Thursday, March 17, 2011

Iraqis eyeing Bahrain protests with anger, caution

Concerns over clashes in Bahrain between Shiite protesters and security forces from Sunni Arab states spilled over into Iraq on Thursday, as thousands of Shiite protesters converged on holy shrines to show support for their brethren in Bahrain.

The Shiite-led uprising in Bahrain has galvanized Iraq's Shiite population. The decision by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states to send forces into Bahrain also threatens to worsen relations between Baghdad and Riyadh, which already views Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as a pawn of Iran.
About 3,000 people in Karbala, 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad, gathered between the city's two main Shiite mosques in a demonstration that local councilman Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi predicted will be dwarfed by much larger crowds after prayers on Friday. About 200 people took to the streets in downtown Baghdad, many of them spontaneously joining the demonstration in a busy shopping area.
"I saw the demo and decided to ... march with the demonstrators in solidarity with our brothers in Bahrain, with whom we are linked in religion and Arab ethnicity," said Amir al-Asaadi, 35, a businessman from Basra.
Parliament discussed sending $5 million in aid to Shiites in Bahrain and demanded that the Arab League and the United Nations immediately intervene.
Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, criticized the U.S. response to the unrest against the tiny island's Sunni monarchy.
"The American stance on what is going on in Bahrain is indecisive and hesitant," al-Jaafari told a press conference in Baghdad. "Their response was timid, and that was not enough."
He also called on Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, to denounce Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in letters to the Baghdad-based ambassadors of both nations. He suggested that Iraq recall its ambassador from Bahrain.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have sent forces to help Bahrain's monarchy subdue anti-government protests.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said he fears clashes between Gulf forces and protesters could inflame sectarian violence across the Mideast. Two of Iraq's most prominent Shiite clerics also have weighed in: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on Bahrain's government to cease the crackdown on protesters.
And Shiite anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stoked the discontent, telling his followers in Baghdad and Basra to hold demonstrations to protest the Saudi incursion. Afterward, thousands of Sadrists rallied in their Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, and al-Sadr's supporters also protested in Basra.
Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi urged calm and said all foreign parties should stay out of Bahrain's conflict.
"We call on all to leave the Bahraini people — with all their ethnicities and social sects — to decide their fate by themselves without any intervention," al Nujaifi said.
The reaction Thursday from parliamentarians was one of the strongest outbursts so far by Iraq' parliament, which remained largely silent as demonstrations swept through other countries in the Middle East.
Iraq has grappled with its own internal tensions after years of sectarian killings that brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2005-2008 between majority Shiites and former Sunni ruling elite.
Also Thursday, a Sunni lawmaker said she escaped an assassination attempt as she headed to parliament. Lawmaker Etab al-Douri, a member of the Iraqiya alliance, said three gunmen fired four bullets at her armored car. The attackers fled before they could be captured, and al-Douri and her guards were not hurt.
Police and hospital officials said eight people were wounded Thursday by a bomb strapped to a bicycle in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq over the last three years, but deadly shootings and bombings still occur every day.

Foreign troops in Bahrain

Appeal from Bahraini Writers Against Government Crackdown

As a matter of historical responsibility, this is an appeal from the Bahrain Writers Association and Bahrain Pen Center for help in face of mass systematic murder against the unarmed people of Bahrain, demanding legitimate rights for a democratic system which respects their rights.

What’s happening in our country since yesterday 15th March is genocide and brutal harm against unarmed citizens who were expressing their protests peacefully. Bahrain has witnessed killings and attacks on several cities and villages of the Shi’ite which resulted in a number of deaths and hundreds wounded in the gunfire; as happened in Sitra city and other villages where it has been usurped completely by riot police and the Bahraini army and the armies of GCC.
Supported by security were men and soldiers dressed in civilian clothes, which is incompatible with the most basic foundations of ethical and professional security personnel – especially in the case of an emergency.
At dawn of Wednesday the 16th, mounted riot police backed by armed force from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates attacked, without prior warning, hundreds of families taking part in a sit-in protest at Pearl Square using all kinds of firearms and Apache helicopters and closed all ports to prevent the escape of the protestors and prevent the access of medical aid and ambulances.
After that, the main Salmanya hospital was besieged and then broken through by riot police in order to arrest the wounded and infringe on the medical staff. They also surrounded the Bahrain International Hospital and Ibn – Alnafees hospital. Because of this, the number of deaths is expected to rise as people could not be cured.
The Government of Bahrain has proceeded to call on the help of the Saudi military forces and those from UAE. More troops from the Gulf are expected to arrive in order to be used in the suppression of the people of Bahrain who are peaceful and unarmed. The interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain is repressing the voices of freedom and democracy.
Bahrain Writers Association and Bahrain Pen Center appeal to the international community, Security Council, Secretary General of the United Nations and the Organization of International PEN and all centers of International PEN and all organizations and cultural institutions and international literary figures to provide rapid intervention to provide protection for the people of Bahrain in the face of oppression and brute force exercised by the system and Gulf allies against the defenseless people.
Bahrain 16th March 2011
Ahmed Alajmi
Acting President
Bahrain Writers Association
Fareed Ramadan
Acting President
Bahrain Pen Center

Copied from: Bahrain: Appeal from Bahraini Writers Against Government Crackdown | The Global Herald
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Raymond Davis...End of the affair

The Raymond Davis issue has finally been settled. The CIA contractor who was charged with double murder in Lahore was finally set free on Wednesday after the families of the two victims pardoned Davis and settled the issue by accepting blood money. Each family was paid Rs 100 million in compensation. Davis left the country the same day. The case was settled as per Pakistan’s Qisas and Diyat laws, which are ostensibly shariah laws. Qisas allows retaliation/retribution while Diyat allows the heirs of the victim to grant pardon to the accused in return for blood money. It is ironic to see that the same Islamists and right-wing forces who wanted Davis hanged are now twisting themselves in knots over the court’s verdict that was as per the same shariah laws they have been advocating for decades. Like other shariah laws in Pakistan’s statute books, human rights groups and progressives have been critical of the Qisas and Diyat laws as they are inherently pro-rich and anti-poor. These laws have been misused for a long time, especially when it comes to honour killings. Those who are rich and powerful literally get away with murder because of these laws. The Right has opposed repealing of these laws just like they opposed it in the case of the blasphemy laws. Since they cannot object to the judgement in the Raymond Davis case because of the Islamic element in it, they have now resorted to their tired old mantra of ‘ghairat’ (honour).

The whole ghairat brigade was up in arms over the release of Davis and took to the streets to protest on Wednesday and Thursday. Apart from the usual suspects, i.e. the religious parties, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) were at the forefront of these rallies. More protest rallies will be taken out today (Friday). The protesting parties are claiming that the federal government, the Punjab government and the military have sold Pakistan’s sovereignty to the Americans for some dollars. There are reports that the families of the victims were coerced into signing the pardon. If this is true, the courts must look into this angle. A petition to this effect has already been filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC).

There is no denying that backdoor diplomacy was used to resolve this complicated matter by US and Pakistani officials. Both countries were keen to get out of this mess as it had complicated their relationship to an alarming extent. Senator Kerry’s trip was a reflection of these manoeuvres. Reportedly, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani and director general ISI Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha played a role in the settlement. While the details of monetary compensation to the victims’ families were made public, everyone is wondering about the pound of flesh extracted by the military and the ISI from the affair.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has, understandably, denied that any money was paid by the US government to secure Davis’s release but she has assured that “a Department of Justice investigation has begun into what happened in Lahore”. It is yet to be seen whether Davis will be actually tried in the US for the double murder, but the strained Pak-US relations appear to be now back on track. Those who wanted Davis brought to justice made it a question of national security, honour and prestige, but the problem is that all these people had also vowed to abide by the court’s verdict. Most of all, their patrons in the GHQ were deeply involved in the settlement issue. Thus it is easier for them to blame the government instead of those who actually brought about the settlement. Most people forget that Pakistan is a client state and the stakes for both the US and Pakistan were very high. They both badly needed to get out of this impasse. Pakistan cannot function without military and financial aid from the US. As long as we are financially dependent on other countries, crying hoarse over our lost sovereignty sounds like a plaint in the dark

Bomb blasts kills four in Balochistan

Two separate bomb attacks on paramilitary convoys in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province on Thursday killed four people including three soldiers, officials said.

The separatist Baloch Republican Army claimed responsibility for the first attack, in which a remotely-detonated roadside bomb hit a convoy in Naseerabad district, 430 kilometres southeast of Quetta.

“Two soldiers and a passer-by were killed and seven others were wounded. One vehicle was also badly damaged,” Abdul Jabbar Jatoi, a senior administrative official told AFP.

A second bomb, planted in a car and also detonated remotely, went off later in the outskirts of Quetta, killing another soldier and wounding three others, police said.

“One soldier died in hospital, three others are under medical treatment,” Hasan Buzdar, a police official in Quetta told AFP.

An official of the Paramilitary Frontier Corps in Quetta confirmed the incidents.

Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, has seen a surge in violence recently, with the province suffering from a separatist insurgency, sectarian violence and Taliban militants.

Hundreds of people have died since militants rose up in 2004 demanding political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region’s natural oil, gas and mineral resources.

An interview with Arooj Aftab

Arooj Aftab has been well known among Pakistani youngsters and music enthusiasts for quite a few years. The talented young singer made her mark in the local underground scene before she went to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

In this exclusive interview by Asif Akhtar, she talks about her experience at music school and what she’s doing now.

Abdullah Slams Karzai’s Ambiguous Comments

President Karzai’s ambiguous comments will face Afghanistan with a lot of challenges, Opposition Leader Abdullah Abdullah said on Thursday.
Leader of the Change and Hope Coalitin Dr Abdullah Abdullah criticises President Hamid Karzai of hesitating to condemn the Taliban and says President Karzai’s ambiguous comments do not suit a modern leadership.
Pointing to the experiences of the Middle East leaders, Abdullah said leaders who do not address demands of their nations and are totalitarian will face similar fates.
Calling for political change in Afghanistan, Mr Abdullah urges the government to involve Afghans in major political decisions.
Afghan President Karzai has recently said that the Taliban leadership should speak up and make it clear if the one (Zabihullah Mujahid) who introduces himself as its spokesman is really representing them.
“If Zabihullah Mujahid is not representing the Taliban, then the Taliban leadership should speak out and say he doesn’t represent them,” said Mr Karzai at a recent press conference in Kabul.
Zabihullah Mujahid is the one regularly claiming responsibility for bombings and other insurgent attacks on behalf of the Taliban.
“It means if someone else appears as Taliban’s spokesman and the Taliban leadership suddenly claim that Zabihullah Mujahid is not representing the group, then President Karzai would think that the Taliban have committed no crimes,” Dr Abdullah told a news conference on Thursday.
The Afghan people have faced more challenges during the recent years, which Dr Abdullah believes are caused by people’s marginalisation and lack of respect to the country’s laws.
But an Afghan writer and researcher, Akram Arefi, is of the opinion that Afghanistan has never experience freedom and democracy.
“If we look back at history, Afghans have never witnessed a system based on freedom and democracy,” said Mr Arefi.

Afghan transition to controlling the country's future faces many obstacles

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Afghans must overcome "major obstacles" to demonstrate their ability to control the country's future, including a dispute over the status of parliament and an impasse over the embattled Kabul Bank.

The United Nations chief said in a quarterly report to the U.N. Security Council that Afghan parties have taken a number of positive steps, but he warned that if tensions over parliament continue or lead to a political crisis, the government's credibility and effectiveness will be adversely affected.

Afghanistan's parliament — one of few checks on the administration of President Hamid Karzai — was finally inaugurated in late January after months of investigations and debate over allegations of widespread fraud during the polling. But vote recounts and continued questions about who was rightfully elected could throw doubts on parliament's legitimacy.

Ban said the tension between the executive, legislative and judicial branches over the status of parliament must be resolved.

He said there were "significant flaws" in the election process and the results, which reflected the instability in the country, created a parliament where the majority Pashtun population "in some areas is apparently underrepresented compared to the previous parliament."

This problem needs to be addressed and he warned that the way it is addressed "will have consequences for the transition process in particular, and the future stability of Afghanistan in general."

He said U.N. envoy Staffan De Mistura has been working with all parties to find a solution while stressing that it should not be achieved "at the expense of the electoral institutions, the constitutional separation of powers, the confidence of the international community, or indeed that of the Afghan people."

Ban said the impasse over Kabul Bank is weakening confidence in Afghanistan's financial system and preventing the International Monetary Fund from completing a new program for the country.

Kabul Bank — the nation's largest lender — nearly collapsed last year after allegations of mismanagement, cronyism and questionable lending. Afghanistan's central bank took control of Kabul Bank in mid-September after a run on the lender sparked by the removal of two top executives.

The central bank has spent the past several months combing Kabul Bank's books to determine the size of its exposure and recoup loans. Last month, Afghan officials said an "erroneous" audit and inadequate help from international banking advisers compounded long-running financial problems at Kabul Bank.

The secretary-general said the impasse over Kabul Bank also "has implications for the prospect of international partners aligning assistance with Afghanistan's national priority programs," and the delay in resolving it "threatens to undermine the government's vision for economic growth."

"These delays weaken confidence in the country's financial system and, crucially, prevent the finalization of an agreement on a new IMF country program," Ban said.

Without an IMF program, he said, it will be difficult for international partners to meet commitments they have made to help Afghanistan and direct funds through the government's budget.

The secretary-general said the bank impasse and uncertainty over adequate security for development projects because of problems with private security companies "puts at risk the critical financing needed to implement the government's prioritized development agenda."

The Afghan government has ordered all private security companies to disband by March 21, 2012.

Afghanistan Plans Departure of Security Firms

The Afghan government is planning to phase out most private security companies and replace them with its own forces over the next 12 months, according to Afghan and international officials.

The timeline appears to end months of turmoil over how quickly the companies would be pushed out, and it should clear the way for projects that had been delayed by security concerns to resume development.

The plan allows foreign embassies and organizations with diplomatic missions to continue using private security companies at their discretion. Other entities, including the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the United States Agency for International Development, could continue to contract with the companies over the next 12 months.

At the end of that period, the Afghan Public Protection Force and the Ministry of Defense would take responsibility for securing NATO supply convoys and protecting international development projects, according to details of the plan released late Tuesday.

Whether 12 months is long enough to meet that goal is an open question, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a group that represents companies doing business with the American government around the world, including Afghanistan. “But at least this now gives us some time to work toward that goal without some arbitrary, short-term deadline,” he said.

The extensive use of private security companies by the United States and other foreign entities has been a source of tension in Afghanistan and Iraq for years, fueled by high-profile episodes involving civilian deaths, excessive use of force and corruption.

In August, President Hamid Karzai issued a decree banning most private security companies, with the Afghan Public Protection Force replacing them. NATO welcomed the move, but how quickly the companies would be ushered out was unclear. Many development groups that rely on the companies worried that the government would replace them before Afghan forces were trained or numerous enough to take on the work.

The government appeared to back off in December when it agreed that the companies would be gradually replaced when enough government guards were recruited and trained to take their place. But Mr. Karzai ordered a secret investigation into the companies. It concluded that more than 80 percent of the 52 licensed companies had committed some offense, including 16 cited for “major offenses.”

The serious offenses included such violations as the illegal use of weapons, illegal hiring, vehicle offenses and tax evasion. The investigation raised concerns among Western officials that Mr. Karzai was trying to hasten the departure of the companies, while the companies privately fretted that the list was a kind of shakedown by the government, which the government denied.

The Ministry of Interior said that all but 7 of the 52 companies would be allowed to continue operating in the country, but urged them to settle their “security and legal violations” within 90 days. The remaining seven, mostly local companies, were ordered disbanded for having ties to government officials.

Lt. Gen. James Bucknall, deputy commander of the NATO-led force, said in a statement that the “one-year bridging strategy” ensured that the transition to Afghan security forces would “take place in an orderly and measured way without prejudice to security of the agencies involved.”

The plan also should allow new development projects that had been threatened to move forward, including the construction of military bases and police stations for Afghan forces over the next two years at a cost of more than $10 billion.

In another area that has raised tensions with the Afghan government, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of American and allied forces in Afghanistan, ordered an investigation on Wednesday into a NATO airstrike that killed two children in Kunar Province on Monday. Local officials said the children — two brothers, ages 11 and 17 — were watering their family’s field when a helicopter fired on them.

It was the latest in a string of cases involving civilian casualties this month that have aggravated relations between NATO forces and Mr. Karzai. Last week, a cousin of Mr. Karzai was killed in a night raid in Kandahar Province. And on March 1, NATO helicopter gunners mistakenly killed nine boys collecting firewood in Kunar Province, believing that they were insurgents. Both episodes are under investigation.

NATO suspended the ground force commander and grounded the helicopter crew involved in Monday’s killings while the investigation into them continues.

“I cannot overstate how seriously we take all instances of civilian casualties,” General Petraeus, who was in Washington testifying before Congress, said in a statement. “We will take all necessary steps to get to the bottom of this. We know we cannot succeed if we harm the people.”

Also on Wednesday, 12 oil tankers carrying fuel for NATO bases were destroyed in a fiery blast after a motorcycle loaded with explosives detonated while it was parked next to them in Tarin-Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province, local officials said. Two men believed to be drivers were killed and six others were wounded, said Ahmad Milad Mudasir, a provincial spokesman.

Neighboring countries ponder a post-occupation Afghanistan

Worried that the administration is moving toward an endgame in Afghanistan — through troop withdrawals, negotiations or both — other countries in the region have stepped up efforts to protect security and economic interests that might conflict with those of the United States.

President Obama has argued that the long-term solution to Afghanistan’s problems lies in the neighborhood. Yet while Pakistan and India — as well as Iran, Russia, China and the Central Asian republics — say they want stability and an end to the terrorist threat, each has its own idea of what a future Afghanistan should look like.

The administration has regularly consulted on Afghanistan beyond its comfort zone of Western allies. But early hopes that common goals in Afghanistan could lead to a U.S.-Iranian dialogue or a U.S.-assisted resolution of the India-Pakistan dispute faded long ago.

Solving Afghanistan’s conflict poses complex policy problems far beyond the immediate neighbors. Saudi Arabia, which has served as a venue for talks between the Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Taliban, remains worried about Iranian influence. Turkey, which sees itself as a bridge between the West and the Islamic world, is anxious to play a role.

India, Obama’s first stop on an Asian tour that begins Friday, opposes a role for former insurgents in the Afghan government, the logical conclusion of nascent Afghan-Taliban talks. India worries that integrating the Taliban will come at the expense of New Delhi’s Afghan proxy, the former Northern Alliance of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks.

India’s concern on this issue, shared by Iran and others in the region, is largely directed toward Pakistan. For ethnic and political reasons, Pakistan favors the southern Afghan Pashtuns, who dominate the Taliban.

Iran also has found common cause with Russia in pushing for tougher military action in Afghanistan against poppy cultivation and opium production, a priority the U.S.-led coalition has downgraded. Russia, while supporting the anti-terrorism fight, fears an extended U.S.-NATO military presence in the region and the indignity of an American success where its own forces failed in the 1980s.

China, in competition with India and Russia, has tightened its ties with Pakistan and poured money into potentially profitable Afghan development projects.

Beneath the political jockeying, government and private economic interests are competing for future wedges of Afghanistan’s potential peacetime pie, including billions in undertapped mineral wealth, hydrocarbons concessions and pipeline rights of way.

“There is a reason why everyone is taking an interest, and that is because things are moving,” Mark Sedwill, NATO’s top civilian representative in Afghanistan, said at last month’s meeting in Rome of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan. U.S. and European officials expressed pleasure that Iran and the Organization of the Islamic Conference participated in the group for the first time.

But regional players have also been talking about the endgame among themselves, out of U.S. earshot. India has exchanged high-level delegations with Iran and Russia to discuss Afghanistan; Russia has consulted closely with the Central Asian republics. Iran, Russia and India have hosted Karzai this year.

Karzai appears to be leaving his options open. The “bags of money” his government receives from Iran, he said last month, are no different from the cash he receives from the United States. Both Washington and Tehran, he said, want things in return.

India, Iran and Russia agree “they don’t want to do anything to make life difficult for the coalition,” said Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a frequent administration adviser on the region. “They still see [the United States] as doing the right thing in beating up on a common enemy.

“But if they were to perceive that the coalition has moved toward actually trying to make a deal with the Taliban to the disadvantage of the three, then the stage is set,” Tellis said. “The lines of communication have been put in place.”

India, Iran and Russia have their own proxies inside Afghanistan, according to Tellis and other analysts. Karzai’s move this year to rid his government of senior officials who opposed Taliban talks or cooperation with Pakistan — including former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and former interior minister Hanif Atmar — led to talk of a resurgent Northern Alliance girding for civil war.

“A variety of parties in Afghanistan have been hoarding weapons and sending family members and money overseas,” said a former U.S. intelligence official with long-standing ties to the Northern Alliance groups, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s their version of contingency planning.”

European allies also have expressed concern that the administration, in its expressions of enthusiasm for negotiations, is neglecting anti-Taliban power bases in Afghanistan.

“It’s an element that is very often forgotten in the description” of a possible political solution, said a senior European official whose government is one of the leading contributors to the coalition effort. “It’s sexy in a way to talk to the Taliban,” the official said. But “it would not help us at all if we foster talks between the government and the Taliban and forget that the Taliban, as important as they and the Pashtuns are, are not the only group.”

The administration sees improved relations between India and Pakistan as “a key piece of the puzzle . . . the heart of the deal” in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official said. But it has only gingerly approached their bilateral differences, and its attempts to woo India and Pakistan separately have served largely to increase each’s suspicion of the other and of U.S. intentions.

Their mutual sensitivity led Obama last month to rule out a Pakistan stop on his Asia trip, when all attention will be focused on India. After three days in India, he explained to top Pakistani officials at a White House meeting, he knew they would take it amiss if he spent only a half-day in their country. Instead, he told them, he would travel there separately next year.

Pakistan has said it needs to maintain a strong military presence along its eastern border with India, expending resources that could otherwise be devoted to the robust action the administration seeks against insurgent sanctuaries along the Afghanistan border to the west. Pakistan has asked the administration to intercede with India to resolve a broad range of issues, including the long-standing dispute over Kashmir, while also expressing strong concern about India’s intentions in Afghanistan and questioning growing U.S.-India civil nuclear ties.

India, much larger and far more prosperous than its neighbor, has called the Pakistanis paranoid, an assessment many in the administration share. New Delhi has raised concerns with Washington about rapidly increasing U.S. military aid to Pakistan and urged the administration to restrict its assistance to counterterrorism weaponry.

If Pakistan truly wanted to improve relations, the Indians argue, it would move against domestic terrorist groups that have launched repeated attacks inside India, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Obama plans to spend at least half of his three-day Indian visit in Mumbai, where he will commemorate the dozens killed in the attacks.

But while Afghanistan is on the agenda for talks between Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Indians have made it clear that they neither want nor need American assistance in their bilateral dealings with Pakistan.

Japan’s nuclear crisis will last weeks, U.S. official says
The nuclear power plant crisis in Japan will probably take weeks to resolve, forcing Japanese workers to intensify their risky efforts to bring the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant under control, a top U.S. official said Thursday.“This is something that will likely take some time to work through, possibly weeks, as eventually you remove the majority of the heat from the reactors and then the spent-fuel pools,” Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko told reporters at a White House briefing. “So it’s something that will be ongoing for some time.”

Jaczko’s statement came after Japanese military and police personnel risked exposure to dangerous levels of radiation to use helicopters and water canons to douse unit 3 at the plant with thousands of gallons. Reports of steam rising from one of the stricken reactors indicated that the dramatic efforts had delivered at least some water. But it remained unclear whether it was enough to keep radiation levels from spinning out of control.

“It hasn’t gotten worse, which is positive,” Graham Andrew of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. “The situation remains very serious but there has been no significant worsening since yesterday.”

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the plant, said radiation levels had dropped following the hour-long effort. But Andrew, a senior aide to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, cautioned at a news conference: “It is still possible that it could get worse.”

At the same time, Tokyo Electric reached unit 2 at the facility with a new electric cable in the hopes of restoring power and restarting the plant’s on-site cooling system using seawater. Power had not yet been reactivated to the facility, but officials said they hoped to connect the line, perhaps as early as Friday, after they had finished spraying water at the nearby unit 3 reactor.

President Obama, addressing the crisis in a statement issued from the Rose Garden, said, “We are working aggressively to support our Japanese ally. “ He reiterated assurances that the disaster posed no threat to the United States, adding he had instructed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review the safety of U.S. nuclear plants in the wake of the crisis. There was no reason to believe they were unsafe, he stressed.

“Our nuclear plants have undergone exhaustive study and been declared safe,” Obama said.
“My heart goes out to the people of Japan during this enormous tragedy. Please know that America will always stand by one of its greatest allies during this time of need,” Obama wrote. “Because of the strength and wisdom of its people, we know that Japan will recover, and indeed will emerge stronger than ever. And as it recovers, the memory of those who have been lost will remain in our hearts, and will serve only to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. May God bless the people of Japan.”

Obama then told reporters he hoped to communicate how “heartbroken” America is over the tragedy.

A U.S. C-17 military plane had landed in Japan carrying a team of 33 and 17,000 pounds of supplies, including equipment to monitor air measurements for radiation, Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman told reporters earlier in the day.

U.S. diplomats in Tokyo have dispatched 14 buses to evacuate Americans who have been stuck north of Sendai, unable to evacuate because of the lack of transportation, said Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary for management at the State Department.

The Americans “have not been able to move south to Tokyo because of the absence of transportation, and they have not been able to move north towards Misawa on the northern tip because--again, absence of transportation and becuase of severe damage to the roads,” Kennedy told reporters on Thursday.

He said the buses, which can carry about 600 people, would travel back to Tokyo. The stranded Americans were outside the 50-mile zone surrounding the damaged nuclear power plant that the U.S. government has recommended that its citizens vacate.

The State Department on Thursday sent the first of what is expected to be several charter flights to evacuate the families of U.S. diplomatic personnel and other Americans wishing to leave, Kennedy said.

In a dangerous emergency mission, two Japanese military helicopters dropped more than 65 tons of water on the plant, apparently focusing on delivering water to a spent-fuel storage pool in unit 3. Then, soldiers used 11 high-pressure fire trucks designed for putting out fires at plane crashes to douse a damaged reactor building from a distance. The soldiers acted after Japanese police failed in their efforts to spray the building with water cannons normally used for riot control.

Members of the Self-Defense Force, as the military is known, moved their trucks into position and began to spray water Thursday evening, taking aim at the same unit 3 reactor that was targeted by helicopters earlier in the day. They sprayed water for more than half an hour before leaving the plant.

A spokesman for Tokyo Electric said radiation levels showed a very small decrease after the helicopter missions. But, noting the minuscule drop in radiation readings, the World Nuclear Association said the water drops by helicopter “did not appear accurate enough to be effective,” adding that “the effect at present seems marginal at best.” The London-based organization, which promotes nuclear energy, said one attempt was made to douse the unit 4 reactor building but that the pilots withdrew “after encountering high levels of radiation.”

Obama also made an unannounced visit to the Japanese Embassy and signed a condolence book.

Arab clerics slam Bahrain crackdown

A number of Muslim scholars from Bahrain, Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) and other Arab countries have condemned ongoing brutalities against anti-government protesters in Bahrain.

Today, there is not a Muslim who is not saddened by the bloody clashes and the painful situation of the lovers and supporters of Shia faith in Bahrain, the Iranian-based scholars declared in a statement released on Thursday, IRNA reported.

“The only fault of these innocent people in these killings is that they have expressed their opinions against their oppressor and tyrannical rulers,” the statement added.

The clerics said the United States, Israel and their allies, including Saudi Arabia, have been alarmed by a wave of Islamic awakening which seeks a revival of true Islamic values and a spirit of anti-colonialist policies in the region.

“They do not spare any move, overt or covert, against this wave of awakening,” the clerics said.

The statement also urged the public to participate in a rally in support of Bahraini protesters in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

On March 13, Bahrain's fellow members of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council -- which groups Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar -- dispatched armed forces to the Persian Gulf island to assist the crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The international community has censured Manama's use of violent force against demonstrators that demand constitutional reforms as well as the ouster of the country's two-century-old Sunni-led monarchy.

On Thursday, the United Nations rights chief denounced the Bahraini government's closure and siege against the country's hospitals amid the killing and injuring of protesters by security forces.

'Saudi snipers target Bahraini nurse'

Saudi snipers are reported to have gunned down a Bahraini nurse, targeting the medical staffer as she tried to reach a hospital in the capital.

The victim came under attack on Thursday in the Qadam village, while heading for Manama's Salmaniya Hospital, witnesses said.

Government forces have reportedly commandeered the hospitals while carrying on with their bloody crackdown on anti-government protests across the country.

Demonstrators in the Shia-majority country have been demanding the ouster of the 230-year-old Sunni-led monarchy as well as constitutional reforms, with hundreds camping out peacefully in the capital's Pearl Square since February 14th.

Manama-sanctioned crackdown by security forces has killed several people, injuring tens of others.

Thousands have turned out in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to protest the Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain and the brutal crackdown of anti-regime protesters there.

'Saudi forces reflect badly on king'

Amid further bloodshed in Bahrain, the head of the kingdom's largest opposition party has called on Saudi Arabia's king to pull the Saudi forces out of Bahrain.

“The military should withdraw from Bahrain, the military of Saudi Arabia, and this is a call to the Saudi king, King Abdullah,” said Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the Shia faction of Al Wefaq on Thursday, AFP reported.

Led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain's fellow members of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups Bahrain's Arab neighbors, have dispatched armed forces to the Persian Gulf island to assist the crackdown on the anti-government uprising.

A Saudi sniper has reportedly gunned down a Bahraini nurse on Thursday, targeting the medical staffer as she tried to reach a hospital in the capital.

The victim came under attack in the Qadam village while heading for Manama's Salmaniya Hospital, witnesses said.

Demonstrators in the Shia-majority country have been demanding the ouster of the 230-year-old Sunni-led monarchy as well as constitutional reforms, with hundreds camping out peacefully in the capital's Pearl Square since February 14th.

Manama-sanctioned crackdown by security forces has killed several people, injuring tens of others.

Salman said, "We call for an investigation by the United Nations into what has happened from February 14 up to now," he said.

Also on Thursday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay denounced a new move by the government to commandeer the country's hospitals amid acts of aggression taken by the forces.

"There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protesters and of medical personnel, and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centers by various security forces," she said.

Bahrain crackdown widens; dissent comes from roofs

How astonishing, army is attacking people
Kuwaiti Shiites hold signs reading, "How astonishing, the army is attacking the people" and "No Sunni, no Shiite, long live national unity" (R) in Kuwait City during a protest in support of Shiite-led anti-government protesters in Bahrain where the US-backed Sunni Muslim rulers are waging a bloody crackdown on them.

The nighttime cries of dissent went out from the rooftops shortly after the text messages came through. For nearly 15 minutes, just as the messages exhorted, they called out to the sky: "God is Great!" as soldiers and police took hold of the streets below.
In the capital, Manama, and in Shiite villages like Sitra, the hub of Bahrain's oil industry, Bahrain's crackdown on the monthlong uprising expanded, drawing the full fury of the Sunni monarchy and its Saudi-led allies, who see the Shiite demands for a say in running the country as a threat to the 200-year-old rule.
Bahrain's royal family is gambling that it can survive the sectarian faultlines that splinter the kingdom and the region, with the help of a 1,500-strong force led by the Saudis to bolster a government that the Gulf's Sunni leaders — and the U.S. — see as a bulwark against Shiite Iran's expanding military ambitions.
As night fell, residents of Sitra and other Shiite villages outside the capital Manama braced for new violence, stocking up on provisions. Young men armed with sticks, stones and kitchen knives geared up to confront Bahrain's army.
"We are not afraid, but we are cautious because we know they came here to kill us," said Mohammed Said, a 30-year-old from Sitra, pushing a supermarket cart packed with frozen chicken, bottled water, chickpeas and bread.
As the curfew went into effect, people shouted "God Is Great" from across Manama's rooftops. Opposition leaders sent texts earlier, asking people to shout twice every night "to tell the army your tanks cannot silence us." The cries mirrored a protest used last year by Iran's opposition, who would cry out "God is Great!" from rooftops at night at the height of that regime's crackdown.
The U.S. has made Bahrain home to the Navy's 5th Fleet, counting on the Sunni rulers who endured Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and waves of unrest among the Shiite majority, long complaining of persecution and economic inequality.
But the ruling system — which just two weeks ago appealed for negotiations with majority Shiites — now appears to be trying to crush the opposition, imposing a three-month emergency rule that gives the military wide powers to battle the pro-democracy uprising inspired by the revolts across the Arab world.
"We are afraid, because they are determined to make war," said another Sitra resident, Muslim Abdel Hussein. "But this is not a military problem, it's political. We are citizens. We want rights, that's all."
Two protesters killed last month in Manama were buried in Sitra, an island and a port city southwest of the capital. The Shiite town was also the site of the worst confrontations on Tuesday when the king declared a state of emergency. A 24-year-old was killed and hundreds of others were injured by shotgun blasts and clubs, according to Dr. Ibrahim Youssef of the Sitra Health Center.
Shiites account for 70 percent of the half-million population, but are widely excluded from high-level posts. What started Feb. 15 as a protest for rights, however, has since spiraled into widespread calls for an end to the Sunni monarchy.
The rulers and their backers are using everything at their disposal, while Shiites hope sheer demographics will be their most potent weapon. The European Union and NATO echoed U.S. calls for Bahrain to refrain from violence and try to settle the crisis through dialogue.
The crackdown widened on Thursday with the detention of at least seven activists.
"I saw men in black pointing a machine gun at my husband saying just one thing: `We are from the state security,'" said Farida Guhlam, wife of Sunni liberal leader Ibrahim Sharif, who had joined in demands that the monarchy loosen its grip on power.
As the nighttime curfew approached, clashes broke out in villages outside the capital Manama with police trying to establish control over Shiite areas.
Riot police fired tear gas on several dozen protesters trying to march in the mostly Shiite Manama suburb of Jidhafs, less than a half-mile (one kilometer) from Pearl Square, the former center of the protest.
As the clash unfolded, residents tried to block police vehicles with makeshift barricades including metal tables, pieces of wood and even gym weights.
Security forces overwhelmed parts of central Manama, a day after overrunning the protesters' Pearl Square camp in an assault that left at least five people dead — two policemen and three protesters, according to opposition groups and the government. Nearly all stores and banks were closed, traffic was light and streets were all but devoid of pedestrians.
An 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew was in force and movement was restricted around the country. Bahraini authorities expelled a CNN reporter and briefly detained a reporter for The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Doctors at the country's main hospital said it remained under control of security forces, blocking physicians from leaving a complex whose mostly Shiite personnel are viewed with suspicion by authorities.
The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said those taken into custody Thursday include Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Jalil al-Sangaece — who were among 25 Shiite activists on trial on charges of trying to overthrow the nation's Sunni rulers.
The case was dropped to calm tensions last month — and Mushaima returned from a self-imposed exile — but the latest sweeps suggest authorities have abandoned efforts at dialogue and are trying to silence opposition leaders.
The Youth Society group said the detained also include Shiite activists Abdul Wahad Hussein and Hassan Hadad.
A senior opposition leader, Abdul Jalil Khalil, also said a prominent Shiite cleric, Abdul Hadi al-Mokhdar, was taken into custody. Also in custody was Saeed al Nouri from the Haq movement.
In a rare hint of an agreement, both Washington and Tehran condemned the military force unleashed at protesters. Iran, which has had no major political ties to Bahrain's Shiites, recalled its ambassador to protest the Gulf troops backing the government against the Shiite protests calling Saudi-led military reinforcements "unacceptable."
Britain has urged all its citizens to leave Bahrain unless they have a "pressing reason" to remain. Charter flights were arranged to Dubai.

Bahrain arrested Several opposition figures

Several opposition leaders and activists have been arrested in Bahrain following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.
State television said "leaders of the civil strife" had been arrested for communicating with foreign countries and inciting murder and destruction of property.

Among those arrested were Hassan Mushaima, who had returned last month from self-imposed exile in the UK after Bahraini authorities dropped charges against him, and Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad political society, a secular group comprising mostly Sunni members.Also taken into custody early on Thursday was Abdul Jalil al-Singace, a leader of the Haq movement, who was jailed last August but was freed in late February as part of concessions by the Khalifa royal family to protesters.

Al Jazeera's correspondent, reporting from the capital, Manama, said a crackdown on the opposition's main voices was under way.

"Significant members of the opposition were arrested overnight, including some prominent activists. Soldiers broke into the houses of these figures early in the morning and made these arrests," he said.

Later in the day, protesters ignored warnings to stay at home and gathered in Dair and Jidhaf just outside Manama.

Ali al-Aswad, a member of the Shia opposition bloc Al-Wafaq, said police had violently dispersed demonstrators in Dair.

"Police attacked protesters with rubber bullets and teargas. Protests continue here and there in many villages," he said.

Soldiers backed by tanks were manning checkpoints in Manama and helicopters buzzed over the city. Most shops remained closed.

Bloody crackdown

On Wednesday, Bahraini forces used tanks and helicopters to drive protesters off the streets in the capital, clearing the camp in Pearl Roundabout that had become a symbol of the demonstrations.

At least six people, including three policemen, were killed and more than 1,000 others injured in clashes that ensued.

Amnesty International denounced the crackdown saying that the government was "very clearly trying to suppress any kind of freedom of speech".

Nicolas Beger, Amnesty's EU representative, said the security forces were using live ammunition against peaceful demonstrators and had occupied the capital's main hospital, effectively preventing those injured in the crackdown from getting medical help. He said medical staff had also been targeted.You shoot at them and prevent them from getting help. That is one way of trying to deter other people from participating in demonstrations," he told the Associated Press news agency.

A senior doctor from Salmaniya Hospital, the country's largest public hospital where the injured were taken, told Al Jazeera that "Thursday is a critical day".

"Over 100 medical staff are unable to leave. Soldiers won't let us. We are running out of critical equipment, such as sterilisation equipment and oxygen tanks," he said.

The military has banned all protests and on Wednesday imposed a curfew from 4pm to 4am across a large swathe of Manama.

The protesters are seeking political reforms in the kingdom. Many of the demonstrators are Shias, complaining of discrimination by the country's Sunni rulers.

Wednesday's crackdown came only two days after Saudi Arabia dispatched its troops and a day after a state of emergency was declared in Bahrain to quash the protests.

Hundreds of Saudi-led troops entered Bahrain on Monday as part of a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) initiative to help protect government facilities there.

The crackdown drew international criticism, with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warning that Bahrain and its GCC allies were "on the wrong track".

Both Iran and Iraq have condemned the violence.

Iran on Thursday recalled its ambassador from Bahrain, the Associated Press reported.

State TV said Mahdi Aghajafari, Iran's ambassador in Manama, has been asked to return home for consultations.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, spoke out against the military intervention while Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top-ranked Shia cleric, called on Bahraini authorities to "stop using violence against unarmed citizens", Hamed al-Khafaf, his spokesman, said.

Meanwhile, both the European Union and NATO urged the authorities to refrain from violence and settle the escalating crisis through political dialogue.

Clinton pledges to aid Tunisia reforms

The US secretary of state has pledged to help Tunisia undertake political and economic reforms, as she visited the country two months after mass protests led to the overthrow of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Hillary Clinton praised the Tunisian people's fight for democracy after meeting interim foreign minister Mouldi Kefi on Thursday.

"You have shown the world that peaceful change is possible. The United States stood with Tunisia during your independence and now we will stand with you as you make the transition to democracy, and prosperity and a better future," she said.

Clinton said she and Kefi discussed a number of ways Washington could help with moving the country forward, including US assistance to those who will draft Tunisia's new constitution and in creating jobs.

"We need a plan for economic development, for jobs. The Tunisian people deserve that," she told reporters, saying the US would take part in a donors' conference later this year to help the North African nation.

'No colonisation'

Clinton said she would also push for $20m for Tunisia to "respond to some of their needs" after Tunisian officials requested US help, but hinted at more aid.

"We need to have a very big commitment to Tunisia, [so] that we can be ready to help them economically as well as with their democratic transformation," she said.Clinton also met interim president Fouad Mebazaa and prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi.

Hundreds of Tunisians marched in the capital under tight security to protest against Clinton's visit, the third such demonstration in three days.

They chanted "Hillary Clinton, you are not welcome, get out", "No colonisation after the revolution," or "No to US tutelage on Islamic soil", as they warned against any US intervention in Libya.

During a meeting with relief workers Clinton commended the Tunisian response to the unrest in neighbouring Libya.

"How impressed the world is by Tunisia's remarkable humanitarian response to the crisis on your border. And the United States is very proud to be your partner," she said.

Just over a week after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, Washington dispatched Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, to Tunis.

William Burns, the US under-secretary of state for political affairs, visited Tunis last month.

The popular uprising against Ben Ali, who ruled with an iron fist for 23 years, began after a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set fire to himself to protest against police abuses.

It sparked similar protests in Egypt, where president Hosni Mubarak was toppled on February 11, as well as in many other countries, including in Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and Libya.

Wife of Freed American in Pakistan Speaks

Pakistani governor accuses US over civilian deaths

A provincial governor in Pakistan's northwest on Thursday accused the United States of killing civilians and police officers in a drone strike in the troubled tribal region, a statement said.
"I strongly condemn this drone attack. A tribal jirga (council) was targeted in which several tribal elders and tribal policemen were martyred," said Syed Masood Kausar, the federal representative of northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
"We want to make it clear that the government of Pakistan and its people will not tolerate such attacks. These attacks are against the sovereignty of Pakistan," the statement added.

Pakistan's Tribal Areas,Orphan or what?

Are the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) an orphan or a colony, and their residents second-class citizens or children of a lesser god that nobody in Islamabad ever talks of making them a province? The prime minister has just now vowed making the Seraiki province demand his party manifesto’s part. But not even he, not also the president, the FATA’s actual sole super-boss, has given just a fleeting thought to giving a province’s status to the region, which it qualifies for in every manner. Others are making demands for a separate province primarily on linguistic basis, though with strong political underpinnings. But FATA’s case is compelling on every merit - area-wise, population-wise, resources-wise, administratively, legally and even morally. When Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, accompanied by Bacha Khan, drove into the Khyber Agency on a journey in pre-partition days to seduce the tribal people into accession to India, they stoned his car and made him flee back with a bleeding head. And when Quaid-e-Azam visited the tribal people, they welcomed him with warmth and garlands. They indeed had overwhelmingly plumped for Pakistan voluntarily and lovingly. And the Quaid may have vowed to them not to interfere with their tribal code, customs and traditions. But certainly he had not contemplated keeping them from modernity or emancipation. Nor had they opted for any kind of medievalism or primitiveness. They had aspired for a better deal than dealt them by the British colonialists who had made of them a sort of buffer zone in the region with their rivaling power, Czarist Russia. But the Quaid’s successors proved colossally unworthy. They kept the British governance dispensation intact in all its colonial trappings in the region. The only change was the complexion of face, from gora to kala. The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of the British colonialists stayed in place in its entire cruelty to administer the region, with snooty, pipe-smoking bureaucrats sitting in the federal government’s offices looking at it disdainfully as some kind of an ungovernable Wild West and its inhabitants as some sort of wild people not amenable to uplift, progress and development. It is this innate bureaucratic contempt that accounts largely for the tribal people being kept denied of what is their legitimate and inviolable due. Had the region been given the due recognition as an integral part of the country that it merits by every canon long ago and its inhabitants given the rights that their compatriots have in the country’s other parts, it would have been a far better place than what it is today. But regrettably that was not to be. Leave alone giving the FATA a fully-fledged province’s status, it has been dealt all through a raw deal even in development and progress. Palpably, it is a resources-rich land, offering enormous opportunities in horticulture, forestry and minerals, just to mention a few. An attempt was made to introduce the region to development by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government and help its people to exploit the tremendous natural resources their land is endowed with. But sadly that endeavour lost steam and withered away after his ouster. Had indeed the region made a big headway in development, its residents’ economic progress would have in time blossomed into their social emancipation as well inevitably, sucking them into the national mainstream to a salutary effect all around. The region would have ceased to be an abode of conservatism. The tribal affinities too would have undergone a markedly positive change. And it would have turned into a forbidding place, too, for extremist proclivities and alien poaching. Still, all is not lost, even though the region is presently being buffeted by militancy, mostly alien-fuelled. Let it become a province, with its own elected legislature, its own elected government and its own separate governor. With a vested interest in the system, the tribal people would not only enact laws and policies suiting their needs and aspirations and conforming to their deeply-held tribal mores, codes, customs and traditions. They would also team up and adopt ways and means to obviate the menaces and threats to their peace, security and stability. In fact, it is the denial of this basic right that has eaten into the tribal people’s spirit to stand up to the dark forces of extremism, fundamentalism and militancy. They suffer from a gnawing sense of deprivation and step-motherly treatment, a sense lately aggravated enormously by the official neglect of their internally displaced due to military operations and by CIA’s freely increasing drone incursions that claim more of their innocents’, including women’s and children’s, lives than militants’. If indeed despite international implications, an autonomous Gilgit-Baltistan could be made of Northern Areas, why FATA, in spite of being internationally-recognised Pakistani territory, cannot be made a province?

At least 84 wounded in new Yemen clashes

Yemeni security forces used live fire and tear gas on Thursday on protesters demanding an end to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, wounding at least 84, activists said.

Protesters in the southern city of Taiz said 80 people were hit while four were reported wounded in the capital Sanaa when police opened live fire and let off tear gas.

Some 150 people were wounded on Wednesday when security forces tried to break up a rally in the Red Sea city of Hudaida.

The Arabian Peninsula state, neighbor to oil giant Saudi Arabia, has been hit by weeks of protests trying to shake loose Saleh's 32-year grip on power.

Both pro- and anti-government factions appear to have increasingly resorted to violence, but activists said protesters had not used force in the latest demonstrations.

Yemen's rial has fallen up to almost 8 percent against the dollar in the past week as unrest takes a toll on the poor Arab country's economy, traders said late on Wednesday.

The central bank has slapped unspecified penalties on 10 currency exchanges and other firms for dealing in dollars above the official rate of about 214 rials.

The United States, which has long seen Saleh as a bulwark against an active al Qaeda wing based in Yemen, has condemned the bloodshed and backed the right to peaceful protest. But it has also insisted only dialogue can end the political crisis.

The government website September 26 said three militants suspected of links to al Qaeda were killed when they tried to attack a military checkpoint on Thursday in Marib province.

CIA faces reduced role in Pakistan after murder row

Pakistan's powerful spy agency appears to have gained the most from a CIA contractor's release, by forcing the U.S. agency to recognize its importance to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, and curtailing American activities in Pakistan.

A Pakistani court on Wednesday acquitted CIA contractor Raymond Davis, 36, of murder charges and released him after a deal that involved paying compensation - "blood money" - to the victims' families. Davis shot and killed two men he said were trying to rob him in Pakistani city Lahore on January 27.

The revelation of armed CIA contractors working in Pakistan deeply angered and embarrassed the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's spy agency.

"Very clearly, the ISI was upset because it's a parallel network of intelligence the U.S. appears to have set up," said Ayesha Siddiqa, a military analyst. The ISI wants the United States to rein in contractors like Davis and clear any monitoring of militant groups with it first.

"They want to keep a close eye on the American operations," she said. "There might be an agreement, 'If you want information on these guys, we'll provide it.'"

Pakistan is considered vital to the American-led effort to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent it from again becoming an al Qaeda sanctuary. The cooperation of the Pakistani military and ISI is critical in tackling militant hideouts on the Pakistani side of the border.

Any rapprochement between the CIA and the ISI has at its heart one idea, Siddiqa said: "Whatever you do in Afghanistan, we have to be at the center of it, we have to be involved."

A U.S. official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that relations with Pakistan had taken a hit, especially regarding cooperation in Afghanistan and addressing the country's dire economic condition, but Washington hoped to get the relationship back on track.

"What was the price we paid?" the official said. "We could have made a lot more progress in that time if we hadn't been concentrating on Davis."


"Blood money" - called diyat - is a common and accepted practice in Islamic law and Pakistan's criminal code. The United States for weeks argued that Davis had diplomatic immunity, but eventually settled on diyat as a solution to get him released.

According to the diyat agreement, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, the families of Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad were each paid 100 million rupees ($1.17 million) to be distributed among the family members.

The expected fury at Davis' release has yet to fully materialize, indicating the public largely accepts the payment.

"I don't see any reason for protesting on this issue," said Muhammad Ahsan, a final year student at an Islamic school in Karachi. "If we have to protest, we need to protest against the overall policies of the government and their unequal relationship with the U.S., but we can't protest against the family for taking blood money. It is their right."

Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies are also likely to be calming the religious parties, with which they have close ties and which have been loudest in calling for Davis' head, Siddiqa said.In the hours following the news of Davis' release on Wednesday night, only fitful demonstrations flared up around the country. Some 50 protesters tried to enter the U.S. consulate in Lahore, but were beaten back by police. Outside the Press Club in Karachi, between 100 and 150 members of a hardline Islamic political party staged a protest. In Islamabad, 12 people chanted slogans outside the Press Club.

On Thursday, small protests of students and religious parties occurred in Karachi, Multan, Peshawar, Lahore and Islamabad, but no more than 200 or 300 people attended any single protest, witnesses said.

"I think the issue will just die down in a week or two," said Mahmood ul Hassan, a general store owner in a middle class Karachi neighborhood. "We are not Egypt, we don't have the guts to come out on the streets and throw out the government."

NATO Oil tankers’ entry in Peshawar banned

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Wednesday banned the entry of Afghanistan-bound oil tankers carrying oil for the NATO troops.

Official sources said that the terminals of these tankers have also been shifted to Nowshera.

“These oil tankers are no more allowed to enter Peshawar or even stay in the suburbs due to security reasons,” a senior official of the provincial Home Department said.

The government has also decided not to allow parking to these oil tankers anywhere near the roads or at petrol pumps.

The decision has been taken in the wake of increasing attacks on the Afghanistan-bound vehicles, especially tankers carrying oil for the international forces in the war-torn country.

'Bahrainis can mend issues internally'

Wife of a detained Bahraini opposition leader has condemned the “brutal occupation” of the country by foreign troops, saying the people of Bahrain can resolve their issues themselves.

The Bahrainis must be able to resolve their issues internally and violence will not get them to their desired outcome, said Farida Ghulam Esmail in comments made to Press TV on Thursday.

Her husband, Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of Waad party, was among the six Bahraini opposition leaders arrested by the kingdom's security forces on Thursday.

Esmail, who is also a member of the Waad party, added that all Bahrainis -- Shias and Sunnis -- condemn this “brutal occupation” and want the foreign troops “to leave as soon as possible.”

On Sunday, [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council members -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar -- dispatched troops to Bahrain to help quash anti-government protests.

She deplored that while the opposition was waiting for the results of its dialogues with the government, they suddenly witnessed invasion of foreign forces.

“We want a peaceful way. We want to go back to the dialogues,” she said.

Esmail expressed hope that the uprising will go forward and become stronger and the Bahraini people continue their path until they achieve a “real democracy that they deserve.”

Esmail told Press TV that at midnight Thursday, a group of 40 to 45 thugs rushed into their house and arrested Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of Waad party.

She said they offered no information about her husband's whereabouts.

Since mid-February, thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain have poured into the streets, calling for an end to al-Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled the country for almost two centuries.

More than 12 people have been killed and about 1,000 injured during the anti-government protests the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

Bahrain: takeover of hospitals 'violation of international law'

Bahrain security forces have reportedly taken over hospitals and medical facilities, in what has been described as a 'blatant violation of international law'.
Navi Pillay, the UN rights chief, said in a statement she was "deeply alarmed by the escalation of violence by security forces in Bahrain, in particular the reported takeover of hospitals and medical centres" in the country, which she called a "shocking and a blatant violation of international law."
Rights activists have deplored a bloody crackdown mounted by Sunni rulers against Shiite-led protests, accusing security forces of preventing the injured from reaching hospitals and of beating medics trying to collect the wounded from the streets.
Manama's main hospital was sealed off by police armed with shotguns, and Nizar Baharna, Bahrain's health minister, a Shiite, announced his resignation after police allegedly burst into a Manama hospital.
"Governments are obliged to protect the rights to life and health of the people, but we are hearing very credible reports indicating that they are in fact obstructing access to such rights," said Miss Pillay.
She revealed that her office has received calls and emails from individuals in Bahrain, who are "terrified about the armed forces' intentions.""There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protesters and of medical personnel, and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centres by various security forces.
"This is shocking and illegal conduct," she stressed, calling on the security forces to leave health care facilities and to stop harassing health workers.
Pillay said the government must stop using force against unarmed protesters and to allow the injured to get treatment.
"I also urge the protesters and the government to engage in immediate dialogue for meaningful reforms and an end to violence," Miss Pillay said.
Bahrain rounded up dissidents on Thursday, as it came under pressure to end its bloody crackdown on protesters.
King Hamad, supported by troops who arrived on Tuesday along with armoured vehicles from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has declared a three-month state of emergency in the country.

Bahrain police shots unarmed protester

Bahrain police shots unarmed protester

Rights group accuses Bahrain of using 'excessive force' on protesters

Amnesty International on Thursday accused Bahrain of using shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue protesters, joining a growing chorus of concerns over the crackdown.
Security forces have used "excessive force," leading to the killing of eight people in recent violence, Amnesty said in a report released Thursday.

"It is alarming to see the Bahraini authorities now again resorting to the same tactics that they used against protesters in February, but on an even more intensive scale," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Six prominent opposition leaders have been detained, said Khalil Al Marzooq, an official with the Wefaq opposition party.
Security forces in Bahrain stormed the main hospital, beating doctors, and attacked demonstrators in Manama's Pearl Roundabout on Wednesday, witnesses in the Bahraini capital said.Bahraini officials deny these accounts.
Tanks and troops remained at the hospital Thursday, CNN observed.
The protests started February 14 and are part of a series of demonstrations that have swept across the Arab world this year, toppling the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
In Bahrain, moderates have demanded a constitutional monarchy, and hard-liners have called for the abolition of the country's royal family altogether.
U.S. officials also issued concerned statements about the crackdown on protesters.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the intervention by Bahrain's neighbors "alarming" and urged all players in the region to keep "their own agenda" out of the struggle.
President Barack Obama called both the Saudi and Bahraini kings to express his "deep concern over violence" and the need for "maximum restraint," according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Bahrain is home to the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, the naval arm of American power in the region.
Authorities in Iran also weighed in on the issue.
Iran recalled its ambassador to Bahrain and accused the government of "killing of people of Bahrain," according to a statement.
Bahrain's Sunni Muslim monarchy has long suspected Iran of attempting to foment unrest among the island's majority-Shiite population, leaked U.S. diplomatic documents show, and Iran has asserted territorial claims over the onetime Persian province both before and after the 1979 revolution brought the current Islamic republic to power.