Wednesday, April 21, 2010

European Air Traffic Seen 'Nearly Normal'

Europe's air traffic control agency says commercial aviation is expected to return to nearly normal levels throughout the region by Thursday.

Eurocontrol released a statement Wednesday saying airlines's flight schedules should be operating at nearly 100 percent levels on Thursday, one week after volcanic ash from Iceland blanketed most of the continent, grounding flights and stranding millions of passengers.

The agency said nearly 80 percent of European flights were in the air Wednesday, and that trans-Atlantic air service had returned to normal.

However, the task of clearing a backlog of flights postponed or cancelled during the past week is expected to last at least several days.

An industry official says the shutdown cost airlines at least $1.7 billion. The head of the International Air Transport Association, Giovanni Bisignani, called the economic fallout "devastating" Wednesday. He urged European governments to help airlines recover lost revenues.

Some airline executives contend authorities acted too hastily in grounding flights.

The head of the International Civil Aviation Authority - the United Nations agency that deals with air safety - says there are no global standards currently to determine when it is safe to fly through an ash cloud. Particles of ash and volcanic glass can fuse inside jet engines, causing them to shut down abruptly.

Iceland's Meteorological Office says the volcano entered a new phase Tuesday, and that the plume of ash rising from the eruption is diminishing.

Businesses as far away as Africa, China and Japan have been affected by the pqast week's events, since companies have been unable to ship products to Europe.Some airline executives say authorities may have been too hasty to ground flights.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Civil Aviation Authority, a United Nations agency dealing with air safety, says there are currently no global standards to determine when it is safe to fly through an ash cloud. Volcanic ash can cause jet engines to shut down in mid flight.

Iceland's Meteorological Office says the volcano entered a new phase Tuesday, and that the ash cloud is diminishing.

The volcano has affected businesses as far away as Africa, China, and Japan, where companies have been unable to ship products to Europe.

'Malik, Awan involved in Benazir's assassination'

ISLAMABAD: Terming Benazir Bhutto's death as murder, the Legal advisor to Benazir's chief protocol officer has alleged that the present Interior Minister Rehman Malik and current Law Minister Babar Awan were involved in Benazir's assassination.

However, he said that as the case is sub judice before the Lahore High court Rawalpindi bench for lodging second FIR in the case, "so we are not going to elaborate on every aspect of this case."

Speaking to the media in Islamabad, Asad Rajput alleged that the UN has established the fact that former president Musharraf was head of the entire assasination plot.

He maintained that the ex-chief minister of Punjab Pervaiz Elahi, Rehman Malik, Babar Awan, the head of the Intelligence Bureau, the FIA and the Rawalpindi police were all clearly involved in Benazir Bhutto's murder.

Aslam Chaudhry who is the chief protocol officer of Benazir alleged that both Rehman Malik and Babar Awan broke protocol and also sabotaged security during Benazir's rally at Liaquat Park in which she was assassinated.

Chaudhry stressed that it is obligatory for the government to initiate a crminial investigation into Benazir's assassination following the UN report. -DawnNews

FIR lodged against Musharraf

RAWALPINDI: Police registered a regular FIR against former president Pervez Musharraf and two of his associates for their major role in assassination of PPPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

The SHO Thana City inspector Israr Satti informed that the FIR has been registered on an application submitted by PSF (People's Students Federation), against former president Pervez Musharraf and his associates also for killing of 16 PPP activists and sent over to FIA team investigating the case from the beginning, as sealed on Tuesday.

It is pertinent to note that on the evening of 27th Dec 2007, Benazir Bhutto was fired at and subsequently attacked with a suicide explosion while she was on her way back from her Liaqat Bagh rally.

An FIR was lodged with in charge City Thana police, Kashif Riaz Khan, while five alleged assassins were also arrested, with media informed that recently killed Taliban head Baitullah Mehsud had ordered the attack.

Well before the investigations of UN team, Britain's Scotland Yard had also carried out their investigations, while FIA was also investigating the fiasco in a fresh start.

UN hopes to restart aid after Kacha Pakha attack

Aid distributions that were suspended after a twin suicide bombing killed 43 displaced people at the weekend in Kohat should resume by the end of the week, the head of the UN's emergency office said on Tuesday.

Around 300 people, displaced by fighting between the Pakistani Army and militants, were queuing for food and shelter assistance at a UN registration point in Kohat district on Saturday when two male suicide bombers, disguised in burqas, attacked.

The United Nations suspended some of its humanitarian operations in the immediate aftermath due to security concerns in Kohat, as well as in the neighbouring region of Hangu, where it is assisting over 250,000 people who have fled fighting in volatile areas bordering Afghanistan.

Manuel Bessler, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Pakistan, said the two UN-run displacement camps in Hangu were still "fully operational", but that registration activities and aid distributions to those living outside camps had been suspended.

"The tragedy is not in suspending our activities, but the fact that 43 people were killed. Obviously, we cannot go back to business-as-usual after such a big tragedy. We have to review security arrangements," Bessler told AlertNet by phone from Islamabad, adding there would be a meeting to discuss this on Wednesday.

"I think we will be able to restart our activities before the end of the week," he said.

Bessler said the United Nations and other international aid agencies working in the area would look at more rigorous screening at registration and aid distribution points outside camps, and may stagger handouts to avoid large gatherings.

Bessler said beefing up security at camps was not necessary, adding he believed Saturday's attack was not aimed at the United Nations - which has been targeted in the past - but rather related to sectarian tensions.

China Donates $1.5 Million to Boost Mauritania's Defense

China is giving Mauritania a $1.5 million donation to boost its defense capability.
News reports from the region say Mauritania's Defense Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi and the Chinese ambassador to Nouakchott, Zhang Xun, signed a memorandum for the donation Monday. They say the grant will be used to purchase equipment for military engineering, such as bulldozers and other machines.
Hamadi said the funding comes at a time when Mauritania is making efforts to strengthen its defense, as it faces growing challenges.
The northwest African country is wrought by ethnic tensions and also faces a growing terrorism threat by a group called al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
China and Mauritania have signed a series of agreements in recent years. In March, a Chinese fishing firm announced plans to invest $100 million in Mauritania's key fishing industry.

Fight for Pakistan’s Future

New York Times

LAHORE, Pakistan — The professor was working in his office here on the campus of Pakistan’s largest university this month when members of an Islamic student group battered open the door, beat him with metal rods and bashed him over the head with a giant flower pot.Iftikhar Baloch, an environmental science professor, had expelled members of the group for violent behavior. The retribution left him bloodied and nearly unconscious, and it united his fellow professors, who protested with a nearly three-week strike that ended Monday.The attack and the anger it provoked have drawn attention to the student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba, whose morals police have for years terrorized this graceful, century-old institution by brandishing a chauvinistic form of Islam, teachers here say.But the group has help from a surprising source — national political leaders who have given it free rein, because they sometimes make political alliances with its parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful religious party, they say.The university’s plight encapsulates Pakistan’s predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors.
The dynamic helps explain how the Taliban and other militant groups here, though small and often unpopular minorities, retain their hold over large portions of Pakistani society.But this is the University of the Punjab, Pakistan’s premier institution of higher learning, with about 30,000 students, and a principal avenue of advancement for the swelling ranks of Pakistan’s lower and middle classes.The battle here concerns the future direction of the country, and whether those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam will prevail against this nation’s beleaguered, outward-looking, educated class.That is why the problem of Islami Jamiat Talaba is so urgent, teachers say.“They are hooligans with a Taliban mentality and they should be banned, full stop,” Maliha A. Aga, a teacher in the art department, said of the student group as she stood in a throng of protesters in professorial robes this month. “That’s the only way this university will survive.The rhetoric of the group, like that of its parent political party, is strongly anti-West, chauvinistic and intolerant of Pakistan’s religious minorities. It was a vocal supporter of the Taliban, until doing so became unpopular last year.Its members block music classes, ban Western soft drinks and beat male students for sitting near girls on the university lawn.“It’s fascist,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English literature professor, of the Islamic student movement. “Every single government has averted its eyes.”The group is something of a puzzle. It may be aggressive, but it is relatively small, and has waned in popularity among students in recent years. One young teacher said association with it now brought stigma.But it still manages to dominate by deftly wielding Islam as a weapon to bludgeon its enemies, denouncing anyone who disagrees with it as un-Islamic.The tactic is effective in Pakistan, a young country whose early confusion about the role of Islam in society has hardened into a rigid certainty, making it highly taboo to question.“It’s unthinkable to talk even about human rights without reference to the Holy Book,” said Ms. Sirajuddin, referring to the Koran. “Such is the dread to be talked about as un-Islamic.”The reason goes back to history. In the 1980s, an American-supported autocrat, Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, seeded the education system with Islamists in an effort to forge a unified Pakistani identity. At the University of the Punjab, that created a pool of supporters for Islami Jamiat Talaba among teachers, making the group all but impossible to eject.
It has left liberal teachers like Ms. Sirajuddin despairing for their institution, which once upon a time produced three Nobel laureates. Now, they say, it is a shadow of its former self and no longer a safe environment for young people to exchange ideas.One of the leaders of the group’s national chapter, Nadim Ahmed, condemned the beating as “shameful,” and said the main attackers had been suspended. But he emphasized that the group itself was peaceful. Its only ambitions, he said, are to welcome new students and organize book fairs.But students and teachers say the group’s aim is power, and that it uses violence to get it. A teacher, who would give her name only as Ms. Tayyib, fearing retribution, said group members twice attacked sports events she had organized, once wielding chairs. The recently formed music department has never been able to hold a class on campus.“Every second issue is a sin,” Ms. Tayyib said.The intimidation has poisoned the academic atmosphere, said another young teacher, Nazia, who was also too fearful to allow her full name to be printed. “Jamiat is a threat for teachers,” Nazia said. “That weakens the quality of education.”Mr. Baloch, the teacher who was beaten on April 1, had taken a stand against them. He identified the ringleader as Usman Ashraf, a 26-year-old geology graduate student, whose mug shot is posted in departments around campus.“I received many applications” complaining of abuses, he said while convalescing in his home. “And more or less every second one had his name on it.”Just as in Pakistan as a whole, the stakes in this power game are property and money, and the student group has both. It is deeply embedded in the life of the campus, controlling the dormitories, the cafeterias and the campus snack shops.The group created a parallel administration, according to a former member, Nadim Jamil, and has divided the university into five zones, with a nazim, or mayor, assigned to each. The dormitories are their fiefdoms, he said, where mayors monitor movements, hold Koran reading classes and recruit members.The university is as ineffectual as the group is organized: There are dormitory ID cards, but no one bothers to check them, said Ms. Tayyib, who used to live in the girls’ dormitory, which is also controlled by the group.“It’s our fault,” Ms. Tayyib said. “We are weak. The administration is lethargic.”As unpopular as it may be on campus, the group never has trouble getting recruits. Many first-year students are shy, underprivileged youths from the countryside. The group appeals to this weakness, helping with expenses and opening up a system of benefits: More milk in their tea. Better food. Cleaner dishes.“It’s an addiction,” Ms. Tayyib said, describing the thinking of the young recruits. “I’m from a remote area, and no one ever listened to me. But now I’m important.”Mr. Baloch, who received more than 30 stitches in his head, said he believed that the attack had galvanized public opinion against the group and that it would serve to turn people against it. “The wheels of justice grind slowly but surely,” he said.
Others are less certain. Last week, several of the attackers were arrested, but Mr. Ashraf, the ringleader, was not among them. Besides, the group’s top leader on campus is the son of an important politician.“This opportunity will be lost,” said Nazia, the young teacher. “I know it’s pessimistic, but it’s what I’m thinking.”

Airlines lost over $1.7BN in ash chaos

Airlines have lost at least $1.7 billion due to travel disruptions caused by the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland, an industry group said Wednesday as hundreds of planes finally landed or took off from airports around Europe.
The head of the International Air Transport Association called the situation "devastating" and urged European governments to examine ways to compensate airlines for lost revenues, as the U.S. government did following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Airlines lost revenues of $400 million each day during the first three days of grounding, IATA chief executive Giovanni Bisignani told a news conference in Berlin. At one stage, 29 percent of global aviation and 1.2 million passengers a day were affected by the airspace closure ordered by European governments, who feared the risk that volcanic ash could pose to airplanes.
"For an industry that lost $9.4 billion last year and was forecast to lose a further $2.8 billion in 2010, this crisis is devastating," Bisignani said. "Governments should help carriers recover the cost of this disruption."
He noted that "the scale of the crisis eclipsed 9/11, when U.S. airspace was closed for three days."
Flights resumed in many areas, but the situation was anything but normal as airlines worked through an enormous backlog after canceling over 95,000 flights in the last week.
Air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said it expected at least 15,000 of the continent's 28,000 flights to go ahead Wednesday across Europe, and possibly much more.
But severe delays were still expected across Europe, as airlines pressed to patch together normal flights with airplanes and crews scattered all over the globe.
Germany's air traffic controllers gradually reopened the country's airspace — the busiest in Europe — after days of closures and limited activity. All restrictions were lifted for Germany's two main airports, Frankfurt and Munich, as well as several others.
"It looks like the whole German airspace will be opened in the next two hours and we are counting on it to remain so for the rest of the day," Axel Raab, spokesman for the government agency Deutsche Flugsicherung, told AP Television News.
"We cannot say what it will look like in the next few days. If the volcano becomes active again, new closures might happen. This is a decision that was made based on meteorological data," he said.
Some restrictions remained Wednesday morning over parts of Britain, Ireland and France, as well as over parts of central Europe.
But French transport minister Dominique Bussereau predicted air traffic will be back to normal before the weekend, as aviation authorities expanded the corridors where planes are allowed to fly.
Bussereau estimated that all of Air France's long-distance flights to and from France would fly Wednesday, and 60 to 70 percent of its mid-range flights. He told LCI television that another 48 hours were needed "for a total return to normal, for everything to be reopened" — if weather patterns allowed.
A French weather service plane took samples of the air Tuesday and found no volcanic ash problems, he said.
Still, several flights in and out of Paris' Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports were canceled or delayed.
The airspace over the Baltic states — Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia — and all the region's major airports opened up Wednesday. Other areas further east in Europe — Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and much of the Balkans — had opened up earlier.
Air traffic in Spain continued to be unaffected, but some of Sweden's airports were closed again late Tuesday.
In Iceland, there was no sign that the eruption at the Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano was ending soon, according to Pall Einarsson, a geophysicist at the Institute of Earth Sciences in Reykjavik.
"We cannot predict when it will end," he said Wednesday. "(But) ash production is going down and is really insignificant at the moment."
Deutsche Lufthansa AG's chief executive on Wednesday welcomed the government agency's decision to reopen the skies.
The quantity of ash from Iceland's volcano in German airspace is so low that there's "absolutely no danger," Wolfgang Mayrhuber told broadcaster ARD. "We will restart our system as quickly as possible."
Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline, planned to operate some 500 flights on Wednesday, comparing with 1,800 on a normal day.
"Our prime concern is security," he added.
On Tuesday, the company operated some 200 flights under visual flight rules.
Mayrhuber reiterated his criticism on how the flight disruption was handled, shutting down wide swaths of Europe's air space based on what he said were forecasts of questionable reliability.
"From the beginning, we had the suspicion that the forecasting model could not be all right," Mayrhuber said.
Lufthansa is Europe's largest airline group by sales. It owns or holds stakes in carriers including Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines and British Midland.