Thursday, April 28, 2011

Obama is an American. Let’s move on.

Editorial:The Washington Post
IT SAYS SOMETHING embarrassing — actually, make that disturbing — about the state of American politics that the president of the United States took to the White House briefing room Wednesday to prove that he had, in fact, been born in the United States. The White House’s move to unseal, and release, Barack Obama’s birth certificate came after polls indicated a growing number of Americans doubting that basic fact. A USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday showed that just 38 percent believe that Mr. Obama was “definitely” born in the United States, with 18 percent saying he “probably” was.

As the long-form birth certificate disgorged by Hawaii authorities and released by the White House demonstrates once and for all, this is complete nonsense. The “birther” delusion would be laughable if it were not so widespread and if it did not carry with it the unmistakable whiff of racism. We doubt that the questions about Mr. Obama’s birthplace would have taken off if his father had been from Canada rather than Kenya.

At the same time, there was a certain amount of play-acting in Mr. Obama’s assertions of injury. If anything, the decision by developer and potential Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to seize on the “birther” issue played into Democrats’ hands: It allowed Mr. Obama to position himself as the sane grown-up to Mr. Trump’s “carnival barker.”

The president asserted Wednesday that he would not normally dignify these claims with a response but that the birther debate was drowning out the more important discussion about the budget. “The dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make,” the president said. “It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.”

Not by our count. On broadcast and cable networks, far more stories overall have mentioned the proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) than the birther debate in the past several weeks. The New York Times ran nine articles and columns touching on the “birther” controversy, mostly to debunk or ridicule it. The Post had about a dozen doing much the same. By contrast, Mr. Ryan’s budget plan drew 64 mentions in the Times and 96 in The Post since April 4, the day it was released.

Nonetheless, Mr. Obama is correct that the country has more important matters to discuss than the presidential birth certificate. Mr. Trump was busy crowing Wednesday that he had done the country a service by prodding the president to release the document. Now Mr. Trump appears to be ready to pivot to the equally bogus issue of the president’s grades in college and law school. Our advice to Mr. Trump: Cease and desist. As Mr. Obama said Wednesday, “We do not have time for this kind of silliness.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Obama shows original birth certificate

President Obama releases his long-form birth certificate, saying the controversy over his birth has became a "sideshow" to real problems facing the nation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BIRTHER CLAIMS LACK MERIT...Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. Period.
It remains red meat for some critics of President Obama. But a CNN investigation reveals what most analysts have said since the "birther" controversy erupted in 2008: Obama was born in Hawaii.
Was Barack Obama really born in America?

A new CNN investigation reveals what most analysts have been saying since the "birther" controversy erupted during the 2008 presidential campaign: Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. Period.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Is Parachinar not part of Pakistan

Over 100 residents of militant-besieged Parachinar, which is the headquarters of Kurram Agency, have set up a protest camp outside the National Press Club to press the government for ridding them of the armed gangs of Taliban.

Through a memorandum, a copy of which is available with The News, the Youth of Parachinar, a platform of Turi and Bangash tribes, aired some questions: Is Parachinar not a part of Pakistan? Is it really impossible for the government to open and make secure the main Thal Parachinar-Peshawar Road that was closed over four years back?

It continued could a civilised nation justify the crippling embargo on a population of more than 0.5 million people? Is there any humanitarian organisation in Pakistan that could help alleviate deepening sufferings of these people, facing acute shortage of life-saving drugs and other medicines: paucity of daily use items such as rice, atta, tea, sugar and groceries?

“I have met the President at least 20 times and Prime Minister 40 times on different occasions and raised the issue with them but it appears either they are insensitive to our agony or unable to do anything to drive the militants out of Parachinar,” said an MNA from the Kurram Agency’s headquarters Sajid Hussain Turi while talking to The News at the camp.

Turi, who is chairman of the National Assembly’s standing committee on States and Frontier Regions, pointed out as the government functionaries were unable to perform their responsibility in Parachinar there was a breakdown of civil and social services: education and health were the most affected sectors; donors and foreign philanthropists had also stopped visiting the area due to seething insecurity.

Obama reviews cooperation from Pakistan

President Barack Obama on Tuesday reviewed the co-operation being received by Pakistan in the war against terrorism with his national security team.

The review of Pakistan’s co-operation came on a day when several media published secret U.S. cables, allegedly stolen by WikiLeaks, which questioned the level of cooperation from Pakistan authorities in the war against terrorism by the U.S. authorities.

“The President received an update on our efforts to ensure effective cooperation with Pakistan against al-Qaeda and other violent extremists,” White House said in a statement after Mr. Obama chaired his situation room monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team.

“The President received a briefing on the security situation in Afghanistan, including our efforts to sustain momentum against Taliban, transition to an Afghan security lead, continued support for the increased capability of Afghan National Security Forces and our efforts to support reintegration and Afghan-led reconciliation,” White House said

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the meeting was not a decisional one.

“This is not a decisional meeting. This is one of the regular monthly meetings, run by the President on Afghanistan and Pakistan with the usual principals involved in that meeting, but it is not decisional,” he said in response to a question.

Chaired by President Obama, the Af-Pak situation room meeting was attended by Vice President Joe Biden, (via teleconference); Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates; Attorney General, Eric Holder; US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice; National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon; Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, John O Brennan.

Also Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman; Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy; Director of Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta; Administrator of Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah; Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen were present in the meeting.

While U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry; U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Carl Munter and General David Petraeus, Commander of ISAF joined the meeting via videoconference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Anger of Bahraini people could explode'

The main Bahraini opposition group says the government is pursuing a campaign of revenge and purge on anti-regime protesters, warning about the angry people's response.

Al-Wefaq warned on Wednesday that the anger of the majority opposition “could explode” if the regime does not end its violent crackdown on the people, Reuters reported.

It said that there is no guarantee for the people's uprising to stay peaceful forever because people see their brothers and sisters getting detained and fired at.

It also blamed the Bahraini regime for what it described as a campaign aimed at removing the opposition members from state jobs.

The opposition's reaction comes as Manama, backed by Saudi-led militaries from neighboring Arab countries, continues its brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

“How long can we continue like this? We say every day, be peaceful, be peaceful, be peaceful...but how long will young people listen to this?” Al-Wefaq's Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman questioned.

“But nobody can give a guarantee that the movement will continue like this and that the anger of the young people will not explode in a different way,” he said at the party headquarters in Manama.

Reports say security forces attacked houses in the eastern island of Sitra, firing rubber bullets at the occupants, including children.

Analysts blame the international community for falling short of taking adequate measures against the ruling Al Khalifa royal family.

More than two months into the popular uprising in the tiny Persian Gulf country, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union has urged Bahrain to enter into talks with the opposition but failed to condemn the foreign military interference in the country.

US accuses Pakistan over militant links
The top U.S. military officer accused Pakistan's spy agency on Wednesday of links to a powerful militant faction fighting in Afghanistan, and said that relationship was at the "heart" of tensions between Islamabad and Washington.
The comments by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are a sign that the U.S. is not stepping down in a bruising dispute with Pakistan in recent months that has threatened their vital if often uneasy alliance in the campaign against militants.
Mullen, who is visiting Pakistan, made the comments to local Geo TV in an interview ahead of a meeting with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The two men reportedly enjoy a good relationship, but Mullen said he would bring up the issue of the militant Haqqani network with him in talks about tensions between the two countries.
"Where I am not soft is on the heart of that discussion which is the Haqqani network very specifically," he said. "The Haqqani network very specifically facilitates and supports the Taliban who move in to Afghanistan to kill Americans."
"The ISI has a long-standing relationship with the Haqqani network, that doesn't mean everybody in the ISI but it's there ... I believe over time that has got to change," he said.
A spokesman for the spy agency, known by its acronym ISI, declined comment.
It has previously denied U.S. accusations, typically by anonymous officials in Washington, that it supports the Haqqani network and other Afghan Taliban factions.
Tensions between the ISI and the CIA spiked this year after American CIA contractor Raymond Davis shot and killed two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him. The incident angered and embarrassed the government and the ISI, which complained the CIA was running covert operations in the country.
A day after Davis was released from jail after compensation was paid to the families of his victims, an American missile strike killed scores of people close to the Afghan border, prompting Gen. Kayani to make a rare public condemnation of the tactic, which Pakistan's army had previously kept quiet about.
NATO and US officials say the Haqqani network is based in northwest Pakistan and is responsible for many of the attacks in Afghanistan. Elements of the Pakistani security establishment are widely believed to tolerate or support the group because they see it as a future safeguard for their interests in Afghanistan once the Americans withdraw.
Pakistan has launched army offensives against militants in the northwest, many of whom also carry out bloody bombings inside Pakistan. But Islamabad says its forces are too stretched to allow it to move into North Waziristan, where the Haqqani network is based.
Last week, the head of the ISI traveled to Washington for talks with the CIA chief, where he reportedly asked for the CIA to reduce the frequency of the drone strikes on the Pakistani side of the border. Such attacks infuriate many Pakistanis. The government complains they kill innocents, helping drive the insurgency.
Despite the tensions, both countries need each other so much that few analysts expect ties to break down, regardless of the complaints on either side.
"U.S.-Pakistan relations have been in a very difficult patch during the last couple of months and I think there is a need to strengthen the relationship we have built up to be able to address the challenges," said Mullen. "We are doing that as we speak."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Syria's government vacillates between crackdown and suggestions of compromise

The great Beer and Cheese-Off

By:Jay R. Brooks
Food & Wine

Everyone knows about wine and cheese pairings, but the affinity between beer and fromage always has been something of a secret -- until now. A growing number of culinary experts are starting to recognize what we beer geeks always have known. Beer and cheese -- especially artisanal cheese -- is a match made in heaven. Both beer and cheese balance "sweetness and acidity with fruitiness and fermentation flavors," says brewer Garrett Oliver in his book "The Brewmaster's Table" (Ecco, 2005). They're both traditional fermented, farmhouse products, whose roots lie in the grasses that ultimately flavor the final product. So it's hardly surprising to discover that some monastery breweries, such as Chimay, make both beer and cheese.

But finding just the right combination is key and that's a project I've been working on. I've chosen three artisanal cheeses for a panel of colleagues to pair with the perfect beers. Why not taste right along with us? I have some prizes for the best beer pairing for each of the three cheeses listed below, and I've offered a few tips to get you started.he artisanal cheeses
1. Maytag Blue: This is one of my favorite blues, and not just because it's owned by the Maytag family, who until recently owned Anchor Brewery. The Maytag Dairy Farm was founded by Fritz Maytag's father in Iowa in 1941, making it one of the first artisanal cheese companies in America. If you can't find Maytag Blue, any similar blue cheese should work. Barley wines and imperial stouts generally pair well with blue cheese.

2. Widmer 1-Year Aged Cheddar: I wanted to make sure I included at least one Wisconsin cheese, and Widmer's Cheese Cellars makes some great golden-orange cheddars. Even the 1-year old aged cheddar is very full-flavored. Widmer Cellars describes it as having a "rich, nutty flavor (that) becomes increasingly sharp with age. Smooth, firm texture becomes more granular and crumbly with age." If you can't find Widmer, any 1-year old aged cheddar should do the trick. For milder cheddars, brown or pale ales are often suggested; India Pale Ales are usually recommended for sharper varieties.
3. Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog: Humboldt Fog is a soft goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre, which describes its texture as "creamy and luscious with a subtle tangy flavor. Each handcrafted wheel features a ribbon of edible vegetable ash along its center and a coating of ash under its exterior to give it a distinctive, cakelike appearance." If you can't locate Humboldt Fog, another similar goat cheese can be substituted. For goat cheese, experts recommend spicy Belgian ales, such as Ommegang's Hennepin, Belgian-style witbier or doppelbocks.
The challenge
Pick a cheese or try all three, then think about your favorite beers and which might taste good with them. Invite a few friends over and taste each cheese with a few beers. Then pick the one that works best. (Be sure to choose beers that are readily available; no home-brew or draft-only beers, please.)
I'll post this invitation over at Bottoms Up ( too. Post a comment there any time before May 1, and tell us which beer you think pairs best with each cheese -- and most important, why you think it works so well. What flavors does the beer bring out in the cheese, or vice versa? What makes the pairing more than the sum of its parts? What did you learn about the pairing, or about beer and cheese together more generally?
Based on your descriptions of which beer worked best, I'll choose a winner for each of the three cheeses. Each winner will receive a copy of my friend Maureen Ogle's book "Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer" (Harvest Books, 2007). It's a great read about the history of American beer from the industrial revolution to present-day craft brewers.
The following week, I'll be hosting another tasting with a number of local brewers and beer writers and I'll include your winning beers in our tasting, too. Look for the results of the Great Beer & Cheese-Off Challenge -- and recommendations for perfect beer and cheese pairings -- in mid-May.

Balochistan scenario

COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has taken to making regular visits to Balochistan of late. On his latest tour, he addressed ceremonies marking the launching of a newly established military college in Sui and the Gwadar Institute of Technology, also an army project. Previously, the army has set up a cadet college in the province, some of the graduates of which (about 5,000) are about to be inducted into the Pakistani military. At Sui the COAS was at pains to assert that no ‘military’ operation was being conducted in Balochistan and that the two battalions of the army deployed on security duties at Sui would be withdrawn, to be replaced by the Frontier Corps (FC). He also stated that no military operation would be conducted without the permission of the provincial government (which would certainly be a first). Also, that the four cantonments to be built in Balochistan that were announced by General Pervez Musharraf at the height of the troubles following the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, are not now going to be built and no new cantonment will be built unless the people agree to it. General Kayani also underlined the importance of the civilian law enforcement agencies’ need to get their act together, since the army could not handle internal security entirely on its own. He also voiced his apprehensions regarding the economy of the country, warning of the consequences of an economic meltdown, a la the Soviet Union.

Now all these are sweet words and quite unlike what the Baloch are used to hearing from official quarters. However, if they are meant to placate the anger seething amongst the people of the province and to convince the Baloch that the Pakistan army is a national institution, their institution, far more than sweet words may be required. While ostensibly the COAS’ statement that no ‘military’ operation is being conducted appears technically accurate since it is not the regular army but the FC that is carrying out ‘operations’ in Balochistan such as disappearances of nationalist cadres and the dumping of their tortured and bullet-riddled bodies all over the province, the fact that regular army formations such as the one at Sui will be sent back to their barracks in Quetta does not provide the salve to the wounds of the angry Baloch that it may be intended to since the FC is arguably hated the most in the province, being considered the main culprit in the miseries visited upon the province’s people. The replacement of the regular army by the FC at Sui may be likened by the Baloch to jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

The setting up of cadet and technical institutions to provide education and training to Baloch youth with a view to the possible induction of more and more of them into the ranks of the armed forces is unexceptionable as a concept and in itself. At Gwadar, General Kayani announced that the army would set up an Army Medical College, an Institute of Mineralogy, and a Cardiac Treatment Centre in Quetta. But all this too may not suffice to ease the hurt and anger of the people of Balochistan.

Chief Minister Aslam Raisani too pitched in with his wisdom while talking to journalists after returning to Quetta from the ceremony at Gwadar. He asserted that the people of Balochistan do not want separation. This is the propaganda of a few and the (ubiquitous) foreign hand too cannot be ruled out. If the separatist sentiment is the work of only a few, it must be said that they are proving increasingly effective in stoking the fires of nationalism, helped and abetted by the actions of the authorities, especially the FC. Could it be that it is the repressive policies of the FC that are persuading more and more youth to take up arms in the mountains? As to the always present ‘foreign hand’, this is an old and tired record in which the needle has been stuck in the same groove as long as can be remembered. Nevertheless, logically no conditions should be created in any part of the country that may open the doors to the ‘foreign hand’ fishing in troubled waters.

To avoid the catastrophe that is looming in Balochistan and therefore for the country, sops such as army-organised education, training and induction into the armed forces of Baloch youth and all other welfare measures may not prove efficacious so long as the repression continues. What is missing in this scenario is a dialogue with the guerrillas in the mountains, the nationalist leadership at home and in exile, and with the people of Balochistan as a whole to address their grievances and bring them into the fold through a process of genuine reconciliation. Do we have the vision and will for that?

Bahraini activist's home tear gassed

A Human Rights Watch official is calling on the government of Bahrain to investigate a Monday morning teargas attack on the Bani Jamra home of prominent activist Nabeel Rajab.
The attack took place at 3:30 a.m., according to Human Rights Watch. Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was apparently not injured. However, the attack by unknown assailants caused "great distress" for his 78-year-old mother, who suffers from respiratory disease, Human Rights Watch said.
"This attack certainly appears to target Nabeel Rajab for his human rights advocacy," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Bahraini authorities need to investigate this incident and hold those responsible to account."
There was no immediate response to the Human Right Watch statement by the Bahrain government.The country is ruled by the Al-Khalifa family, which has been in power since the 18th century. Many protesters are calling for the removal of the royal family, whom they blame for the country's high unemployment rate and for running a corrupt government that relies on torture and other harsh measures to clamp down on dissent.
Rajab's vocal opposition to the government's violent crackdown on anti-regime protesters has made him a target.
On March 20, about 25 people in about a dozen cars pulled up to Rajab's house and took him to the offices of the Interior Ministry's investigative department. There, according to Rajab, he was beaten, blindfolded, and interrogated about an armed suspect they believed he knew.
The government confirmed the arrest but provided no other details.
Nine days ago, officials publicly accused Rajab of fabricating photos posted on his Facebook site of the body of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer, who died in detention on April 9. The photos showed slash marks all over the victim's back and other signs of physical abuse. A Human Rights Watch researcher saw Saqer's body just prior to his burial and said the photos were accurate.
Human Rights Watch said it knows of no other entity than Bahrain's security forces that have access to the kind of grenades used in the attack on Rajab's home.
Rajab, according to Human Rights Watch, said that markings on the grenades show they were manufactured in Pennsylvania.
Rajab, the organization stated, said everyone in the two houses that belong to the family was sleeping at the time. Rajab, according to Human Rights Watch, said the assailants tossed the grenades over a high wall surrounding his and his mother's houses.
Rajab is one of hundreds of Bahrainis to be arrested by security forces in recent weeks. The arrests, according to human rights activists, have often been violent and have taken place at night.
Others arrested include Mohammed al-Tajer, a prominent defense attorney for various opposition figures. Al-Tajer was seized during a Friday raid on his home by more than two dozen uniformed and plainclothes officers. There was no reason given for his arrest, Human Rights Watch said.
Another prominent Bahraini who was recently arrested is human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Masked gunmen, according to human rights activists, stormed the home of Al-Khawaja's daughter, Zainab, where he was staying. They beat him severely and took him away, she said.
After the arrest, Zainab Al-Khawaja launched a hunger strike to protest the assault and detention of her father and her husband. She was taken to a hospital Sunday after her health had deteriorated so much that she could not talk or move, Rajab said.
However, the woman was released after refusing an intravenous tube, a human rights activist told CNN.

Fidel Castro quits Communist Party

Fidel Castro confirmed his exit from the Communist Party leadership on Tuesday, ceding power to his brother Raul as delegates prepare to vote on changes that could bring term limits to key posts.

The move came after the sixth Communist Party Congress approved a flurry of measures on Monday aimed at keeping Cuba's centrally planned economy from collapse but without any broad embrace of market-oriented change.

"Raul knew that I would not accept a formal role in the party today," Fidel wrote in an article on the portal, referring to his absence from the party's new Central Committee, elected on Monday.

Castro, 84, had served as first secretary in the Central Committee of the party -- which underpins the country's Communist government -- since the party's creation in 1965.

Fidel said he had handed over the functions of the party head to Raul when he ceded power to his brother because of his own declining health in 2006, though he retained the first secretary title.

"(Raul) has always been who I described as First Secretary and Commander in Chief," Fidel wrote in the article.

"He never failed to convey to me the ideas that were planned," he added.

Castro said he supported the stepping aside of some of the older luminaries in the party, adding that "the most important thing was that I did not appear on that list.

"I have received too many honors. I never thought I would live so long."

The 1,000 delegates gathered in Havana for the four-day party congress have meanwhile approved some 300 economic proposals.

The reforms promise to inject a modicum of the free market into the island's economy ahead of a vote Tuesday expected to officially relieve Castro of his position as party head.

Reforms include the eventual trimming of a million state jobs and the decentralization of the agricultural sector.

Many of the measures have already been adopted over the past year, with the Congress now formally approving them.

Results of the voting on leadership term limits will be presented Tuesday, when Fidel would be finally officially replaced as party chief.

Raul, who turns 80 on June 3, was expected to take over as the party's new first secretary.

Raul said on Saturday that he backed term limits of 10 years for the top leadership spots, in a country he and his brother have led for more than five decades.

Fidel said he "liked the idea. I thought long and hard about the subject."

Cuba watchers were meanwhile focused on who would ascend to the party's number two position, which could signal the direction of an eventual transfer of power in the coming years.

Raul has rejected broader market-minded reforms like those adopted by China, saying they would be "in open contradiction to the essence of socialism... because they were calling for allowing the concentration of property."

Cubans have reacted to the reforms with cautious optimism, hoping that the government follows through with its pledges without harming those who depend on the public sector for employment and other basic needs.

Afghanistan should brace for more assassinations: U.S. envoy

Afghanistan's government and foreign troops should prepare for the Taliban to step up urban suicide attacks and assassinations as they shift tactics to "very focused" terrorism, the U.S. ambassador said.

Karl Eikenberry told Reuters in an interview that three insurgent attacks in just four days pointed to a change in strategy following setbacks against international and Afghan security forces.

"Our sense is that in the course of the spring and the summer that we could see continued suicide attacks, perhaps at a higher level than we saw last year," Eikenberry said on his aircraft during a fleeting visit to restive Kandahar province.

"It seems to us now that they can't hold forces in the field and they can't fight head-on. They have shifted and they have begun now a very focused terrorist campaign."

An insurgent strike on Monday killed two people in the Afghan Defense Ministry in the third attack on supposedly high-security installations in just four days.

On Friday, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform killed Gen. Khan Mohammed Mujahid, the Kandahar police chief, while another uniformed suicide bomber on Saturday killed five NATO service members in one of the worst attacks in months.

Insurgents have long targeted powerful leaders, with Mujahid the third Kandahar police chief assassinated since 2005, but there is widespread concern that in the face of pressure from tough U.S. "surge" troops these killings will increase.

Eikenberry, a former U.S. general, visited Kandahar city on Monday for private talks with provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa in the wake of the police chief's killing, as well as visiting U.S. special forces soldiers and local leaders in the strategically vital district of Khakrez, to the northwest.

The area and its overshadowing Masoud mountain range was once a Taliban stronghold and is still a vital insurgent supply route, or "rat run," but Eikenberry and U.S. commanders say district security has improved sharply in the last year.

Eikenberry went without body armor and jumped on an open special forces buggy with a minimal escort to visit a newly built girls' school and bazaar in Darbishan village, where the turquoise dome of Afghanistan's third holiest shrine glimmered against the crags behind.

But U.S. troops admit the relationship with around 2,500 local people is still fragile, with many having close ties and even extended family bonds with the Taliban.

Much of the area, including shops and the Sufi shrine of Shah Maqsood Agha, was also shattered by U.S. air strikes in 2001 as American troops tried to drive out the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, prompting an intensive rebuild.

"There are no hard-core Taliban here any more. But they are still unsure about us. They are still not sure how long we are going to stay and if the Taliban will come back," said one special forces soldier who could not be named.

To improve the relationship, the special forces command in Kandahar has just extended rotation of elite troops from six months to a year, to better solidify ties with local elders.

"The focus is on relationships. That's the most important counter-intelligence strategy," a senior officer told Reuters in the marble courtyard of the shrine.

Eikenberry, in a flurry of shura meetings with local people in Khakrez and Kandahar, heard pleas for new schools, teachers and health clinics, but also worries about security after a transition to fully Afghan security in 2014.

"There is uncertainty throughout Afghanistan. On one hand there is a sense of pride that goes with transition, but at the same time there is a sense of apprehension," Eikenberry said.

Governor Wesa said Kandahar had been through bad periods before many times, including the January assassination of Deputy Governor Abdul Latif Ashna, and the government was resilient enough to recover from Mujahid's slaying.

"The opposition are trying as hard to disturb the security as we are trying to build security. There will be tough days, but we will be okay," Wesa said.

Eikenberry said the use of uniformed suicide bombers was a tactic that would be hard but not impossible to combat. NATO has said it is training intelligence officers specifically to search out possible infiltrators and Taliban sympathizers.

"That's a tactic that's designed to lower the trust of the Afghan people and their security forces, an effort to break down the trust within the forces themselves," he said.

"It does represent a very serious threat and the Afghan security need to ensure that their vetting processes, their recruiting are rigorous and that their counter-intelligence within the forces is effective."

Karzai challenges US group on civilian deaths

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday urged a high-level visiting US delegation to scale back night raids and military operations causing civilian casualties.
The call came as he met John Boehner, US House Speaker, who is leading a six-member delegation from the House of Representatives which also visited Pakistan this week.
"The president of Afghanistan said the people of Afghanistan highly appreciate the assistance given by the US in the past 10 years but they want the US military to seriously reconsider arbitrary and night search operations and those operations that cause civilian casualties," a statement from Karzai's office said.
Civilian casualties during military operations and night raids are highly sensitive issues in Afghanistan and are a repeated source of tension between Karzai's administration and its Western backers.
There are around 130,000 international troops, two-thirds of them from the US, fighting an insurgency waged by the Taliban since the Islamist militants were toppled from power by a US-led invasion in 2001.A limited withdrawal of foreign troops is scheduled to begin in July, when Afghan forces will take control of security in a handful of areas ahead of a planned full transition of responsibility to Afghan troops and police by 2014.
Boehner is the most senior Republican in the US Congress and second in line for the country's presidency after Vice President Joe Biden.

Syria abolishes 48-year emergency law

The Syrian government has lifted the 48-year state of emergency after one-month-long pro-reform demonstrations in the Arab country.

The Cabinet passed a bill to end the emergency law, which was declared in 1963, in a session chaired by Prime Minister Adel Safar on Tuesday.

The Cabinet also passed a bill on a legislative decree on abolishing the Higher State Security Court, Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

In addition, another bill which regulates the right to peaceful protest was passed.

Last Saturday, President Bashar al-Assad told the first session of Syria's new government that the emergency law would be lifted by next week.

Assad formed the new government on Thursday after weeks of protests over political and economic reforms.

The demonstrations have been held in several Syrian cities since mid-March.

Tuesday package is part of the political reform program that aims at bolstering democracy, expanding citizens' participation, strengthening national unity, guaranteeing the safety of country and citizens, and confronting various challenges, according to the state news agency.

Pakistani Shi'ites oppose the 'interference of Saudi troops' in Bahrain

Hundreds of Shi'ites took to the streets in Pakistan's biggest city Karachi on Sunday in a demonstration to oppose the presence of Saudi troops in Bahrain. Holding banners, placards and flags of Shi'ite organizations, more than five hundred men, women and children marched several kilometers on one of the main streets in the city. 'Stop supporting dictators', said one placard. 'Stop attacks on civilians in Bahrain', read another. The protest leaders, while addressing the crowd, said Saudi Arabia should not interfere in Bahrain by sending its troops

Saudi Arabia arrests Shiite writer after protests

Saudi authorities have arrested a Shiite Muslim intellectual in the oil-producing eastern province where minority Shi'ites have staged protests in the strict Sunni kingdom, human rights activists said on Tuesday.

Security forces arrested al-Saeed al-Majid, a Shi'ite writer, on Sunday at his workplace in Khobar on the Gulf coast, the independent Human Rights First Society said in a statement. Shi'ite website confirmed the arrest.

Pakistan military strives to secure central Afghan role

The Pakistani military is scrambling to shore up ties with Afghanistan to ensure a central role in a negotiated settlement of the conflict as the beginning of a U.S. military withdrawal draws closer.

Uneasy neighbors Pakistan and Afghanistan took an important step last weekend, agreeing to include Pakistani military and intelligence officials in a commission seeking peace with the Taliban, giving Pakistan's security establishment a formal role in any talks.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been fraught for decades largely because Pakistan has seen successive Afghan governments as too close to its main enemy - India.

Pakistan's military has had long-running ties to the Afghan Taliban and has repeatedly said that the road to a settlement of the 10-year conflict in Afghanistan runs through Islamabad.

It has in the past frowned upon efforts by Kabul to independently launch dialogue with the Taliban and is unlikely to countenance a similar outreach by Washington to the insurgent group without its involvement.

In recent months, Pakistan has sought to improve relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as the United States begins its withdrawal in July, and regional powers including India jostle for influence.

"This is part of General Kayani's relentless outreach to President Karzai ever since the Obama administration announced withdrawal plans," said C. Raja Mohan, a prominent Indian foreign affairs expert, referring to Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.

Mohan said Karzai - who has often blamed Pakistan for fueling the insurgency in his country - had responded to the Pakistani military overtures because he saw Pakistan as his hope for survival once the United States leaves.

"Karzai is looking to his political future after the U.S. withdrawal and he has asked for 'Pindi's help to find a way to work things out with the Taliban," he added, referring to Pakistani army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi.

Feelers have gone out between the Afghan government and Taliban sympathizers, although no formal peace process has begun.

At the same time, Afghanistan and Pakistan have turned to each other when their own relations with the United States are strained.

U.S. ties with Karzai have soured since his election was called into question and over corruption. Relations with Pakistan have suffered over covert U.S. actions, including missile attacks by drone aircraft that Washington says are necessary to hunt down al Qaeda and the Taliban and which Pakistan sees as a violation of its sovereignty.

Above all, driving the flurry of diplomacy is the worry that the United States will leave Pakistan to clean up the mess after it leaves, just as it did following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

"As we're coming to the end game, it's created a sense of urgency for an opening for all sides to come back to the table," said Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

But the question, he said, is whether the younger generation of Taliban commanders is war-weary or war-hardened, and how much authority supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar That uncertainty calls into question how much sway Pakistan itself has over the militants, given its ostensible abandonment of them in 2001 after an American ultimatum


Pakistan's once close relationship with the Taliban -- it was one of only three countries to recognize the brutal regime toppled by the United States in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks - has become more complicated.

"The Taliban are not a manageable force anymore. The blowback that has happened in Pakistan, the whole insurgency. They're really worried about the emboldening of characters on their side of the border," said Kamran Bokhari, Middle East and South Asia director for the global intelligence firm STRATFOR.

"They don't want the Talibanization of Afghanistan," he said, referring to Pakistani leaders.

One scenario that Pakistan is working toward is a coalition government - perhaps similar to the one in Iraq - that sees the Taliban embedded in a political process that grants them a major say, but prevents them from taking over entirely, Bokhari said.

It is unclear if the United States would be happy with that, but it may have little choice given that a military victory looks impossible.

"Ultimately, the Americans don't like the idea that there should be some negotiations with the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar," Bokhari said, referring to the most dangerous Afghan Taliban faction.

"But it's in their interest to see a little bit of a load taken off their plate," he said, referring to a Pakistani role in pressing the Taliban to talk peace.

But before Pakistan can play a major role, it must overcome distrust in Afghanistan, and a belief that it will always see the Taliban as its long-term allies in achieving its aims, including keeping India at bay, analysts in Kabul say.

"One thing is clear," said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

"Pakistan needs to play a more constructive role in Afghanistan. I don't see signs that Pakistan has given up its ideas of using the Taliban as an asset for post-2014 Afghanistan."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thousands denounce Yemen leader's remarks on women

Yemen's anti-government movement took up the issue of women's rights in the conservative Muslim nation on Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators seeking the president's ouster denounced his comments against the participation of women in protest rallies.
In a speech Friday, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the mingling of men and women at protests in the capital was against Islamic law. Demonstrators, including thousands of women, responded by marching through the capital of Sanaa and several other cities, shouting: "Saleh, beware of injuring women's honor."
"This insult has made us more determined to remain at the opposition squares with the men to topple the ugly regime," said Jameela al-Qabsi, a female professor at an education college.
Though it was a young woman who first led anti-Saleh demonstrations on a university campus in late January, women didn't begin turning out in large numbers until early March. It was a startling step considering the Muslim nation is a largely tribal society with deeply conservative social and religious traditions.
Many Yemeni women remain out of sight and conceal themselves in public under black head-to-toe robes. The issue of child brides in Yemen has also drawn international criticism. But unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia, women in Yemen are permitted to vote, run for parliament and drive cars.
Two months of near-daily protests and defections by key allies in the military, powerful tribes and diplomatic corps have failed to bring an end to Saleh's 32-year autocratic rule over the impoverished and fragile nation in the Arabian peninsula.
A crackdown on protesters by Saleh's forces has killed more than 120 people, according to Yemeni rights groups, but has not deterred crowds from gathering.
On Saturday, a group of female protesters presented the chief prosecutor with a complaint against Saleh for his remarks. Amat al-Salam Abdullah, one of the protesters, said the prosecutor ordered an investigation.
"I don't rule out that the president has been traumatized as a result of the involvement of tens of thousands of women in the demonstrations calling for his downfall," said Faiza al-Sharji, a female university professor.
The youth movement leading the anti-government protests took up the women's cause, calling for people to come out in millions on Sunday for a day of "honor and dignity."
The youth movement said in a statement that Saleh's comments were "a continuation of his violations against the Yemeni people after he killed them and accused them of being agents and outlaws."
Advocacy for women's rights in Yemen is rooted in the 1967-1990 period when the once-independent south had a socialist government. After unification, women in the south became more marginalized, resulting in high unemployment among female university graduates.

Bahraini women die amid crackdown

At least two Bahraini women have died as a result of a crackdown on the opposition as thugs backed by Saudi forces stormed the village of Karzakan following the country-wide protests.

Azizeh Hassan died in her home after pro-regime thugs stormed houses in Bilad al-Qadim district, a Press TV correspondent reported on Saturday.

Moreover, a female teenager died a month after she was attacked by pro-regime thugs in Manama. Jawaher Abdul-Amir Kuwaitan was in a coma at the capital's al-Salmaniyah Hospital.

A number of rallies were held in cities and villages across the country, including in A'ali, Diraz, Karzakan and Bani Jamarah, on Friday.

Meanwhile, Al Khalifa loyalists backed by Saudi forces poured into the streets of Karzakan, terrorizing and damaging properties.

Security forces have stepped up their crackdown on the opposition, with over 800 people now being arrested.

According to the opposition Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights and the al-Wefaq party, the prominent human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer was arrested on Saturday night during a raid on his house.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights in Manama has said that those detained by government forces undergo torture. The group has also cited incidences of families receiving the bodies of those who died in custody with bruising and lashing marks.

Since the beginning of anti-government protests on February 14, scores of protesters have been killed and many others gone missing. Many of the families believe those arrested are most likely being detained at the Sheikh Isa military base.

Most Bahraini media outlets have been blocked and mosques demolished by the government. Additionally, doctors and others who help the injured protesters have been targeted in arrests.

Bahraini protesters are demanding an end to the 200-year rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

Candlelight vigil held for Italian activist

Hundreds of mourners have rallied and many have held a candlelight vigil in the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave of Gaza for Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist who was killed on Friday.

And in the West Bank, which is run by Fatah, Hamas's rival, around 100 people, most of them foreigners, marched on Saturday through Ramallah to a house of mourning in El Bireh, an AFP correspondent said.

Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, who was working with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was found dead by the security forces in a house in northern Gaza early on Friday.

He had been hanged, Hamas security officials said.

Hamas officials said two people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping and said they were hunting further accomplices.

Ihab al-Ghussein, a Hamas spokesman, called it a "heinous crime which has nothing to do with our values, our religion, our customs and traditions".

"The other members of the group will be hunted down," he said.

There has been an outrage over the cold-blooded killing of the Italian.

"I was about to cry when I heard the news. That man quit his family for us, for Gaza, and now Gazans killed him. That was so bad," Abu Ahmed, a supermarket owner, said.

Samira Ali, a teacher, said: "Those who killed him are not Muslims and certainly not Palestinians."

Arrigoni's kidnappers described him as a "journalist who came to our country for nothing but to corrupt people" - a charge completely rejected by activists and aid workers who knew him in Gaza.

"He's very well-known, he lives among the people," said Huwaida Arraf, a co-founder of ISM. "Vit has repeatedly put his life in danger, put his life on the line in support of the Palestinians."

A journalist colleague at the Italian daily Il Manifesto said he was "astounded" by Arrigoni's death.

Arrigoni is the third ISM member to be killed in Gaza - US national Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003, and a month later Briton Tom Hurndall was shot and critically injured by the army. He died in January 2004.

Widespread condemnation

The murder drew widespread condemnation, from Gaza City to Italy to the UN.

Italy's foreign ministry expressed "deep horror over the barbaric murder," saying it was an "act of vile and senseless violence committed by extremists who are indifferent to the value of human life."

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called for "the perpetrators of this appalling crime to be brought to justice as soon as possible", his spokesperson said in a statement.

Arrigoni was kidnapped a day earlier by a group aligned with al-Qaeda which had demanded that Hamas release Salafist prisoners within a 30-hour deadline that was to have expired on Friday afternoon. It was not clear why they killed him.

In a video posted on YouTube, the kidnappers said Arrigoni had been taken hostage in order to secure the release of an unspecified number of Salafists detained by Hamas.

Arrigoni had been in the Palestinian territories for 10 years, first in the West Bank. He was asked to leave by Israel and he arrived in Gaza in August 2008 with the first ship of the Gaza Free Movement.

There are half a dozen radical Islamist groups in Gaza, with membership numbering in the hundreds. The differences between them are unclear.

Some analysts believe they work in cells to evade Hamas pressure. All want to end Western influence and establish an Islamic state across the Middle East.

Hamas forces in August 2009 killed 28 people, mostly Salafis, in the storming of a mosque where a religious leader who supported al-Qaeda surrounded himself with armed men and declared an Islamic emirate.

Tension eased in Syria's Daraa

Syria to lift emergency law

Syria's president has said he expects his government to lift the decades-old emergency law next week.Bashar al-Assad also pledged further reforms in a televised speech to his new cabinet after it was sworn in on Saturday.
"The juridical commission on the emergency law has prepared a series of proposals for new legislation, and these proposals will be submitted to the government, which will issue a new law within a week at the most," he said.Lifting the 48-year-old state of emergency has been a key demand during a wave of protests over the past month.
The emergency law gives the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge and extends the state's authority into virtually every aspect of Syrians' lives.
The president said unemployment remains the biggest problems in the country and pledged that his new government will follow through on measures introduced by the former cabinet.
He said he realises there is a gap between citizens and the state institutions and that the government has to "keep up with the aspirations of the people".
"The world is rapidly changing around us and we have to keep up with developments," he said. "We have to focus on the demands and the aspirations of the people or there will be a sense of anger".
Assad also said he was saddened by the loss of lives in the demonstrations.
"We pray for their souls, whether they're from the armed forces, the police or ordinary citizens. Investigations are continuing to find those responsible and hold them responsible."

'New reality'

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin, reporting from Damascus, described his speech as "much more conciliatory and realistic" than his speech on March 30 in which he blamed foreign conspirators for the unrest.
"He used key words that the protesters use. For example he spoke about people's need for dignity, for more freedom, for justice. This will strike a cord with some of those who have been protesting on the streets, but not with all," she said.
"He acknowledged the new reality, how the police and the security forces here are not trained for this kind of situations and that they should be retrained and need new equipments. He's saying peaceful protests are now parts of people's lives and will be tolerated."
Rights groups say at least 200 people have been killed in a brutal crackdown since protests began.
Scores of people have been arrested, and US-based Human Rights Watch said on Friday that many of those released said they had been tortured while in detention.
Adel Safar, the prime minister, unveiled the new cabinet on Thursday, and it is expected to carry out broad changes. But the government has little power in the one-party state dominated by Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

Protests against Assad's rule have intensified despite the use of force and mass arrests mixed with promises of reform and concessions to minority groups and conservative Muslims.

Reuters reported that more than 1,000 women marched on Saturday in the coastal city of Baniyas in an all female pro-democracy protest.

"Not Sunni, not Alawite. Freedom is what we all want," the women chanted, according to a rights campaigner quoted by the news agency. The city and surrounding villages have many Alawite residents, belonging to the same religious minority as President Assad.

Earlier in the day, thousands of mourners in the city attended the funeral of a man who witnesses said had died from his wounds after being shot by gunmen loyal to President Assad during protests on April 10.

Osama al-Sheikha, 40, was among a group of men armed with sticks guarding a mosque in Baniyas, where the army has since been deployed to contain protests. Pro-government gunmen shot at them with AK-47 rifles, witnesses said.

Protesters also marched in Daraa on Saturday, chanting "the people want to overthrow the regime", according to Reuters.

Pakistan, Afghanistan set up joint commission to pursue peace

Pakistan and Afghanistan on Saturday agreed on the formation of a joint commission to carry forward the reconciliation process, following the withdrawal of foreign troops from the insurgency-torn country.

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who held exhaustive talks here at the Presidential Palace, described the parleys as “historic”, saying that “the two countries stand together as they have shared destinies.”

Prime Minister Gilani said that he in consultations with President Karzai, Chairman Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and members of the High Peace Council, had agreed to establish the two-tier Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission for facilitating and promoting reconciliation and peace.

The first tier of commission will include the chief executives, foreign ministers along with chiefs of the military and intelligence services of the two countries while the second tier will comprise senior officials of foreign ministries, military and intelligence services.

“I have assured President Karzai that Pakistan strongly supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process for reconciliation and peace,” Gilani said.

He also extended Pakistan’s full support to the efforts of President Karzai and the High Peace Council, for initiating an inclusive process of grand national reconciliation in which all Afghans not only have a stake but the process also promises the future peace and stability in their country.

“We firmly believe that this process must have full Afghan ownership,” Prime Minister Gilani said and added that it was for the Afghan nation to determine the parameters on which a reconciliation and peace process would be shaped.

“Conditions, qualifications or demands at this stage, in our view, may not be helpful,” he added.

He said that the restoration of stability and peace in Afghanistan was essential for peace, security and well-being of the people of Pakistan.

To a question about President Asif Ali Zardari’s recent statement wherein he warned that a destabilized Afghanistan could have a negative impact on Pakistan, Gilani said he fully endorsed the views. He said his visit was particularly aimed at working out a common strategy to jointly fight terrorism that was a threat to both the nations.

Asked whether the United States (US) was on board regarding the Pak-Afghan talks, Prime Minister Gilani said “the US is on-board. That’s our core group and whatever will be decided, will be among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.”

President Karzai, while speaking on the tripartite arrangement, said that his country welcomed consultations with the United States in this regard.

He said Pakistan’s role as a facilitator was also important and added that whatever Prime Minister Gilani said was a “fundamental shift” of Pakistan from its views in the past.

“We today have clarity, which never existed earlier,” Karzai said.

Gilani, when asked about al-Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan, said “it is your country’s problem and you have to decide and set parameters.”

About the role of the United States in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Gilani said “whatever is the policy of the US on Afghanistan, Pakistan will support Afghanistan.”

Gilani also strongly dispelled the notion that terrorists were entering into Afghanistan from Pakistan and said the two countries were already interacting at political, intelligence and defence levels and this cooperation would enhance in the days ahead.

Gilani said that he held in-depth consultations with President Karzai on the situation prevailing in the region and various initiatives that were being talked about for promoting reconciliation and peace.

“I would like to laud the efforts of our Afghan brothers and sisters across length and breadth of Afghanistan to realize their legitimate aspirations for peace and stability.”

President Karzai described the message from Prime Minister Gilani on the reconciliation process as very “clear” and “important” and added that the two sides held detailed talks on all aspects, including the situation in the region and bilateral political, economic and trade relations.

Prime Minister Gilani termed the drone attacks “counter-productive” and added that loss of precious human lives could not be just dismissed as “collateral damage.”

Gilani said similarly, suicide attacks, resulting in loss of innocent lives as well as attacks on places of worship were not only inhuman and barbaric but evidently designed to denigrate Islam and to sow discord among Muslims, communities and societies.

Prime Minister Gilani said his visit to Afghanistan was aimed at reaching out to the Afghani people. He said in his opening remarks that he was here to convey respect and admiration for the great Afghan nation and to renew “deep-rooted bonds of fraternal solidarity.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Saudi-backed troops shoot Bahrainis

Bahraini forces backed by Saudi troops have opened fire on anti-government protesters in the northwestern village of Bani Jamrah, dispersing the protesters by force.

Witnesses say Bani Jamrah is now surrounded by military tanks and all entrances to the village are closed. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Bahraini security forces have also attacked a crowd of anti-government protesters in Karzakan as they were heading to the village's cemetery following the Friday Prayers.

Anti-government protest rallies were also held in Diraz village and the town of A'ali where hundreds of protesters attended the funeral procession of Allama Sayyad Alawi al-Ghureifi.

Since the beginning of anti-government protests in Bahrain in mid-February, scores of protesters have been killed and many others have gone missing. Their bodies are frequently found days after.

According to the opposition, over 800 opposition activists have been arrested.

The protesters are demanding an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

Bahraini security forces with the assistance of Saudi and UAE troops are brutally cracking down on demonstrators.

Protesters, however, say they will continue their street demonstrations until their demands for freedom, constitutional monarchy as well as a proportional voice in the government are met.

Protesters in Bahrain defy ban on rallies

Los Angeles Times
Bands of protesters in more than a dozen villages Friday defied Bahrain security forces and the government's ban on demonstrations to press for the ouster of the country's ruling family.

At least one person died, dozens were injured and some were arrested as protesters, mainly in Shiite Muslim villages, held rallies against the ruling Sunni Muslim dynasty, according to an opposition political party, human rights groups and media reports. Some protesters reportedly encountered tear gas or were shot at by security forces using birdshot.

Early Saturday, during a fierce sandstorm, groups of protesters broke the curfew and tried to reach the Pearl Square traffic circle, where they had camped for weeks before the government cracked down. But the protesters retreated when they heard that a fleet of police cars was approaching.

Since King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa invoked emergency rule 10 days ago prohibiting rallies, residents have protested almost daily in their villages. But Friday's rallies stemmed from an effort by hard-line opposition groups seeking the end of the dynasty, which members of the majority Shiite population assert has long discriminated against them, to have protesters leave villages and march on main roads to important landmarks.

The Bahraini government set up military and police cordons at the main roads into Shiite villages. By mid-morning, ski-masked soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers and riot police with batons, guns and tear gas had established checkpoints and taken up positions on the Budaiya highway, which threads together villages such as Sar, Bani Jamra and Duraz.

The streets were largely empty on what should have been a busy weekend shopping day. Pairs of fighter jets skimmed the highway and other Shiite areas.

But protests flared around 3 p.m., as groups of young men ranging in number from a few dozen to a few hundred gathered by mosques and cemeteries in villages and moved toward the blockades.

On the highway by Duraz, riot police surged down a street leading into town, firing tear gas. In the village, young men collected before a small Shiite mosque and walked down the main street toward the police, unarmed, some wearing scarves and white rags to shield themselves from the tear gas, whose acrid smell hung in the air.

They warned visitors that police were firing rubber bullets. With each round of tear gas, the front line ran back toward the square, an ebb and flow reportedly repeated in other villages.

In the village of Maameer, 71-year-old Isa Mohammed Ali died after inhaling tear gas, according to the opposition group Wefaq, which did not back the rallies. Ali's family said emergency calls to the island nation's main hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Center, which is surrounded by security forces, went unanswered. The Interior Ministry confirmed Ali's death, and concluded, without an autopsy, that it was due to natural causes.

In a statement, the ministry said of the rallies: "Police forces were instructed to deal appropriately with all such gatherings to maintain safety, stability and security in Bahrain."

Five to 10 people were arrested in the village of Samaheej, according to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

Since the crackdown last week, pro-government news media have depicted the protests as the work of outside forces, a thinly veiled though still unsubstantiated reference to interference in the opposition movement by Bahrain's Shiite neighbor, Iran.

Bahrain has cut phone ties and direct flights to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. The pro-government English paper, the Gulf Daily News, quoted Bahrain's foreign minister as saying that Lebanon's Hezbollah is supporting discord and terrorism in the tiny monarchy, and that Persian Gulf countries plan to deport thousands of Lebanese Shiites for alleged ties to Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

In the villages, though, people spoke of the daily threats they live with under martial law. In Bani Jamra, a Shiite woman told of soldiers putting rifles in her face as she walked to the hospital and telling her to go back to Iran, as her frightened 9-year-old daughter cried beside her. Nearby, a group of young men built barricades of cinder block and plywood.

In Khamis, the father of 20-year-old Ibrahim Sabat said his family brought him home from a hospital despite a bullet wound because they feared he would be taken away by the police, as others have been.

Sabat's father spoke next to a low building where the body of Hani Abdulaziz Jumah was being washed before his funeral. Jumah, a street cleaner, was chased by riot police on the evening of March 19 into an adjacent construction site, where he was shot at point-blank range in the left arm and knees and was beaten so badly that bone, blood and tissue were found on the floor and walls, according to Human Rights Watch.

Neighbors found him barely alive and took him to a hospital. Security forces then took him away. His family was denied contact with him, and was notified of his death several days later.

According to the Wefaq opposition group, at least 122 Bahrainis have gone missing since the crackdown.

Gilani to visit Afghanistan Saturday

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani will pay a day-long visit to Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Saturday to meet its leadership. The Prime Minister will hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a wide range of issues including bilateral relations, Afghan situation, regional security, terrorism and extremism besides cross-border infiltration.The Prime Minister is visiting Afghanistan on the invitation of Afghan President Karzai.

Bahraini authorities must urgently reveal the whereabouts and legal status of more than 400 mostly Shi’a opposition activists detained in recent weeks, Amnesty International said today amid concerns about their safety after reports that at least three have died in custody.

Security forces detained leading human rights defender ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and his two sons in law in a raid on his daughter’s home, where they were staying, last Saturday. He was assaulted before being taken away barefoot and denied access to his medication. Alkhawaja’s and his sons in law’s whereabouts remain unknown. One of Alkhawaja’s daughters has launched a hunger strike to demand her relatives’ release.

“These further arrests are evidence of the mounting toll of opposition activists who have been thrown into jail because of their involvement in the protests that have rocked Bahrain since people came onto the streets in February to demand reform,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“We are increasingly concerned for the safety of these detainees, especially after reports of two further deaths in custody last Saturday. The Bahraini authorities must immediately reveal the detainees’ whereabouts, allow them access to their lawyers and families, and protect them against torture or other abuse.”

With two new deaths last Saturday, at least three detainees have now reportedly died in custody in suspicious circumstances since the beginning of the month.
According to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, detainee Ali Isa Saqer, 31, died in hospital on 9 April after security forces intervened to prevent him causing “chaos” in prison.

Two other detainees – Hassan Jassim Mohammed Makki, 39, and Zakaria Rashid Al-Ashiri, aged 40 – reportedly died in custody on 3 and 9 April respectively. The authorities have attributed both deaths to sickle-cell anaemia, an inherited blood disease.

“The Bahraini authorities must ensure that these three deaths are independently investigated, promptly, fully and thoroughly,” said Malcolm Smart.

“It is alarming when so many deaths occur in so short a period when the great majority of detainees are being held in secret locations and there is no known independent access to them.”

“These are conditions ripe for torture and other serious abuses.”

From mid-February until mid-March 2011, Bahrain was gripped by popular protests inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt.

Protesters, mostly members of the majority Shi’a Muslim community, complain that they are discriminated against and marginalized by the ruling Sunni Muslim minority.

Some of the protesters have called for a new constitution, an elected government and greater freedoms and opportunities. Others, including many of those now detained, advocate replacing the monarchy with a republic.

Bahraini security forces used overwhelming force to quell the mid-February protests, killing seven protesters and injuring hundreds.
After a brief lull, and after protesters began to stage marches and sit ins outside the Pearl Roundabout, including in the Financial Harbour, in Manama security forces launched a brutal crackdown in mid-March resulting in clashes that led to further deaths and injuries.

Shortly before the renewed crackdown, the King declared a state of emergency and Saudi Arabia sent a thousand troops into Bahrain to buttress the government.

On Monday, the Minister of Interior reportedly announced that 86 of those arrested in relation to the protests had been released after legal procedures were taken against them.

Bahrain: Is a U.S. Ally Using Torture to Put Down Dissent?

On March 17, Ibrahim Shareef, the head of the anti-government activist movement Waad, was snatched from his home at gunpoint by what his family describes as Bahraini security forces. Thrown into a waiting sport utility vehicle, he was driven off into the night. Today he's still missing, whereabouts unknown.

As the island kingdom's Sunni regime continues to crack down on anti-government activists and prominent Shi'ites, Shareef and more than 460 others are believed to be in government custody. New arrests happen daily in the country, which is home base of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. Bahrain was designated an official Non-NATO ally in October 2001, after the 9/11 attacks on America.
While there have been wild rumors of the whereabouts of the arrested dissidents, the likely truth is dire enough. Nearly all may be held in prisons around Bahrain, with an unknown number undergoing questioning and torture. On Wednesday, opposition party al-Wefaq claimed that at least four detainees had been killed since April 2, from injuries sustained from police-inflicted torture. Human Rights Watch says another three died in March, including one man who arrived in custody with knees blown out by ammunition fired at close range.
Meanwhile, press scrutiny of the regime of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has been severely hampered. Foreign media are largely shut out of the country; and Mansur al-Jamri, the editor of Wefaq's newspaper al Wasat, sits in custody alongside other journalists and bloggers. "There are concerns that heightened restrictions on international press and the levels of intimidation among much of the Shi'a community will prevent important information from getting out," says Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at Chatham House. "Many people are scared that talking to the international media or human rights groups will endanger them or their families."

The result has been catastrophic for the opposition. Based on accounts from Bahrainis who were taken into custody in the revolution's earlier days, the treatment of prisoners can be brutal. The corpses of recent alleged victims may be evidence of torture as well. According to Human Rights Watch, the body of a 31-year-old Shi'ite activist named Ali Issa Saqer bore "signs of horrific abuse." The organization says the other bodies displayed signs that they too had met a "violent end." (See pictures of government troops routing protesters from Pearl Square.)
Bahrain's Interior Ministry says that Saqer died in a jailhouse rumble that got out of hand; it claims two others died while in custody from complications from sickle-cell anemia. But while the disease is common in Bahrain, neither victim had shown symptoms of carrying it pre-arrest. "I very much fear there will be more death because there is no transparency in all this," says Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. "We're not seeing where they're being held, or their names, and it's these kinds of conditions that make for torture and brutality and death."
It doesn't take much to get arrested in Bahrain these days, as the country operates under a reign of terror. People can be taken into custody for any number of reasons: speaking out against the King or vague association with activist groups (offenses can include carrying a Bahraini flag, deemed a symbol of the anti-government movement). They are routinely hauled out of their cars at police checkpoints after being identified as Shi'a. Once jailed, they reportedly face interrogators bent on getting them to incriminate themselves, even for nonviolent political association. The regime is taking extreme measures to extinguish any flicker of rebellion. "The hard line faction of the ruling family is [eliminating] any and all forms of political dissent," says Stork. "There are still raids into villages every night. It's punishment, creating a state of fear, so that no one will stick out their head and raise their voice."
In Manama, those who have been arrested at gunpoint and let go tell of being bound by their hands and feet with cables tied so tight blood circulation is cut off; they described being gagged and blindfolded for days. According to HRW, the regime has, in the past, used electro-shock devices. These include cattle prods and stun guns, which immobilize victims' bodies and leave visible marks.
Once the torture ends, jailhouse conditions are still brutal. One leading activist spent six months in prison, in a cell he described as being "not much wider" than a bath towel. He was allowed so little contact with the outside world that towards the end of his imprisonment, the family was unsure if he was still alive. Briefly released, he was re-arrested last month, now one of the 460 missing.

Before Laughing at Chinese 'Time Travel' Ban, Look at U.S. Censorship

CNN reported Thursday that China has banned "time travel." According to China's State Administration of Radio, Film & Television, officials are referring to TV shows and movies with characters who travel back in time and change history - although I'm sure actual time traveling is banned too.
Movies like "Terminator" and "Back to the Future" are seen as clouding the minds of Chinese youth. The idea of changing history by time travel also goes against the country's cultural beliefs. I'm pretty sure this goes against most Western beliefs too. Certainly the Christian religion doesn't condone the idea of going back in time to change events in the Bible. However, most of us have a keen sense of humor and recognize the notion of time travel as fantasy and entertainment.
Yet I wonder if the right-wing radicals would jump on this band wagon if given the chance. Could we see protests against time travel right here in the United States? It sounds as far-fetched as time travel itself, but I've seen stranger protests materialize.
Just a year ago, Americans protested against quality health care. That probably seems as strange to the Chinese as their time-travel ban seems to us. We also passed the Patriot Act, stripping away our basic rights in the name of security. If Homeland Security deemed time travel movies to be a threat to U.S. security, would we ban them too?

According to, films such as "Scarface" and "Frankenstein" were banned in certain U.S. states during their initial release.

In 1997 "The Tin Drum" was banned in Oklahoma City. Several sponsors pulled out of William Shatner's new comedy TV series because of it's title: "S#*! My Dad Says." We aren't without our own quirks of censorship and odd government rulings. Before we laugh at the Chinese for this latest round of nonsensical censorship, let's try to keep things open in our own country.
Don't throw stones at glass houses or TV sets. Until we repeal the Patriot Act, we probably don't have room to laugh at the Chinese ban on anything. Let's give a better example to our friends around the world. No censorship or revoking any "rights" ever proves to be effective. Sometimes we don't get it right either.