Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Iran demonstrators aim to see off Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 'empire of lies'

It was open insurrection, a rebellion of a sort seldom seen in the 30-year history of the Islamic Republic, an eruption of pent-up rage against the repressive Government of President Ahmadinejad.

“Death to the Government,” chanted the several thousand Iranians packed into a football stadium in Tehran. “Death to dictators,” roared the young men and women, draped in green shirts, ribbons, bandanas and headscarves to signal their support for Mir Hossein Mousavi. “Bye-bye Ahmadi,” they sang as they waved a sea of banners for the man who hopes to topple Mr Ahmadinejad in the presidential election on Friday. “Don’t rig the election,” they added for good measure.

Women have suffered particularly badly under Mr Ahmadinejad, and twentysomethings sporting sunglasses, make-up and dyed hair beneath their mandatory headscarves shouted themselves hoarse as speaker after speaker promised an end to repression, despair and the “empire of lies”.

“I feel danger every second I’m on the street because of the morality police,” an arts student called Nina said. As she was speaking another young woman way back in the mêlée scribbled a note and passed it forward. “We need freedom. We want big change. We don’t want liar government,” it declared.

Men and women scaled the floodlight pylons for a better view. Hundreds more crammed on to a nearby overpass. Astonishingly there was not a policeman or basij (Islamic vigilante) in sight, further evidence of how the regime seems to have relaxed — or lost — its grip in the final days of an election far more competitive than anyone had expected.

The biggest roar of the afternoon was reserved for the main speaker, Zahra Rahnavard, Mr Mousavi’s wife. “You’re here because you don’t want any more dictatorship,” she declared. “You’re here because you hate fanaticism, because you dream of a free Iran, because you dream of a peaceful relationship with the rest of the world.” The candidate himself was nowhere to be seen, but that hardly mattered because the crowd was inspired by a hatred of Mr Ahmadinejad rather than a love for Mr Mousavi.

To anyone arriving in Tehran this week it would be easy to assume that Mr Mousavi was an Iranian Barack Obama. The capital appears convulsed by Mousavimania. It is festooned with posters of his bearded face. Fanatical supporters career around the city in their cars, honking their horns and shouting slogans.

In truth Mr Mousavi, 67, bears more resemblance to Bob Dole, who failed to unseat Bill Clinton in 1996. The bespectacled former Prime Minister lacks charisma, is an uninspiring public speaker and was trounced by Mr Ahmadinejad in their televised debate last week. Aides said that he was resting before another television appearance, which was perhaps a mercy because his wife — like Elizabeth Dole — is a more compelling performer.

Most of the crowd yesterday were too young to remember Mr Mousavi in his previous incarnation as Prime Minister from 1981 to 1989, and that may be a good thing too. He steered his country’s economy through the Iran-Iraq War but was a zealous revolutionary who brooked little dissent and has been accused of being behind the massacre of political prisoners.

He retired from politics for 20 years and devoted himself to art and architecture — he designed several prominent buildings in Tehran and his paintings sell for substantial sums. He says that he wants to save Iran from the “danger” of Mr Ahmadinejad, but he is hardly a reformist.

His candidacy had to be approved by the Guardian Council, a body of senior clerics not known for its liberalism. He is seeking to appeal to disaffected conservatives as well as moderates. His platform is one of managerial competence and stability. He wants better relations with the world but would not suspend Iran’s nuclear programme. He promises greater equality for women but has no plans to challenge the political system.

Mr Mousavi’s campaign has skilfully employed the internet and text messaging to circumvent the statecontrolled media, but it is almost certainly financed by Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President regarded by many as the embodiment of the corrupt Establishment.

It is a measure of how much Iran’s urban middle class loathes Mr Ahmadinejad that they have thrown their weight behind Mr Mousavi’s imperfect candidacy, and that so many liberals who would normally refuse to vote lest they legitimise the regime are prepared to do so this time.

“I didn’t know anything about Mousavi until a few days ago, but I’d vote for anyone to get Ahmadinejad out,” one English-speaking Iranian woman admitted last night.

Rampaging militants kill 11, injure 50 in Peshawar hotel

PESHAWAR: A huge explosion ripped through the sole five-star hotel of the Frontier province’s metropolis on Tuesday evening, killing 11 people. A foreign national was among the dead.

More than 50 people, including foreigners, were injured.

Police said that armed men first launched a frontal assault on the main entrance to the Pearl Continental Hotel, killing security guards. They then lowered down an electronic barrier so that an explosives-laden mini-truck could get in.

‘The assailants first killed the security guards on the main gate to lower the electronic barrier and then went inside the main parking lot, firing indiscriminately.’

‘A mini-truck laden with explosives then entered the hotel premises and exploded in the main parking lot close to the main building,’ Capital City Police Chief Safwat Ghayyir told Dawn.

‘I was going for my night shift when I heard intense firing between the security guards and the armed men. Then there was a big explosion. I don’t remember what happened next,’ said Nasir, one of the wounded security guards at the hotel.

He said that three armed men, wearing military uniform and riding on a white-double cabin pick-up truck, started shooting at the security guards while one of them was firing into the air.

The same truck then drove into the parking lot and exploded, he said.

Ikram, an accountant at the hotel, said he saw armed men firing from a white colour double pick-up. ‘I took refuge in the small mosque in the parking area.’

Police, quoting eyewitnesses, said the assailants were three in number and the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber.

NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that eleven people had died in the attack and more than fifty were injured.

‘This is what we know from the ground, although only two bodies have been taken to the nearby hospital.’

District Coordination Officer Sahibzada Mohammad Anees and the CCPO confirmed the death of only two workers.

The hotel was frequented by expatriates, more so in recent days, by staff members of aid organisations looking after the internally displaced people from Malakand division.

One of the dead included a Russian employee of an international humanitarian organisation. He was identified by his first name, Joseph.

Among the injured were citizens of the United Kingdom, Somalia, Germany and Madagascar.

The hotel is located near the the residence of the Peshawar Corps Commander and the Commandant of Frontier Constabulary, which is presently occupied by NWFP’s Inspector-General of Police Malik Naveed Khan.

The explosion caused the western side of the hotel to collapse. Police and rescue workers feared that many might have been buried under the rubble.

‘This attack has all the signatures of the Rescue 15 attack in Lahore. The same tactics appeared to have been repeated here,’ one security official said.

Shafqat Malik of the Bomb Disposal Squad told reporters outside the hotel that the explosives weighed between 500 and 550 kilograms. ‘It was a massive car bombing,’ he said.

The explosion caused a 16 by 15 feet crater.

‘I don’t think we have ever had an explosion in Peshawar of this magnitude,’ Senior Superintendent of Police Qazi Jameel said.

Peshawar has been under a high state of alert for the past one week after intelligence agencies warned of terrorist attacks against landmark buildings.

‘It is too early to pin blame on a particular group. But this appears to have come from the same group that masterminded the Rescue 15 attack,’ the security official said.

The CCPO said that a few suspects had been detained for questioning. ‘Investigations are under way,’ he said.

FM against transferring Afghan problems to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Turkey Tuesday agreed on holding a regional summit on Afghanistan and its neighbours in November to discuss peace and security.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi addressing a joint stakeout with his Turkish counterpart Ahmed Davutoglu said the summit to be held in Turkey would address the issues of regional importance including economic development.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said Turkey enjoys excellent relations with Afghanistan and can play an important role in bringing Pakistan and Afghanistan closer.

The Foreign Minister stressed the need for mutual cooperation between the two countries at diverse levels.

He said Pakistan and Turkey enjoy excellent relations and called upon the two governments for increasing the potential of tourism between them, thus turning friendliness into tourism.

Qureshi said Pakistan and Turkey has a tradition of strong relations which can be enhanced by encouraging the students to study in each other’s universities.

He appreciated Turkey’s role in Friends of Democratic Pakistan and for intending to hold second ministerial meeting in Istanbul in September.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu in his speech conveyed his country’s warm sentiments for Pakistani brethren and said Pakistan’s prosperity and development greatly mattered for Turkey.

He said Turkey considers Pakistan as its strategic partner with the ties spanning in international and regional affairs.

He said Turkish people value Pakistan as their second home and reiterated his government’s commitment to provide assistance to Pakistan for the rehabilitation of IDPs.

He said Turkish International Development Agency and Red Crescent were fully involved in helping IDPs.

He urged the international community and Muslim countries to express solidarity with Pakistan and provide all out help for IDPs.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi replying to a question said consistent military surge in Afghanistan might have implications on Pakistan particularly in Balochistan.

He said Pakistan had talked through political and military ways at all levels to the stakeholders that transferring the problems from Afghanistan to Pakistan will not help resolve the issue.

He said there should be a civilian surge to promote reconciliatory efforts in Afghanistan to resolve issue.

Indefinite curfew imposed in Bannu, operation looms

PESHAWAR: Authorities have imposed an indefinite curfew in Bannu city amidst the probability of a security operation, a day after the military marched into the region.

The troops entered the region on Monday after the talks between local tribesmen and the political administration failed to produce a favourable outcome.

Security forces also fired artillery at militant positions in the region on Monday night, said official sources.

Janikhel and Bakakhel tribes had been warned by local authorities of a military action if they failed to expel local and foreign militants from their areas.

But tribal elders say they don’t have the power to confront the Taliban and therefore cannot give any guarantees to the government.

The two tribes have been blamed for the kidnapping of Razmak Cadet College students late last month. And security forces have detained one hundred tribesmen from the region for questioning.

Due to the seriousness of the situation, the University of Engineering and Technology Bannu has been shut down till the 23rd of June and scheduled examinations have been postponed.

Militants headquarter in Imam Dherri blown up

Security forces have blown up the headquarter of militants at Imam Dherri in Swat, while Maulana Waliullah Qabil Grami has surrendered to the security officials. The forces have conducted a search operation in various parts of Kanju and blown up the militants headquarter Imam Dheri Markiz. The forces operations against militants continued in tehsil Kabal. The authorities have relaxed curfew till 4:00 pm at Dargai- Chakdarra road to take out the people trapped in Chakdarra after migrating from various areas.

27 militants killed during 24 hours: ISPR

RAWALPINDI :During last twenty four hours, 27 militants were killed and 22 were apprehended in various areas of Malakand, while 1 soldier embraced Shahadat and 9 were injured.

During search and destroy operation in area around Peochar Valley, 14 terrorists were killed and 22 were apprehended, while 6 soldiers were injured. A Tunnel, cache of arms and ammunitions and explosive were also recovered.

Security Forces conducted cordon and search operation and secured village Darmai in Sakhra valley.

Terrorists fire raided at Kalpanai check post, resultantly 1 soldier embraced shahadat. During exchange of fire between security forces and terrorists at Uchrai Sar 3 soldiers were injured.

Whereas Lashkars in upper Dir secured 4 villages and killed 13 terrorists. Presently Lashkar is surrounding village Shatkas and Ghazigae to flush out terrorists from the area.