Friday, May 1, 2009

Curfew adds to Buner people’s woes

BUNER: A major humanitarian crisis is looming over the violence-wracked Buner district, with no relaxation of curfew for the fourth day on Friday and people running short of essential supplies.

Indiscriminate shelling by helicopters and artillery from Rustam village in Mardan left eight civilians dead and six others injured. Around 100 patients and their attendants stranded in the district headquarters hospital in Daggar were facing shortage of food and medicines.

‘Three bodies have been lying in the hospital for three days. They have not been buried because of the curfew and lack of ambulance service,’ sources said.

They said two ambulances had been taken away by militants and two others were stranded in Mardan because of closure of roads. Another ambulance parked in the hospital was out of fuel because militants had taken away petrol and diesel from filling stations.

Militants who were holding positions despite heavy shelling blew up a police post in Bagra and took away the doors and windows of the Pir Baba police station.

Militants roamed on pick-up trucks and an armoured personnel carrier captured from a camp of paramilitary forces in Jawar.

According to locals, militants had set up checkpoints at several places. They took shelter under trees and in houses when helicopters attacked them.

Militants had occupied houses in Sultanwas, Pir Baba and other areas. Two children and three women were killed when helicopters attacked a car carrying a displaced family in Ambela, witnesses said.

Three non-combatants were killed in an air strike in Gagara. Displacement of people towards Mardan and Swabi continued at a large scale.

According to sources, security forces were facing stiff resistance from militants in Ambela town.

Meanwhile, Frontier Corps Inspector General Maj-Gen Tariq Khan visited Buner, met commanders and troops engaged in the operation and attended a briefing, the ISPR said.

Traders, labourers stage rallies on May Day

PESHAWAR: Voicing anguish over what they called discriminatory attitude being meted out to them, the trade unionists and labourers from the Frontier province Friday asked the Awami National Party-led government to take pity on the people and ensure cheap electricity, gas, bread and provide Rs6,000 as minimum wages to labourers.

“The financial condition of the labourers, who are playing a vital role in country’s development, is constantly getting worse despite our numerous sacrifices. Majority of the labourers, working in various factories were not getting more than 3,000, which is an injustice,” the trade unionists asserted on the eve of the International Labour Day, which was observed on Friday with an aim to pay tributes to the workers, who laid down lives for their rights in Chicago in 1886.

Pakistan Hydro Electric Central Labour Union, (PHECLU) Pakistan Workers Federation, Khyber Union of Journalists, All Pakistan Federation of Labour, Durrani Group, Pakistan Railway Employees Union and trade unions and federations observed the day by holding special meetings, processions, and rallies.

The union leaders appealed to the working class to demonstrate unity for a joint struggle to establish a system based on democracy, equality and fraternity and elimination of exploitation of common man.

A joint event was arranged by Pakistan Hydro Electric Central Labour Union, Pakistan Workers Federation, Khyber Union of Journalists at the Nishtar Hall. The meeting was largely attended by people from various segment of society besides, Mohammad Iqbal, provincial chairman of PHECLU, Mohammad Riaz, president, Khyber Union of Journalist, Shamim Shahid, president, Peshawar Press Club, Mian Sajid, president, PTV Union and leaders of the Pakistan Workers Federation were also present on the occasion.

PHECLU provincial chairman Mohammad Iqbal demanded of the provincial government to provide roti (bread) at the rate of Rs2, as being provided to the people of Punjab.

“The ANP-led government should provide electricity to the people of the province at Rs2 per unit as Punjab is providing bread to the people at Rs2. Punjab is producing wheat where bread is available at Rs2 and we are producing power, so it should be given to us at the same price per unit,” he demanded, saying despite the fact that the Frontier province was producing electricity and gas, the people were getting expensive utilities as compared to Punjab.

Vowing to continue his struggle for the rights of the poor labourers, he said they would have to snatch their rights, as these “imperialist forces” would never give them their rights easily. KhUJ President Mohammad Riaz said it was the labourer class, which runs the system of the world. If they stop working, the world system would paralyse, he added.

In his speech, Shamim Shahid said it was a misfortune of this region has always remained battlefield due to which no socio-economic development could be carried out.

All Pakistan Federation of Labour, Durani Group, arranged a gathering at Durrani Labour Hall to pay tribute to those who rendered sacrifices for the rights of labourers in Chicago. Provincial Health Minister Syed Zahir Ali Shah was chief guest on the occasion.

Federation Central President Aurangzeb Durani said the labour class was still deprived of their rights, calling upon the government implement in letter and spirit the minimum wage law which was Rs6,000 per month.

“What the labour departments need to do is to monitor the factories and companies to ensure the payment of minimum wages to the labourers. Majority of the workers in the factories were not getting more than Rs3,000 which is very little amount for them to feed their families,” he added.

Being the frontline in the war against terror, he said NWFP should be declared as war-affected area for which special package should be given to revive the economy. On the occasion, Minister Zahir Ali Shah assured the labour class that the government was making all-out efforts to give them maximum relief.

The Public Transport Owners Association NWFP also held a public meeting in memory of Chicago labourers. Jehangir Afridi, the association president, asked the government to consult experienced transporters in the construction of the proposed new bus-terminal

Muttahida Rickshaw Driver Union, Sarhad Suzuki Drivers Union and Ittehad Local Transport Federation held separate rallies marching through various city routes and reached Peshawar Press Club where labour leaders made speeches for the rights of labourers.

Pakistan Railway Employees Union (PREM), Peshawar division held a meeting at the PREM office to pay tributes to those killed in Chicago. PREM President Abu Saeed Jafri said it was the Chicago labourers who raised awareness among the working class about their rights. He underlined the need for unity among the working class, saying nobody could prevent labourers from achieving their rights if they were united.

Action Committee Khazana Sugar Mills took out a Labour Day procession from Nishtar Hall to the Peshawar Press Club. The committee Chairman, Aurangzeb Khan, demanded the government to give remaining dues to those former employees who were sacked from the mills.

The UBL Retrenched Officers Association staged a protest camp outside the Peshawar Press Club for the acceptance of their demands. The association’s Provincial Chairman Javed Gul said retrenched officers were given 50 per cent benefits in 1997 while former officers of other banks were given 100 percent benefits under the golden handshake scheme.

Apart from all that, there were many poor people who did not off their day as they could not afford to do so. A 22-year-old labourer, Ali Jan, working in a brick kiln on the outskirts of the city, said he had nothing to do with the observance of the Labourer Day.

“I don’t know what is its history, but I know one thing that I can’t afford any holiday, because I have to feed my family,” he said. Another daily-wager, Said Gul, was also unaware of the significance of the day. “I sell bananas on a cart. I can’t afford day-off. I do not avail any day-off even on Sundays or Fridays,” Gul said.

Pakistan 8th among TB-hit countries: official

With the highest burden of Tuberculosis (TB) patients, Pakistan is ranked 8th among the TB-hit countries across the globe.

The government, in line with its commitments to the International Standard of DOTs’ strategies, has taken adequate measures for elimination of the disease, stated Dr Riazuddin Mahsud, a senior health official, while talking to this scribe.

Dr Riazuddin, the district TB control officer, said TB cases in Pakistan were estimated to be 300,000 annually, most of them lungs problem. A statistical data reveals that 75 percent among the TB patients are youth troubled with worst economic constraints besides lack of awareness.

Efficient monitoring procedure on the part of local TB control units, about 100 TB cases were being registered in Tank quarterly, most of them suffering from lungs TB. However, Dr Riaz deplored that lack of awareness among the masses was also a problem to be solved.

To a query, he elaborated that over 1,300 patients had successfully been treated in Tank. Dr Riaz said that apart from planning for counselling and treatment with the support of its partners, the NWFP Directorate of Health had set up a number of diagnostic and treatment centres across the province.

Referring to statistical data about TB Control Programme in Tank, he said concerted efforts were being made for TB elimination. For the purpose, he said, four diagnostic and 10 treatment centres had been set up across the district.

Besides free medication, the units are equipped with well-facilitated laboratories to provide qualitative pathological and clinical test facilities. Riazuddin Mahsud also said effective measures under the auspices of DOTS had improved the situation. He said social mobilisation and support of awareness through mass media campaign could boost the drive against TB.

May 1st protests in Moscow and around the World

Thousands of protesters in Moscow called for a return of communism, waving banners and red Soviet flags.Far-right protests also took place in Russia, with police arresting members of anti-immigration groups in St Petersburg.Tens of thousands of activists took to the streets across France in protest against their government's handling of the economic crisis.France's eight main trade unions had agreed to hold united rallies across the country for the first time since the end of World War II.
Leaders of Italy's main unions held a rally in the earthquake-hit town of L'Aquila, in a show of solidarity.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans filed through Havana's Revolution Square where they were exhorted to work harder to help their country's battered economy.

Five US, Latvian troops killed in Afghan attack

KABUL – Three US and two Latvian troops were killed when insurgents stormed a military outpost in northeastern Afghanistan Friday, officials said, in the deadliest incident for foreign forces here in months.
The militants attacked a small remote outpost of soldiers in the mountainous northeastern province of Kunar near the border with Pakistan, US military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias told AFP.
The Afghan ministry of defence spokesman, General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, announced earlier Friday that Afghan troops had come under attack in Kunar's rugged Ghaziabad district and three soldiers were killed and two wounded.
It could not immediately be confirmed if it was the same incident but that appeared likely. The Taliban had claimed responsibility.
The NATO and US-led forces, working together to fight a Taliban-led insurgency, did not immediately give the nationalities of their fatalities but said one was from the US Forces in Afghanistan (USFOR-A).
"The four ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) soldiers and one USFOR-A soldier were killed during an incident that included small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade strikes," they said in a joint statement.
Mathias said later that two of the ISAF troops were also US nationals.
The Latvian army announced in Riga that two of its soldiers were killed and two wounded.
Latvia has around 160 soldiers in Afghanistan and those in Kunar are involved in mentoring the growing Afghan forces.
The United States has roughly 38,000 troops here, the most of the roughly 40 nations serving in Afghanistan, and they have combat and training roles.
The joint statement said Afghan and international troops had returned fire and called in air support after coming under attack.
"The insurgents withdrew and ISAF-Afghan forces are in pursuit," it said, giving no other details.
About 30 soldiers were stationed in the outpost, Mathias said.
It was the deadliest toll for foreign soldiers in a single incident in Afghanistan since an August 18 attack on French troops left 10 of them dead and 21 wounded.
That was the highest number of troops killed in ground fighting since the US-led military invasion ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001, sending many militants into Pakistan from where they are said to plot the insurgency.
A month before the French were attacked, nine US soldiers were killed and 15 wounded when insurgents attacked a small military outpost of about 150 men, also in Kunar.
Azimi said 20 of the militants who attacked the Kunar base overnight Friday had been killed or wounded in the counterattack.
The Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001, announced on Wednesday a new operation against international troops in response to a surge of 21,000 of extra US soldiers due in the coming weeks, most of them headed to the turbulent south.
The United States is leading the effort to defeat the insurgency, which was its deadliest last year, and has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to deal with militant sanctuaries on its side of the border.
The Taliban warned in a statement of increased ambushes, suicide attacks and bombings from April 30.
"Our targets will be the units of the invading forces, diplomatic stations, convoys, ranking officials of the puppet government, MPs, and employees of the defence, interior and intelligence ministries," it said.
In other violence, the US military announced earlier that its men working with Afghan soldiers had killed 15 alleged militants in air strikes and mortar fire in the southern province of Zabul on Friday.

Tamiflu stockpiles vary widely throughout world

Poor countries likely to suffer most in a swine flu outbreak have the smallest stockpiles of antiviral medicines to fight it.
Affluent countries like Japan, Britain and the United States have enough Tamiflu and similar medicines to reach about a quarter to half their populations, while developing countries like Guatemala, Indonesia and India have enough for only 2 percent of their people or less.
The disparities are not surprising given the high cost of stockpiling and maintaining expensive medicines for future epidemics that may never develop, especially when many are already coping with high rates of malaria and HIV. But experts fear the countries with low supplies may suffer higher death rates if swine flu becomes more lethal outside of Mexico, where it has already killed more than 150 people.
Elspeth Garman, an Oxford University professor of molecular biophysics who co-authored an influential 2001 report urging Britain to stockpile antivirals, said having low supplies creates severe political problems because the government has to determine who gets access to scarce tablets.
"With 50 percent there is a good chance all the people in the UK would get it if they need it, but with 1 percent it's very problematic," she said. "They won't be able to treat as many people, that's obvious, but the much harder issue is who decides who gets it and who pays and whether it can be released in an orderly way or is just for people with a lot of money."
The problem for poorer countries is compounded, she said, because Tamiflu is only effective if used within 48 hours of the time when symptoms develop, and there is no quick, easy way to diagnose and confirm the presence of swine flu. Countries without sophisticated labs, and without quick distribution methods, may not be able to use their small stocks properly, she said.
"It's completely ineffective if it's too late," she said. "And you can confuse the symptoms with malaria, so that's very problematic."
The flu medicines Tamiflu and Relenza are not cures for any type of flu, but lab tests suggest they might be effective against the new virus. Little is known about whether they lower the chances for serious flu complications, like pneumonia, and few studies have tested them in children. But they have been found to cut the duration of ordinary seasonal flu by about one day.
A spokesman for the Roche Group, which makes Tamiflu, said U.S. federal and state governments and a number of foreign governments have stockpiled treatments for roughly 220 million people. Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline would not say how many courses of its antiviral Relenza have been stored.
In the United States, the government recommends that states stockpile enough flu-treatment doses to treat about 25 percent of the population. But an Associated Press survey found that more than 29 states have yet to reach that level.
Several were just under it, but 15 states had enough medicine on hand to treat fewer than 20 percent of residents. Seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts and Montana — could treat about 15 percent.
The global disparities are striking: Oil-rich Kuwait has enough Tamiflu for nearly one-third of its population, while India has medicine for less than one percent of its people, although more is expected within seven days. In Mexico, the epicenter, there are enough antivirals for about 1.3 percent of the population. Indonesia, the country hardest hit by bird flu in recent years, has tablets for roughly .2 percent of its 235 million people, officials said.
Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari, who has long argued that lifesaving antiviral drugs are too expensive for developing countries, said only wealthy countries can afford protection.
"They can buy all the drugs they can get their hands on," she said. "But if poor countries are hit, will the World Health Organization be ready with a global stockpile — say — of Tamiflu or with the other resources we'll need to cope with this?"
She said her aim was not to criticize the global body, but to point to the need to address such inequities as quickly as possible.
Adrian Sleigh, a professor of epidemiology at Australian National University in Canberra, said past influenza pandemics have infected 30 percent to 40 percent of the population so, in theory, countries' Tamiflu stockpiles should correspond to those figures.
But for poor nations such goals are unrealistic.
"It may be that, tragically, the poor parts of this world are going to miss out on the benefits of modern antivirals," he said. "We've been talking about that for years. The WHO was developing a global stockpile and had millions of tablets. But how does that compare to the billions required in the developing world?"
Some public health advocates believe rich countries should donate some of their antiviral stockpiles to those less fortunate, but Garman cautions this might not be effective unless recipients have a credible pandemic plan in place so the medicine could be properly used in a timely way. Otherwise the resources would be wasted.
There would also likely be strong political resistance among rich nations to the idea of giving away antiviral medicines to less fortunate countries.
Several years ago, planners at the World Health Organization tested the idea during a simulated pandemic exercise — but found none of the participants was willing to part with precious supplies while a disease was spinning out of control.
Sandra Mounier-Jack, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who advises the House of Lords on health policy, said donations might be possible in a case where a pandemic flu carries a low mortality rate but would be politically impossible with high death rates.
"Some countries in Europe have invested little, some have invested a lot, so why should this country that has spent a lot of taxpayers' money donate to countries that made another choice?" she said. "Public health advocates say there should be donations, but it's a bit naive."
The only exception, she said, would be cases where a country could slow the spread of the disease near its borders by making medicine available to a neighboring country that needed it.
"That would make perfect sense," she said.

Students, musicians fight and fear Taliban

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Angry protests are a common sight in Pakistan. Crowds often gather to denounce the United States or the Pakistani government, which critics accuse of being an American puppet.

But in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore this week, several hundred protesters gathered on a scorching day to take on a very different target: the Taliban.

"I will fight them to my last breath and the last drop of my blood in my body. I'm not scared," vowed newspaper publisher Jugnu Mohsin.

She was leading a crowd of several hundred students, artists, writers and others, chanting "the Taliban is the enemy of Islam" in Urdu.

Public protests against the Taliban started cropping up in various Pakistani cities after a video emerged showing militants publicly flogging a teenage girl. The Taliban's recent declaration that the Pakistani government and judicial system are "unIslamic" has also outraged many educated Pakistanis.

Neha Mehdi moved to Lahore to study. Now, she fears her way of life is being threatened by the Taliban.

"I cannot give up my education, and I cannot give up the way I'm living," the 23-year-old student said. "These Talibans have ruined the reputation of Islam."

"There were threats here also from the Taliban that if we gather they might just bomb us," Mehdi said. Watch how the anti-Taliban movement is growing »

More than 250 miles away, Pakistan's military continued its assault against Taliban militants who want to impose a radical interpretation of Islamic law in the country's northwestern tribal regions.

Pakistan's government recently signed a deal that would allow Islamic law, or sharia, in the tribal belt as long as the law was imposed in accordance with the country's constitution.

Mehdi and others in Lahore fear that the Taliban's version of sharia -- which forbids girls from attending school, as well as music, poetry and dance -- is slowly creeping into Lahore, the center of Pakistani culture.

"Our way of life is being threatened," said Kamiar Rokni, a fashion designer who took part in the protest. "And if we don't do anything about it, then you're just going to be sitting around and one day the way you live and what this country's all about is going to stand for nothing."

Rokni said he fears the Taliban "want to change the way we exist."

Lahore may be hundreds of miles away from the Taliban-held areas outside Islamabad, but it is no stranger to militant attacks.

"Last year we lost 39 people in acts of terrorism and this year we have lost 17 people in Lahore alone," Lahore police Chief Parvez Rathore said.

As he speaks, a heavily armed escort is one step behind the police chief even as he walks outside the walls of the city's police headquarters.

In March, gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team in Lahore, killing six Pakistani police officers and the team's driver.

Weeks later, militants dressed in police uniforms stormed a police training center in the city, prompting an eight-hour stand-off with police. Eight cadets were killed during the March 30 siege, which the government blamed on Pakistan's Taliban.

Police in Lahore said the attacks would not have been possible without local support. Residents say there is no doubt that the Taliban have support in Pakistan's second largest city.

"They're here in Lahore, this is the thing," said Jamal Rahman, who plays guitar for the Lahore-based band, "Lal" which means "Red."

"Little groups of the Taliban are going around and intimidating people, causing fear, telling women to cover up and if they don't they'll shoot them."

Rahman and his cousin, Aider -- who plays flute for "Lal" -- are using their music to rally society against what he says is a growing threat by the Taliban.

"We want to try to get people aware, and try to get people activated and motivated to fight against this militancy," he said.

It is unclear if the protests and rallying cries from Rahman and the others in Lahore are the start of a mass movement or simply the swan song of Pakistan's wealthy, urban elite who could be the first to leave if the suicide bombers and insurgents succeed in further destabilizing the country.

Either way, their message is a sign that more Pakistanis believe the Taliban's threat is directed at them, and not just a reaction to the so-called U.S.-led "war on terror."

Mehdi said she fears her life as a student could come to a violent end if the people of Lahore do not stand up to Islamic extremists.

"If the Taliban take over then I'll be on the road being flogged by one of them like they did in Swat and I don't want that," she said.

Some Pakistanis are resorting to violence to defend their turf.

More than 30 people were killed in the southern port city of Karachi this week as members of the city's Mahajir ethnic majority group engaged in deadly clashes with ethnic Pashtuns. The Taliban is a mostly Pashtun movement.

The government in Karachi has issued a "shoot on sight" order to security forces, to try to maintain calm in the city.

A week before the clashes erupted, a leader of the MQM political party, which represents the Mahajir community in Karachi, said his supporters would fight back against what he called the "Talibanization" of his city.

"You have to take the nasty decisions now," Haider Abbas Rizvi told CNN last week. "You have to take effective measures to control these Taliban ...otherwise the Taliban will take over."

Riots across Europe fuelled by economic crisis

Police in Berlin arrested 57 people while around 50 officers were hurt as young demonstrators threw bottles and rocks and set fire to cars and rubbish bins. There were also clashes in Hamburg, where anti-capitalist protesters attacked a bank.
In Turkey, masked protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at police, smashing banks and supermarket windows in its biggest city, Istanbul. Security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of rioters and more than a hundred were arrested with dozens more hurt. There were also scattered skirmishes with police in the capital, Ankara, where 150,000 people marched.

The government had declared May Day, traditionally marked by rallies by labour unions, a public holiday this year under pressure from unions.
In Greece, officers fired flash grenades to disperse rioters in Athens after attacks on banks and traffic cameras. Transport strikes disrupted bus, train and ferry services as well as flights by Greek carrier Olympic Airlines.
Twenty people were injured and five arrested after police clashed with demonstrators at a traditional labour day rally in Linz in northern Austria. The incident came after police intercepted some 50 hooded protesters among a procession of up to 700 people at a Communist Party rally.
In France, unions joined forces for the first time since the Second World War, but turnout was not as high as a protest day in March in which up to three million attended 300 rallies against President Nicolas Sarkozy's economic recovery plan.
Some politicians have warned of the threat of "revolution", following radical action such as "boss-napping" factory executives and an ongoing strike that has crippled dozens of French universities.
They are wary of the growing power of leftist radicals linked to the New Anti-Capitalist Party of Olivier Besancenot, a Trotskyist postman.
There were also marches in big cities in Spain, burdened with the highest unemployment rate in Europe. More than 10,000 people gathered in the centre of Madrid in a demonstration organised by the country's two largest trade unions.
In Italy, union leaders shifted rallies from major cities to the earthquake-stricken town of L'Aquila as a sign of solidarity with thousands who lost their jobs after last month's deadly quake.
In Russia, about 2,000 demonstrators gathered by a statue of Karl Marx in Moscow waving banners and red Soviet flags and calling for a return of communism.
In St Petersburg, birthplace of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, police arrested about 120 members far right militants armed with knives and knuckle dusters, police said.
Cuba's ailing former leader, Fidel Castro, chose May Day – a key event in the Communist calendar – to attack Barack Obama, the US President, saying the United States only wanted Cuba to return "to the fold, like slaves."
There has been growing concern among European governments about a groundswell of social unrest and violent street protests that have spread amid the economic downturn.
Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Greece and Iceland all faced social unrest and rioting earlier this year as unemployment soared and countries were forced to impose severe cuts to government spending.
A March summit of European leaders examined the increasing unrest and "intensive sharing of information" has been carried out among key EU governments, including France and Germany.

Russian celebrate May Day with rallies

MOSCOW — Workers rallied Friday in European cities to mark May Day, with tens of thousands of demonstrators across Russia supporting or slamming the government amid growing unemployment and economic troubles.
In Turkey, which only last week declared the international labor day a public holiday, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to prevent hundreds from marching on an Istanbul square. Several people were detained, private CNN-Turk television reported.
Demonstrators in German capital, where protests are traditionally held the night before May Day, torched trash bins and threw rocks and bottles at police in overnight clashes. Berlin police said 29 officers were lightly injured, and dozens of people were detained.
Thousands of Greek protesters marched through Athens on Friday, as strikes disrupted public transport, ferry services and flights by Greek carrier Olympic Airlines. The airline canceled more than 100 flights Friday, including at least six international services, and ferry services to Aegean Sea islands were also halted.
No serious violence was reported in Russia, where police were out in force as Communists and liberal Kremlin opponents gathered to criticize the government. Police said four radical young leftists were detained in Moscow when they tried to light flares near the Kremlin. Dozens of nationalists and leftists were detained in St. Petersburg, Russian news agencies reported.
It was the first May Day since the advent of the global financial crisis and the end of Russia's oil-fueled economic boom. The Russian economy shrank nearly 10 percent in the first quarter of the year, and unemployment skyrocketed 34 percent to more than 7 million — almost one-tenth of the economically active population.
The turnout and tenor of the Russian rallies on Friday, however, suggested the government need not fear a popular uprising unless things get much worse. As in the past, most Russians stayed away from demonstrations and enjoyed the start of long weekend.
The largest rallies were organized by the dominant United Russia party and trade unions. Demonstrators expressed concern about the economy, but either praised the government or avoided explicit criticism.
Near a central Moscow statue of Karl Marx, however, several thousand Communist Party supporters sang verses praising Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and called for the government's resignation. They accused the current leadership of ignoring the needs of everyday Russians and mismanaging the economy.
Amid the Stalin portraits and Soviet-style flags were posters reading "Let the bankrupt government resign" as well as "Where's the money, Dima" and "Where's the money, Vova" — using diminutives of the first names of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
"The government must not squander money on support for big business and oligarchs," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told the crowd under a cloudless sky, claiming bailouts have helped Kremlin allies.
During the Soviet era, May 1 was a major celebration of worker solidarity, Soviet might and the advent of spring.

Hong Kong has first case confirmed in Asia

Hong Kong confirmed Asia's first case of the new H1N1 flu virus in a Mexican traveller on Friday, prompting authorities to seal off the hotel where the 25-year old man had been staying.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang told reporters the man arrived on a China Eastern flight on Thursday afternoon after a stopover in Shanghai.

He had a fever and went to Ruttonjee Hospital for help on Thursday evening, Tsang said. The Mexican is now in hospital in a stable condition.

The confirmation of the H1N1 infection was made by a laboratory at the University of Hong Kong.

"He didn't leave the hotel (except to go to hospital) because he was feeling sick," Health Minister York Chow told a news conference.

Two companions of the Mexican and a friend he met in Hong Kong were now in isolation wards at another hospital, he said.

Tsang said he had accepted the recommendation of government health experts to seal off the Metropark hotel in Wanchai district where the Mexican was staying.

Dozens of police wearing surgical masks stood guard both inside and outside the hotel late on Friday. Hotel guests were prevented from leaving while outsiders could not get in.

"I assure you the Hong Kong government will try its best to conquer the virus," Tsang said. "At the present moment, I would prefer to do it more stringently instead of missing the opportunity to control the spread of the virus."

Chow said the hotel had about 200 guests and over 100 staff and they would be quarantined for seven days. He urged those who were not in the hotel as well as taxi drivers who took the Mexican to the hotel and to hospital to report to authorities.

Mexican officials voiced hope Friday they were getting a handle on an outbreak of a new flu strain as doctors sought to understand how dangerous it is, how far it might spread and where it came from.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Mexico's epidemic of the new H1N1 swine flu virus may not be as severe as it looked at first, with many mild cases that were not immediately noticed.

In Mexico City, where many offices and businesses were closed for a five-day break to help slow the spread of the disease, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said the country's emergency campaign against the virus was bringing results.

"Individuals and families have been taking these measures very seriously and as a result we have had timely and early detection of cases of respiratory illnesses that could be of this type. This has led us to a situation where the numbers are getting better every day," he said.

"I'm not saying we should let our guard down ... I'm telling you so you know where we stand."

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said the public hospitals that treat roughly half the country admitted just 46 patients with severe flu symptoms Thursday, down from 212 patients on April 20.

The CDC said in a new report Friday it had confirmed 84 out of up to 176 deaths in Mexico blamed on the H1N1 strain.

Worldwide, 13 countries have confirmed cases. The latest were Denmark and Hong Kong - where a traveler from Mexico accounted for the first verified case in Asia.

The United States, the country with the largest number of confirmed cases outside Mexico, reported 141 cases across 19 states on Friday. Almost all infections outside Mexico have been mild, and only a handful of patients have required hospital treatment.

Only one person has died outside Mexico: a toddler from Mexico who traveled to the United States.

Experts have been struggling to explain why so many deaths have occurred in Mexico and nowhere else. On Friday, the CDC suggested a simple explanation: there are many cases in Mexico, most are mild, and just the bad ones have been seen so far.

"To date, case-finding in Mexico has focused on patients seeking care in hospitals," the report said. "A large number of undetected cases of illness might exist in persons seeking care in primary-care settings or not seeking care at all."

Scientists hope to get a clearer picture as data comes in from special test kits that the CDC sent to Mexico to measure the extent of the illness. Even normal flu can be deadly, with seasonal influenza killing an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people globally every year.

The World Health Organization said Friday that no meeting of its emergency committee was scheduled, meaning there was no immediate likelihood of its level 5 alert being raised to a full ‘phase 6' pandemic alert.

To declare a full pandemic, WHO would have to be convinced the new virus is spreading in a sustained way among communities in another region besides North America and officials said it was not clear this was the case.

On Friday, a WHO vaccine expert said there was no doubt that it would be possible to make a successful vaccine against the virus in a reasonably short period.

The WHO has said it would call the new virus strain Influenza A (H1N1), not "swine flu," since is no evidence that pigs have the virus or can transmit it to humans. Pork producers had said consumers were shunning their product.

Most global markets have shrugged off flu fears as traders focused on hopes that a deep U.S. recession may be nearing an end.

Some countries and sectors will suffer, however, not least Mexico. HSBC estimated that every week of the crisis could chop 0.3 percent off Mexico's annual economic output.

Continental Airlines Inc CAL.N said it was halving its seat capacity to Mexico from Monday because of lower demand. The United States, the European Union and Canada have all advised citizens against non-essential travel to Mexico.

Both Roche AG's Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, and GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza, known as zanamivir, have been shown to work against the new virus, and prescriptions for antivirals rose sharply in the United States amid media coverage of the flu scare.

The United States has begun sending 400,000 doses of treatment to Mexico. But Greece, which has not reported any cases of the virus, banned the export of Relenza and Tamiflu.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has asked Mexicans to stay home from May 1 to 5 over the long Cinco de Mayo holiday, and urged businesses to close. The streets of the capital were much quieter than usual.

U.S. says terrorist violence soared in Pakistan

WASHINGTON- The U.S. State Department said on Thursday the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan last year rose by more than 70 percent, despite an overall drop in such violence worldwide.

U.S. officials have grown increasingly worried about the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan as Taliban militants have advanced beyond their Swat valley stronghold to Buner valley, just 60 miles (100 km) northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

The Pakistani army on Thursday fought through mountain passes for a third day to try to evict the Taliban from Buner, acting after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week accused the government of abdicating to the Taliban.

Data compiled by the U.S. intelligence community suggested that Pakistan faces a growing threat from terrorist violence.

The number of people killed in such attacks -- including the Sept. 20 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad -- rose to 2,293 from 1,340, according to the data released by the State Department.

The number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan more than doubled to 1,839 from 890, U.S. officials told reporters.


These increases occurred even as the death toll from worldwide terrorism fell to 15,765 from 22,508 in 2007 and the number of overall attacks dropped to 11,770 from 14,506, they said.

The decline reflected diminished violence in Iraq following U.S. President George W. Bush's 2007 decision to send additional troops to the country, which U.S.-led forces invaded in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein.

The number of people killed in Iraq fell to 5,016 from 13,606, U.S. officials said, while the number of attacks declined to 3,258 from 6,210.

But the number of people killed by terrorism in Afghanistan, where the United States and other nations are fighting a renewed Taliban insurgency, rose to 1,989 in 2008 from 1,961 a year earlier, the department said. Attacks in Afghanistan rose to 1,220 from 1,125.

The government released the numbers amid speculation that the Obama administration, which is seeking to engage Havana after decades of animosity, might consider dropping Cuba from its "state sponsors of terrorism" blacklist.

The department last year removed North Korea from its blacklist but kept Cuba along with Iran, Sudan and Syria.

In Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the United States had no right to lecture others and said his government rejected terrorism.

"We don't recognize any political or moral authority for the government of the United States to make a list on any subject, nor to certify good or bad conduct," Rodriguez told reporters. "Frankly, I don't think anybody reads those documents ... because they know that the author (U.S.) is an international criminal in many of the issues it criticizes."

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was in Havana for a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement nations, agreed.

"The United States, for all it has done in the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo jails, doesn't have the authority nor the capacity to give opinions or accusations about other countries," he told reporters through a translator.

May Day protesters clash with police in Turkey, Greece and Germany

May Day protesters clashed with riot police in Turkey, Greece and Germany yesterday while French unions led their biggest ever Labour Day demonstrations amid growing public anger in Europe at unemployment and the handling of global economic crisis.
Turkey's May Day demonstrations were marred by violence for the third year running as police battled to stop protesters reaching Istanbul's landmark Taksim Square. Riot officers fired water cannon and teargas canisters in clashes with leftwing demonstrators, some of whom hurled stones and Molotov cocktails and smashed the windows of banks and shops. There were at least 26 arrests and 11 police officers were reported injured.

Some of the worst violence took place in side streets. In the fashionable Cihangir neighbourhood near Taksim, protesters were seen placing large plant pots on the road to use as barricades against police vehicles.

The protesters had been seeking to join an estimated 2,000 trade unionists who had been given permission to hold a rally in Taksim for the first May Day since 1977, when 37 people died after unidentified gunmen opened fire on demonstrators. That event triggered political violence and was seen as a turning point that led to a military coup three years later.

The Turkish government last week bowed to pressure to declare May Day a public holiday and allow limited access to Taksim Square following criticism that police heavy handedness aimed at cordoning it off had been responsible for violence at last year's event.

In Greece, police clashed with anarchist demonstrators, firing teargas on protesters at Athens Polytechnic.

In Berlin and Hamburg, scattered violence erupted in the early hours of the May Day holiday. More than 50 people were detained in Berlin after demonstrators chanting anti-capitalism slogans threw bottles and stones at riot police and torched five cars, 48 police were injured.

France saw a record number of almost 300 street demonstrations with union leaders marching as a united front for the first time since the second world war.

Public support for the marches was over 70% as tension rises over unemployment, factory closures and mass lay-offs. The demonstrations were France's third national protest over the handling of the economic crisis in four months. Unions will meet on Monday to decide whether to organise a further general strike.

As civil unrest by workers becomes more radical, with gestures such as "bossnapping" and vandalism, the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin has warned of a "revolutionary risk" in France. In one poll yesterday for Challenges magazine, 66% people felt there was a risk of "social explosion" in France over the coming months.

French unions expecting record May Day marches

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of France today as the traditional May Day rallies became a focus point for anger over factory closures, job cuts and Nicolas Sarkozy's handling of the economic crisis.

Union leaders were calling the day "historic" as a record number of almost 300 demonstrations were planned across the country. All trade unions marched as a united front for the first time on May Day since the second world war.

Public support for the demonstrations is over 70%, with protesters taking to the streets for various reasons. Many are angry at mass lay-offs while they feel fat-cat bosses are being protected by the government.

Unemployment is rising at its fastest rate in a decade as France enters its deepest depression since the war. Others joining the marches are opposed to the French president's reform of universities and hospitals.

Unions are hoping that today's bank holiday will bring out record numbers to rival the 2.5-3million who took to the streets in March protests. Today's demonstration is the third national protest over the handling of the economic crisis in four months. Unions will meet on Monday to decide whether to organise a general strike for the coming weeks.

Tension is growing in France over factory closures and lay-offs. Workers' protest actions are getting more radical: a wave of "boss-napping" by desperate workers intensified last month and some protesters ransacked state offices.

Today's marches came as unions tried to calm the mood and harness workers' anger. The former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, has warned of a "revolutionary risk" in France. In one poll yesterday for Challenges magazine, 66% people felt there was a risk of "social explosion" over the coming months.