Thursday, October 29, 2009

Secretary-General to Hold High-Level Staff Meeting on Threats to UN Security

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will convene a meeting of the organization's top officials on Friday to discuss the serious security challenges facing the organization in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Mr. Ban appealed to the members of the Security Council for their support during an emergency session Thursday - a day after an attack on a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul killed five staffers. The U.N. Secretary-General said Friday's meeting will focus on the growing threat to the United Nations in places across the world where it operates.

"Increasingly, the U.N. is being targeted," said Ban Ki-moon. "In this case, precisely because of our support for the Afghan elections. Not counting peacekeepers, 27 U.N. civilian personnel have lost their lives to violence so far this year - more than half of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Mr. Ban cited the bravery of U.N. security personnel during Thursday's early morning raid of the guesthouse, in which gunmen shot at victims and then detonated grenades and suicide vests.

"For at least an hour, and perhaps more, they held off the attackers, fighting through the corridors of the building and from the rooftop, giving their colleagues time to escape," he said. "Without their heroism, there could have been more casualities, victims."

Mr. Ban told reporters that would also brief the General Assembly on Friday.
"I will ask for expedited action for our security mesures, so that we can meet the dramatically escalated threat to U.N. staff, now widely considered to be a 'soft target', as well as provide support for victims and their families," said Mr. Ban.

With the second-round of the Afghan presidential elections little more than a week away, Mr. Ban said the United Nations is considering a number of short-term measures to help facilitate its work, including consolidating its staff in Kabul and around the country.

"We are exploring the feasiblity of bringing in additional security units to guard U.N. facilities and will ask [the] international community to step up its support," said Ban Ki-moon.

He said he would consider all possiblities, including hiring private security contractors to protect U.N. staff.

The primary responsiblity for U.N. security resides with the host country. Mr. Ban said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai called him earlier Thursday and assured him of tightened security support for the U.N. mission.

For its part, the Security Council reiterated its strong condemnation of the attack and its Taliban perpetrators. The council said it looks forward to the secretary-general's detailed proposal for improving U.N. security measures.

Death toll from Peshawar blast rises to 117

PESHAWAR: The death toll in Wednesday’s bomb blast in the city’s Meena Bazaar rose to 117 on Thursday evening and rescue workers believed that some bodies were still in the debris of the collapsed buildings.A spokesman for the Edhi Foundation told Dawn that he himself had counted 117 bodies. He said that 14 madressah students were still trapped in a mosque destroyed by the blast and only one of the bodies had been retrieved so far.

Afghan president condemns terrorist attack in Pakistan

KABUL-- Afghan president Hamid Karzai has strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Peshawar of Pakistan that left over 90 people dead and injured more than 200 others on Wednesday, a statement released by his office said."Such attacks which mostly claim civilians' live expose the threat of terrorism to the region and requires collective struggle to overcome the menace," the statement received Thursday added.In the statement, the Afghan president also expressed sympathy with the families of the victims.Also on the same day on Wednesday, Kabul came under Taliban attacks as the insurgents stormed a UN guest house killing six international staff of the world body and fired two rockets on the city that left no casualties.

UN evacuates non-essential staff after deadly attack on Kabul guesthouse

The United Nations started evacuating “non-essential” staff from Kabul today after the Taleban killed five of its foreign employees at an international guesthouse in the deadliest attack yet on the UN in Afghanistan.

Following an emergency meeting to review security, the UN stopped short of withdrawing completely from Afghanistan, as it did from Iraq after a massive truck bomb killed 22 people at its headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.

Kai Eide, the UN chief in Afghanistan, had pledged after the attack on Wednesday that the UN would not be deterred from its work in the country, which includes funding and helping to organise a presidential election run-off on November 7.

The official decision at today’s meeting was that individual UN agencies should decide whether to advise “non-essential” staff not involved in the run-off to take leave, according to two participants.

But UN officials told The Times that many of the roughly 1,000 foreign UN staff not working directly on the election had been instructed to return to their home countries for the next three weeks because of the security threat in Kabul.

“The problem is the places where we live,” one said. “No one feels safe.” Most of the foreign UN staff in Kabul live in small hotels and guesthouses like the one that was attacked by a Taleban suicide squad on Wednesday, and security arrangements at all of them are now under review.

UN staff were particularly concerned that the Taleban appeared to have such detailed information about the guesthouse, many of whose residents were directly involved in organising the election.

They are also concerned about further attacks, as a Taleban spokesman vowed today to intensify violence in the coming days, saying: “We’ll disrupt the elections.”

It was not clear precisely how many of the 1,200 foreign UN staff in Afghanistan were leaving, but only about 200 of them are directly involved in the election, which the UN is funding.

Aleem Siddique, a UN spokesman, said staff not involved in the poll were simply being encouraged to take leave if they had any outstanding, just as they were during the first round of the poll.

“We are not evacuating,” he said. “We’ve been here for half a century, and we’re not going any time soon.” He said Mr Eide had specifically avoided using the term “evacuate” and left it up to individual UN agencies to decide whether their staff should leave the country.

In practice, however, almost all UN agencies have told all of their staff to leave regardless of whether they have any holiday allowance left, according to UN sources.

“There’s real concern among the UN agencies that they’re going to be exposed to many risks because there’s an unclear decision on whether they should stay or go,” one UN insider told The Times.

Another UN insider criticised Mr Eide for not making a clear decision on whether or not to evacuate staff, and not arranging for a UN flight to take out those who wished to leave.

Travel agents reported a massive spike in demand for flights to Dubai and other foreign destinations as UN workers and other foreigners rushed to book their tickets.

Several aid agencies and non-governmental organizations have followed the UN’s lead, hampering the international aid operation in Afghanistan less than a month before winter snows paralyse much of the country.

Most declined to discuss their security arrangements, but one large NGO said that about 15 of its 20 foreign staff in Kabul had left the city. ACTED, the French aid agency, said it had withdrawn four out of eight foreigners based in Kabul.

“It’s been building up for a while with recent anti-Western demonstrations in Kabul, and now this attack on the UN,” said Ziggy Garewal, ACTED’s country director.

“It’s really exposed our vulnerability, and opened up a big debate within the NGO community.” Many foreign organistaions in Afghanistan choose not to have armed guards and to maintain a low profile, but the attack on the UN guesthouse has forced them to consider changing that policy.

According to ACBAR, an umbrella organisation for more than 100 NGOs, 23 workers for aid organisations have been killed this year in 115 violent incidents.

Several other NGOs said their staff were under lockdown, like the UN, preventing them from leaving their hotels or guesthouses in Kabul.

October witnesses bloody suicide blasts, casualties

The month of October witnessed worst terror activities in the country as hundreds of innocent people were killed in the bloody suicide attacks occurred in various parts of the country including twin cities.

According to the data collected by ‘The News’ from law enforcement department, a total of 268 persons were killed and 498 injured in 13 suicide attacks across the country including Rawalpindi and Islamabad in the month of October. For the first time all educational institutions were closed because of worst law and order situation.

The first suicide blast was occurred on October 5 when a suicide bomber hit the UN office in Islamabad in which five persons were killed and six were injured while the Peshawar Soekarno Square Market was stroked by the suicide bomber on October 9 in which 49 innocent people were killed on the spot and 90 injured. The very next day i.e. on October 10 terrorists attacked General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi in which 9 army personnel including 3 hostages were killed while on October 12, terrorists had attacked Shangla (Swat) in which 41 people were killed and 87 injured.

October 15 was one of the worst days for the people of Pakistan in which terrorists attacked three cities in a day. Terrorists attacked three buildings in Lahore, Manawa Police Training Centre, FIA building and Elite Police Academy in which a total of 17 persons were killed and 22 injured. The same day terrorists attacked a police station in Kohat in which 11 officials were killed and 19 injured. The same day suicide bomber had attacked a building near Gulshan Rehman Colony, Peshawar, in which a minor was killed on the spot and 12 others injured.

On October 16, the terrorists had attacked the CIA Investigation Cell in Peshawar in which 13 persons were killed on the spot. On October 20 terrorists attacked International Islamic University, Islamabad in which six persons were killed and 29 injured. On October 23, suicide bombers attacked Kamra check-post near Attock in which eight people were killed and 17 injured. The same day terrorists attacked Hayatabad in Peshawar in which 15 people were badly injured. On October 24, a suicide bomber had attacked the Motorway Police in which an official was killed on the spot.

On October 28, terrorists attacked the Meena Bazaar in famous Kyber Bazaar, Peshawar, in which 92 persons were killed and 180 injured.

The people of Rawalpindi and Islamabad told ‘The News’ that they became terrified in the month of October because they witnessed the worst situation in this month. “The month of October is going to over now, they said adding Inshah Allah the situation would improve in November.”

PPP leaders conspicuous by their absence

PESHAWAR: The absence of provincial ministers and other senior leaders of PPP at hospitals, the explosion site and homes of the blast victims was strongly felt after a string of suicide attacks in the city in the last few weeks.

On the other hand, the Awami National Party (ANP), senior partner of the PPP in the NWFP coalition government, has not only publicly owned the ongoing fight against militancy but its ministers are seen visiting explosion sites and hospitals despite being on the hit-list of terrorists.

The car bombing at the entrance to the crowded Meena Bazaar in Peshawar city, fifth in the current month, killed at least 107 persons and wounded over 150. Besides a mosque, seven houses and dozens of shops were destroyed as a result of the powerful blast and fire.

The blast site, Chirri Koban, is located at the junction of NWFP Assembly constituencies PF-2 and PF-3 Peshawar. NWFP Minister for Health Syed Zahir Ali Shah, also the provincial chief of the PPP, has been elected from PF-2 while NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour, also the parliamentary party leader of the ANP, is representing the PF-3 constituency.

Bashir Bilour, who survived two suicide attacks on his life, visited almost each and every house of the victims, and offered fateha for the departed souls. “The terrorists could not deter us by such cowardly attacks,” he told reporters at Mohalla Jattan where eight members of a family were killed in Wednesday’s blast. His elder brother and Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour also visited the hospital to meet the injured.

The ANP-affiliated provincial minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain was the first among top government functionaries to reach the bombing site and reiterate his government’s support for the security forces’ offensive against militants in South Waziristan and rest of the tribal and settled areas of the province.

NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti along with senior ministers Bashir Bilour and Rahimdad Khan, former provincial president of the PPP, Mian Iftikhar Hussain and some MPAs visited the hospital late in the night where he met the injured and hospital staff.

Speaker of the NWFP Assembly Kiramatullah Chagharmati, who was elected on PPP ticket, not only paid a visit to Lady Reading Hospital but also donated blood for the wounded persons following an appeal by the hospital authorities.

Peshawar witnessed six deadly explosions during the last four weeks, leaving more than 200 innocent people dead. The ANP Peshawar city unit also staged a peace rally, led by Bashir Bilour, some two week back from Peshawar Press Club to Soekarno Chowk to condemn the suicide attacks in the city.

In the 26-member NWFP cabinet, PPP is represented by 11 provincial ministers. Out of four MNAs from Peshawar district, two each belong to PPP and ANP while three out of 11 have been elected on the PPP tickets in 2008 elections.

When contacted by phone, NWFP Minister for Excise & Taxation Liaqat Ali Shabab told this scribe that the provincial health minister was out of the country. He reminded that the PPP leadership and ministers had always condemned the terrorist attacks in Peshawar and elsewhere in the country. “We have strong determination to eliminate terrorists from our soil and in this regard we fully support the security forces operations in Waziristan and other parts of the country,” he said. He argued that the terrorists had now targetted public places to put pressure on the provincial and federal governments to stop the military operation in Waziristan.

Leading by example

PESHAWAR: While the dwellers of this city always play a leading role in rescue activities whenever visited by some trouble, the doctors at emergency department of the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) are no less than others.

Dr Shiraz Afridi, head of the Accident and Emergency Department, washed bodies of victims before burial. “I request the people to register themselves with us as volunteers to help us in washing the bodies in future,” said the doctor.

Dr Shiraz, the only qualified doctor in NWFP to deal with the emergency and accident cases, told The News that a 200-bedded Accident and Emergency Department had been approved in Peshawar and work on the project would be launched soon. He said it would be the largest facility of its type in the world.

The bearded Dr. Shiraz was the busiest man around after the Peshawar blast on Wednesday and again on Thursday, sharing information with reporters, relatives of the dead, injured and the missing people. And he was also making arrangements for the burial of the unclaimed bodies in liaison with the city district administration.

Hillary Clinton in Pakistan

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to the historical Badshahi Masjid in Lahore on Thursday.

Afghanistan Increases Polling Stations for Election

Afghan election officials say they plan to increase the number of voting stations for next week's presidential runoff election, despite concerns that could lead to more fraud than in the first vote.Afghanistan's independent election commission says it will slightly increase the number of polling centers to 6,322 and have enough staff to ensure a credible process. Foreign election observers had recommended reducing the more than 6,000 polling centers used in the first round after auditors found more than one million fraudulent votes.Many fake ballots are believed to have come from remote polling stations that never opened or did not have observers monitoring the vote.Meanwhile, the Taliban in Afghanistan has vowed to intensify its attacks leading up to the November 7 election. A Taliban spokesman told the French news agency the militant group has new plans and tactics to disrupt the election.The United Nations has not responded to the Afghan announcement of an increase in polling centers. On Wednesday, U.N. officials said workers will continue to help the country prepare for the vote, despite a deadly Taliban attack on a Kabul guesthouse that killed five U.N. staff members. The Taliban said the attack Wednesday was the first step of a plan aimed at disrupting the vote, in which incumbent President Hamid Karzai is facing off against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

U.S. economy rebounds in third quarter after four consecutive quarters of contraction
The U.S. economy rose at a pace of 3.5 percent in the third quarter after four consecutive quarters of contraction, according to official data released Thursday, providing the strongest signal yet that the worst recession since the 1930s has ended.

The Commerce Department's advance estimate of real gross domestic product (GDP) -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- in the third quarter exceeded economists' expectations of 3.3 percent.

In the first two quarters of 2009, the U.S. real GDP decreased 6.4 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. In the third and fourth quarters of 2008, the economy contracted 2.7 percent and 5.4 percent.

"After four consecutive quarters of decline, positive GDP growth is an encouraging sign that the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction." the White House said in a statement.

The department said that the increase in real GDP in the third quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, private inventory investment, federal government spending, and residential fixed investment.

Real personal consumption expenditures increased 3.4 percent in the third quarter, compared to a 0.9 percent decline in the second.

Consumer spending on durable goods -- items expected to last more than three years -- soared at an annualized rate of 22.3 percent in the July-September period, the biggest rise since the end of 2001.

The jump largely reflected car purchases driven by the government's Cash for Clunkers program, which offered a rebate of up to 4,500 U.S. dollars to buy new cars and trade in old gas guzzlers.

Exports of goods and services increased 14.7 percent in the third quarter, in contrast to a decrease of 4.1 percent in the second.

The change in real private inventories added 0.94 percentage point to the third-quarter change in real GDP after subtracting 1.42 percentage points from the second-quarter change.

Federal government spending, which rose at a rate of 7.9 percent in the third quarter, also made a significant contribution to the economic turnaround.

The housing market also showed positive signs during the summer. Spending on housing projects surged at an annualized pace of 23.4 percent, the largest jump since 1986.

The Commerce Department emphasized that the third-quarter advance estimate released Thursday was based on source data that were incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency.

The "second" estimate for the third quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on Nov. 24, 2009.

Although the economy returned to growth, economists said the recovery remained nascent and fragile.

Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Ben Bernanke and members of U.S. President Barack Obama's economics team have warned the recovery would not be robust enough to prevent the unemployment rate – now at a 26-year high of 9.8 percent -- from rising into next year.

Many economists expected the unemployment rate would keep above9 percent in 2010 before reaching double digit level.

Obama said earlier that the recovery was not real unless the job market recovered.

"This welcome milestone (growth in the third quarter) is just another step, and we still have a long road to travel until the economy is fully recovered," the White House statement said. "It will take sustained, robust GDP growth to bring the unemployment rate down substantially. Such a decline in unemployment is, of course, what we are all working to achieve."

Other experts worried that the recovery was mainly driven by the government's stimulus package and might not be sustainable when the stimulus policies fell off.

The Obama Administration launched a 787-billion-dollar stimulus package in February. But some of the policies have expired or will expire soon.

After the popular Cash for Clunkers program came to an end in August, U.S. auto sales fell accordingly.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that U.S. new home sales decreased at an unexpectedly high annual rate of 3.6 percent in September.

As the government-supported 8,000-dollar tax credit program for first-time home buyers will expire on Nov. 30, home builders worry that they will have trouble selling their homes without the incentive.

To foster the recovery, the Fed is expected to keep its key bank lending rate at record low of near zero when it meets next week and probably will hold it there into next year.

However, economists were concerned that the measures would plant the seeds of another asset bubble if the central bank kept the interest rate at too low a level for too long.

House Dems unveil health bill, cheered on by Obama

Their work swiftly heralded by President Barack Obama, House Democrats rolled out landmark legislation Thursday to extend health care to tens of millions who lack coverage, impose sweeping new restrictions on private insurers and create a government-run insurance option for cost-conscious consumers.

The measure "covers 96 percent of all Americans, and it puts affordable coverage in reach for millions of uninsured and underinsured families, lowering health care costs for all of us," boasted Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a ceremony attended by dozens of Democratic lawmakers. She spoke on the steps of the Capitol, not far from where Obama issued his inaugural summons for Congress to act more than nine months ago.

Despite the fanfare, Democrats did not immediately release a detailed estimate of the legislation's cost. Instead, they said the Congressional Budget Office had put the cost related to coverage at $894 billion over a decade, and they made no mention of other items in the measure.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill late next week, and Democratic leaders were careful not to claim they had yet rounded up enough votes to pass it. Still, the day's events capped months of struggle and marked a major advance in their drive — and Obama's — to accomplish an overhaul of the health care system that has eluded presidents for a half-century.

Across the Capitol, the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to begin debate within two weeks on a bill crafted by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. It, too, envisions a government-run insurance option, although states could opt out, unlike in the bill the House will vote on. That portion of the Senate version appears likely to be weakened even further, as moderates press for a standby system that would not go into effect until it was clear individual states were experiencing a lack of competition among private companies.

Obama called the House legislation "another critical milestone in the effort to reform our health care system." The president added he was pleased with the decision to allow the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry, and said the measure meets his goals for deficit neutrality.

Republican reaction was as swift as it was negative. "It will raise the cost of Americans' health insurance premiums; it will kill jobs with tax hikes and new mandates, and it will cut seniors' Medicare benefits," said the party's leader in the House, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio. He carried a copy of the 1,990-page measure into a news conference to underscore his claim it represented a government takeover of the health care system.

Republicans have already signaled their determination to make the health care debate a key issue in next year's congressional elections, when all 435 House seats will be on the ballot.

But their ability to block passage in the current House is nonexistent as long as Pelosi and her leadership can forge a consensus among the Democratic rank and file. The party holds 256 seats in the House, where 218 makes a majority.

Broad in scope, the House Democrats' bill attempts to build on the current system of employer-provided health care. It would require big companies to cover their employees and would provide federal subsidies to help small companies provide insurance for theirs, as well. Most individuals would be required to carry insurance, and much of the money in the legislation is dedicated to subsidies for those at lower incomes to help them afford coverage.

For those at even lower incomes, the bill provides for an expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor. Adults up to 150 percent of poverty — individuals making up to $16,245 and a family of four up to $33,075 — would be covered, a provision estimated to add 15 million to Medicaid.

One of the bill's major features is a new national insurance market, in which private companies could sell policies that meet federally mandated benefit levels, the government would offer competing coverage and consumers could shop for the policy that best met their needs.

In a bow to moderates, Democrats decided doctors, hospitals and other providers would be allowed to negotiate rates with the Department of Health and Human Services for services provided in the government insurance option.

Liberals had favored a system in which fees would be dictated by the government, an approach that would have been less costly than what was settled on, and also would have moved closer to a purely government-run health care system than some Democrats favor.

Thursday's bill includes an array of new restrictions on the private insurance industry, in addition to forcing insurers to compete with the federal government for business.

Firms would be banned from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and limited in their ability to charge higher premiums on the basis of age.

They would be required to spend 85 percent of their income from premiums on coverage, effectively limiting their ability to advertise or pay bonuses. Additionally, the industry would be stripped of immunity from antitrust regulations covering price fixing, bid rigging and market allocation. And in a late addition to the bill, 30-year-old restrictions on the Federal Trade Commission's ability to look into the insurance industry would be erased.

In response, the industry's top lobbyist, Karen Ignagni, issued a statement containing a somewhat milder version of criticism than recently unleashed against the Senate's version of the legislation. "We are concerned" the House bill will violate assurances that individuals would be able to keep their insurance if they like it, she said. She said it would be responsible for "increasing health care costs for families and employers across the country and significantly disrupting the quality coverage on which millions of Americans rely today."

Ignagni added that the presence of a government-run insurance plan "would bankrupt hospitals, dismantle employer coverage, exacerbate cost-shifting from Medicare and Medicaid and ultimately increase the federal deficit."

While Democrats touted new benefits for seniors, the bill relies on hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts from projected Medicare spending over the next decade. Much of the money would come from the part of the program in which private companies offer coverage to seniors.

Supporters argue the private plans are an improvement over traditional Medicare, because they provide extra benefits such as eyeglass coverage or gym memberships. Critics argue the plans receive an average of 14 percent higher subsidies per beneficiary that the government pays under the original Medicare program.

The bill's other major new source of revenue is from a proposed income tax surcharge of 5.4 percent on wealthy earners, individuals making at least $500,000 a year and couples $1 million or more.

The legislation includes other taxes, such as a 2.5 percent excise tax on the makers of medical devices, expected to raise $20 billion over a decade.

Internet celebrates its 40th birthday

It's exactly 40 years since Professor Leonard Kleinrock sent a message between two computers, 200 miles apart.

At 2100, on 29 October 1969, engineers at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and Stanford Research Institute (SRI) sent data to each other between what was then known as Arpanet.

It was named after the US Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa) that commissioned the experiment.

Arpanet then became the internet in the 1970s; however, it didn't become popular and widespread until the 1990s when broadband became more affordable and widely available.


Peshawarites in state of shock, mourn deaths.

PESHAWAR: The City is in grip of mourn, fear and panic on the second day of Peepal Mandi’s deadly blast which claimed 107 lives and left more than 170 injured. All the city bazaars, markets and shopping centers were remained closed following the three day mourning announced by the traders. The Wednesday blast was a tragic episode of current wave of terror as majority of the blast victims were women and children whereas among injured there is also a large number of women and children who were struggling for thier lives on hospital beds. Poor Peshawarites who were still in state of shock of Khyber bazaar’s car-bomb blast and had barely heaved sigh of relief before the suicide bombers struck again on Wednesday to wreak havoc, which was the fifth blast in a month. Wednesday’s deadly devastating car-blast in Peepal Mandi that claimed 107 precious lives, injured over 170 innocent masses with dozens critically injured, were once again a horrifying exhibition of evil’s impulse for bloodshed. At the same time, this tragic episode of deaths invites our slothful security institutions for a reality check. The people strongly criticised the provincial government’s security lapses which had led to an abject failure to protect the lives and property of citizens. They alleged that security lapses were taking place largely due to the fact that the state security apparatus like the police and other law enforcing agencies had become a tool of the government functionaries and were being used only to protect ministers and other government officials whereas the common people were left on the evil designs of terrorists. It is the fifth blast in City in a month which has exposed glaring flaws in the ‘stringent’ security measures and indicates that the high-sounding rhetoric of our provincial government regarding complete pulverisation of terrorists is divorced from the reality. The people were complained that it was very evident from the security measures during quite sometimes that certain loopholes were left as bomb lasts were continued without intervals. They said that beefed up security steps only served half the purpose whereas the terrorists whenever planned they achieved their targets. The fifth blast in a month also raised some pertinent questions regarding efficiency and competency of law enforcement agencies. The facts that a suicide bomber managed to enter the provincial capital without being hindered or checked with hundreds of kilograms explosive material in vehicles and blew such vehicles in the much crowded place and heart of City invite a series of questions.

Clinton meets Kayani, praises Pak army role in war against terror

RAWALPINDI : US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday called on Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani at Army House Rawalpindi and discussed various issues.

During two and a half hour meeting Clinton discussed with Chief of Army Staff the controversial articles of Kerry-Lugar bill. Clinton praised the active role of Pak Army in war against terror.

They also discussed ongoing operation in Waziristan, security at Pak-Afghan border and security situation in Afghanistan besides Coalition Security Fund.

According to the sources, the Army Chief and US Secretary of State could not reach on any conclusion regarding controversial articles of Kerry-Lugar bill.

Clinton assured General Kayani about provision of military equipment soon.

DG ISI Lieutenant General Shuja Ahmed Pasha were also present in the meeting.

Peshawar car bombing: Toll climbs to 115

Islamabad: The death toll in one of Pakistan's worst terrorist attacks rose to 115 on Thursday with the recovery of 16 more bodies from the rubble of several buildings in Peshawar that collapsed due to the blast and seven people succumbing to their injuries.

Officials had yesterday confirmed 92 deaths in the devastating attack in the Peepal Mandi commercial hub in Peshawar. At least 16 bodies were today pulled out of the rubble of buildings that collapsed due to the blast while seven persons died in hospitals, taking the toll to 115.

Rescue workers worked through the day to remove the rubble of several buildings that collapsed due to the explosion and a subsequent fire.

A 45-member Urban Search and Rescue team sent from Islamabad last night used sophisticated equipment like sound and heat detectors during an 11-hour search for survivors.

An official of the team told reporters this morning that it had completed its search and no more survivors were believed to be buried under the rubble.

The car bomb packed with 150 kg of explosives went off at the entrance of Meena Bazar, a market exclusively for women.

The blast triggered a massive fire that was brought under control after several hours. Over 200 people were injured in the attack.

A spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar's main healthcare facility, said 157 injured people are currently being treated in different wards.

Many of the dead and injured were women and children.

Officials said several bodies are yet to be identified as they were charred and mutilated. Several residents of the Peepal Mandi area were reported missing.

The blast destroyed 10 buildings and 60 shops.

Local residents said other buildings were in danger of collapsing as their structure and foundations had been badly damaged.

Traders' associations in Peshawar have called for a three-day mourning to condemn the attack, one of the worst witnessed in the city which is no stranger to suicide attacks and bombings.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Both Taliban and al Qaeda have reportedly said they were not involved in the bombing.

The News daily quoted an al Qaeda statement as saying that the group is not involved in killing innocent people.

The report further said an email sent by the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to media condemned the blast and denied the group's involvement in the incident.

6.0 magnitude quake hits Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A 6.0 magnitude earthquake jolted several parts of Pakistan, including capital Islamabad and Lahore, late tonight, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.The tremors were felt in several Pakistani cities at 11: 44 pm (local time) and continued for over 30 seconds causing panic among the people, TV channels reported.The quakes epicentre was located in Hindu Kush mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan.The US Geological Survey put the quake at 6.0 and said that its epicentre was located 131 kilometres northwest of Pakistani town of Chitral at a depth of 202 kilometres.Tremors were also felt in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Chakwal, Swat, Abbotabda and other areas. TV channels said tremors were felt in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Pakistan 'hard to believe' on Al-Qaeda: Clinton

LAHORE, Pakistan — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck an assertive tone in Pakistan on Thursday, hitting out at its government over Al-Qaeda and calling for better management of the economy.
Clinton has spent the last two days in Pakistan, the troubled US ally on the frontline of the war on Al-Qaeda and its allies, trying to bolster the civilian government and counter rising anti-US sentiment in the Muslim nation.
But after pressing her message -- the US desire to turn a new page in its relations with Pakistan after mistakes of the past -- she appeared to get annoyed during talks with senior editors and business leaders.
The most senior US official to visit since President Barack Obama put the nuclear-armed state at the heart of the war on Al-Qaeda, Clinton took issue with Islamabad's position that the Al-Qaeda leadership is not in Pakistan.
"Al-Qaeda has had safe haven in Pakistan since 2002," Clinton told senior Pakistani newspaper editors in the country's cultural capital, Lahore.
"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn't get them if they really wanted to," she added.
"Maybe that's the case; maybe they're not gettable. I don?t know... As far as we know, they are in Pakistan," she added.
She also showed impatience with criticism of a record US non-military aid bill giving Pakistan 7.5 billion dollars, which the army and political opposition have slammed for violating the country's sovereignty.
"At the risk of sounding undiplomatic, Pakistan has to have internal investment in your public services and your business opportunities," Clinton told businessmen, taking swipe at tax evasion in the cash-strapped country.
"The percentage of taxes on GDP is among the lowest in the world... We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn't move, and that's not what we see in Pakistan," she said.
"You do have 180 million people. Your population is projected to be about 300 million. And I don't know what you're gonna do with that kind of challenge, unless you start planning right now," she said.
A US official, speaking to journalists on board Clinton's plane from Lahore to Islamabad, said there was nothing contradictory in her remarks and her mission to strengthen ties between the United States and Pakistan.
Pakistan's relations with Washington, on whom it depends for cash and weapons to fight Islamist militants bombing the country, can be uneasy.
Many Pakistanis blame the US-led "war on terror" and the government's US alliance for extremist attacks sweeping the country, and US missile attacks on Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked extremists have inflamed sensibilities.
Clinton's visit to the second largest city in Pakistan, which has been hit by a series of gun, suicide and grenade attacks this year, was accompanied by draconian security measures a day after a car bomb killed 105 in Peshawar.
She said the "horrific bombing" in the northwestern city left no doubt that "Pakistan is in the midst of a battle against extremists".
"This is not your fight alone... You're standing on the frontlines of this battle but we are standing with you," she told students at the elite Government College University Lahore, a breeding ground for public servants.
Following other investment announcements, Clinton pledged 45 million dollars for higher education in Pakistan.
Obama's administration wants to broaden engagement with a country whose people traditionally see the United States as interested only in securing its military cooperation in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Clinton has already committed 85 million dollars to countering poverty, 125 million dollars to improving Pakistan's woefully inadequate electricity supply and 104 million dollars to law enforcement and border security assistance.
At the weekend she will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas separately as the United States seeks to unblock stagnant peace efforts in the Middle East.
She is due in Morocco on Monday and Tuesday for talks with Middle East and Group of Eight countries about promoting economic and political progress.

Clinton, Pakistani Students Trade Views

Death toll from attack highest in Peshawar’s history

PESHAWAR: Wednesday’s bomb blast in the provincial capital was the worst in the city’s 2,000-year history, as the previous highest death toll in such a despicable attack was 66, way back in 1996. Some 100 people – including women and men – were killed in Wednesday’s attack in the crowded Meena Bazaar, and around 200 people were injured. “This is the highest death toll from an attack in Peshawar over the last 2,000 years,” said Aftab Ahmed, a resident of Peshawar.
Death toll from Peshawar blast rises to 104