Thursday, March 24, 2011

'Capitalism may have ended life on Mars'

Capitalism may be to blame for the lack of life on the planet Mars, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday.

"I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet," Chavez said in speech to mark World Water Day.

Chavez, who also holds capitalism responsible for many of the world's problems, warned that water supplies on Earth were drying up.

"Careful! Here on planet Earth where hundreds of years ago or less there were great forests, now there are deserts. Where there were rivers, there are deserts," Chavez said, sipping from a glass of water.

He added that the West's attacks on Libya were about water and oil reserves.

Earlier this month, the U.S. National Research Council recommended that NASA's top priority should be a robot to help determine whether Mars ever supported life and offer insight on its geological and climatic history.

It would also be the first step in an effort to get samples from Mars back to Earth.

A NASA team recently tested a space suit in a setting with extreme conditions akin to some of those found on Mars -- an Argentine base in Antarctica -- for possible use on a visit to the Red Planet. (Reuters)

Afghans not treated as foreigners in Pakhtunkhwa

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government maintains data of all foreigners, except Afghans, who visit the province for official and personal purposes.

The statistics, presented by home department in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on Thursday, show that total 955 foreigners from 47 countries visited the province in 2009-10 and majority of them are still staying here.

Interestingly, home department claims that no Americans visited or stayed in the province including Peshawar during 2009-10 despite the fact that many US nationals are still working here. Presently, only two Americans are working in Lower Dir district and five in Mansehra district, according to the statistics.

Recently, a US national was arrested for overstay in Peshawar under 14 Foreigners Act, but he was also missing from the list of home department.

During the question-answer session of the house, PPP lawmaker Noor Sahar sought details about the foreigners, who visited and stayed in the province during the last two years.

The list of countries does not contain the data of Afghan nationals, who visit the province, giving an impression that Afghans are not considered as foreigners. Though, a large number of Afghans daily come to Pakistan, most of them to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

An official told Dawn by telephone that Pakistani Embassy in Kabul issued 300 to 350 visas to Afghans daily while the consulate in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, also issued different types of visas. He said that Afghans visited Pakistan for business, official activities, treatment and other purposes.

China, India, Korea, Belgium and Switzerland are on the top of the list, presented by home department. The statistics show that total 352 Chinese are staying in the province as they are working in different sectors including hydro power project in Shangla district.

A total 316 Indians visited their relatives in different districts of the province. The Koreans are also working in different projects in northern districts of the province. Many foreigners went back after their jobs were finished.

Majority of the foreigners, mostly from western countries, staying in Peshawar and other districts are working with international humanitarian organisations and United Nations bodies. An Irish has been staying in Nowshera district since 1988 and teaches in Catholic Church.

Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Barrister Ashad Abdullah informed the house that police impounded 596 vehicles as case properties across the province while 1,884 vehicles were handed over to their owners.

Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, responding to a number of queries, said that government was taking measures to control unabated smuggling of cattle heads to Afghanistan.

He said that government had asked centre to minimise export quota of cattle for Afghanistan. He added that fulfillment of meet food requirements of the province was his top priority.

He said that he also requested to reduce number of permits for the transportation of cattle heads to tribal areas. Export of cattle would be allowed only through Peshawar-Torkham Highway, he added. He said that the steps would help control prices of mutton and beef in the province.

Regarding implementation of loading/unloading tax in Bannu district, Mr Hoti said that under the Local Government Ordinance, 2001 tehsil municipal officers had been empowered to levy taxes.

He said that loading/unloading tax had also been implemented in Kohat and Lakki Marwat districts while it would also be introduced in other districts of the province.

He said that district governments should generate revenues from their own sources to fill the gape. He said that government had extended a social safety net programme for the next three years in the province.

The assembly unanimously passed resolution tabled by Zarqa Bibi of MMA asking the federal government to place ban on footages of female victims of violence. Speaker Karamatullah Khan Chagharmati adjourned the proceedings till Friday morning.

Pakistan 'crop shortage' warning

Lowering wheat prices would create food shortages in Pakistan and encourage smuggling, officials say, responding to criticism from the UN.

On Wednesday the UN's food relief agency said the government set prices too high and malnutrition was rising.

But an official at Pakistan's food ministry told the BBC farmers would simply switch to more lucrative crops if wheat prices went down.

Devastating floods across Pakistan in 2010 damaged acres of arable land.

Although crop yields in 2011 are projected to be healthy, prices are too high for an impoverished population, the director of the UN's World Food Programme told journalists on the sidelines of humanitarian meetings in Geneva on Wednesday.

"The crop outlook is not bad but the food security situation remains difficult because prices remain so high," Wolfgang Herbinger said.

Smuggling risk
Malnutrition levels in the southern province of Sindh had reached 21% to 23%, according to the WFP.That is well above African standards. The emergency standard is 15%," Mr Herbinger said.

But lowering prices would do little to help the situation, an official at the food and agriculture ministry, who wished to remain unnamed, said.

He also warned that much of the crop would end up in the hands of smugglers.

"Low farm-gate prices lead to lower acreage of wheat crop as farmers switch to other crops and it works as an incentive for smugglers seeking international prices in the neighbourhood.

"It is nearly impossible to stop smuggling across the Afghan border, which is extremely porous," he said.

So if prices are lowered, the official said, the risk is that they would eventually rise to even higher than the level they are currently set at.

In the 1990s and between 2007 and 2009 there were severe wheat shortages across Pakistan, leading to extremely high prices.

Pakistani officials also say that malnutrition in Sindh province is not a new phenomenon and is unrelated to the food supply.

"Government statistics show that food consumption has not gone down despite the doubling of food prices since 2007-08," Kaisar Bengali, advisor to Sindh's chief minister said.

A lack of public hygiene facilities and safe drinking water were more important factors in child nutrition, he said.

"These are neglected areas, and there has been hardly any development in the public health sector here in decades," Mr Bengali said.

Herat Governor visits Camp Arena, speaks on transition

The Herat provincial governor Dr. Daoud Saba visited Regional Command-West Headquarters at Camp Arena today and spoke about transition in Herat City.

The visit comes one day after Islamic Republic of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s March 22 speech in Kabul, where he named Herat as a transitional city.

“We say to the international community, Afghans should take the security themselves,” said Karzai. “The transition means we will take security [and] defend the country. This will be done by Afghans.”

Herat is Afghanistan’s second-largest city and borders Iran and Turkmenistan.

Saba said Herat Herat City has already been in transition and residents are prepared to back the president’s plan.

“We have full responsibility for security and we very rarely call on international alliance to have them help us in the city,” said Saba. “The people of Herat are proud of taking on this responsibility and start implementing the program. It means a lot to them. It gives them the confidence that they can do it as they have done in the past thousands of years.”

Not just city dwellers will be affected. Those in small villagers will also be involved in the transition process.

“I think that Herat City will inspire the surrounding villages of Herat City to prepare for the next phase of transition which will be the surrounding districts as well as eventually the whole province,” said Saba.

Saba assured the Herat population that they are still an international priority.

“First of all, they should never think they are left to themselves fully,” he said of Herat residents. “We will have our friends on our side, our strategic partners on our side as much as we need them and as much as there’s a requirement for them.

“But, we have to walk, and with full confidence, I think we are able to do it,” continued Saba. “We have the capacity and we have the decision that we will do it. I asked all the citizens of Herat to support this program as they have done it during the consultations I have done with them. They showed preparedness and I’m sure we’ll go forward to defend our country, defend our rights of sovereignty, and defend our freedom and achievements of the past ten years and opening new opportunities to the coming generations in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan Province Adds Pashto To Curriculum

The regional government of Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province has formally approved the teaching of the Pashto language as a compulsory subject in schools, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

The decision came at a March 21 meeting of the provincial cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Amir Haidar Hoti.

It makes learning Pashto compulsory until the sixth grade.

The cabinet also decided that the study of other languages -- such as Hindko, Seraiki, Kohar, and Kohistani -- will be compulsory in areas where the majority of the local population speaks it as its mother tongue.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told RFE/RL that the new requirements will be implemented within six months.

"We have made all arrangements for this, and the relevant bill will be submitted to the cabinet," Iftikhar Hussain said. "Wherever those languages are spoken, the basic education will be given in the mother tongue."

The minister said the schedule for implementing the cabinet decision has already been coordinated with the provincial government.

"The curriculum will be prepared. It is ready for Pashto, but it will take some time for the other languages like Hindko, Seriki, Kohistani, Kohar," Iftikhar Hussain said. "We have the complete schedule ready, when and how it will be implemented, gradually, this will be implemented from kindergarten up to secondary level."

Until now, teaching in both state and private schools throughout Pakistan has been in Urdu and English.

Egypt braces for 'Cleansing Friday' rally

A major Egyptian youth movement has called on fellow citizens to participate in a protest on Friday against a new law that prohibits demonstrations and strikes.

The 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition, which led the 18-day revolution against the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said "The Friday of Cleansing" protest will be held outside the Egyptian Radio and Television Union in Cairo to urge the government to repeal the ban on public protests and strikes, the Al-Masry Al-Youm daily reported on Thursday.

The Egyptian Cabinet on Wednesday ordered a law criminalizing protests and strikes, according to which anyone inciting, organizing, promoting, or calling for a protest will be sentenced to jail or be fined for LE500,000 ($84,000).

The new law, which has not yet been approved by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is "a serious indicator of a political direction that will act as a barrier against any real democracy, which the people have the right to practice,” the movement said in a statement.

This is "an unacceptable and unjustified setback to the revolution's achievements, while at the same time, some of the labor protesters should have given the government a chance to meet their demands in light of the difficult economic situation now facing the country," the statement added.

The coalition also stated that protesters on Friday will demand the resignation of all officials loyal to the former regime and express their solidarity with assaulted students in Cairo University, who attempted to stage a sit-in on Wednesday to call for the resignation of the dean of the university.

On Sunday, Egyptians overwhelmingly voted in favor of constitutional amendments in a historic referendum weeks after Mubarak handed over power to Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The military council has promised a swift transition to civilian rule, however, critics have taken a less sanguine view of the promise, saying that demonstrations will continue until all their demands are met.

They say all political prisoners must be released and an investigation launched into the conduct of officials responsible for the violence used against civilians.

Zardari wants end to irritants souring US ties

President Asif Ali Zardari has called for overcoming difficulties which are souring Pakistan-US bilateral ties.

“It is time for the two countries to take stock of the existing situation and focus on addressing all issues which contribute towards creating misunderstandings and mistrust between the people of the two countries,” President Zardari was quoted as having told a US congressional delegation.

The delegation led by Armed Services Committee member Congressman Rob Wittman had called on him at the Presidency.

Referring to drone attacks, the president said all actions which created mistrust needed to be reviewed since they adversely affected cooperation in the war on terror.

Although there was a general acceptability of drone attacks in the country as an effective way for eliminating militants, last week’s strike in North Waziristan on a tribal jirga revived the opposition to such strikes in Fata.

The attack, which left 40 tribesmen dead, was condemned at the highest level by the civilian and military leadership and Pakistan pulled out of the March 26 trilateral ministerial meeting with the US and Afghanistan in protest.

President Zardari reminded the US delegation of sacrifices rendered by Pakistan’s people and military in the war on terror and said those needed to be respected.

“Our people have been paying the heaviest price in the war against militants both in terms of human as well as material losses.

“The only way to mitigate their sufferings and to meet challenges of the militancy is to provide them, especially the affected people of worst-hit areas, new vistas of opportunities including economic opportunities,” Mr Zardari said.

The government has been asking the West to provide preferential trade and market access for restoring the economy which has been badly hit by the war on terror and improving socio-economic conditions in conflict-ridden areas.

In this context the delegation was asked to help Pakistan get enhanced market access for its products in the US and expedite the ROZs (Reconstruction Opportunity Zones) legislation.

APP adds: President Zardari condemned the incident of deliberate desecration of the Holy Quran by a fanatic in Florida.

He stressed the need for the United Nations and civilised nations to work out special plans for promoting cultural and religious harmony.

“Extremism is being manifested in various forms including violence and intolerance,” he said, adding that disharmony was also increasing.

He said that the values of tolerance and harmony were advocated by the civilised world and now that these values were generally receding, it was important that the UN took note of it and did something with the consensus of all nations.

The president said the government and the people of Pakistan strongly condemned the incident of desecration of the Holy Quran by a fanatic in Florida.

The president termed the incident a serious setback to efforts intended to promote harmony.

The president said that no religion could permit such fanaticism which was a reflection of the sick mind.

NATO falls short on Libya command deal

NATO agreed to enforce a Libya no-fly zone on Thursday but fell short of a deal to take full command of military operations, and Western jets failed to stop government tanks re-entering Misrata to besiege its main hospital.
Libya's government said it was in full control of the western city, with only a few al Qaeda die-hards holding out, though rebels said they continued to resist and accused the authorities of shelling Misrata's main food mall.
"The compound is on fire now, it's burning," a rebel, who gave his name as Saadoun, told Reuters by phone. "They know Misrata is suffering and there no food coming into the city and now they have bombed the main food supply for the city," he said. "This is an attempt to increase the siege on Misrata."
While Western warplanes expanded their attacks to southern Libya, having destroyed the country's air defenses, NATO ambassadors in Brussels argued for a fourth day about the command structure for the U.N.-backed international military operation.
And despite a Turkish statement that a deal had been struck it was clear the U.S.-led military alliance had failed to resolve a deep split over how the campaign should be waged.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after four days of grueling negotiations the alliance's mandate did not extend beyond enforcing a U.N. arms embargo and the no-fly zone.
Asked if NATO would be able to strike at ground forces or take action against leader Muammar Gaddafi, Rasmussen said: "At this moment, there will still be a coalition operation and a NATO operation."
NATO officials said a decision was expected on Sunday on whether to broaden the mandate to allow it to take command of all military operations and attack ground targets in the oil-producing country, in order to protect civilian areas threatened by Gaddafi's forces.
NATO officials said alliance operations to enforce the no-fly zone were expected to get under way in 48-72 hours.
Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had told reporters: "The operation will be transferred completely to NATO and there will be a single command and control."
The United States, embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, wants to pull back to a supporting role in Libya. It is anxious to preserve alliance unity and maintain the support of Muslim countries for the U.N.-mandated intervention.
NATO member Turkey wants the alliance in charge in order to limit operations against Libyan infrastructure and avoid civilian casualties.
France wants NATO to control day-to-day military operations but for a broader steering group, including Arab and other non-NATO nations, to decide political and military strategy.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon meanwhile warned of further action on Libya if Tripoli failed to comply with resolutions from the Security Council, which last week approved "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians against Gaddafi's forces as he fights an uprising against his rule.
"There is no evidence that Libyan authorities have taken steps to carry out their obligations under resolutions 1970 or 1973," Ban told the Security Council.
Ban said his special envoy to Libya had warned Gaddafi's government the Security Council could take "additional measures" if Libya failed to comply with its demand for a ceasefire.
The African Union invited Gaddafi's government, the rebel opposition, the European Union, U.N. Security Council and neighboring Arab countries to discuss the crisis on Friday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
The Libyan government, which welcomed the initiative, denies its army is conducting any offensive operations and says troops are only defending themselves when they come under attack.
State television reported Western air strikes on military and residential areas of the capital Tripoli in a sixth night of attacks on Thursday, prompting bursts of anti-aircraft fire.
Earlier, Western air strikes destroyed government tanks outside rebel-held Misrata, but other tanks inside the city were not hit, a resident said, underlining the difficulty of the U.N.-backed military mission to protect civilians.
Gaddafi's tanks rolled back into Misrata under the cover of darkness and shelled the area near the hospital, which was also under fire from government snipers, residents and rebels said.
"The situation is very serious," a doctor in the western town said by telephone before the line was cut off.
The government said it was in full control of Misrata, Libya's third city with a population of at least 300,000 people. Only a hard core of rebels were holding out in the city, which is around 200 km (130 miles) east of Tripoli.
"These people are al Qaeda affiliates, they are prepared to die, they want to die, because death for them is happiness, is paradise," Libyan government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said.
Opposition spokesman Abdulbasset Abu Mzereiq said by telephone that rebels were still fighting there, and had killed 30 snipers who had been picking off civilians from rooftops in the town. Government warships had left the port.
Elsewhere, clashes between rebels and besieging forces continued in the eastern frontline town of Ajdabiyah, said Abu Musab, who left the town by car with his family of 10.
"There is no water, no power and the bombing is random. Everyone has left," he said, adding that Gaddafi's forces were positioned to the east, west and south of the town.
"There are revolutionaries in the town and there is fighting going on right now."
Western commanders are hoping the rag-tag rebel force in eastern Libya will overthrow Gaddafi for them but there is now little movement on the eastern front line at Ajdabiyah, 150 km (90 miles) to the south of Benghazi.
Rebels in the eastern city, home to a emerging alternative government, said they were being outgunned by government forces and needed communications, ammunition and anti-tank weapons to halt attacks by heavy armor.
"We need arms and ammunition. This is our only problem," rebel military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani told a briefing.
Al Arabiya television said Western warplanes struck Sabha, a Gaddafi stronghold in southern Libya, as they went in search of other strategic targets, having destroyed Libya's air defenses.
France said it had hit an air base in central Libya and a government plane after it landed at Misrata airport.
Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim said strikes had hit military and civilian compounds in the central Jufrah region and other targets in Tripoli, Misrata and south of Benghazi.
In Tripoli, Libyan officials took Reuters journalists to a hospital to see 18 male corpses, some charred beyond recognition, they said were military personnel and civilians killed by Western bombing overnight.
It was the first time foreign reporters had been shown alleged victims of the air strikes and it was not possible to verify how many were civilians. Libya says dozens have been killed. Western forces deny any have been killed in the strikes.
Haitham al-Trablousi, a doctor in Tripoli, told Al Arabiya television by telephone: "There are no civilian casualties and the bombing is very accurate....All the bodies which we have seen on the Libyan channels are corpses of people killed during the intifada (uprising) in Zawiyah."

PUKHTUNKHWA TIMES: Saudi Arabia Bans Women from Voting in Municipal Elections Next Month

PUKHTUNKHWA TIMES: Saudi Arabia Bans Women from Voting in Municipal Elections Next Month

Saudi Arabia Bans Women from Voting in Municipal Elections Next Month

After a two-year delay, Saudi Arabia has announced municipal elections set for next month. but Saudi women still won't be allowed to vote.

The Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs announced that the elections would take place on April 23rd.Saudi Arabia's first municipal elections were held in 2005 and the second one was originally set for October 2009.But then the government delayed it for two years saying that it needed more time to "explore the possibility" of allowing women to vote.
However, the ministry said women would not be allowed to cast ballots because of the kingdom’s social customs.Next month's elections appear to be part of the government's efforts to stave off the unrest that has spread in the Arab world.

Balochistan cannot suffer anymore

Daily Times

Trouble has hit a new high in Balochistan. On Wednesday, the capital city of Quetta received three rockets in different parts of the city from a nearby mountain range resulting in the death of some four people and injuries to another 18. The first target was a traffic-heavy area where a roundabout, Saryab Pathakh, is located. Two other rockets were fired and hit two houses but, thankfully, no injuries were reported. In addition to these attacks, the bodies of two missing Baloch men were found in the Lasbela district. These men had gone missing some five months ago from Gwadar and Vindar respectively; they have now been found in much the same way many missing Baloch are recovered: mutilated and decomposed bodies. On the same day, the Quetta Express was bombed. Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi said that he did not see any progress in talks with the “angry Baloch” who were engaged in a struggle to attain their human, social, economic and political rights. He also said that some headway could only be made after the next general elections with a new leadership making the effort necessary to resolve the abysmal situation.

Meanwhile, as Balochistan keeps discovering and burying its sons and daughters, Prime Minister Gilani does not deviate from his usual rhetoric. Addressing a delegation led by Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani on Tuesday, he once again assured that all efforts would be taken to improve the security situation in the province with closer coordination between the federal and provincial governments — words we have heard all too many times before. Citing the Balochistan Package, he ‘reassured’ that all possible directives for the start of different development projects would be issued. This gives rise to the question: it has been over a year since the package was introduced as a solution to all Baloch woes; why on earth is it still on the planning room floor?

Balochistan is not a playground for “foreign elements”, as much as the PM would like to have us believe. Governance in the province has been hijacked by a reportedly brutal Frontier Corps that has claimed the area as its exclusive preserve. Innocent Baloch who may be able to contribute to the betterment of their society, political workers, educationists, doctors, engineers, etc, are being picked up and whisked away, reportedly by paramilitary forces and the government seems unable — and unwilling — to stop them. Resources located in Balochistan are hungrily swooped up by the centre without allocating a sufficient share for the Baloch people. They have no faith in the government and the army and hence separatist sentiment runs deep. Economic, industrial and resource development has not taken place, resulting in an increasingly poor population without access to rights and fair play. Is it the fault of the people or those who rule them for the mass frustration that is now taking a violent turn?

Every dead body that ‘mysteriously’ turns up in Balochistan after ‘mysteriously’ going missing — the last count was 13,000 dead — is another nail in the coffin of any peace and stability in the province. It will not be long before we will be burying the soul of the largest province in this country. Short-sighted hated policies, cruel treatment, what comes close to an illegal occupying force in uniform and the consequent hate-fuelled sentiments of the Baloch people have turned one more part of Pakistan against the centre. Enough with the rhetoric and the cosmetic promises; Balochistan needs a determined political solution, otherwise we can, literally, kiss it goodbye. *

Pakistan helped foil terrorist attack on World Cup

The Interpol said on Thursday it foiled a militant plot to carry out an attack during the cricket World Cup now being played across South Asia.

“Last week, through cooperation from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, we were able to identify, locate and arrest a terrorist,” head of the Paris-based international police agency, Ronald K Noble, told reporters in Islamabad along with Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

The Interpol chief said the man with “criminal intentions”, whom he did not identify, was arrested on his way from Karachi to the Maldives. “Thanks to the cooperation of your country and other countries, we were able to make sure that the World Cup remains safe,” he said. Neither Noble nor Malik, gave further details.

Earlier this month, India issued an alert over a possible attack on the hugely popular tournament being played until April 2 in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Noble also said that the Interpol would provide two million Euros for capacity building of 38 centres of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) across the country besides giving access to the agency to its database.

Noble appreciated what he called strong role of Pakistan in global war against terrorism and said Pakistan was among the best countries that were cooperating with the Interpol. He also said that the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in war on terror were eternal and of paramount importance. The interior minister gave a list of “most wanted persons of 2009” to the Interpol and called for issuing “blue notices”. Noble said Pakistan had done a great job by providing the list to the Interpol.

Malik said that Pakistan had a pivotal role in war on terror which it was fighting for global peace. He said peace in Pakistan and Afghanistan would guarantee peace in the rest of the world, adding that international community must support Pakistan to root out terrorism and extremism. “Pakistan must be treated as victim (of terrorism) and it needs moral support,” Malik said.

The minister stressed for imparting training to Pakistan security agencies by the Interpol to effectively cope with terrorism and extremism. He assured the Interpol chief that Pakistan would not let its soil be used by anyone against any country.

Malik, on the occasion, also urged India to share information, if any, to cope with any untoward incident.

Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday, conferred Hilal-e-Pakistan on Interpol chief Noble, during a special ceremony held at the Presidency. The citation read on the occasion said that “Mr Noble has rendered marked services and played a very positive role in projecting Pakistan’s viewpoint towards international policing issues”. The president appreciated services of Noble for promoting cooperation between the Interpol and Pakistani security authorities.

Bahrainis to hold Day of rage on Friday

Bahraini opposition activists have announced plans for another "Day of Rage" on Friday in defiance of the martial law imposed since last week.
Nine demonstrations -- whose plans were circulated by email and internet -- are arranged to be held across crisis-hit Bahrain on Friday. One of the rallies is expected to be heading toward the airport and another aims for Manama's Salmaniya hospital.Government crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain has recently been aided by troops from Saudi Arabia.Meanwhile, Press TV has learned through reports that the Saudi forces have forcefully taken about 100 people out of the hospital and shot them dead.On March 16, Saudi forces stormed the Salmaniya hospital where hundreds of people were receiving treatment for injuries suffered in clashes with government forces a day earlier.At least 20 Bahrainis have so far been killed, almost 100 missing and about 1,000 others injured in anti-government protests that began in mid-February against the two-century long rule of al-Khalifa dynasty.The Bahraini demonstrators maintain that they will hold their ground until their demands for freedom and constitutional monarchy are met. They also call for a proportional voice in the government.

Clashes injure three in Yemen

At least three people have been injured in Yemen as army units backing opposition groups have clashed with guards loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southeastern town of Mukalla.

The unrest comes as several of the country's senior army commanders, ambassadors and tribal leaders have abandoned Saleh's camp and joined the anti-government protesters.

Yemen's opposition groups have called for mass protests on Friday. The opposition urged demonstrators to march on Saleh's palace to demand he steps down.

Saleh has countered their calls by urging his supporters to hold a rally in the capital's Taghyeer Square near his presidential palace on Friday.

The square was heavily guarded on Thursday by government forces to prevent any demonstrations.

"We are determined to preserve the security, independence and stability of Yemen by all possible means,” Saleh stated on state television.

He added that military officers and soldiers who defected to the opposition were "stupid" and urged them to “return to reason.”

Meanwhile Yemen's parliament has approved a law imposing a 30-day state of emergency. The law suspends the constitution, bars street protests, allows media censorship and gives security forces 30 days of far-reaching powers to arrest and detain suspects without judicial process.

The law has angered the country's opposition, who dispute the legality of the move. They say its adoption was a virtual certainty, as Saleh's ruling party dominates the 301-seat legislature.

Since the beginning of anti-Saleh demonstrations, nearly 100 protesters have been killed and many others injured during clashes with security forces and supporters of Saleh.

Last Friday saw the worst of the violence when snipers, who fired down from rooftops upon peaceful protesters, killed 52 people. The massacre sparked the resignation of a number of ministers and high-ranking officials.

Jordanians rally for reforms in Amman

Hundreds of Jordanians have taken to the streets of the capital, Amman, demanding political reforms and the ouster of the prime minister.

Some 500 protesters demonstrated in central Amman on Thursday to call on King Abdullah II to speed up the process of promised political reforms.

They urged the Jordanian monarch to replace newly-appointed Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit and dissolve the parliament, AP reported.

“Intelligence Department, we want your hands off politics!" the protesters chanted. They also waved banners that called for a "new Jordan clean of corruption and corrupt officials."

The Jordanian Youth Movement spokesman Ziad al-Khawaldeh said street protests will continue until the incumbent prime minister steps down.

Al-Khawaldeh said the protesters want Bakhit to be “instantly replaced with a liberal government that would quickly implement reforms.”

Jordanian protesters, inspired by revolutions that toppled authoritarian rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, are demanding political reforms in the Arab nation.

Jordan's king, who has already offered a series of concessions to end the protests, has reportedly called for an early election by the end of 2011.

Nato 'won't leave security vacuum' in Afghan transition

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed President Hamid Karzai's announcement of the first areas where Afghan troops will assume control from Nato-led forces this summer, with the ultimate goal of leading nationwide by 2014.
"I want to congratulate the president for taking this critical decision which paves the way for Afghans to take charge of their own destiny," Mr Rasmussen said.
"This represents the next stage of Afghanistan's journey, not the destination. And every step of the way will be determined by conditions on the ground," he said.
Mr Rasmussen urged members of the 48-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to maintain "solidarity and continuity" during the three-year transition period, which allies approved at a summit in November.
"I understand that as this transition gets under way, political leaders are facing pressure to bring their troops home for good. No one wants our forces to be in combat a day longer than necessary," he said."But it is vital that we maintain solidarity and continuity in order to ensure that transition is irreversible. And in particular, that we gradually transfer our troops from combat roles to training," Mr Rasmussen said.
He added: "Within the ISAF mission, our approach remains 'in together, out together.' We are committed not to leave any security vacuum that could breed extremism. We look forward to this new Afghan year with confidence and hope."
During a meeting of Nato defence ministers last week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned allies against early troop withdrawals, saying it would jeopardise the war effort just as the Taliban has lost the upper hand.
Out of the roughly 140,000 troops in the Nato-led force in Afghanistan, 97,000 are American, with the war costing the United States $10 billion a month.

Food prices in Pakistan too high: WFP

Pakistan's government has pushed food prices too high for an impoverished population, as malnutrition levels rise despite the recovery of crops after devastating floods.

Wolfgang Herbinger, director for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan, said food crops especially wheat in the southern flood-hit plains were recovering fast with the prospect of decent crops over the coming weeks.

"The crop outlook is not bad but the food security situation remains difficult because prices remain so high," he told journalists one the sidelines of humanitarian meetings in Geneva.

"The government is the biggest buyer of wheat in Pakistan they are setting the farm gate price and they dominate market," Herbinger explained. "That's why the wheat price in Pakistan didn't adjust when, for example, in 2009 and early 2010 the wheat price had gone back a lot, it stayed high to the detriment of local consumers."

Now ordinary consumers pay double the price for wheat compared to three years ago and the food security situation has "changed dramatically," the WFP official added. Malnutrition levels in the southern province of Sindh have reached 21 to 23 percent, according to the agency. "That is well above African standards. The emergency standard is 15 percent," the WFP official said.

A recent survey found that in some flood-hit areas 70 percent of people were taking out loans and even using them to pay for food. Herbinger admitted that the WFP was "struggling a bit" to bring the message across to authorities.

"You may have the country full with food but people are too poor to buy it," he explained. "We are working a lot with the Ministry of Agriculture to explain to the minister that it is not enough to have enough production in the country if people can't afford it."

"Maybe for political reasons he doesn't always understand it, that it's one thing to be nice to the farmers but if your consumers can't afford it then... there's something wrong with agricultural policy," Herbinger added.

Qaddafi's grit

Thousands shout for freedom in southern Syria

Thousands called for liberty Thursday in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, defying a deadly government crackdown as they took to the streets in funeral marches for protesters killed by police gunfire, an activist said.
Media access to the marches was restricted but an Associated Press reporter heard sporadic bursts of gunfire echoing through the city in the afternoon. Almost all shops were shuttered, the streets were virtually empty and soldiers and anti-terrorism police stopped people at checkpoints and manned many intersections — the heaviest security presence since the unrest began.
Security troops were in total control of the area around al-Omari mosque, where protesters had been holed up earlier and where most of Wednesday's fighting occurred. Syrian officials escorted a small group of photographers to the mosque to show they were now in control.
There were no traces of fighting inside the mosque, except for a broken door to an office.
Elsewhere, the only evidence of fighting were rocks that littered the streets and the remains of tires that had been set on fire by protesters the day before.
The activist in contact with residents of Daraa told The Associated Press that massive crowds shouted "Syria, freedom!" as they marched toward one of the agricultural hub's main cemeteries.
Others in Daraa held a sit-in in the al-Mahata neighborhood to protest the killing of residents in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters, the activist said.
Inspired by the wave of pro-democracy protests around the region, the uprising in Daraa and at least four nearby villages has become the biggest domestic challenge since the 1970s to the Syrian government, one of the most repressive in the Middle East. Security forces have responded with water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
Syrian police launched a relentless assault Wednesday on a neighborhood sheltering anti-government protesters, fatally shooting many in an operation that lasted nearly 24 hours, witnesses said.
A resident of Daraa who was reached by phone from Damascus said witnesses there reported seeing at least 34 people slain.
He said at least 20 bodies were brought to Daraa National Hospital, and seven others taken to hospitals in neighboring areas. In the early evening, people from the nearby villages of Inkhil, Khirbet Ghazale and al-Harrah tried to march on Daraa but security forces opened fire and hit them with rifle butts as they approached. The resident said seven more were killed in that shooting. Hundreds were wounded, he said.
The resident spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
"It was a very difficult, bloody day," he said. "There is a state of undeclared curfew in Daraa, whenever troops see four or five more people gathered they open fire," he said.
"Daraa today is like a ghost town, we are very scared," he said. "Everything is closed and the streets are empty, everywhere you look there's security."
Ahed Al Hendi, a Syrian dissident and Arabic program coordinator for the U.S.-based human rights organization, said at least 45 people were killed on Wednesday.
The Washington-based Al Hendi said he is in daily contact with Syrians inside Daraa and provided a list with the names of the 45 killed. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Al Hendi said he expected more protests Friday and said the regime appears to be shaken.
"They should realize that killing people will only lead to more unrest and resentment," he said.
Presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban told reporters that 10 people were killed Wednesday in what she called an attempt to target Syria because it supports resistance against Israel.
"What is being targeted is Syria's position, Syria's security and ability to be a pillar of resistance against Zionism and U.S. schemes," she said.
She said the Syrian government had no objection to peaceful protests, and claimed that demonstrators in Daraa had attacked security forces.
"The demands of the people are being studied night and day and Syria will witness important decision that meet the ambitions of our people," she said.
Abdul-Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian Human Rights League, said authorities had begun a campaign of detentions against activists, writers and bloggers in different parts of Syria.
Rihawi said the last to be detained was Mazen Darwish, a journalist who headed the independent Syrian Media Center. He said Darwish was summoned to a security office Wednesday noon and has not been seen since then. Also detained were well-known writer Loay Hussein and blogger Ahmad Hdaithi.
"These arrests will only increase tension," Rihawi said.
A statement posted Thursday on the Facebook page "The Syrian Revolution 2011" held Syrian authorities led by President Bashar Assad responsible for the violence and called on the Syrian people to hold protests in all Syrian provinces on Friday, which it dubbed "Dignity Friday."
An official at the Daraa National Hospital told The Associated Press by telephone that the hospital received a large number of casualties Wednesday and was "overwhelmed" with wounded people. He declined to say how many people were dead or hurt, saying he was not authorized to give out numbers or talk to the press.
He said the hospital had not received any new casualties since Wednesday night and that Daraa was "very quiet this morning."
Videos posted by activists on Youtube and Twitter showed dead and wounded people lying on a street in Daraa, as heavy gunfire crackled nearby and people shouted in panic.
One video showed a man with a bloodied face, apparently shot in the head, raising his index finger and saying "There is no God but Allah" — the credo Muslims are required to say before they die.
The authenticity of the videos could not be independently confirmed.
In a tacit admission that the protests hitting the Arab world have reached Syria, Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said in remarks carried by state-media that "the developments in the Arab world should be a catalyst to build nations and not for undermining national unity."

Libya questions swirl as Obama comes home

President Barack Obama is returning home to a firestorm of criticism over his handling of the crisis in Libya and mounting calls for a clearer explanation of U.S. policy in the war-torn North African nation.

The president, who just wrapped up a five-day trip to Latin America, has insisted that the goal of the U.N.-sanctioned military mission is strictly to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Specifically, the mission is meant to prevent a slaughter of Libyan rebels and other civilians by forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
Obama, however, has also said the administration's ultimate objective is Gadhafi's removal from power. U.S. officials have indicated they hope the dictator will be removed quickly by forces currently loyal to him, though they haven't publicly called for a coup.
"Gadhafi has a decision to make and the people around him each have decisions to make," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday. "We would certainly encourage that they make the right decision."
Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are angry over what they consider inadequate administration consultation with Congress before the start of the military mission over the weekend. They also continue to have questions over the conflict's cost and consequences as well as the U.S. endgame.
Obama himself conceded in an interview with CNN Tuesday that Gadhafi could "hunker down and wait it out even in the face of (the U.N.) no-fly zone, even though his forces have been degraded."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Obama on Wednesday complaining that "military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America's role is in achieving that mission."
"In fact," Boehner said, "the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered."
Among other things, Boehner asked whether it is acceptable for Gadhafi to remain in power once the military campaign ends.
"If not, how will he be removed from power?" Boehner asked. "Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?"
Boehner also asked Obama that since the "stated U.S. policy goal is removing Qadhafi from power, do you have an engagement strategy for the opposition forces? If the strife in Libya becomes a protracted conflict, what are your administration's objectives for engaging with opposition forces, and what standards must a new regime meet to be recognized by our government?"
Another key House Republican called for a withdrawal of U.S. forces Wednesday, arguing that Obama had failed to rally public support for military action.
"Mr. President, you have failed to state a clear and convincing explanation of the vital national interest at stake which demands our intervention in Libya," said Representative Candice Miller, R-Michigan. "You have failed to state a clearly defined mission for our military to defend that interest. ... I believe you must pull our forces from the coalition immediately."
California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock sent his own letter to Obama on Wednesday, contending the president violated the War Powers Act and other constitutional restrictions against authorizing military action.
"With all due respect, I can only conclude that your order to United States Armed Forces to attack the nation of Libya on March 19, 2011 is in direct violation of the War Powers Resolution and constitutes a usurpation of constitutional powers clearly and solely vested in the United States Congress and is accordingly unlawful and unconstitutional," McClintock's letter said.
Liberal Democrats have also expressed unease with the Libyan intervention, particularly in regard to the relative lack of congressional consultation and the prospects for an open-ended conflict.
Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva and California representatives Barbara Lee, Mike Honda and Lynn Woolsey released a statement late Tuesday arguing that "the United States must immediately shift to end the bombing in Libya."
"We will fight in Congress to ensure the United States does not become embroiled in yet another destabilizing military quagmire in Libya with no clear exit plan or diplomatic strategy for peace," they said.
Top Senate Democrats, however, continue to defend the administration, insisting that Obama moved methodically and carefully to assemble a strong international coalition capable of saving innocent lives and reinforcing the broader Middle East reform movement.
Senator Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, told reporters Wednesday that Obama's pursuit of international approval was reminiscent of former President George H.W. Bush lining up global support before taking military action to drive Iraq from Kuwait in the early 1990s.
Obama has pursued a "very prudent course of action," Durbin said. The United States is supporting "unprecedented and long overdue change" that is consistent "with our national values."
Durbin noted that, if the conflict drags on, members of Congress could push for a vote of approval under the 1973 War Powers Act.
We are "coming to the support and to the aid of a democratic movement in general and trying to protect a population inside Libya to the extent that it is possible," said Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
If the president hadn't taken the time to assemble a broad coalition in Libya, there would have been "huge opposition ... in the streets of the Arab world," Levin said. Protests currently aimed at Arab dictators "would have been turned against us."
Senator Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, stressed the administration's intention to hand over leadership of the military effort to international allies as soon as possible.
U.S. operations have generally been limited to America's "unique capabilities" relating to the establishment of a no-fly zone, he said.
Some analysts, however, echoed complaints about what they insisted was unclear administration guidance about ultimate U.S. goals in Libya and the methods being used in pursuit of those objectives.
Obama has been "fairly muddy in what he's said," argued Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The president has been "reacting frantically" to events and "being pulled hither and yon."
Boot predicted air power would not be sufficient to knock out the Gadhafi regime and warned of a "protracted and costly stalemate," if the United States doesn't send in military advisers to help arm and train the rebels.
Obama may be hoping for a palace coup, Boot said, but "I wouldn't bet on it."
Boot also stressed the need for more planning for a post-Gadhafi Libya. There's a "real danger of chaos" and protracted tribal warfare, if Gadhafi falls, he said. Al Qaeda may be able to exploit such a situation, he warned.
Boot blasted the White House for "not really preparing the American people for the possibility that this could be a protracted and expensive conflict."
"The public and the administration should not be going into this with rose-colored blinkers on," he said.
But Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, told CNN that Obama "has no interest in a full-scale war with Libya and every intention in keeping our mission there limited in scope and duration."
Mann also argued that Obama "probably doesn't want a congressional vote of approval because it would heighten the public attention and the stakes involved."
Still, "while Congress has no stomach for assuming responsibility for approving or reversing the steps taken by Obama, the president (would be) well advised to step up his consultation with the first branch of government," he said.
Wendy Schiller, a Brown University political scientist, argued Obama may have eventually paid a political price, if he didn't intervene before Gadhafi's troops took control of the last rebel stronghold in Benghazi.
"Americans generally do not like to see protesters seeking political rights shot, wounded or killed," she said. "Standing by and watching that happen, especially after the U.N. authorized a no-fly zone, would have made Obama look weak and indifferent to their struggle."