Friday, March 25, 2011

Jordan PM warns of chaos as protester dies

A protester died after security forces broke up clashes on Friday between supporters of King Abdullah and protesters calling for reform, and the government warned it would not tolerate "chaos.

Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit blamed opposition Islamists for the clash in the pro-Western monarchy, which has seen weeks of protests calling for curbs on the king's powers.
"What happened today is definitely the start of chaos and it is unacceptable and I warn of the consequences," Bakhit told Jordanian television. Addressing Islamists whom he said were taking orders from Egypt and Jordan, he said: "Enough playing with fire. I ask you, where are you taking Jordan?"
The family of the dead protester said he was beaten up by security forces, but the official Petra news agency said he died after he suffered a stab wound in the chest during the clashes which police were trying to quell.
Al Jazeera quoted its correspondent as saying a second protester had died.
Hussein al-Majali, the head of general security, said security forces did not use excessive force and the protester who died suffered from a heart attack. "Security forces had nothing to do with it," he said.
Islamist, leftist, liberal and tribal figures have staged protests and sit-ins over the past few weeks calling for a constitutional monarchy in Jordan.
The demonstrations have been smaller than others across the Arab world, but underlying tensions between Jordanians of Palestinian origin and the country's indigenous "East Bank" population have resurfaced and could also threaten stability.
Authorities had not cracked down on the protests, seeking to avoid provoking the kind of upheaval that toppled entrenched rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.
But Friday's protest quickly turned violent after security forces used batons and sprayed water to break up a clash between the opposing camps who had gathered in the Gamal Abdul Nasser roundabout near the Interior Ministry in Amman. Dozens were wounded and were being treated in hospitals across Amman.
"What did we do wrong? We were calling for reform peacefully," Saeed Jameel, whose father died, told Reuters in Amman's Prince Hamza hospital.
His brother, Amer, had earlier told Reuters that police had beaten up their father, Khairy, 57, and that he died after he arrived in hospital.
King Abdullah responded to the anti-government protests by sacking an unpopular prime minister last month and replacing him with Bakhit, a former intelligence general, in a step seen as dealing a blow to Islamist and liberal hopes for reform.
Dissent has built up and the opposition, disgruntled with the slow pace of promised political reforms, has become more vocal in its calls for change.
Protester Mahmoud Hamawi told Reuters: "The (pro-monarchy) thugs were throwing stones from one side and police were attacking protesters with sticks to push them back."
A Reuters cameraman was beaten up by pro-monarchy supporters and Jordanian security forces. His camera was broken.
A photographer at the scene, Rabie Zureiqat, told Reuters security officers took his camera "and beat me with sticks."
A member of the medical team with the pro-reform protesters, some of whom camped out on the roundabout on Thursday night, said more than 50 people had been injured, some seriously.
On Friday, they chanted slogans against the interference of intelligence agents in political activities and called out against the head of intelligence, Mohammed Raqqad.
They also chanted "Peaceful, peaceful" and "We love Jordan."
"The people want to bring down political parties," chanted the pro-monarchy crowd, which also raised pictures of King Abdullah.
Bakhit's cabinet earlier this month announced the creation of a national dialogue committee in response to a call by King Abdullah to accelerate reforms.
But Jordan's Islamist opposition said it would not join the panel because it would not be discussing constitutional changes to curb the monarch's powers.
Later on Friday 15 of the 52 committee members announced their resignation in protest over the clash.
"The statement called on the rest of the committee and its head, Taher al-Masri, to resign as (a token of) their national and historic responsibility and in honor of the citizen's blood that were protesting peacefully," the official Petra news agency quoted Saeed Diyab, a committee member, as saying.
It was not immediately clear what the fate of the body would be.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told Sky television the situation was under control. "Reforms are already in place ... in the last few weeks this has been speeded up," he said, adding the driving force behind the protests were economic issues. "We have economic hardship but we have political stability, thank God."

Balochistan Mela continues in the city

Balochistan Mela jointly organized by the Pak Army and Balochistan government in connection with the Pakistan Day celebrations is in full swing with hundreds of visitors thronging Askari Park.

Musical show, photo exhibition, sports events and cultural shows are the main components of the festival, while hundreds of stall set up by the Army and other public and private sectors are also attracting the visitors in the Mela.

According to the handout, around 20000 people visited the Mela on Friday. In view of the interest of the people they evinced in the Mela, it would continue for more two days.

Canadian government collapses

Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has received a vote of no-confidence over "abuse of power" allegations, leading to the collapse of the government.

The opposition parties managed to gather 156 votes in favor of the motion versus 145 for the government's survival on Friday.

The main opposition, Liberal Party, along with the separatist Bloc Quebecois and leftist New Democrats supported the motion.

Before the vote, the leader of the main official opposition Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, said "After five years of Conservative government, it is time to say enough is enough."

Earlier this week, a parliamentary committee hit another blow to the government as it announced that the conservatives had hidden the full costs of a spending program from parliament and people.

"A government that breaks the rules and conceals facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office," Ignatieff noted.

The Liberals vowed to scrap $6.1 billion in corporate tax cuts and end extravagant multibillion-dollar plans to buy new fighter jets and build prison cells.

Canada's budget deficit hit a record high of C$55.6 billion last year. The Canadian joblessness is 7.8 percent.

The Canadian premier has to go to the governor-general and ask to officially dissolve parliament and hold an election, which is slated for early May.

Jordan struggles to control protests

An ignorant friend

By —Farhat Taj
Daily Times

The tribal people fear the Pakistan Army’s aerial bombardment in FATA. The IDPs from all over FATA accuse the Pakistan Army of deliberately bombing innocent civilians while avoiding Taliban centres

Some time back, a piece in Foreign Policy suggested a referendum in FATA and the nearby areas of Afghanistan to ask the people if they were for or against a strict Islamist government. In case of a yes vote, any people in the larger region subscribing to a strict version of Islam could emigrate to the area. Dr Mohammad Taqi has elaborated how hollow this whole idea is via his article ‘A passport to dystopia’ (Daily Times, March 3, 2011). Dr Taqi’s article and Pakhtun comments in Foreign Policy on the piece should have encouraged the writer to reflect on his ideas about the Pakhtuns. A researcher with a sense of professional commitment would have done so. This does not appear to be the case with the writer Saleem Ali. Recently, he wrote an article in a Pakistani English daily and reproduced the following misleading ideas about the Pakhtuns on which I would like to comment:

“FATA is ungovernable territory and its population is decidedly more conservative than the rest of Pakistan. Islamists have political clout in FATA. There is an urban-rural divide among the Pakhtun whereby the urban Pakhtun blame the ISI for the terrorism in FATA while the rural Pakhtun in FATA embrace Islamism. The Bacha Khan Movement has no traction in FATA. The New America Foundation Survey last September is the most comprehensive survey in FATA. Tribalism in FATA is conflating with Islamism. There is an aversion to aerial bombing (US drone attacks) in the area.”

From a security point of view, FATA has never been an ungovernable territory since Pakistan came into being. It has always been under the control of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. This is especially so since the ISI-CIA sponsored jihad in Afghanistan. Did the ISI and CIA operate their entire jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan from an ungovernable space? Were the Soviets so foolish that they could not destroy jihadi bases in an ungovernable space?

FATA is governable but the military establishment of Pakistan is deliberately projecting it as an ‘ungovernable wild west’ to the world because it needs the area for strategic games vis-à-vis India in Afghanistan. Does the writer have any idea about the pro-Islamism activities from the offices of political agents in FATA under the direction of the ISI? May I ask Saleem Ali why the Political Parties Act of Pakistan has not been extended to the area? President Zardari announced the promulgation of the act in FATA in 2009. Who is resisting a formal notification in this regard? Is it the people of FATA or is it the GHQ in Rawalpindi that is so averse to any idea of Pakhtun nationalist political parties operating in the area due to its eternal fear of Pakhtun nationalism?

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that FATA is more conservative than any other community in Pakistan. The fact that FATA is a gender discriminatory society does not explain anything significant in terms of the conservatism supposed by the writer.

It is ridiculous to hear that there is an urban-rural divide among the Pakhtun at a time when Pakhtun social activists are expressing their concerns over the growing ‘ruralisation’ of Peshawar and other cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to a lack of human development caused by government policies. Can one indicate any significant rural-urban divide between Waziristan, FATA, Bannu and Tank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, between Bajaur, FATA and Dir and so on? Actually, all areas in FATA are much more integrated in terms of culture, tribal links, familial ties, business connections and so on with the adjacent ‘urban centres’ in Pakhtunkhwa than among themselves.

Above all, there is no ‘rural-urban’ divide among the Pakhtun over the security situation in FATA. It is actually the illiterate ‘rural’ people in FATA who have suffered at the hands of the Islamists and straightaway hold the ISI responsible for their destruction. The fact that they cannot openly speak due to fear of the ISI does not give any justification to writers sitting far away to assume that FATA’s population subscribes to Islamism.

It is factually wrong that the Bacha Khan Movement has no traction in FATA. His movement has mainly been concentrated in villages, including villages in FATA. There are countless people all over FATA who are sympathetic to the movement. People linked to it were among the first eliminated by the ISI when it unleashed targeted killings in the area in 2003 to silence those who had the potential to question the presence of ‘state guests’ — al Qaeda jihadis in FATA.

How could the New America Foundation survey in FATA be comprehensive when it was conducted at a time when most of FATA’s people were IDPs outside FATA? The survey also suffers from other serious methodological and ethical errors that render it meaningless for a scholarly debate over FATA. My detailed critique of the survey will be published in the coming months.

There is no conflation between tribalism and Islamism in FATA. The tribes have made lashkars against the Islamists. The popular jirga-backed lashkars are much more representative of the tribes in terms of tribal identity than the ISI-backed multi-ethnic Taliban. Did the writer ever try to reach out to the lashkar leaders? Does he have any idea who the ‘rural’ lashkar leaders hold responsible for the atrocities committed against their tribes?

The tribal people fear the Pakistan Army’s aerial bombardment in FATA. The IDPs from all over FATA accuse the Pakistan Army of deliberately bombing innocent civilians while avoiding Taliban centres. There is, however, no aversion to the US drone attacks. They are welcomed because the drone never targets civilians. There have been large-scale human displacements in all tribal areas where military operations were conducted. There is no large-scale human displacement from North Waziristan, the area most hit by drones. I predict there will a huge human displacement from North Waziristan if and when the Pakistan Army launches a military operation in the area under US pressure.

“Are we achieving any success thus far with drones?” asks the writer. No, we have not achieved much with drones in the larger picture. But this is because the US is not doing enough to deal with the ISI. As long as the military establishment is using FATA as strategic space, terrorism will go on by state design. The drone attacks, meanwhile, frustrate the establishment’s design by killing its ‘beloved’ jihadis. For the tribesmen, the drone strikes are a significant achievement. They are precisely killing the multi-ethnic jihadis who have overpowered them.

“I am writing this as a friend of Pakhtuns,” says Saleem Ali. I accept his words at face value but his writings show that he is ignorant about Pakhtun history, society, culture and the current situation. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Nothing can be more dangerous than sincere ignorance.” Saleem Ali should educate himself about the Pakhtun or choose some other topic to write on. The Pakhtun are passing through a hard time and cannot afford ignorant friends.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban

Two girls schools blown up in Khyber Agency

Two government primary schools for girls

were destroyed on Thursday in Sultan Khel area in Khyber Agency. Unidentified men had placed explosives inside the buildings of the two schools, Hukam Khan Kallay and Awal Said Kallay, in Sultan Khel area of tehsil Landikotal. As a result both building were completely destroyed. However, the nearby houses were saved from the explosions that shook the whole area. More than 800 girls of the area were studying in the schools, who were devastated when they found out about the attack. Locals gathered on the sites and strongly condemned the blasts. They were of the view that the attackers were against girls’ education and wanted them to be deprived of this basic right. They also said that it was the basic duty of the security forces and the government to protect public property, including government schools, which are often neglected. The administration of both schools arrested the watchmen, identified as Nazar Sher and Inam Shah. So far 43 government schools have been blown up in the Khyber Agency.

Terrorism and the World Cup


According to Interpol chief Ronald Noble, a terror plot has been foiled with the help of Pakistan. The target was the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2011. “Last week, through the cooperation from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, we were able to identify, locate and arrest a terrorist, who had left Karachi on his way to the Maldives with criminal intentions,” said Mr Noble. He was briefing reporters in Islamabad alongside Interior Minister Rehman Malik. “Thanks to the cooperation of your country [Pakistan] and other countries, we were able to make sure that the World Cup remains safe,” assured the Interpol chief.

This terror plot is definitely worrying but perhaps not surprising. Global terrorist networks now seek to use any opportunity to wreak havoc. Sporting events, especially one as huge as the Cricket World Cup, seem like ideal targets given the fact the whole cricketing world’s eyes are on this tournament. Imagine the destruction if a terror attack does take place at a World Cup match. Usually stadiums are packed to their full capacity. Such an attack could lead to hundreds of deaths not to talk about shattering the spirit of the sporting event. A terror attack against the visiting Sri Lankan team took place in Pakistan in March 2009. It was a miracle that none of the Sri Lankan cricketers were badly injured and virtually escaped death. Ever since that unfortunate incident, international cricket has come to an end in Pakistan. It was for this reason that Pakistan could not co-host this year’s World Cup. It is highly unfortunate that sports, which serve as relief from social, personal and professional tensions for the spectators and bring them together in support of their respective teams, are now being targeted by terrorists.

The issue of terrorism cannot be addressed without pre-emptive measures. Fortunately, this time around the Interpol has caught a terrorist with the help of Pakistan and other countries but the authorities should not rest sanguine. There are many important matches in the upcoming days, especially the semi-final between India and Pakistan on March 30. The match will take place in India and if God forbid, any security lapse takes place that day, the consequences for both neighbouring countries will be immense. After the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, relations between the two sides soured. Now that there has been a resumption of talks between the two sides after a long time post-26/11, the terrorists must be waiting for another opportune moment to strike again. Security should be beefed up in Mohali, more so than planned previously, especially since Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has graciously invited President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to watch the match in Mohali. According to our High Commissioner in New Delhi, Mr Shahid Malik, the prime minister has accepted the invitation. For this reason, and in the event that Pakistan wins the semi-final, the Pakistan cricket team and Pakistani spectators at the match must be given foolproof security. The Shiv Sena has already warned the Pakistani team against playing the final in Mumbai on April 2. These threats should be taken seriously. Any untoward incident in India could lead to grave consequences for both sides on the eve of the resumption of the stalled dialogue. Cricket diplomacy should remain a force for good, and the terrorists must not be allowed to derail the signs of the two countries once again reaching out to each other after a long hiatus.

It is hoped that the rest of the World Cup matches will take place as peacefully as they have till now. The game of cricket lifts the spirit of all cricketing nations. Sullying the image of sports through terror attacks shows us that the terrorists are nobody’s friends.

Pakistan’s religion problem

By Asma Uddin

On March 10, a week after the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti,

Pakistan’s minister for religious minorities, a bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen called on U.S. and international officials to formally oppose the draconian blasphemy laws that cost Bhatti his life by introducing a “Taseer-Bhatti resolution” in the U.N. Human Rights Council. The proposed resolution, named after Bhatti and Punjab governor Salman Taseer

, who was also murdered recently for his efforts at repealing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, advocates for “the repeal of blasphemy laws and condemn]s] their adverse effects on freedom of religion and thought.”On March 2, Bhatti, Pakistan’s only Christian government official, was murdered for his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Bhatti’s car was riddled with at least 25 bullets as he was leaving his mother’s home in Islamabad, the country’s capitol. In a note left next to his slain body, Al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban Movement boasted responsibility for the assassination.

Bhatti was well aware that he risked his life by fighting for the rights of religious minorities. In a video that he requested be released in the event of his murder, he courageously stated that he was willing to die for their rights.

Bhatti is not the first Pakistani government official to be murdered for his unflinching support of religious freedom. On January 4, Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard for the same. Both Bhatti and Taseer spoke out against the death sentence that was issued in November to Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blaspheming the prophet Mohammed.

While Bhatti’s Roman Catholic faith was certainly on the mind of his assassins, the primary motivation behind his murder was not his religious beliefs, but his belief in religious liberty. Governor Taseer was Muslim, and he lost his life in the very same way that Bhatti did. Both brave men who ascribed to two different religions were assassinated because of their political view that the government does not have the power to determine religious truth and punish those who disagree. Indeed, this is not a tale of strife between two religions; the clash is really between those who desire liberty and democracy, and powerful, oppressive extremists who seek to squelch this desire in their people.

In their fight for liberty, Bhatti and Taseer recognized the dark reality behind blasphemy laws. In addition to stifling the speech of religious minorities, these laws are often used for personal gain or revenge, regardless of the accused person’s religious beliefs. Threats of blasphemy accusation are often used to settle property disputes, for example. So rather than protecting religion—the touted purpose of blasphemy laws—these laws abuse religion by allowing it to be wielded as a weapon to destroy a person’s life—all for another’s personal or economic gain.Far from creating religious harmony, the laws also engender mob violence. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, even after being acquitted on blasphemy charges, the life of the accused is never really secure. Those who are released invariably live under the shadow of fear, being harassed, and often having no alternative but to move. It is not uncommon for vigilante mobs to take the law into their own hands and kill a person even after he or she is acquitted. In fact, there have already been reports of rewards offered to anyone who kills Asia Bibi if her life is spared by the government. More than 30 people have been killed by lynch mobs since the modern revival of the blasphemy law in 1979.

The tragic deaths of these two martyrs for freedom show a genuine need for reform in Pakistan and other countries with such draconian blasphemy laws. The United Nations, which currently provides justification for such laws through its “defamation resolution,” needs to take action.

The defamation resolution, which was originally introduced by Pakistan, protects religions from being criticized, but what it amounts to in reality is a cover to hide under for nations like Pakistan who use blasphemy laws to punish dissenters. Support for the provision has waned significantly over the past few years, and it will likely be defeated, but the U.N. can and should do more than merely let the cover fade: they should oppose blasphemy laws altogether. A Taseer-Bhatti Resolution seeks to do precisely that.

When Bhatti was killed, religious minorities in Pakistan mourned the loss of their staunchest defender and leader. The United Nations should do their part in defending these people and the cause that both Bhatti and Taseer died for.

TB on the rise in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Tuber colossus and various other illnesses are spreading rapidly in the province due to lack of health awareness and environmental problems.

‘Every individual must protect the rights of children’

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Social Welfare & Women Development, Sitara Ayaz has urged the civil society to play an active role for the welfare and protection of children.

“Every individual in the society must protect the rights of children,” she said while addressing the participants of a seminar on the ‘Recommended Minimum Standards of Care for Children Living in Alternative Care Homes’. The event was organised by the Legal Aid Cell (Child Rights Unit) at a local hotel in Peshawar on Friday.

Sitara said that the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is making serious effort for protecting women and children’s rights. “For the first time in the history of this province, the Child Protection Bill was passed unanimously by the Assembly which has now been implemented in the form of an Act. A commission has been constituted in this regard and recently a Child Protection Bureau has also been established at Peshawar while more units will be established in other districts of the province soon,” she said.

The minister said that street child, taken into custody by the government will be handed over to their parents or relatives through court after an undertaking is given about the provision of good care and support.

She said that the Rehbar Toll Free service has also been started by the government in districts Peshawar, Swabi and Mardan where people could easily lodge their complaints relating to child labour, child abuse and other problems faced by the children.

“A large numbers of children have been affected by the floods and terrorism in the province and a survey is in the progress to assess the damage. It is our government’s top most priority to compensate the affected,” she added.

She maintained that the provincial government will establish international standard orphanages where needed so that children are able to become worthy members of the society and contribute to national development.

Programme Officer AGHS (Child Rights Unit) Qudsia Majeed, SOS villages KP Chairperson Mrs. Khola Mustafa and Professor Javed Hussein also addressed on the occasion.

PPP to sit in opposition, if loses masses’ support

President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday said that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), that came into power through political strength, power of votes and the support of masses, would sit in opposition if it loses the masses' support. "We will remain in power until we have the support of masses,... until we have political strength and force,.. until we have power of votes. It is our right", he remarked while addressing a function on Pakistan Sweet Home, organized by Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr. The President said, "if the PPP loses the elections it will sit in opposition" and that he himself would lead the opposition. "We never loved these walls...,PPP never let the power to become its need..., never thought to be a ruling party", Zardari remarked, adding, the people voted for the PPP in the name of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and due to the sacrifices of its leaders and workers. The President also mentioned the sacrifices of PPP workers, who faced various difficulties and were even whipped during the dictatorial rule of General Ziaul Haq. Zardari said when he was in jail, he often used to think about the hardships faced by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto during their imprisonment and then disregarded his difficulties. President Zardari recalled that Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto led a 17-member opposition after the 1996 general election, adding, it was her vision about the importance of parliament and democracy, which needed to be followed by all political forces. He said strengthening parliament and democracy was vital for strengthening the country's institutions, adding, if the PPP would have boycotted the 2008 elections after the assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, it could have weakened the institutions. The President vowed to serve the masses and said it was the duty of political leadership to serve the country and the nation and strengthen the institutions.

Saudis want their troops out of Bahrain

Hundreds of Saudi anti-government protesters have taken to the streets in the country's Eastern Province, condemning the kingdom's military intervention in Bahrain.

The protesters, mainly Shias, also called for the immediate release of what they called forgotten political prisoners. Protesters say the prisoners are being held unjustly and without trial, some as long as 16 years.

There protest rallies were held in two villages close to the main Shia city of Qatif shortly after the Friday Prayers.

"There are around 400 protesters here at the moment and some are waving Bahraini flags. The protests are peaceful and the riot police are well away from the demonstrators," an activist said.

Demonstrators also called for political freedoms and an end to sectarian discrimination against the Shia community by the Sunni monarchy.

Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslims, who are considered a minority, complain about government discrimination, saying they are treated as second class citizens and that they often struggle to get the government jobs and benefits available to other citizens.

The government of Saudi Arabia denies such charges.

On Wednesday, a Saudi-based human rights group said that authorities have arrested one hundred protesters for taking part or organizing anti-government demonstrations.

Human Rights First Society (HRFS) also revealed that some of the Shia detainees were subject to torture both physically and mentally.

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki refused to comment on the report.

"Anybody who committed a violent act that is criminalized by law in Saudi Arabia will be arrested and anybody proved to be involved in calling for demonstrations will be arrested and sent to the court of law," Turki told Reuters.

In Saudi Arabia, protest rallies and any public displays of dissent are forbidden and are considered illegal. Senior Wahhabi clerics in the kingdom have also censured opposition demonstrations as "un-Islamic."

Yemen ruler ready to step down, Syria protests spread

By Cynthia Johnston and Mohamed Sudam
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah said on Friday he was ready to cede power, the third Arab ruler who may be forced out by popular protests which began in North Africa and have now spread into the Gulf, Syria and Jordan.

Saleh said he said he would cede power only into "safe hands" and Yemeni political sources said talks were under way to work out the details of a peaceful transition.
But in Syria, protests challenging the rule of President Bashar al-Assad spread across the country after security forces killed dozens of demonstrators in the southern city of Deraa.
"The barrier of fear is broken. This is a first step on the road to toppling the regime," said Ibrahim, a middle-aged lawyer in Deraa. "We have reached the point of no return."
Saleh's departure would present a new challenge to Western countries already embroiled in a week-old military intervention in Libya, amid fears that instability in Saudi Arabian neighbor Yemen could open the way for al Qaeda to expand its power there.
"We don't want power, but we need to hand power over to safe hands, not to sick, resentful or corrupt hands," said Saleh, who had come under intense pressure to quit since snipers fired on anti-government protesters a week ago, killing 52 people.
That bloodshed prompted a string of defections that severely weakened Saleh's position, including by military figures such as top general Ali Mohsen, as well as diplomats and tribal leaders.
A source close to Mohsen said he and Saleh had discussed a deal in which both men and their families would leave Yemen, while political sources said broader talks were underway on a political transition.
A diplomat in the capital Sanaa, however, said it was premature to discuss an outcome. "It can go either way."
In Syria, Assad's government promised on Thursday to look at giving greater freedom to Syrians.
But there was more bloodshed after Friday prayers, with witnesses reporting at least 23 dead, including three in the capital Damascus. Information on casualties was limited and authorities restricted journalists' movements.
In Deraa, tens of thousands marched in funerals for some of the dead, chanting "Freedom." In a central square, a Reuters correspondent saw protesters haul down a statue of Assad's father, late president Hafez al-Assad, before security men in plain clothes opened fire with automatic rifles from buildings.
The crowd of some 3,000 scattered under volleys of bullets and tear gas. The reporter saw some wounded helped into cars and ambulances. It was unclear how many, if any, were killed.
By evening, however, security forces appeared to have melted away, a crowd of protesters gathered again in the main square and set a government building on fire, witnesses said.
Demonstrations have also flared up in Jordan, and one person was killed on Friday during clashes between protesters calling for political reform and supporters of the pro-Western monarchy.
Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit warned of unspecified consequences if similar clashes occurred.
"What happened today is definitely the start of chaos and it is unacceptable and I warn of the consequences," Bakhit told Jordanian television.
The protests were the latest to erupt since the January 4 death of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in protest at his treatment by authorities.
Anger triggered by his death forced out Tunisia's ruler and swept into Egypt -- a country which has wielded huge influence on the political and religious currents of the Muslim world -- bringing down Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak on February 11.
"The whole system is changing," said Beirut-based commentator Rami Khoury. "Every single country without exception has to make changes."
"I think we have reached a point of no return. I don't think the Middle East will be the same. It is a new order in the making," said Fawaz Gerges from the London School of Economics.
A revolt against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has already prompted the third Western military intervention in a Muslim country this century, after Afghanistan and Iraq.
Western warplanes bombed Gaddafi's tanks and artillery in eastern Libya on Friday to try to break a battlefield stalemate and help rebels take the town of Ajdabiyah, which commands the coastal highway linking the east and west of the country.
Western countries including the United States, Britain and France began bombing targets in Libya a week ago as part of a U.N.-mandated intervention to protect civilians.
But the intensity of their firepower, along with Western capitals' expressed desire to see Gaddafi go, has drawn questions from some countries worried they had exceeded their mandate and ran the risk of killing more civilians.
The African Union said it was planning to facilitate talks to help end the war, but NATO said its operation could last three months, and France said the conflict would not end soon.
The Arab revolts are not only unseating rulers, but also threatening to reshape alliances often dominated by rivalry between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
In Syria, where the minority Alawite elite rule over a Sunni-majority country, protesters have chanted slogans against its alliance with Iran and the Shi'ite armed Hizbollah group in neighboring Lebanon.
But Saudi Arabia saw its grip challenged in Bahrain and sent troops earlier this month to help crack down on protesters -- many of them from the majority Shi'ite population -- demonstrating against the ruling Sunni al Khalifa family.
Small protests broke out in Bahrain's capital Manama for a planned "Day of Rage" on Friday despite a ban under martial law imposed last week, but were quickly crushed by security forces.
The challenge to authoritarian rulers by popular protests has so far somewhat marginalized al Qaeda, which had presented its own hardline Islamist ideology as the only alternative to what it called corrupt dictatorships.
But instability in Yemen and war in Libya could provide fresh opportunities for the group. It already has a strong presence in Yemen through Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa through Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
"The chaos of a post-Saleh Yemen in which there is no managed transition may lead to conditions that could allow AQAP and other extremist elements to flourish," analyst Christopher Boucek wrote in the militant affairs periodical CTC Sentinel.
Yemen lies on key shipping routes and borders Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil exporter. It has often seemed to be on the brink of disintegration: northern Shi'ites often taken up arms against Saleh and southerners dream of a separate state.

Counting lung cancer cells helps predict disease

British scientists have found that counting the number of lung cancer cells circulating in a patient's blood could help determine how aggressive the cancer is and predict the best treatment to use.

Researchers working with the charity Cancer Research UK looked at the number of circulating tumour cells, or CTCs in blood samples of 101 patients with a type of the disease called non small cell lung cancer before and after they had undergone one cycle of chemotherapy.

They found lung cancer patients with five or more CTCs had a significantly worse survival rates. The average overall survival was 4.3 months for patients with five or more CTCs compared to 8.1 months for patients with fewer than five.

The findings suggest that counting CTCs could be a simple way to monitor how well a patient is responding to treatment within a few weeks of starting it, the researchers said.

And being able to detect when CTC numbers are rising could give doctors the option to move patients on to new treatments more promptly.

"We now need to test our findings in more patients but, if our results are confirmed, there is now the potential to tailor treatments to individual patients and find new ways to treat the disease," said Fiona Blackhall, a doctor from The Christie cancer hospital in Manchester who worked on the study.

Lung cancer kills 1.2 million people a year around the world and is one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer because over two-thirds of patients are diagnosed at a late stage when curative treatment is not possible.

More than 80 percent of lung cancers are caused by smoking, and less than 15 percent of people diagnosed with the disease survive longer than five years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In Britain, lung cancer is the second most common cancer and was diagnosed in around 41,000 people in 2008.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can slow the growth and spread of lung tumors, but in most patients the cancer returns and is also generally more resistant to treatment.

Blackhall's team, whose study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, noted there are no tests available that provide early warning about resistance, but said they hoped their findings might change that.

"In the near future we hope to be able to use gene sequencing tools to learn more about CTCs," said Caroline Dive of the University of Manchester, who also worked on the study.

"If we can do this before a patient has chemotherapy and then again later if the cancer returns, we may be able to learn more about the processes that lead to drug resistance, and ultimately develop new drugs."

Syrian forces fire on protesters

Syrian security forces have opened fire on anti-government protesters near the city of Daraa, killing at least 20 people, according to one witness.

"There are more than 20 martyrs .... they [security forces] opened fire haphazardly," the witness told Al Jazeera.

Reuters also reported that heavy gunfire could be heard in the southern city, the focal point for demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad's regime in recent days.

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Damascus, said Syrian forces apparently opened fire after protesters set fire to a statue of the late president Hafer al-Assad.

"Eyewitnesses are telling us that when some young men tried to burn down the statue of the late president the security forces started firing live ammunition at the protesters and there were some injured, we think there is one casualty, but we are trying to verify".
Different accounts

However Reem Haddad from the Syrian information ministry, told Al Jazeera that security forces had been given the order not to shoot at protesters "no matter what happens".But things took on a different hue because inside these peaceful demonstrations there was another group of people who were armed ... and were shooting at the security forces and were shooting at other citizens in Daraa.

"At the end of the day this became a matter of national security."

But an eyewitness told Al Jazeera that "there were no people carrying arms among demonstrators".

"What happened in the square ... was live ammunition, I was present myself and I saw the youth and other young demonstrators leading a peaceful demonstration.

"They were chanting slogans calling for freedom and transparency and an end [to] corruption."

The incident comes as protesters demanding greater freedom called for a "day of dignity" on Friday following a week-long crackdown by pro-regime forces that has left dozens dead.

At least 200 people marched in the centre of Damascus after Friday prayers in support of the people of Daraa, scene of protests against Baath Party rule, Reuters reported.

Protests spread across Syria, with rallies also held in the central city of Hama and in Tel, near Damascus. According to our correspondent, numbers at these rallies ranged from hundreds of people to thousands.

Daraa, the main city of southern Syria, has become a flashpoint for protests. Officials have been on the defensive after protesters in the southern city were shot dead by police.

Syria has announced that it would "study" ending emergency rule - in place since 1963 - and look into legalising political parties, a presidential adviser has said.

"I am happy to announce to you the decisions made by the Arab Baath party under the auspices of President Bashar al-Assad ... which include ... studying the possibility of lifting the emergency law and licensing political parties," Buthaina Shaaban, the Syrian president's media adviser, said on Thursday.

The current emergency law allows people to be arrested without warrants and imprisoned without trial.

Soon after the promises of reforms were made, the prisoners detained in Daraa during the protests were released. There were also reports of orders being issued by the president for the army to pull out of Daraa.

Celebrations in Syria ,Syrian government promises to respond

Tens of thousands of sleepless Syrians from all Syria's 14 Governorates flooded into the streets in mass popular rallies voicing their satisfaction and joy over President Bashar al-Assad's decrees and decisions.

In Daraa Governorate, about 110 kilometers Southern Damascus, the masses held huge rallies, many of them formed long processions of cars, carrying the Syrian flag and President al-Assad's pictures.

Tensions boiled in a volatile Syrian community Thursday as thousands turned up for the funerals of people killed in unrest. Meanwhile, Syria's government blamed the instability on outsiders and announced plans to study popular demands, including the lifting of the country's decades-old emergency law.
Syria is the latest in a string of Arabic-speaking nations beset with discontent over economic and human rights issues. Syrian discontent centers on Daraa, a southern city in the impoverished country's agricultural region, where violence has been escalating between security forces and anti-government protesters since late last week.
Wissam Tarif, executive director of the human rights organization Insan, said at least 34 people have been killed in Daraa in the past two days. Other activists believe many more have been killed.
Tarif said as many as 20,000 people followed the funeral procession for those who died in the violence, including a conscripted soldier who was reportedly shot and wounded because he refused to fire on demonstrators.
A witness, who asked not to be named, said 10 "martyrs" were buried following afternoon prayers, with the people in the procession mourning the loss of the victims and chanting anti-government slogans.Kamal Aswad, a political activist in Daraa, said people in the funeral procession were chanting: "Those who kill their own people are traitors" and he said activists are trying to generate support for a big protest on Friday -- a "Day of Martyrs" to be held after Friday prayers.
Syrian state TV portrayed an opposite picture of the public mood. Scenes broadcast Thursday included fireworks and crowds of pro-government supporters waving pictures of President Bashar al-Assad and shouting, "with our bloods and our souls, we defend you Bashar!"
The footage was marked onscreen as "live," but it could not be determined when the footage actually originated.
Also Thursday, state TV broadcast an "urgent" message that read: "Following a directive by President Assad, all those who were detained in the latest events were released."
It could not be determined whether the statement was true.
State TV reported on Wednesday that the government fired the provincial governor amid the demonstrations.
The Obama administration on Thursday released a statement condemning "the Syrian government's brutal repression of demonstrations, in particular the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of security forces."
"We call on the Syrian government to exercise restraint and respect the rights of its people and call on all citizens to exercise their rights peacefully," the White House statement read.
Al-Assad's government on Thursday announced a number of measures apparently addressing protesters' demands. Among them, decrees to cut taxes and raise government workers salaries by 1,500 Syrian pounds ($32.60 US) a month, as well as pledges to provide more press freedoms, increased job opportunities and curbs on government corruption.
The government also said it would study lifting the country's emergency law and new legislation that would license political parties.
Syria's emergency law has been in effect since 1963. The law allows the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes. It also bars detainees who haven't been charged from filing court complaints or from having a lawyer present during interrogations.
The government also announced Thursday it will form a committee "to contact and listen to citizens in Daraa."
Bouthina Shaaban, a spokeswoman for al-Assad, passed along his condolences to those killed in Daraa and said the president "would not accept any bloodshed."
"I was an eyewitness to his excellency's orders that no live bullets would be used against the demonstrators," Shaaban said.
Shaaban also said the government is investigating the unrest in Daraa and that there are "indications and proof that there is a foreign financial support."
"Daraa was chosen because of its geographic location near the borders and how easy it is to transfer money and weapons to the city," Shaaban said, referring to the area's proximity to Jordan.
The Jordanian government on Thursday released a statement on state TV denying "as baseless, reports that fighters and vehicles loaded with weapons entered Syria from inside Jordanian territory."
"Such reports are nothing but media allegations that will not affect the good relations between the two countries," the statement read.
Syria is a diverse country, largely Sunni Muslim but ruled by the minority Alawite Muslim sect. It is also populated by Christians and members of the Druze sect. Along with Arabs, it has a significant Kurdish minority, which has been restive in recent years, and an Armenian population.
Those populations are controlled by a government that human rights groups consider one of the most repressive in the world.
In 2010, Syria ranked 127th out of 178 countries in transparency and accountability to the public, according to the international government watchdog group Transparency International. On a scale of 0 to 10, the lowest score representing the world's most corrupt governments, Syria scored a 2.5, Transparency International reported.
Human rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of people were killed in Syria during the three decades under the rule of Hafez al-Assad, the current president's father. Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000 promising reforms, but aside from implementing some economic reforms, failed to deliver, according to human rights groups.
Joshua Landis, who runs the Syria Comment blog and is director of the Center for Middle East Studies and associate professor at University of Oklahoma, told CNN that the unrest in Daraa is spurred by a number of factors, widespread poverty, a dislike for the emergency law and the arrests two weeks ago of young people who scrawled anti-government graffiti.
It is also driven by Sunni resentment against a government controlled by Alawites, among them, al-Assad.
So far, Landis said, the rallies been localized to Daraa but it's possible that there will be demonstrations elsewhere on Friday.
"Daraa is very poor and Islamic -- it optimizes everything that troubles Syria -- a failed economy, the population explosion, a bad governor and overbearing security forces," Landis wrote in his blog. "It is an explosive brew. Even if the government can contain violence to Daraa for the time-being, protests will spread. The wall of fear has broken. Apathy of the young has turned to anger,"
Because there are so few sources available from what has been a closed, authoritarian society, human rights activists are trying to get a handle on the number of casualties and the context behind the unrest in Daraa, which is a more conservative, tribal and close-knit community.
Amnesty International said it has been "deeply disturbed by reports of multiple deaths" in Daraa, as security forces fired "at protesters and people coming to the aid of the injured."
Along with many killed in the violence over the past 36 hours there were 92 confirmed arrests, according to Neil Sammonds an Amnesty researcher on Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Sammonds said there are reports of army snipers shooting women carrying water and an 11-year-old girl.
It's "hard to imagine these are front-line protesters," Sammonds said.

Syrian troops open fire on protesters

Syrian security forces have opened fire on anti-government protesters near the city of Daraa, killing at least 20 people, residents have told Al Jazeera.

"There are more than 20 martyrs .... they (security forces)
opened fire haphazardly," the witness said.

Reuters also reported that heavy gunfire could be heard in the southern city, the focal point for demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad''s regime in recent days.

The incident comes as protesters demanding greater freedom called for a "day of dignity" on Friday following a week-long crackdown by pro-regime forces that has left dozens dead.

At least 200 people marched in the centre of Damascus after Friday prayers in support of the people of Daraa, scene of protests against Baath Party rule, a Reuters news agency witness said.

Dan Rather aide: Crew harassed by Israeli security

A crew for Dan Rather was haras

sed and humiliated by Israeli security officials, a producer for his show has said, accusing them of forcing the staffers to drop their pants for a strip search before seeing a Cabinet minister.
The allegations, made in a letter to Israeli officials that was obtained by The Associated Press, add to growing complaints about how Israeli security officials treat foreign media.
Andrew Glazer, an Emmy-award winning producer at Dan Rather Reports, wrote that the legendary anchorman came to do a story about improving Israeli-Palestinian relations pitched by Israel's Foreign Ministry.
Glazer said problems mounted after they arrived. He said they were held up for hours at security checks. Israeli soldiers barred the crew's veteran Palestinian cameramen — a Jerusalem resident — from accompanying Rather to a West Bank neighborhood. And then came the a strip search before an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor.
"Mr. Rather said that in his career, he had never seen a crew forced to strip prior to an interview — including the one he conducted with Saddam Hussein," Glazer wrote.
Reached in New York, Glazer acknowledged sending a letter to several people in the Israeli government, but he would not discuss its contents or say when the events took place.
Glazer said in the Jan. 25 letter that the team held advance consultations with government and military officials and had a good experience with Palestinian security officials.
Israel's relationship with the foreign media is often testy, with some Israeli officials accusing journalists of sympathizing with the Palestinians and disregarding Israel's legitimate security concerns.
Journalists' recurring problems with chaotic and intrusive security, at Israel's international airport and entering government offices, have strained relations even further.
The new director of Israel's Government Press Office, Oren Helman, has vowed to usher in a new era of cordial relations with the hundreds of foreign journalists based in Israel. His pledges have not filtered down to the security agents who inspect journalists before entering official events with top officials.

Thousands in Yemen march against Saleh

Al Jazeera

Tens of thousands of protesters are on the streets of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, to call for an end to Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule, as the embattled president said he would only hand over power "to capable, responsible hands".

Addressing a large rally of his own supporters in a speech carried on state TV earlier on Friday, Saleh said he was ready to meet with protesters, but warned that those demanding his resignation had been influenced by the Houthis - an armed Shia Zaidi group demanding autonomy in the country's north - and "drug dealers".

Saleh was president of North Yemen until its 1990 unification with the south - and has ruled the country since.

But Al Jazeera's special correspondent, reporting from the capital's Change (Taghyir) Square - where 52 protesters were killed last Friday - said little new was offered in the speech; on one hand, warning and threatening those standing against him, and on the other, promising reforms and saying he would listen to the demands of the people.

Soldiers who have abandoned the president and were deployed to protect protesters in the square shot in the air to disperse groups of Saleh supporters who were attempting to reach the protest after the president's speech.

Our correspondent added that protesters said a sniper had shot and injured one of the soldiers guarding the square.

'Peace, stability and security'

Saleh said the gathered crowds before him came "under no orders from any political party or any leader, you came of your own free will, based on your patriotic responsibility, from all corners of the country, on this great day – the Friday of peace, stability and security".He continued: "Yes to stability and security, no to chaos and vandalism, no to creating chaos, no to pillage and assault on government institutions. No to pillage of the country’s riches. To those who are protesting – you did not contribute to the country’s achievements".

Criticising the media, the Houthis and other political parties, Saleh said protest organisers were "adventurous conspirators" who were "acting out of malice".

But he added to those taking part in demonstrations: "My fellow citizens, those holding the sit-ins, I am prepared to sit with you and to respond to each one of your demands. You should not be a vehicle for the malicious to ruin every great aspect of life ... the country is a trust and responsibility for you.

"We need to hand over the banner of rule to honest hands, capable hands - not malicious hands. We are prepared to give up power, but only to good people, after elections. We are against chaos and mayhem. The demonstrators in [Change] Square are targeted by the Houthis and drug traffickers."

Protesters undeterred

But, at the protesters' rally across the city, where tens of thousands of people gathered for Friday prayers in front of Sanaa university, the positive mood remained unchanged, said our correspondent.In some way, he is playing to some peoples' fears, that, after Saleh leaves, there will be some kind of military rule and that there are political aspirations behind the defections from the army - despite the fact that Ali Mohsen, the key general who defected earlier this week, has said very clearly that if he wanted to take power, he would have done so decades ago - and that he has no political aspirations," said Al Jazeera's reporter in Sanaa.

"What the people really want to see is for a five-man presidential council to take control in the interim period, until elections can be held - because they simply don't believe that if elections are held under the current regime that they will be free and fair."

Earlier in the day, the city had split, with water cannon reportedly mounted on the side of the dividing line that holds the presidential palace - itself surrounded by Saleh's republican guard. It threatened to be a flashpoint for violence if protesters attempted to march, as many expected they would, the 5km to the palace.

Defecting general

General Ali Mohsen has thrown his weight behind the protesters and sent troops to protect pro-democracy protesters in Sanaa. He said the options before Saleh were now few, and criticised what he described as Saleh's "stubbornness", but said the armed forces were committed to protecting protesters.

He also said military rule in Arab countries was outdated and that the people would decide who would govern them in the framework of a modern, civilian state.

Mohsen, commander of the northwest military zone and Saleh's kinsman from the al-Ahmar clan, is the most senior military officer to back the protests, and his move on Monday triggered a stream of defections in the military and government, adding momentum to the opposition movement.

Previous offer rejected

On Thursday night, opposition groups dismissed Saleh's offer to stand down after a presidential election at the end of the year, stepping up efforts to remove him from power.

Yassin Noman, head of Yemen's opposition coalition, dismissed Saleh's earlier offer as "empty words" and a spokesman said the umbrella coalition would not respond.

"No dialogue and no initiatives for this dead regime," opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabry said on Thursday.

Protesters are demanding a new constitution and the dissolution of parliament, local councils and the notorious state security agencies - as well as the immediate resignation of President Saleh.

Saleh offered amnesty to defecting troops, calling their decisions "foolish acts", taken in reaction to last Friday's deaths.

Washington, which has urged US citizens to leave Yemen, warned those remaining to stay away from demonstrations.

Britain said it had drawn up plans for a possible military evacuation of its citizens who remain in Yemen.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament he had reports that oil companies were withdrawing their staff, and part of the British embassy staff was being withdrawn from Sanaa ahead of Friday's protests.

'Bahrain protests face Draconian laws'

A senior leader of Bahrain Freedom Movement says the small Persian Gulf monarchy is under a junta rule meting out severe punishments on any protests.

“The military authorities…are now running the country, running the show, running the hospitals and they are running the media,” Saeed al-Shahabi, a top member of the movement said in a Friday interview with Press TV.“So we are under a military takeover, a military regime that has suspended civil liberties and is imposing draconian laws on the people,” he added.His comments come in the wake of Bahrain's heavy-handed crackdown on anti-government protesters that have been seeking political reforms in the tiny island nation.
Shahabi warned of further brutal suppression of protests and said the government has imposed an information blackout in the country and the outside world receives a fraction of information trickling out of the country.
At least 21 people, mostly protesters, have been killed since the start of the recent uprising in Bahrain, with the most recent victim dying on Thursday from gunshot wounds sustained in the previous week.Shahabi noted that the casualty figure is expected to rise as Bahrainis prepare for more protests against the kingdom.Amnesty International has condemned Bahrain's brutal crackdown on protesters ahead of mass demonstrations planned to follow Friday Prayers.
"Amnesty International believes that they have been detained solely for their criticism of and involvement in the protests and that therefore they are prisoners of conscience," the London-based human rights group stated on Thursday.
A “Day of Rage” has been called on Friday across the country by the February 14 Youth Movement. It is planning to break the recently enforced three-month state of emergency, which bans public gatherings.Earlier this week, the United Nations Human Rights Office criticized Bahrain for violating international law by targeting activists and medical staff.