Saturday, August 1, 2009

Obama says many months before U.S. exits recession

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama warned on Saturday it would take "many more months" for the United States to get out of recession even after GDP figures showed the economy shrank only modestly in the second quarter.

Obama, who has defended his young administration's economic policies in recent weeks in the face of worsening unemployment numbers, said jobless figures next week would still show that too many Americans were losing work.

"It will take many more months to fully dig ourselves out of a recession - a recession that we've now learned was even deeper than anyone thought," the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"And when we receive our monthly job report next week, it is likely to show that we are continuing to lose far too many jobs in this country. As far as I'm concerned, we will not have a recovery as long as we keep losing jobs," he said.

Afghan poll workers ambushed; U.S. soldiers killed

KABUL (Reuters) - A convoy of campaign workers for Afghan President Hamid Karzai was ambushed five times on Saturday, officials said, as Taliban insurgents step up efforts to disrupt the presidential election.

The U.S. military also said three U.S. troops were killed in the south, while a French soldier died and two were wounded in fighting in Kapisa province in the east, French officials said.

The Taliban this week vowed to disrupt the Aug 20. presidential election and called on Afghans to boycott it.

Violence had already reached its highest level since the Taliban were toppled in 2001 and then escalated after the launch of military offensives in southern Helmand province.

Civilians and security forces have been killed at record rates in recent weeks, with attacks by insurgents now also focusing on election candidates and officials.

Fazel Ahmad, a campaign worker for Karzai, said the convoy was attacked by Taliban insurgents five times as it drove back to Kabul from Ghazni in the southeast. One security guard was killed, he said.

Juma Gul, a candidate for Ghazni provincial elections, and another security guard were wounded, Ahmad said.

Karzai was not in the convoy and was campaigning in northern Baghlan province at the time of the attack.

"We were ambushed by insurgents five times in Ghazni but fortunately we have few casualties," Ahmad told Reuters.

"They were well-planned attacks but we managed to escape."

Ghazni chief Khial Baz Sherzai said the campaign workers had not told police they would be in the area but police later responded, killing five Taliban and wounding six.


It was the fourth ambush of a candidate or campaign official in little more than a week, although no national candidates have been seriously wounded.

Among those attacked were Karzai's vice-presidential running mate Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

Several campaign offices have also been bombed, with most of the attacks blamed on the Taliban.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, one of few serious challengers to Karzai among a field of 36 contenders, said he was concerned by the number of election-related attacks.

"It is the government's duty to provide proper security for the election campaign but, unfortunately, they have absolutely failed to do so," Abdullah told reporters in his Kabul office.

International and Afghan analysts and observers have said continued, widespread violence could lead to either poor voter turn-out or widespread fraud in the voting.

Karzai remains a clear front-runner ahead of Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani. Poor security or a vote fractured across the wide field appear Karzai's biggest concerns.

Campaigning in Kayan, Karzai said he would redouble his efforts toward achieving peace if he is re-elected.

"After succeeding through your votes, the start of my first day of work will be to intensify the efforts for peace in this land," Karzai told thousands of supporters in a mountain valley.

On Monday, Karzai's government said it had struck a ceasefire deal with the Taliban for the election in a remote province in the northwest, the first of its kind.

Senior Taliban leaders however later said there was no ceasefire with the government anywhere in Afghanistan. Three days later the Taliban issued a statement vowing to disrupt the poll and called on Afghans to boycott the vote.

Little information was available about the latest three U.S. military casualties other than they were killed when their patrol was hit by two roadside bombs.

A total of 41 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan in July, well above the previous monthly high of 26 in September 2008.

Britain has also suffered its worst battlefield losses in almost a generation, with 22 killed in July.

The heavy losses came after thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops launched operations last month to clear the Taliban from areas of Helmand.

The Helmand operations are the first under U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan. The poll is seen as a test of that policy, and of Kabul's ability to hold a credible and legitimate ballot.

7 Christians burnt alive in Gojra riots

LAHORE: The government deployed the Rangers to the town of Gojra on Saturday after at least seven Christians, including three women, were burnt alive and dozens injured following the second incident of violence against Christians in Punjab in one month.

The latest riots, which started almost a week ago following allegations that a copy of the holy Quran was defiled, escalated on Saturday as locals shouting slogans against Christians took to the streets in Christian Town, a Christian-only locality. Following the escalation, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, on directions of President Asif Ali Zardari, ordered the Punjab Rangers to reach Gojra and help the civil administration maintain law and order. Eyewitnesses said a protesting mob turned violent when armed men from Jhang reached the spot and started attacking Christian houses. Locals claimed the attackers were members of a banned organisation, adding they carried sophisticated weaponry. Emboldened by the attackers, the mob started throwing acid and petrol bombs on the houses, forcing the people to come out. A local resident said dozens were feared dead, adding the exact number could not be confirmed as several bodies were buried under debris.

Claiming the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba group was involved in the rioting, Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti told the Associated Press he had directed police to ensure protection for the Christian community but they had ignored his instructions.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said authorities had investigated the allegation of a Holy Quran being defiled “and our initial reports say that there has not been any incident of desecration”. He said the situation had calmed down on Friday, but extremists had entered the city on Saturday and pushed people toward armed clashes. Faisalabad Commissioner Tahir Hussain told local TV channels that representatives of the two communities would meet on Saturday in an effort to calm the situation.

Peshawar, 40 suspects nabbed

PESHAWAR: Peshawar police on Saturday claimed to have apprehended at least 40 suspected persons during search operation in far and flung areas of the provincial capital and have kicked off investigation with them, Geo news reported.

Masood Khan, the spokesman CCPO Peshawar, told Geo news the search operation in the outskirts of Peshawar is still underway while in mean time, police had to face no kind of confrontation whatsoever.

He said forty arrested accused persons have been shifted to unidentified place and are being inquired about the terror activities.

15 persons have been set free after being found not guilty, spokesman added.

In Pakistan , 9 Christian killed, 100 homes looted , 50 homes burnt by Muslim protestors in Gojra

It was an other day of mourning for Christians when Muslim mob attacked at Christian Town and gunned down 9 Christian women, children and men and burnt down 50 homes in Gojra.
The first was identified as Inyat Masih among dead and fleeing Christian of Gojra are hiding to save life to identify other dead Christians.

The march of Muslims started from Railway Station Gojra at 12:00 noon today was attended by thousands of local and from near by villages marched towards Christian Town. The Christian Town Gojra is residence of two thousand Christian families who settled here over fifty years.

When Muslim marchers approached Christian Town, some two hundred Muslims hiding their faces with traditional Islamic scarf opened fire on Christian houses.

The Christian fled from home but who trapped were executed by face covered Muslims with automatic firearms. The Muslim attacker looted 100 homes and set on fire more than fifty Christian houses.

These Militants used a particular type of chemical which is hard to extinguish to burn Christian homes This chemical was used first in the village of “Shanti Nagar” which was set on fire in February 1997. Later this chemical was used in “Sangla Hill Town” and recently used to burn 60 homes of village Korian on night of July 30, 2009.

Sunny Gill based in Karachi told PCP that he called his relatives in Gojra on their Cell Phone after watching news of attack on a local TV channel and they were crying and telling “they have burnt whole colony and they have no shelter to stay in Gojra now” They are very far from Karachi and do not have money to reach to him in Karachi. There are hundreds of Christians stranded and in hiding in Gojra and near by villages.

According to information of PCP, received by calls and e-Mails by relatives of Christians of Gojra, 4 women, one child and 4 men are dead due to gun shots and many have burn injuries.

According to news agencies, four women and one child were burnt alive by Muslims and burnt dead were received by federal Minority Ministry.

Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC have condemned statement issued by a minister in Punjab government that “ Muslim marcher were peaceful and some one shot fire on rally to ignite anger among them”

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti expressed concern on media reports which reported attackers to be Sunni Muslims because Christians had always cordial relation with Sunni Sect of Muslims in Pakistan. Such reporting can flare up riots which Christians are not bear to afford because Christian do not guns to protect them.

“PCC demands Punjab government to adopt strict security measure to main law and order to ensure safety of life and property of Christians.

Schools reopen in Swat, Lower Dir

MINGORA/TIMERGARA: Schools reopened in Swat and Lower Districts on Saturday after nearly three months of being closed owing to fighting between the military and militants.

However, attendance on the first day was low because of the closure of roads and shortage of transport.

Classes in several schools of Mingora were held in tents because their buildings had been damaged in the operation.

Residents said that Mingora was the only town in Swat where schools were reopened. Majority of the schools were being used as IDP camps, they added.

A large number of schools in upper and lower parts of Swat have either been blown up or set on fire by the Taliban. The rest are being used by security forces.

Private Schools Management Association president Ziauddin Yousafzai has announced waiver of fees for the past three months.

Schools in Lower Dir, except the Maidan tehsil, also reopened on Saturday. Some of the schools in the district remained closed because of the presence of IDPs there.

An elderly member of a displaced family living in a government girls’ school in Talash told Dawn that he was worried about the future of his children.

‘We had a good time living in the school. We can neither go back to our home nor has the government made any alternative arrangement for us. Where will we go now?’ he wondered.

AFP adds: NWFP Education Minister Qazi Asad said that all schools in Malakand division were open.

He said that about 356 schools had been damaged during the Taliban insurgency and the authorities were working on an emergency plan to rebuild or hire private buildings.

‘Tents have been provided to hold classes temporarily,’ he said.

Fazal Aziz, the principal a government school in Mingora, said: ‘There is no electricity, water and other facilities and it is hard to keep students in tents for a long time in hot weather.’

Military’s Focus Is Afghanistan

TALLIL AIR BASE, Iraq — In this desert brush land where the occupiers and occupied are moving into an uneasy new partnership, American and Iraqi commanders sat side by side earlier this week and described their biggest problems to Robert M. Gates, the visiting defense secretary.

For Staff Maj. Gen. Habib al-Hussani, the commander of the 10th Iraqi Army Division, the trouble was not enough equipment for patrols on the border with Iran. For Col. Peter A. Newell, the commander of the first American advisory brigade to Iraqi troops, it was something else.

“The hardest thing to do sometimes,” he told Mr. Gates, “is step back and not be in charge.”

Colonel Newell was talking about the major tactical shift here since June 30, when most United States combat forces withdrew to large bases outside the cities and left the Iraqis to lead. But he was also reflecting a change in the military’s mentality about Iraq: The six-year-old war is no longer the center of the action.

The battle — and much of the military’s focus — has moved on to Afghanistan, even as a string of bombings at Baghdad mosques on Friday showed there is always the prospect of renewed violence.

“You could talk to some commanders, and say, O.K., would you rather be doing stability operations in Iraq or fighting in Afghanistan?” Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad this week. “They might tell you they’d rather be fighting in Afghanistan.”

The shift is evident in the numbers. If the current drawdown schedule holds, there will be 50,000 or fewer United States troops in Iraq next year but about 68,000 in Afghanistan. The next big debate facing the Pentagon and the White House is whether to send even more troops than planned to Afghanistan; a civilian advisory panel has already advised Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top United States commander in Afghanistan, that he should request additional forces.

The Pentagon already anticipates spending less next year in Iraq than in Afghanistan, $61 billion compared with $65 billion, the first time that will have happened since before 2003. So far this year, fewer United States service members have been killed in Iraq than in Afghanistan — 108 compared with 128, according to, which tracks military deaths.

But the change transcends statistics. From training to equipment to career path to the debate in the Pentagon about strategy and force structure, the emphasis has shifted from a conflict that dominated national security well before 2003 to one that will help define President Obama’s foreign policy. “There’s just an intellectual shift toward Afghanistan,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander for Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a recent conversation in Washington.

Maj. Gen. Michael L. Oates, a veteran of three tours in Iraq and the commander of Fort Drum, N.Y., and the 10th Mountain Division, said: “If you ask a young soldier or Marine or airman in Iraq for the first time, ‘Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing,’ generally they’ll say, ‘Well, maybe not, I thought there’d be more combat. And some of them will say to you, ‘Can I go to Afghanistan?’ ”

There are still some 130,000 American troops in Iraq, more than twice as many as in Afghanistan, but the shift in focus is clear.

At the Pentagon, the top equipment priority this year is buying more than 5,000 all-terrain armored vehicles designed for the rugged landscape of Afghanistan.

At the Tampa, Fla., headquarters of the United States Central Command, which oversees both wars, there are 90 intelligence analysts assigned to Iraq and 130 to Afghanistan.

At Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Marines are offering a new yearlong crash course in Pashto, Dari and Urdu, languages spoken in Afghanistan.

And although there are still hundreds of people at the Pentagon who work on Iraq, nowhere is there anything like the tight corps of 400 top officers and soldiers — many of them veterans of Iraq — that General McChrystal has hand-picked specifically for Afghanistan.

To top Pentagon officials, the change is a logical outgrowth of the relative stability in Iraq and the American transition there into an advisory role.

“The solution in Iraq is not military anymore,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told a group of reporters. “Clearly, we have to have security, but the solution in Iraq is political.”

To be sure, the shift in focus does mean that everyone in the military is angling for Kabul, the Afghan capital. Ambitious young officers want to prove themselves in the offensives this summer in Afghanistan, but others do not mind the relatively less dangerous environment of Iraq, a striking change from the carnage of three years ago.

“I prefer here,” Pfc. Joseph Schneider, 20, of Las Vegas, said this week at Tallil, his base for joint patrols with Iraqi counterparts around the generally quiet southern city of Nasiriya. Private Schneider said his brother was in Afghanistan and “is seeing a lot more action than I am.”

Military experts warn that the shift in focus may be premature, given the long list of problems that remain in Iraq, particularly the intensifying tensions between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders that United States military officials consider the No. 1 threat to the country’s fragile unity.

General Odierno, who can now see patches of parks and crowded markets when his helicopter flies above the sand-colored landscape of Baghdad, said that the withdrawal from the cities — and the continuing transfer of logistics experts and equipment to Afghanistan — had gone relatively well.

“So far the reductions we’re making here have been fine,” he said. But he added, “If something starts to go wrong, there’s got to be some very difficult decisions made.”

To John A. Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, a military research institution in Washington, the shift from Iraq to the more critical Afghanistan makes a certain brutal sense. “If you’ve got a car crash with somebody with a broken arm and somebody with a sucking chest wound,” he said, “you’re going to work on the guy with the chest wound first.”

Schools reopen in Pakistan's battle-scarred Swat

MINGORA, Pakistan — Scores of eager children headed back to school in northern Pakistan's battle-scarred Swat Valley on Saturday, many taking classes in buildings damaged during recent fighting between Taliban militants and security forces.
But attendance on the first day of the new academic year was low, with hundreds of students staying away. Many families have still not returned home to the valley's main town of Mingora, where the Taliban once held sway.
Reopening schools in Swat, a former tourist haven, is just one piece of the puzzle for authorities trying to rehabilitate the valley, but it may be the most symbolic and psychologically important step yet, as destroying schools — particularly those teaching girls — was a key part of the Taliban's reign in the valley.
In one girls' school in Mingora, in the Haji Baba neighborhood, only about 30 of the usual 700 students were back on Saturday. But those who were said they were glad to be able to learn again without fear of the Taliban.
"I'm happy. I like school. I like to study," 12-year-old Saima Abdul Wahab said as she stood in a tiny courtyard outside her dusty classroom, piles of new exercise books stacked against the walls waiting to be given out.
Saima said she, like many others, had been too afraid to study when the Taliban controlled the town.
"I was scared and stopped coming to school. The Taliban were slaughtering people. I was scared of being slaughtered," she said. But now, "I'm not afraid of them coming back. They're gone."
But while they no longer control Swat, militants still launch attacks. A bomb early Saturday destroyed part of a girls' school in the district of Bannu, neighboring Pakistan's lawless tribal region along the Afghan border, police said.
The bomb, planted in the high school, detonated shortly after midnight when the school was empty, and there were no casualties, said police official Khalid Khan. But police also discovered a bag containing nearly 90 pounds (about 40 kilograms) of undetonated explosives when they searched the school after the blast, he said.
At one point during their recent takeover, the Taliban had announced they were banning female education completely, in a move echoing their militant brethren in neighboring Afghanistan who forbade girls from going to school when they were in charge.
Nearly 200 schools in Swat and surrounding the area were destroyed, and hundreds more were damaged — most of them girls' institutions.
The havoc threatened to set back literacy and other educational achievements in the valley that — relative to other parts of the conservative northwest — had made strides in education over the past century, including when it was a princely state with its own ruler.
School has been out in Swat since May, leaving large gaps in children's education, teachers say.
"We will have extra classes, put in extra time, forego our vacations, but we will catch up," vowed Noor ul Akbar, who teaches Quran recitation at a nearby boys' school.
About 150 of the school's usual 1,500 boys lined up in the warm early morning sun for assembly that began with a prayer before starting lessons in their bomb-damaged building. The school was struck by an explosion in a shop across the street that had been run by a suspected Taliban militant.
Akbar said at one point, several Taliban had taken over a few rooms in the school. He said teachers had pleaded with them to leave, telling them their guns were scaring the children. The militants had replied that they would only target passing military convoys, he said.
Although Swat's main city is slowly coming back to life, it is nowhere near normal.
Basic amenities such as electricity, gas and running water have been restored, and hospitals are open, but government offices are barely functioning, the courts are shut, and curfews still hamper people's movement.
Stores have reopened in Mingora. But many traders are still cautiously waiting the situation and trying to assess their costs, Abdul Rahim Khan, president of the Swat Traders Association, said earlier this week.
"A lot of damage has been caused to business places and trading offices during the fighting and after that, so the government should quickly compensate their losses," he said.
Tourism, once a key economic engine for the picturesque valley, is still hobbled. A few hotels have reopened — largely to cater to visiting journalists and officials.
Bakhtiar Khan, an official of the tourism department, struck a hopeful note.
"We expect those who have been here before will definitely come back to see how this place changed or destroyed — we are expecting adventure tourists," he said.
The Taliban's top leadership remains at large, and violence persists. On Tuesday, the decapitated body of a police constable was found in Swat's town of Sangota, not far from Mingora. It was a clear sign that the militants have not given up the fight, even though the army says it has killed at least 1,800 suspected insurgents.
Residents say while they have not seen any Taliban in Mingora, relatives in other parts of the valley report militants are still active at night. Many Taliban are believed to have melted into the rural parts of the mountainous valley, and access to the northern half is still restricted.