Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Peruvian child becomes symbol of US undocumented

Seven-year-old Daisy Cuevas, thrilled to see herself on television with U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, didn't quite understand the predicament in which she had innocently placed her undocumented Peruvian parents.

"She laughed, she jumped up and down. She was excited" after the encounter at Daisy's suburban Washington, D.C., elementary school, the girl's maternal grandfather, Genaro Juica, told The Associated Press.
The TV appearance made the pigtailed second grader a voice of the estimated 12 million immigrants living in the United States illegally — and a source of pride for Peru's president, who visits Washington on Tuesday.
"My mom says that Barack Obama is taking away everybody that doesn't have papers," Daisy told the U.S. first lady on May 19 at the New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland. "Well, that's something that we have to work on, right, to make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers," Michelle Obama replied.
"But my mom doesn't have papers," said Daisy, a U.S. citizen by virtue of her birth.
The color immediately drained from her mother's face. She ran crying to call her parents in Lima, then went into hiding, fearful of being deported.
These are tense times for people like Daisy's mother, a maid who arrived in the United States with her carpenter husband when she was two months pregnant with Daisy.
Daisy's parents are fearful of U.S. anti-immigrant sentiment, which for many Latin Americans is epitomized by an Arizona law taking effect in July that gives police the right to demand ID papers of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said it is not pursuing Daisy's parents. Immigration investigations, it said in a statement, "are based on making sure the law is followed and not on a question-and-answer discussion in a classroom."
Nonetheless, Daisy's mother asked the AP after the May 19 incident not to name her or her husband.
And Juica, heeding an attorney's advice, asked the news agency not to take photographs of him or other relatives in Peru.
Daisy, meanwhile, has become a celebrity in Peru.
"I'm really proud that a young girl of Peruvian origin is highlighting the enormous problem with Latin American immigration in the United States," President Alan Garcia told reporters last week.
He said it would be scandalous if her parents were deported.
"Do you know how much President Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama would stand to lose?" he said. Garcia called the Arizona law a "completely irrational response" to the illegal-immigration question, and said he would express his thoughts on the matter to President Obama during his visit to Washington.
An estimated 1.5 million Peruvians currently live in the U.S. Of those, three in five are either undocumented or in the process of legalizing their status, said Peru's consul-general in Washington, Cesar Augusto Jordan.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Belaunde said in a Radioprogramas radio interview that he considers Daisy a "successful ambassador" for compatriots in similar predicaments.
While Daisy has automatic U.S. citizenship and lives full time with her parents, her 9-year-old sister, July, has not been so lucky. July was left behind with her grandparents when her parents moved to the United States to escape poverty.
The two sisters met for the first time last year when Daisy spent a month visiting her grandparents in the working-class San Juan de Lurigancho district of Lima.
But July misses her parents, who are unlikely to visit Peru because of their illegal status in the U.S.
July has only seen them in photographs and in video chats with a webcam.
"She cries," Juica said.

Obama administration concerned about Gaza incident

President Barack Obama voiced "deep regret" over Monday's deadly Israeli commando raids, and the White House said he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed by phone to reschedule White House talks "at the first opportunity."
In a statement issued by presidential aides in Chicago, where Obama and his family have been spending the Memorial Day weekend, the president was said to have "expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances" surrounding the incident involving aid ships seeking access to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
"He said he understood the prime minister's decision to return immediately to Israel to deal with today's events," the statement said. Netanyahu had been scheduled to meet with Obama Tuesday at the White House.
At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "Ultimately, this incident underscores the need to move ahead quickly with negotiations that can lead to a comprehensive peace in the region."
The United States has been trying to restart direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, but progress toward this achievement has lagged severely in recent months. At least nine people were killed and dozens wounded in the incident Monday.
The raid brought heightened attention to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized control of the tiny Mediterranean territory in 2007. The blockade — along with Israel's fierce offensive against Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009 to stop Hamas rocket fire — has fueled anti-Israeli sentiment around the Muslim world.
Obama, who has been pushing to reinvigorate the peace process, also has a meeting scheduled June 9 with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington.
In a statement last week, the White House said that Obama and Abbas planned to discuss the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks and ways the U.S. can work with both parties to move into direct talks. They also will discuss U.S. efforts to support the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Obama and fellow Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel discussed the need for a renewed Middle East peace process earlier this month during a private lunch at the White House.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Wiesel said the meeting was a "good kosher lunch" between friends. But he said the conversation did turn serious, as the two Nobel Peace Prize winners discussed the administration's attempts to break the deadlock in the Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
Obama's meeting with Wiesel, a strong supporter of Israel, comes during a period of strained relations between the U.S. and Israel. The author said he believes tensions between the two countries are lessening.
Wiesel survived the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Last June, when Obama visited Germany, Wiesel accompanied the president on a tour of Buchenwald.
Relations between the two countries were tested when Israel announced plans for additional settlements in a part of Jerusalem that Palestinians consider as the likely capital of a new Palestinian state. The announcement came as Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were preparing to have dinner with Netanyahu, in an incident that turned out to be an embarrassment for the Israeli leader.
In Washington on Monday, protesters outside the Israeli Embassy displayed large Palestinian flags and called for the embassy's shutdown. They held a moment of silence for those who died.
Basil Bakir, 50, of Rockville, Md., attended the event with his wife and teenage son. Bakir, a native of the West Bank city of Nablus, said he has friends and relatives in Gaza.
"We are here to show the world that we support Gaza," Bakir said, holding a small Palestinian flag.
"They are suffering over there," he said.

US ‘regrets’ deaths in Israeli raid on aid flotilla

WASHINGTON: The US “deeply regrets” the loss of life during an Israeli raid on an aid convoy to the Gaza Strip and is looking into the details of the incident, the White House said on Monday. “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. Up to 19 people aboard a flotilla of ships carrying aid destined for the Gaza Strip were killed, when Israeli navy commandos stormed the vessels in international waters. The incident prompted a wave of international condemnation, as Israel said it was forced to board the ships to uphold a blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory. Israeli officials also said activists on board the convoy had attacked its troops first and that they acted in self-defence.

Major deadly violences in Pakistan in 2010

Pakistan witnessed some deadliest incidences of violence so far in 2010. The violence has been on increase in Pakistan's heartland eastern part, Punjab.
Major incidences of violence starting from the bloodiest attack on the very first day of the year are given in chronological order bellow.
May 28: More than 95 people were killed and 108 others were injured as gunmen armed with hand grenades and suicide jackets stormed into two Ahmadi mosques in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore during Friday prayers. The two attacks were carried out nearly simultaneously, at Garhi Shahu and Lahore Model Town, 15 km apart. Militants' groups identified themselves as Al-Qaeda Al- Jihad and Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan-Punjab. One attacker was killed, another suicide bomber was captured by worshippers.
April 19: At least 23 people were killed and more than 40 others were wounded after two bomb attacks hit the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar. The first attack occurred when a bomb exploded outside a school run by a police welfare foundation, killing one person and injuring another 10. The second attack involved a suicide bomber who had targeted a political rally near crowded market area.
April 17: At least 41 people were killed and more than 50 others injured after two suicide bombers attacked an Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) camp in northwest Pakistan's Kohat city.
April 16: At least 10 people were killed and another 35 were injured after a suicide bomb attack took place at a hospital, in the southwest Pakistani city of Quetta. A TV cameraman, as well as two police officers were among the dead in the attack.
April 5: At least 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were wounded after a suicide bomber attacked a political party rally in the Lower Dir district, bordering tribal areas in Pakistan. Minutes after the blast unknown militants attacked the U. S. consulate in the city of Peshawar. It has been reported that at least seven people were killed in the attack in Peshawar.
March 13: A suicide blast near the city of Mingora, northwest Pakistan's Swat Valley, left 10 people killed and 37 others injured.
March 12: Two suicide bomb attacks in Lahore resulted in the deaths of at least 45 people and wounded 100 others. Both of these bomb attacks reportedly targeted military vehicles as they were passing through a crowded area.
March 8: A suicide bomb attack killed at least 13 people in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, provincial capital of Punjab, and wounded more than 60 others. The bomber reportedly rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into a building that housed an anti- terrorist wing of the federal investigative agency.
March 5: 12 people were killed and another 25 were injured in the Hangu district of northwest Pakistan when a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of vehicles traveling from the Hangu district to the Kurram region.
Feb. 18: A bomb attack in crowded a market resulted in the deaths of at least 15 people and wounded more than 100 others in Pakistan's Tirah valley of the Khyber tribal region.
Feb. 11: Two bomb explosions in Bannu district in the northwest, near a police compound, left at least 12 people killed and another 20 injured.
Feb. 5: At least 13 were killed and 50 injured in a blast in a mini bus near Nursery Road in Karachi. After two hours the second planted bomb blasted at motorcycle stand emergency gate of government Jinnah hospital killing 10 and injuring dozens others including rescuers.
Feb. 3: At least 10 people were killed, including three U.S. soldiers, when a bomb blast hit a convoy near a school in the northwest region of Pakistan. Three schoolgirls were also among the dead and it is believed that this blast injured up to another 70 people within the area.
Jan. 30: A suspected suicide bomber killed at least 16 people and wounded 20 others, when he attacked a checkpoint in the northwestern Pakistani town of Khar, headquarters of Bajaur tribal region.
Jan. 1: At least 105 people were killed and dozens of others injured when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle in a crowd watching a volleyball game in the southern district of Lakki Marwat in the northwestern part of Pakistan.

US fears Pakistan's power cuts are militants' gain

FAISALABAD, Pakistan — Mohammad Rafiq has worked in Pakistan's weaving factories for 35 years, minding the looms that turn thread into cotton fabric. But lengthy power cuts often leave him and his fellow workers idle and losing wages.
Outages of up to 18 hours a day are threatening the government's credibility at a time when the U.S. is pressing it to step up its fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. Mindful that a bad economy could mean more recruits to the militant cause, Washington has pledged $1 billion to improve the power supply, including upgrading thermal and hydropower plants as well as modernizing distribution.
Unless things improve, "I'm afraid I'll lose my job and the owner will close the factory," said Rafiq, 52, with a gesture of helplessness, his arms covered in white cotton fluff. "I'll have no future."
The shortfall is estimated at 4,000 megawatts, one-fourth of maximum capacity, and practically no one in the nation of 180 million can escape the outages. They disrupt the work day. They shut down fans and air conditioning. Urban dwellers often return to a dark home, unable to watch a cricket match on TV or have a cold drink. The blackouts are even worse in villages.
The summer, when temperatures can reach 122 degrees (50 degrees Celsius), has only just started and already rallies against blackouts are drawing hundreds of protesters. Some have turned violent, smashing cars and property.
Markets that stayed open until midnight or later have to close at 8 p.m. under a government conservation program which has also nixed late-night weddings that are the norm. Text messages offer "Brand New & slightly used Diesel and Gas Generators" but few can afford them.
Things will soon get better as new power plants come on line, promises Tahir Basharat Cheema, managing director of Pakistan Electric Power Co., but he makes no excuses for the state-run company's failures.
"I'll be very, very frank: Electricity should be available and it should be available all the time," he said. "I apologize to the people like anything because it has been people like us who have missed the bus, who haven't really done their work at the right time."
The shortages began 10 years ago with a boom in consumer spending on household appliances that drove up electricity usage 15 percent in 2007 alone. It exposed deeply ingrained problems with the power supply — outdated transmission systems, widespread electricity theft, corruption and bureaucratic infighting that stalled power generation projects, and even outdated records that leave bills unpaid.
Outages are particularly painful in industrial cities like Faisalabad, 260 kilometers (160 miles) south of Islamabad in Punjab province, the center of Pakistan's textile industry which accounts for 40 percent of factory jobs. Garments and textiles make up more than half the country's exports.
Eighteen months ago, the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics surveyed 400 Punjab factories and said power cuts have slashed industrial output by 25 percent. Since then, the situation has only become more dire.
On a rare day when the power was on in Faisalabad, sweaty men and boys shuffled between rows of clacking 1960s-era looms in a warren of worn brick workshops. Two skinny goats hung out under dusty shade trees.
"This is the only work that I know. I'd be jobless if these factories close," said 24-year-old Mohammed Younus. He has been working since age 14 to support his parents and 10 siblings. "What else could I do, besides taking up burglary or theft?"
Rafiq, a father of six, earns a cent and a half for every yard (meter) of cloth produced, bringing home $30 a week — when the power stays on. Lately, his family has had to cut down on food and he has been borrowing to pay for essentials like flour and sugar.
Things had been slightly better in the past two weeks, with only four to six hours of outages daily, "but before that we were close to starving," he said.
Cheema, the power company chief, said the new power stations coming on line this year will provide 3,400 megawatts, and added that officials have also signed off on long-term hydroelectric projects.
He expected outages of six hours daily at most in cities and eight hours in villages this summer, "But the difference is, our industry will have continuous supply during this time. This is the change from the last year — that it has been prioritized."
That would be welcome news to Waheed Raamay, chairman of Faisalabad's Council of Loom Owners, though he remains pessimistic. "I think these problems will keep on and the industries will continue suffering. We talk to the labor and they are so frustrated," he said. "Eventually I think a revolution will come in Pakistan."
Breaking old habits will likely prove a big challenge.
Forty minutes into an hourlong interview at an official guesthouse, Cheema pressed a bell and summoned a staffer to shut off the chandelier lights. But the wall-mounted air conditioning and two ceiling fans stayed on.
"People of Pakistan are not conservation-minded. We are a very wasteful nation, allow me to say so," he said. "I'm sorry, I didn't even look. I'm very clear about these things, I don't let anybody use electricity when we have God's light outside."

Afghanistan's neighbours stir a witches brew

When Afghan elders gather under a giant tent in Kabul for a peace jirga this week, they will have to be protected not just from militants trying to bomb the meeting from the hills above, but also insulated from a half dozen neighbours all battling for influence.

With the U.S. endgame in sight, Afghanistan's direct and near neighbours have stepped up efforts to undercut each other, advance strategic interests and exert influence on a negotiated settlement of the nine-year conflict, says Ahmed Rashid, journalist and author of "Taliban", the widely acclaimed bestseller.

There are two parallel and dangerous rivalries unfolding in Afghanistan: a proxy war between India and Pakistan that is now every bit as deadly as their 60-year duel over Kashmir, and another between Iran and the United States tied to their geopolitical tussle over a range of issues.

On top of this are the Chinese and the Russians exerting a pull on Afghanistan. China's interest is largely commercial, eyeing the country's vast untapped mineral deposits. Russia on the other hand, while shedding few tears at America's predicament, is concerned in the longer term over instability spilling into central Asia.

Of all the neighbours, Pakistan holds the highest cards in any possible deal with the Afghan Taliban to bring an end to the conflict, says Kamran Bokhari, Middle East and South Asia director at global intelligence consultancy

Its long-running ties to the group and the cross-border linkages to its own Pasthuns make it a central player. Indeed the Pakistanis don't even want Afghanistan to conduct separate negotiations with the Taliban.

"For Pakistan all roads to Kabul must go through Islamabad," says Bokhari.

Pakistan has been especially concerned about expanding Indian involvement in Afghanistan seeing it as an encircling gesture and will do everything possible to checkmate New Delhi.

At same time though, Bokhari said, a lowered Indian presence doesn't necessarily mean Pakistan's stock goes up proportionally. This is not the 1990s when Pakistan had close ties with the Taliban and everyone else was locked out of Afghanistan.

Indeed its unclear what kind of grip Pakistan has over the Afghan Taliban following the U.S. invasion in 2001 forcing Pakistan to switch sides and scale back ties to the group.

Besides Pakistan itself is now caught in the flames of extremist fire. Bokhari says its a misconception to think that Pakistan wants a Talibanised Afghanistan. "It's every bit a worry for Pakistani generals, they are fighting these forces on their side of the Durand Line."

India, on the other hand, was seriously rattled when the U.S. and NATO agreed at the January 28 London conference on Afghanistan to begin re-integrating Taliban fighters, says Rashid. Karzai went further by demanding reconciliation with the Taliban led by Mullah Mohammed Omar.

It is since trying to regain ground, reactiving links with Iran, Russia and the central Asian republics all of whom had backed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in the 1990s.

"India sees the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda working closely with anti-Indian groups based in Pakistani Punjab, such as Laskar-e-Taiba who have begun to re-infiltrate into Indian Kashmir to restart the guerrilla war which has been dormant since 2004," said Rashid.


If the competition between India and Pakistan is a stumbling block in Afghanistan, the tussle between Iran and the United States is just as complicated. The Iranians, according to Bokhari, are in the middle of a high-stakes game with the United States on a range of issues and Afghanistan is tied to it.

"They are looking at Afghanistan and saying this is part of the bigger package. They are telling the Americans in back channel negotiations that if you want to leave Afghanistan you have to recognise we have a stake here just as in Iraq."

At the same time, in the shorter term, Iran's intelligence services and members of the Revolutionary Guard have been backing elements of the Taliban even though there is no love lost between Shi'ite Iran and the Sunni Taliban.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told reporters over the weekend that the U.S. had evidence the insurgents were being trained inside Iran and that weapons found in Afghanistan had come from Iran.

Finally the Chinese have extended themselves into Afghanistan, eyeing its untapped mineral resources to feed its surging demand. China's involvement in Afghanistan is primarily economic and stability is key to its interests.

"Unlike the West pushing for democracy, the Chinese would rather have the Afghans choose a type of government based on local culture, customs and domestic conditions," Shanthie Mariet D'Souza, a visiting scholar at Singapore's Institute for South Asian Studies, said in a piece for Eurasia Review.

Beijing is also content to let all weather ally Pakistan lead the policy to Afghanistan, and has in the past not been overly critical of approaches to the Taliban.

New boats headed to Gaza to challenge blockade

Pro-Palestinian activists promised Tuesday to send two more boats to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip as international outrage mounted over a botched Israeli raid that left nine people dead.

Also Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council called for an impartial investigation of Israel's deadly raid, condemning the "acts" that resulted in the loss of life. After an emergency meeting and lengthy negotiations, the council agreed on a presidential statement that was weaker than that initially demanded by the Palestinians, Arab nations and Turkey.

Israeli officials have not identified the nine dead or the estimated 34 who were wounded in the raid, but said they would release the names of the dead later Tuesday. They said 50 of the 679 activists aboard the flotilla have been taken to Israel's international airport for deportation. The others, they said, have refused to identify themselves and will remain in detention in a prison in southern Israel.

The renewed challenge to the three-year-old blockade of Gaza comes at a time of increasing criticism within Israel of the raid, which set off a firestorm of condemnation across the globe.

Israel has not allowed access to the activists who were taken off the six boats in the flotilla and there were conflicting accounts of what happened during the early Monday assault on the high seas.

Israel said it opened fire after its commandos were attacked by knives, clubs and live fire from two pistols wrested from soldiers after they rappelled from a helicopter to board one of the six vessels.

Late Monday, it released a grainy black-and-white video that it said supported its version of events, and Turkish TV also showed soldiers under attack.

But activists reporting before communications to the ships were cut said the Israelis fired first.

The flotilla was the ninth attempt by sea to breach the blockade Israel and Egypt imposed after the militant Hamas group violently seized the territory of 1.5 million Palestinians in 2007. Israel allowed five seaborne aid shipments to get through but snapped the blockade shut after its 2009 war in Gaza.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement that organized the flotilla said Tuesday that another cargo boat was off the coast of Italy en route to Gaza. A second boat carrying about three dozen passengers is expected to join it, Berlin said.

"This initiative is not going to stop," Berlin said from the group's base in Cyprus. "We think eventually Israel will get some kind of common sense. They're going to have to stop the blockade of Gaza, and one of the ways to do this is for us to continue to send the boats."

She denied Israeli assertions that activists attacked Israeli commandos first and alleged that the edited footage of attacks released by the Israeli military and Turkish TV had presented an inaccurate account.

She also denied that the activists were armed.

Israeli media reports immediately after the raid focused on the attacks on the commandos but by Tuesday, newspapers and analysts reflected another view: That Israel should not have sent commandos to board the ship and that intelligence-gathering was faulty. The front-page headline in one paper, Maariv, referred to the "debacle" of the raid alongside the "bravery" of the soldiers who were taken off guard.

Retired general Shlomo Brom asked why the ships' engines weren't sabotaged rather than boarded by commandos who slid down ropes from a helicopter on to the ships' decks while wearing asbestos gloves that didn't allow them to handle a weapon.

"The entire intelligence community had all the time it needed to follow the protesters' plans and preparation. Drones provided constant streaming videos of the ships, and it's safe to assume other means of tracing and sabotage were used: Signal jamming, signal tapping, possibly even live agents," Brom said.

"And still, based on the commandos' testimonies yesterday, it's clear they were not prepared for what awaited them on the deck."

Analyst Sever Plocker demanded the resignation of the defense minister, Ehud Barak.

"It doesn't make a difference how the decision was made to fall into Hamas' provocation trap," he wrote on the front page of the country's biggest daily, Yediot Ahronot. "Only one thing matters: Ehud Barak failed and must resign."

Israel had urged the flotilla's organizers not to try to breach the blockade, promising to transfer some, if not all of the cargo to Gaza if the boats agreed to dock at a southern Israeli port. The military said Tuesday that the first transfer would take place later Tuesday, but gave no further details on how much would be transferred or whether any goods would be withheld because they were considered a security risk.

Tensions along the Israeli-Gaza border were tense following the naval raid, and on Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said Gaza militants infiltrated Israel and exchanged fire with troops. Israeli rescue services said two militants were killed, but the military would not immediately confirm that.

Lahore's Jinnah Hospital Attacked

At least two gunmen disguised in police uniforms attacked a hospital in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore late yesterday, killing six people in a failed attempt to free a captured militant being treated there, officials said.
The gunmen managed to escape but left without securing the release of the militant, who allegedly was among those who attacked a minority sect in Lahore on Friday and killed 93 people, said Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of Punjab Province, where Lahore is the capital.
The gunmen stormed Jinnah Hospital in a hail of gunfire shortly before midnight and briefly took several patients hostage, Sanaullah said. One of the gunmen climbed on the roof to shoot at police as they surrounded the building, he said.
Four of the six people killed in the attack were policemen, said Punjab’s police chief, Tariq Saleem. Seven people were wounded, he said.
Also yesterday, Pakistan lifted a ban on Facebook after officials from the social networking site apologized for a page deemed offensive to Muslims and removed its contents, said the InFormation Technology Ministry. Pakistan had imposed the ban amid anger over a page that encouraged users to post images of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
Many Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.