTP bans women shopping in Batkhela

BATKHELA: The Malakand chapter of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) banned the movement and shopping by the womenfolk in the main bazaars of Dargai and Batkhela on Sunday.

Sources said that the shopkeepers in the markets had received threatening letters from the TTP, warning them to stop the women from visiting their shops. “Those who don’t comply with the TTP directives should be prepared to face consequences,” letters warned.

It was learnt that those women, who were going out alone without their male family members to the markets for shopping, had also been warned. However, some of the shopkeepers in Super Market, Bara Market, Sitara Market, Abaseen Market, Waqar Market, Waqas Market and other shopping markets have already notified womenfolk not to visit the shop without their male family members.

The letters also warned the CD and music shops owners to stop their business immediately, adding that they were spreading obscenity among the youth of the area.

Sources said that TTP also warned the medical superintendent headquarters hospital Batkhela to appoint male and lady medical technicians in emergency and Ultrasound wards forthwith which had been longstanding demand of the patients.

The letters also warned Family Planning centres to close up their office in the area. It may be added that a market in Thana bazaar was blown up few days back where women used to go shopping.

Militancy, military operations turn young females into beggars

PESHAWAR: Militancy and military operations in parts of NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas have not only displaced hundreds of thousands of people but have also forced young females into beggary.

“Military operation and everyday curfew forced us to leave our house in Michni. As there is no elder to feed our family, I beg on city streets for having no alternative arrangement to feed our family,” disclosed 9-year-old Gulnaz. The young girl is usually accompanied by her brother Nasrullah, 7, and sister, Hadia, 4, while seeking alms in Kamboh village near GT Road.

Their father, according to Gulnaz, was killed in clashes after which her mother decided to move out of Michni. “There is no adult male member left in our family,” the girl remarked. Samreen, an 8-year-old girl belonging to Ganj Gate in old city, also claims to be the lone source of income for her five-member family. “I am not allowed to enter the house until I handover Rs300 to my mother. On occasions I have to work till late to get the target because my mother does not compromise,” opined Samreen while on her routine visit to the medicine market in Namakmandi.

Her 4-year-old sister Kashmala has been given the target to collect at least Rs150 per day. “My father is paralyzed while my elder brother is to go through a surgery,” the young girl claimed in a stereotype reply to a question from this correspondent.

Till the time when there were no IDPs in the city, one could see only professional female beggars asking for alms on the city streets, in public transport or while roaming the markets. Many of these children do not demand money directly but insist on selling cheap items like festoons, tissue papers, chewing gums, candies etc.

The number of young female beggars has now increased considerably after thousands of families shifted to the provincial capital from Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand, Shabqadar, Darra Adamkhel and many other parts of the NWFP and Fata due to the law and order situation there.

Female beggars are considered to be more vulnerable to prostitution as they can be trapped easily than other girls. “On occasions, I have observed people in the latest model cars luring a pretty teenage girl who use to beg on the pretext of selling garlands or petty items in Saddar Bazaar. The innocence and fear can be observed easily from her face whenever somebody attempts to get her attention,” a traffic police sergeant, requesting anonymity, told this scribe.

The official disclosed that many other young beggars are facing the same attitude in buses, shops and even houses. “Neither the regular police nor we can take action until these beggars file a proper complaint against an individual if insulted,” he opined.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government in NWFP had established a special home “Darul Kifala” for rehabilitation of female beggars where they had planned to impart them skills to live a respectable life. The single facility, which also lacks even basic facilities, is not enough to rehabilitate hundreds of female beggars, more vulnerable to the flesh business. Non-governmental organizations are also doing nothing in this sector.

Many women trafficking gangs are already active in the city and nearby towns to pick up young girls and sell them at the hand of others in Lahore and parts of Punjab. They have kidnapped many schoolgirls from parts of Nowshera, many of whom are yet to return home. A few have been recovered either from brothels or houses of individuals at the hands of whom they were sold.

Obama rules out US troops in Pakistan

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama says he will consult with Pakistan's leaders before going after terrorist hideouts in their country.He also wants Pakistan to be more accountable, but is ruling out deploying U.S. troops there.In Obama's words, his Afghanistan strategy “does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government.''In an interview with American TV channel, Obama discusses the tenuous security situation in that region. He says, “Unless we get a handle on it now, we're gonna be in trouble.''Obama adds that his new strategy is "not going to be an open-ended commitment of infinite resources'' from the United States.

Obama: America Expects Accountability From Pakistan

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States will give Pakistan the tools it needs to help defeat al-Qaida, but expects accountability in return.

President Obama has made defeating al-Qaida the focus of his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He says, as he did during his campaign for the White House, that he will take action against terror targets along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we are going after them," said President Obama.

But Mr. Obama says no American ground forces will be deployed in Pakistan.

"Our main thrust has to be to help Pakistan defeat these extremists," he said.

The president spoke in an interview with the CBS television program Face the Nation - recorded Friday just hours after the announcement of his new Afghan-Pakistan strategy.

He said there is concern in Washington about a growing notion among the Pakistani people that somehow, this is just America's war.

"And that attitude has led to a steady creep of extremism in Pakistan that is the greatest threat to the stability of the Pakistan government, and ultimately the greatest threat to the Pakistani people," said Mr. Obama.

The White House consulted with Pakistani leaders leading up to the announcement of its new strategy, and the initial response has been positive.

Mr. Obama promised a more regional approach to the fight against terrorists and extremists.

He said he would send more military trainers and U.S. civilian personnel to Afghanistan. He voiced support for an increase in aid to Pakistan, but he made clear he is looking for something in return.

"Our plan does not change recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government," he said. "We need to work with them and through them to deal with al-Qaida. But we have to hold them much more accountable."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has served in the Obama and Bush administrations. He told the Fox News Sunday program the U.S. objective has narrowed.

"Our long-term objective still would be to see a flourishing democracy in Afghanistan," said Gates. "But I think what we need to focus on, and focus our efforts [on], [is] in making headway in reversing the Taliban's momentum and strengthening the Afghan army and police and really going after al-Qaida."

Gates said al-Qaida is not as centralized and strong as it was before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. But he said it is still providing training and guidance to extremist elements in various countries and remains a serious threat.

Taliban militants abduct 12 Pakistan police

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Taliban militants abducted 12 police officers in a pre-dawn attack Sunday in a tribal region where a suicide attack on a mosque this week killed around 50 worshippers, officials said.
The insurgents surrounded a tribal police check post 35 kilometres southeast of Peshawar city in the lawless Khyber region before driving the captured officers away, local government official Rahat Gul said.
No one has claimed responsibility, but another official blamed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the abduction.
The kidnapping came after Pakistani security forces on Saturday arrested four Taliban insurgents and destroyed two suspected compounds in the nearby town of Bara after Friday's bombing, one of the bloodiest recent attacks in Pakistan.
US officials say Pakistan's lawless tribal areas have become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan and have regrouped to launch attacks on foreign troops across the border.
Extremists opposed to the Pakistan government's decision to side with the United States in its "war on terror" have carried out a series of bombings and other attacks that have killed nearly 1,700 people in less than two years.
Much of the violence has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban hardliners and Al-Qaeda extremists.
US President Barack Obama in a new strategy unveiled on Friday put Pakistan at the centre of the fight against Al-Qaeda.
Obama said Al-Qaeda and its allies were "a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within" and warned Pakistan must "demonstrate its commitment" to eliminating extremists on its soil.