Sunday, March 27, 2011

Syrians working in Lebanon demonstrate for supporting their president

Syrians shoute slogans for Assad, waving the president's image in Beirut on march 27,2011.Thousands of Syrians working in Lebanon demonstrate on the streets of Beirut supporting their president Bashar Assad. (Xinhua/Koka)

In Syria, a test for Bashar Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad tried to retain control of his protest-roiled nation on Sunday, sending troops to the site of recent clashes and promising through subordinates to remove a controversial emergency law used to detain dissidents without trial.

But there were signs that the unrest continued to test the political skill of Assad, who came to power in 2000 following his father's 29 years of leading the country. Political analysts pondered the regional implications of the stress being placed on his regime.

A presidential advisor told reporters on Sunday that Assad would address the nation on state television "within 24 to 48 hours." The president has largely remained out of view since his forces first fired on unarmed protesters in the southern city of Dara on March 18. The death toll from such clashes has climbed past 60.

Assad's remarks were expected to detail his pledge to remove the 1963 emergency law, which strictly limits Syrians' ability to assemble or voice opposition to the regime. The government first signaled a willingness to relax the law on Thursday, but it did not give a timetable or scope for the pullback, and the pledge failed to stem widespread protests.

Army troops were sent on Sunday to the small coastal city of Latakia, the site of the latest clashes with protesters. Government officials blamed "armed gangs" for violence there. News reports said six people have died and more than 100 have been injured.

Witnesses said the violence began when protesters set fire to a building housing the ruling Baath party Saturday, an event that was especially brazen because the Assad family's political and business connections run deep in the city.

In Damascus, the atmosphere was skittish on Sunday. Citizens received text messages from the government warning them not to go to Umaweyeen Square where security forces apparently fretted protesters would reemerge. The city buzzed with reports about detained foreigners, including Muhammad Bakr Radwan, a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen who was accused of selling photographs to international outlets.

By dusk, witnesses said, an extremely heavy security presence descended on the area. White vans with tinted windows and decals showing Assad wearing aviator sunglasses were seen in the roundabout. Passersby noted that such vans often ferry people who are arrested.

Some protest leaders said their movement was using the day to regroup after protests in the west Damascus suburbs took on a sectarian overtone as Sunni Muslims battled with Alawites, a Shiite offshoot group that includes the Assad family.

State media seemed to stoke fears of further sectarian violence, saying foreigners had entered Syria to threaten the people's "coexistence" and political analysts spoke of a plot by the United States to send the country back to the Stone Age.

"Everybody wants to contain the problem before it gets bigger," said Maen Akl, a resident of Damascus. "People are so worried about a sectarian conflict, and they are chasing those who made some trouble yesterday."

Christians and other minority groups have taken solace over the years in the fact that Assad is an Alawite, believing he was a counterbalance against the Sunni majority.

"If there is really a change of regime in Syria, that would mean a change from Alawite rule to Sunni rule," said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That would not just portend changes in the internal power structure, but would also likely strain relations with the country's closest ally, Shiite-dominated Iran.

"I think Iran is very worried right now about that, as [the Iranians] are about a lot of things in the region," Ottaway said.

Damascus has for years manipulated sectarian tensions in Lebanon and been a constant irritant to Israel and to U.S. policy in the region. Its ties to the radical groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip mean that a successful Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would likely need the endorsement of Assad's government.

The Syrian regime has also has long frustrated regional powers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. With Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak overthrown and Saudi King Abdullah in frail health, there were suggestions that Damascus would exploit the rapidly changing politics across the region.

The regime's adeptness at international maneuverings, however, has been eclipsed by its own internal upheaval as outraged citizens demand political freedom and better opportunities from one of the world's most entrenched police states.

Libyan Rebels March Toward Qaddafi Stronghold

American and European bombs battered Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s most important bastion of support in his tribal homeland of Surt on Sunday night, as rebels seeking his ouster capitalized on the damage from the Western airstrikes to erase their recent losses and return to the city’s doorstep.Their swift return, recapturing two important oil refineries and a strategic port within 20 hours, set the stage for a battle in Surt that both sides say could help decide the war for Libya.

The ease of the rebel march west along the coast underscored the essential role of Western airstrikes, now focused mainly on Colonel Qaddafi’s ground troops, in reversing the rebels’ fortunes. But it also framed anew the question of how the poorly equipped and disorganized rebel forces might fare against Colonel Qaddafi’s garrison in Surt, where air cover may be less useful than it was along the open coastal road.

As Western warplanes again bombed sites around Tripoli and other Qaddafi strongholds on the ninth day of airstrikes, NATO agreed at a meeting in Brussels to take over the mission. The decision effectively relieved the United States of leading the fight, and ended a week of squabbling among the allies over the issue.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the change, for which the United States had pressed, would allow the American military to begin reducing its presence in the coming days.

In interviews on Sunday, Mr. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton left open how long the American commitment would be. President Obama plans to address the nation on Monday night about the American role in Libya amid continuing questions about its objectives and duration.

An official with the Pentagon said Sunday that it was already beginning to reduce the number of American warships involved in the operation. The official said that at least one of the Navy submarines that had fired Tomahawk missiles into Libya had left the area, and that a further naval pullout was likely.

Mr. Obama will be able to cite some early success, as the airstrikes have lifted the rebels back from the brink of defeat in the eastern city of Benghazi and enabled them to rush west along the coast past their farthest gains of their previous peak weeks ago.

After clashes with government forces overnight near the town of Al Uqaylah, rebel fighters met little resistance on Sunday as they pushed from the city of Ajdabiya past the oil towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, recapturing the two important refineries. By the evening, they had pushed the front line west of Bin Jawwad, according to fighters returning from the front.

“There wasn’t resistance,” said Faraj Sheydani, 42, a rebel fighter interviewed on his return from the front. “There was no one in front of us. There’s no fighting.”

In Tripoli, the explosions of about 10 large bombs near the city were heard downtown on Sunday night, followed by barrages of antiaircraft fire and cascades of tracers. At a news conference, a short time later, Musa Ibrahim, a government spokesman, declined to comment on the exact location of the battle lines. But he argued that Western powers were now attacking the Libyan Army in retreat, a far cry from the United Nations mandate to establish a no-fly zone to protect civilians.

“Some were attacked as they were clearly moving westbound,” he said. “Clearly NATO is taking sides in this civil conflict. It is illegal. It is not allowed by the Security Council resolution. And it is immoral, of course.”

In western Libya, however, the rebel-held city of Misurata was still under siege by loyalist forces. By Sunday evening, rebels were again reporting street fighting in the center of the city as well as renewed shelling and mortar fire from Qaddafi tanks and artillery from west and northwest of the city.

Allied airstrikes outside Misurata had kept up through the previous night, rebels said, destroying a major ammunition depot that exploded in a blaze of light. It was still burning 13 hours after the initial blast, said Muhammad, a rebel spokesman there whose full name was withheld for his family’s safety.

Speaking over a satellite hook-up and hospital generator, he contradicted statements from the Qaddafi government that it had restored power and water to the city. He said that rebels had used a local generator to restore electricity to about half the city. But he said that water remained cut off and that residents were using a small supply from a desalination facility there. The reports were impossible to confirm because the Qaddafi government has prevented journalists from reaching the city.

Muhammad said he believed the airstrikes had not killed any civilians in the area, but had struck barracks and airfields, killing many Libyan soldiers. “Thousands of them, I hope,” he said.

In Tripoli on Sunday, most stores were closed. Usually busy streets were deserted. Officials said the port had been closed to ships carrying refined fuel as well as food and other goods. Gasoline was in increasingly short supply, and lines of cars at gas stations stretched for several blocks. Some motorists said they had turned out before dawn for a chance to fill up, or waited in line for more than two hours to reach the pump.

Residents also stood in long lines for bread at bakeries, mainly because the migrant workers Libyans rely on to bake and do other service jobs have fled the country.

The NATO agreement was announced Sunday evening by its secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He said that “NATO will implement all aspects of the U.N. resolution. Nothing more, nothing less.”

He said the decision would take “immediate effect,” but it may take up to two days for the transfer to be completed.NATO had agreed to take on the no-fly zone late last week, but the decision on Sunday expanded its command to the entire military mission, including the air campaign. Until now, the bombing campaign has had no central command, although the United States has been coordinating the effort.The alliance was divided over the issue, because France did not want to cede control to NATO, arguing that it was American-dominated and therefore an uncomfortable brand for another war in an Arab country. But other countries like Italy and Norway said that their participation depended on NATO running the war under the political control of its governments. Turkey also insisted on NATO control.

The Security Council resolution, adopted 10 days ago, authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. The coalition has interpreted the protection of civilians to include attacking Qaddafi forces in support of the opposition.

But the resolution also calls for an arms embargo that applies to the entire territory of Libya, which means that any outside supply of arms to the opposition is being done covertly.

The military campaign will be led by Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, a Canadian who is the deputy to an American commander and serves under the supreme commander, Europe, who is also an American.

In interviews in Tripoli under the close supervision of Libyan government minders, several people complained about the Western airstrikes. But even under those circumstances several people voiced their dissent. One person waiting for gas volunteered that he blamed Colonel Qaddafi’s rule for the shortages.

“Please, I want to say something to the world,” another man said in a store nearby, pointing to a group of six men. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, we all don’t like Colonel Qaddafi. We like Libyan freedom.”

One member of the group, who outside the store moments before had told a particularly florid story about the evil of the international airstrikes, abruptly walked out the door. “Dangerous,” he muttered as he left.

In Green Square, the site of a continuous pro-Qaddafi rally for more than a month, the crowd was unusually small and subdued; some said Qaddafi supporters had shifted their energies to a rally inside his compound, where his supporters say they have gathered as civilian shields against Western bombs.

Many people in Tripoli, including those supporting Colonel Qaddafi and those opposing him, said they were focused closely on the battle for Surt.

If Surt falls, “it is game over,” one man said, insisting that the atmosphere in the capital was already slipping. “The government is losing control,” he said. “You can feel it.”

Peshawar-Jalalabad rail route

Pakistan Railways has completed a feasibility report of Chaman to Qandahar railway track and now it requested World Bank to assist in feasibility of Peshawar-Jalalabad route.
Director planning Ministry of Railways Aftab Akbar told this news agency that railways' top priority is rehabilitation, upgradation of infrastructure and lying of new tracks with an aim to make the area a hub of economic activities for regional countries.
He said that under the government's vision, Pakistan Railways has already completed dualisation of track from Karachi to Lodhran and work is under progress from Lodhran to Lahore.
He said that the government realising the importance of country's geo-strategic importance of regional countries including Afghanistan, China and Central Asian States, has directed Pakistan Railways to complete dualisation of track from Karachi to Lahore and from Lahore to Peshawar.
Similarly, he said that China is working on feasibility of Havelian to Khunjerab, adding feasibility report of 900-km track from Gawadar to Mastung has already been completed.
He said the government has also introduced ‘Open access policy’ under which private companies and chambers can run their own freight service by using infrastructure of Pakistan Railways.
Aftab Akbar said that under public-private partnership, the railways has embarked on construction of dry-ports in industrial cities to facilitate transport of raw material and finished goods.
Under the programme, dry ports will be constructed at Azakhel, adding that a dry port at provincial metropolis already exists.
Talking about the up-gradation of rolling stock, he said Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been singed with China for import of 202 coaches and 75 engines.
He said out of total 500 engines 300 are defective and there is dire need to upgrade the rolling stock.
Besides, Pakistan Railways has also launched open tender for purchase of 150 engines from other western countries.
To a question, he said Pakistan Railways is annually spending around Rs3 billion on pensioners and Rs4 billion of its police employees, which is a contributing factor to overall deficit of the organisation.

Indian delegates pay rich tributes to Salmaan Taseer

An Indian peace delegation, headed by renowned journalist Kuldip Nayar, paid rich tributes to former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer for his meritorious services for the country and raising voice for the rights of minorities.

The delegation, which comprised filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, Tajindar Singh Jogi, journalist Jatin Desai, peace activist Ramesh Yadav, Delhi-based peace activist Mazhar Hussain, paid rich tributes to the slain former governor and offered its heartfelt condolences to his children, Shahbaz Taseer and Shehrbano Taseer, at their residence. Madiha Gauhar of the Ajoka Theatre, Syeda Deep of the Institute of Secular Studies, human rights activists Muhammad Tehseen and Aftab Ahmed accompanied the Indian delegation.

Kuldip Nayar expressed solidarity with the family of Taseer and lauded his unmatchable humanitarian services.

Mahesh Bhatt condoled with Shahbaz Taseer the death of his father and also shared with him the memories of an occasion when his late father had extended unflinching support to him (Bhatt) when he was shooting a film in Murree. “This is something which suddenly came to my mind the moment I heard of the sad news of Taseer’s assassination,” Bhatt said.

Ramesh Yadav said that they wanted better bilateral ties between India and Pakistan.

Mazhar Hussain, while expressing solidarity with the Taseer family, said that they were really worried for all that had happened in Pakistan.

Shahbaz Taseer thanked the Indian delegation for its consolation and said that his father loved the country and nation very much and had been the greatest ambassador of Pakistan. He said his father always believed in peace and was a brave man, who laid down his life for the people.

Shehrbano Taseer said that her father was the only loud and progressive voice in the country against social injustices. “Hundreds of people used to come and meet him for their problems, which he always listened to carefully and tried to solve them,” she added.

Police violence in UK rally condemned

Union leaders have condemned the violence of the British police against peaceful protestors in Trafalgar Square, London, on Saturday.

Police forces clashed with the protestors who aimed to march peacefully to Hyde Park, rallying against the cuts announced by the government.

Trades Union Congress (TUC) spokesperson said that the main message of the official protest carried out by "between 250,000 and 500,000 people" should not be neglected.

Police officials said 201 of the protestors were arrested on Saturday because of being engaged in public order offences. This is while the policing Minister Nick Herbert has said that "a small minority of individuals were intent on disorder." Police officials have added that their forces are studying CCTV footages to make more arrests.

"We've had a number of - I hesitate to call them protesters - a bunch of people that ended up in Trafalgar Square," said Commander Bob Broadhurst of the Metropolitan Police. He also described the protestors in central London as "mindless yobs."

The anti-cuts protestors occupied luxury grocery store Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly Square to show their anger against business's owners. Around 500 of the protestors also targeted the main branches of fashion chain Topshop and the banks Santander, HSBC and RBS.

Upon reaching Trafalgar Square, the police violently kettled the protestors. One of the witnesses who herself was among the protestors said, "All of a sudden about 10-20 Met police came storming down the steps of the National Gallery, ran straight to the Olympic clock. I have never seen such a fast escalation of violence in my life. Everything just kicked off; glass everywhere, police hitting people, people being dragged across the floor. I just can't believe it."

The police tried to lead the protestors to leave the main stream in small groups. They, still, did not manage to reduce the number of protestors before 0200 BST.

Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned the violence against the protesters, saying, "I unequivocally condemn those who have committed acts of violence."

University of Birmingham to charge students £9K

The University of Birmingham is to charge students £9,000 for the annual fee effective from fall, as a result of the teaching grants cuts planned by the government.

The university said it would fund itself with £600m and would continue its A2B access scheme to help families without higher education.

Birmingham's Guild of Students, however, showed their disappointment regarding the tuition fee rise.

"We understand that Birmingham needs to remain competitive, however, we will be very keen to see how Birmingham can add value for those students paying the highest fees,” said Dora Meredith, Guild president.

"Whilst the bursary package and focus on encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend university is positive, we shouldn't forget the reality of the debt our students will incur."

Birmingham's Aston University and Lancaster University have also announced an increase to £9,000 in the annual fees for EU and UK undergraduates.

"The fee level approved by council today reflects Lancaster's teaching and research standing and will allow the university to build on the high level of education and the collegiate university experience that we currently offer our students,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings.

"We want to ensure that the student experience is outstanding and that academic resources are directed towards making sure that our students leave with qualifications suited to a globally competitive environment.”

"We intend to offer a generous and flexible package of financial support to attract and retain the most able students no matter what their circumstances," she added.

The universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, Durham, Exeter, Essex, Surrey, Manchester, Warwick and UCL have also announced that they would charge the maximum annual tuition fee of £9,000.

Women Activists Tortured in Egypt

Afghan women are still at risk

Sima is 15 but looks younger. I met her in Kabul, in the female juveniles section of the Badam Bagh prison. She talks very little, but her eyes are full of grief. A defence lawyer told me it was likely she had been raped.

What is Sima's crime? She is serving her sentence for running away from domestic violence. About half of all women in Afghan prisons are there for the same "crime". Some of them are in prison with their babies. The youngest ones are no older than 12. Having spent time in jail, they will rarely be accepted back by their families and communities.

Ten years since the Taliban fled Kabul, while new laws, policies and development aid have brought some benefits to Afghan women, deep-rooted challenges remain. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently issued a report on harmful traditional practices against women and girls in Afghanistan. About half of women get married before the age of 15. It is estimated that 70-80% of marriages are forced. Selling girls or giving them away in settlement of a conflict is common practice. The literacy rate of Afghan girls of 15 or more is just 12%. Unsurprisingly, violence and abusive behaviour against them is widespread.

Afghanistan has ratified the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women, but its initial report is long overdue. A law on elimination of violence against women has been adopted recently, but its enforcement is a real challenge: victims are reluctant to seek help from police officers, 99% of whom are male.

So, what can they do when they face abuse? Desperate girls and women all too often commit suicide, an increasing number of them by self-immolation. Those who have the courage to run away and seek refuge within their family are often returned to their abusive husbands or parents. The ones who try to find a safe haven at their neighbours' or friends' houses face criminal charges for the intent to commit zina (adultery, or sexual relations out of marriage). The punishment is not provided by law – nor, I was told by experts, is it consistent with sharia, which requires witnesses and proof. It is based merely on an instruction of the supreme court of Afghanistan. The only safe haven for victims are NGO-run shelters for women and girls, yet Afghan authorities have recently threatened their continued operation.

I visited the oldest shelter in Afghanistan and talked to the girls and women under its protection. It was heartbreaking to hear their pleas for the maintenance of the shelters, as they are the only places they can go: "If this place is closed, I have no option then to kill myself", a young women told me. I raised the issue with President Karzai, who assured me that the number of shelters would not be reduced and that he was in favour of government financially supporting NGO-run shelters.

The UN security council has adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan. It "strongly condemns" continuing discrimination against women and girls; calls for enhanced efforts to secure their rights; and supports women's shelters. It also addresses the main problem: empowerment of Afghan women and ensuring that women's rights are an integral part of peace, reintegration and reconciliation efforts. If girls are not educated and women not included in political life, public administration and the justice system, traditional harmful practices will continue and their human rights will never be protected. Only if they are present and active in peace talks can they rest assured that even the modest gains secured to date will not be used as bargaining chips.

For peace to be sustainable and just, both Taliban and women should sit at the negotiating table and be included in shaping decisions on the future of Afghanistan.

Breakthrough in Benazir case?

More than three years after the tragic killing of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has made the sensational revelation that her murderers have been captured and are in the custody of the authorities. Speaking to party workers in Gujjar Khan, Malik claimed that the mystery behind her murder had finally been solved and that the details of the conspiracy would soon be unveiled before the Central Executive Committee of the PPP. Although revelations of similar breakthroughs have periodically been made by top government figures, including assertions that they know the identity of Benazir’ killers, Rehman Malik’s latest statement goes even further by claiming the perpetrators are in custody. The lack of progress in the case has been a cause of much bitterness among the party rank and file and has given the opposition an opportunity to taunt the government for its failure to make headway even in a case involving its own leader and two-time prime minister.

Malik’s statement may have raised hopes, but there are still many questions that remain unanswered. Sceptics who have been here before will need to know much more before they are satisfied. The decision to reveal the identity of the killers to the PPP CEC rather than to the public has also raised many eyebrows. The same tactic was used once more in the past, and party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s absence from the country was then the excuse for putting the revelations on hold. Nothing more was subsequently heard on that particular lead. Meanwhile, in another development, an Anti Terrorism Court in Lahore on Saturday ordered the FIA to contact Interpol and speed up extradition proceedings so that former dictator Pervez Musharraf, who was in power at the time of Benazir’s assassination, can be brought home to face trial for the murder.

The country needs to know the truth about who killed Benazir Bhutto. It has waited patiently for three years to get to the bottom of a grisly incident that cruelly snatched away one of its most formidable leaders. It expects those who never fail to pay lip service to her legacy not to squander more time and single-mindedly pursue her killers and bring them to justice. It can only be hoped that the interior minister’s revelations have weight in them this time round. The Benazir assassination must not be allowed to be filed away as yet another unsolved mystery like other similar high profile murders littering the country’s political landscape.

Baloch youth to be inducted in Army, FC

As many as 8,500 Baloch youth would join armed and paramilitary forces of Pakistan of which about 4000 individuals hailing from far-flung areas of the province serve the Pak Army .

Commandant, Command and Staff College Quetta Lieutenant General Khalid Rabbani was speaking at concluding ceremony of Balochistan Mela in connection with Pakistan Day celebrations on Sunday. He said the step would help resolve their problems.

Balochistan Home Minister Zafarullah Zehri, other ministers, civil, military officials and a large number of people attended the ceremony.

On the special directives of Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the youth from Balochistan are being recruited with special relaxations in age and other requirements, Lieutenant General said adding with the induction of 8,500 more Baloch youth in the Army and FC the total number of recruitment from Balochistan in the span of one year would reach 12,500.

He noted that Army had launched several projects with the help of provincial government in various fields including health, education and irrigation sectors of the province to improve the life style of the people living here.

Earlier, Kahlid Rabbani gave away appointment letters to the 40 passed out students of Balochistan Institute of Technical Education, while these letters to 260 other students had been dispatched to their postal addresses.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto murder case

President Asif Ali Zardari will file a reference under Article 187 of the constitution in the Lahore High Court for reopening of the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB)

murder case on Monday (today), said Federal Minister for Law Babar Awan while addressing a press conference at the residence of a PPP worker, Farrukh Sohail Gowindi, in Lahore Cantonment area on Sunday evening.

The minister maintained that the constitutional reference would be filed with the court after a permission of the federal cabinet which, he said, would take a decision on this matter in its Monday’s meeting.

Babar hoped that the court would follow the doctrine of limitations of necessity (Nazariya-e-Hudood-e-Zaroorat) in the ZAB case, saying the “doctrine of limitations” had already been changed in the case of loan recovery against Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief, Nawaz Sharif.

“The PPP never tried to avoid facing courts. But, it has been victimised politically by its opponents for the last forty years,” he asserted, and exhorted all the parties to lend support to the government for introducing a fair and transparent law on accountability to help end the process of political victimisation.

Referring to the suo motu action initiated by the Sindh High Court against PPP leaders Sharjeel Memon and Taj Haider, the law minister said although the PPP was being criticised by other parties over the case against the stated party leaders, no action was taken against the acts of other political parties of May 12, October 18 and December 27.

“PPP leaders are committed to serving the poor, but I have no idea when does their accountability end,” Babar said in reply to a media query.

He criticised the PML-N-led government in Punjab for cutting budgetary allocation for uplift projects in southern Punjab and dubbed its such act as “injustice”.

Anarchists 'plan to target royal wedding'

Scotland Yard officers are working urgently to identify the extremists who clashed with police and attacked landmarks on Saturday before they can strike again.
Commander Bob Broadhurst, the head of public order for the Metropolitan Police, warned that the anarchists would be "deliberately targeting" the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29.
"The concern for me is that they do what they did yesterday in central London and divert resources away from my security plan and take our eye off the ball security wise," he said.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, was under fire last night for speaking at the TUC march, during which the violence occurred. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said Mr Miliband would have been "quietly satisfied" by the chaos and claimed it was not surprising there was violence as Labour was failing to offer any alternative to the cuts.
The weekend's rally against the Government's austerity drive was marred by splinter groups who attacked officers and targeted shops and hotels. Mobs of masked anarchists pelted officers with sticks, paint bombs and fireworks loaded with coins.They brought chaos to Oxford Street and Piccadilly, the capital's busiest shopping streets, where they started fires, smashed their way into banks and shops, including Fortnum and Mason, the department store, and Topshop, and attacked the Ritz hotel.
More than 200 people were arrested and 31 police officers were injured, including 11 who were taken to hospital.
The anarchists ended the day in Trafalgar Square, where they set fire to banners and threw missiles and broken bottles at officers.
Police are sifting through CCTV and surveillance photographs in an attempt to identify the most violent protesters. They estimate that a hard core of 500 protesters were involved in the violence. Commander Broadhurst said a number of groups had warned that they would be "deliberately targeting" the royal wedding.
He told The Daily Telegraph: "That has been on my radar for a long time. I will have different powers at my disposal to ensure that the wedding footprint as it were is kept safe from protest.
"I'm dealing with a security operation in a city under a terrorist threat. We will be putting in sterile zones, using counter-terrorist powers, closing roads and [using] stop and search powers.
"Yesterday reinforced the fact that there does appear to be an appetite out there to endorse violence.”
Referring to Saturday’s disturbances, he added: “These are criminal acts, every one of these buildings is being treated as a crime scene and we will get a lot of CCTV back.
“I would say that if you were involved in the violence then the chance is that we will be arresting you in the near future.”
But he also admitted that his officers struggled to keep up with the violence as the Met faced criticism from some quarters over its handling of the event.
He said: “They never allowed themselves to get stopped or detained by us. I would describe it as hit-and-run tactics, they were always just ahead of us getting sufficient protective resources there to stop them.
“They were using light bulbs filled with ammonia, petrol bombs and smoke flares. Any one of these can kill not just a police officer but a member of the public. These people are willing to resort to this naked violence in front of cameras. It is almost as if they have no fear of judicial process in this country.”
Brian Paddick, a former deputy assistant commissioner with the Met, said the police should have made more use of their powers to unmask protesters and stop and search them for weapons.
He said: “They have got to take people out on the day, not take photos and arrest them later. Only if these people believe they will get caught because they will be unmasked and arrested will they desist from carrying out these attacks.”
Commander Broadhurst insisted that police had been unable to find sufficient evidence to arrest people before the marches. He said: “We are not a police state, we are not the thought police, we cannot read people’s minds.”
Last night two of the 201 people arrested in connection with the disorder were charged. Omar Ibrahim, 31, from Glasgow, was charged with violent disorder and assaulting a police officer.
A 17-year-old boy was charged with possessing an offensive weapon and being equipped for criminal damage.

Dozens still held after violent disorder in London

Nearly 200 people remain in custody, a day after unrest overshadowed a peaceful anti-cuts protest in London.

Two people have been charged after a mob attacked police officers, smashed windows, and daubed banks and shops with paint on Saturday.

Most of the 201 arrests were made after a campaign group staged a sit-in at a luxury store in Piccadilly.

Scotland Yard said violence by some "could not have been more markedly different" from the TUC march.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the government will not change its economic strategy as a result of the TUC protest.

He told the BBC's Politics Show: "Certainly we're listening. I talk regularly to the trade union movement, I think it's important we have a dialogue with them but we're not going to change the basic economic strategy.

"No government - coalition, Labour or other - would change its fundamental economic policy simply in response to a demonstration of that kind."

'Causing havoc'
The TUC said 250,000 to 500,000 people attended the march, which passed off without incident.

But a group, wearing scarves to hide their faces, started attacking shops and banks well away from the march, clashing with some of the 4,500 police on duty. Trouble flared in Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square.The Metropolitan Police said 201 people were arrested during Saturday, and 199 of those were still being held in various London police stations on Sunday evening.

The two men charged have been released on bail ahead of court appearances.

A 17-year-old from Manchester has been accused of possession of an offensive weapon and going equipped for criminal damage.

Omar Ibrahim, 31, of Baillieston, Glasgow, was charged with violent disorder and assault on police outside Topshop in Oxford Street.

The Met said 145 of the arrests were in connection with a demonstration by campaigners UK Uncut, which occupied luxury grocery store Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly in protest over alleged tax avoidance by the business's part owners. The group has distanced itself from protesters who damaged property and attacked police on Saturday.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the police operation, revealed the activists had developed their tactics to avoid police by keeping mobile, using small alleyways and covering their faces.

"Their intent appeared to be causing havoc, with no concern at all for those people in central London they were putting in danger," he said.

"Officers came under attack, fires were set and shops attacked. These are criminal acts and I cannot call them anything different."The force has faced some criticism of the way it handled the protest, with former Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick saying officers should have done more to protect property.

But London's deputy mayor Kit Malthouse said officers had a "difficult balance" to strike between policing the main demonstration and unrelated incidents of violence including attacks by anarchist groups.

Order was restored in the early hours of Sunday after some people were contained by police for several hours in Trafalgar Square.

There were 84 reported injuries during the protests, including at least 31 police, with 11 officers requiring hospital treatment, five of whom were discharged and six were awaiting treatment.

Libya and the ‘international community’

EDITORIAL: Daily Times

Finally Pakistan has woken up to the disastrous military intervention by the western forces in Libya. On Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Office expressed serious concerns over the foreign forces’ strikes on Libya. Briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said, “Pakistan’s position is very clear and principled. Everyone should respect a country’s sovereignty.” Mr Bashir said that the UN resolution on Libya was faulty and allowed the west to do “anything”. He further stated, “The prescription of democracy, pluralism and human rights is acceptable but it has to be done as people want and through peaceful means.”

The UN resolution on Libya is indeed faulty and quite vague. The consequences of passing such a resolution can now be seen. Even though it was not mandated in the UN resolution, the west now wants to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The mandate of the resolution was ambiguous. We also need to question the term ‘international community’. Basically the term refers to powerful countries of the west led by the US. This term has been used whenever an imperialist intervention has taken place on so-called ‘humanitarian grounds’. The west continues to support autocrats in countries that do not threaten its hegemony, in fact help keep it intact, such as the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. Military dictators in Pakistan were supported by the west till the time that the tide turned against those despots.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has tried to justify this war by saying, “We are beginning to see, because of the good work of the coalition, his [Gaddafi’s] troops begin to turn back toward the west — and to see the opposition begin to reclaim the ground they had lost.” The US and its allies should know that though their attacks on Gaddafi’s forces and air force have weakened the Libyan forces, there is little possibility that Gaddafi would give up easily. It is now clear that the west actually set out to effect a regime change in Libya as has been stated by the British and French leaders. How is it justified that if the west does not like a leader, it intervenes militarily to achieve its aims? This is not the first time such things have happened and is unlikely to be the last. Ever since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has seen a horizontal expansion of capitalism into the formerly socialist countries and under the rubric of globalisation into the rest of the world. The world’s dominant countries, who like to call themselves the ‘international community’, have set out to re-conquer the world through military means. It started with the Balkans, and via Afghanistan and Iraq, is now being witnessed in Libya. The goal is Pax Americana (global empire).

The US is on the decline as an economic power despite the triumphalism of the US after the Cold War ended in 1991. The global recession may not have affected the US’s military power, but it increasingly resembles nothing more than a colossus with feet of clay. Europe, which was seen to be the next world power, has been rendered hollow after the global recession and remains the US’s subservient ally.

Libya is a relatively weak country when it comes to the global powers but this provides no justification for attacking it. The world today is emerging as a multi-polar world where many countries like China, India, and Brazil are now economically getting stronger. Russia, too, is re-emerging as a global power. History’s verdict will one day be witness to the fact that like colonialism came to an end, imperialism, whether masquerading as ‘humanitarian’ or otherwise, too will not last forever. The sooner the ‘international community’ comes to terms with this fact, the better all round. *

Bahraini protesters defy curfew

Bahraini protesters have once again taken to the streets in Manama despite a curfew imposed by the military and the presence of Bahraini and foreign armed forces.

The Sunday protest came in defiance of a state of emergency imposed on March 15 by King Hamad bin Al Khalifa.

“Protesters, chanting 'down with the regime' and waving placards, played cat and mouse with the police,” a Press TV correspondent reported.

Shortly after the demonstrations started large convoys of armed forces arrived at the scene and fired teargas to disperse the protester.

However, protesters gathered again a few minutes after being dispersed.

Anti-government protests against the Al Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain began in mid-February. So far, at least 24 people have been killed, almost 100 have gone missing and about 1,000 others have been injured.

The violence against protesters escalated when Saudi Arabia and the UAE deployed their troops in Bahrain.

Security has been tight in Manama, where protesters are planning to retake the city's Salmaniya hospital from Saudi and Bahraini troops.

HRW urges release of Saudi prisoners

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Saudi government to release more than 160 protesters and critics arrested during anti-regime demonstrations.
While King Abdullah announces financial gifts to Saudi citizens, his police arrest those who want more meaningful change. The scale of arrests has risen dramatically over the past two weeks," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia gained momentum in Qatif and al-Ahsa districts, both Shia populated areas, following the overthrow of long-time rulers in North Africa and the recent revolutions in the Middle East.
HRW said 145 people have been detained in Qatif and al-Ahsa and several others in the capital Riyadh as well as Qasim, stating that the arrests “violate the rights to peaceful expression and assembly.”
In response to the protests, the oil-rich state has announced a 136-billion-dollar package of economic aid to citizens, promising to create more jobs and remove housing problems.
However, Saudi activists say the state should take up real political reforms including an elected parliament with legislative powers, public freedoms and true independence for the judiciary.
Instead of carrying out the reforms, the government has stepped up security to suppress demonstrations. Saudi government has also deployed troops to Bahrain to quell demand of the Shia-majority nation change.

Gaddafi forces kill 8, injure 24 in Misrata

At least eight people have been killed and 24 others injured in the Libyan city of Misrata as forces loyal to the embattled ruler Muammar Gaddafi fire mortars at people.

Witnesses in Misrata, Libya's third largest city which lies 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Tripoli said on Sunday that pro-Gaddafi troops opened mortar fire at the opposition forces who are pushing westwards to the capital Tripoli, Reuters reported.

Earlier on Sunday, two loud explosions were heard in the city of Sirte as the British, French and US fighter jets flew overhead.

Tripoli also has come under heavy assault by the Western coalition forces on Sunday and outbursts of anti-aircraft were heard in the city.

Troops loyal to Gaddafi launch counter attacks on a daily basis with heavy artillery and rockets, as well as some airstrikes, hoping to muscle out revolutionary forces and eventually penetrate into the eastern parts of the conflict-torn country.

Gaddafi's forces, however, have lost vast swathes of Cyrenaica, the country's fertile eastern coastal region to anti-government forces, who are struggling to thrust into the front line westward toward the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi's main stronghold.

Cyrenaica is the center of anti-Gaddafi forces of the ongoing revolution with the National Transitional Council based in the city of Benghazi.

The opposition forces are now in control of the oil-rich eastern cities of Ras Lanuf, Ben Jawad and Uqaylah. They wrest back control of the cities from pro-regime troops after winning back the key cities of Ajdabiyah and Brega on Saturday.

Libya says at least 114 people -- mostly civilians -- have been killed in US-led airstrikes in the country.

Libyan troops have also killed hundreds of civilians and tortured several others in the North African country since a revolution started against Colonel Gaddafi in mid-February.

Syria 'to lift emergency law'

A Syrian government adviser has confirmed to Al Jazeera that the country's emergency law is to be lifted.

Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, told Al Jazeera's Cal Perry in the capital, Damascus, on Sunday that the law would "absolutely" be lifted, but failed to give a timetable.

The repeal of the emergency law, in place since the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power, has been a key demand of protesters who have taken to the streets in recent days to demand greater political freedoms.

The emergency law imposes restrictions on public gatherings and movement and authorises the arrest of "suspects or persons who threaten security".

It also authorises the interrogation of any individual and the surveillance of personal communication as well as official control of the content of newspapers and other media before publication.

The state also announced a series of reforms, including the release of detainees and plans to form new laws on the media and licensing political parties.

Shaaban added that there will be a debate in parliament regarding the establishment of political parties.

"There are many issues which were decided, and which are being followed up with the president and the government," she said.

Pressed on when reforms would be implemented, she said that "one or two steps in the implementation [of reforms]" would be announced within a week.

Despite the week-long crackdown, Syria's government had pledged to consider reforms and has released dozens of political prisoners in an effort to defuse demonstrations.

Al Jazeera's Perry said the move to lift the emergency law would go some way towards appeasing the protesters' demands.

"It will open up press freedom and political freedom. This is something that people have been calling for on the streets. Certainly it is a concession on the government's part," he said.

Dozens of pro-reform protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces and government supporters in towns and cities across the country.

Probe launch
Shaaban also told Al Jazeera that the government will launch an investigation into the violence that occurred in Sanamin.

Meanwhile, in the northeastern port of Latakia, the army has been deployed after clashes resulted in the deaths of at least three people.

Rights groups however have claimed that the death toll could be higher.

Soldiers took to the streets of Latakia on Saturday night to help secret police and security forces control the port, residents said.

The army also increased checkpoints around the southern city of Deraa, where Human Rights Watch says 61 people have died.

"There is a feeling in Latakia that the presence of disciplined troops is necessary to keep order," one resident told Reuters news agency.

"We do not want looting."

Dozens of people have also died in protests in Deraa and in nearby Sanamin, Damascus and other towns over the last week.

There have also been protests in Hama, a northern city where in 1982, the forces of president Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, killed thousands of people and razed much of the city's old quarter to surpress an armed uprising by Islamist fighters.

The government blames armed groups for setting off the recent bloodshed.

Text messages

Syria's interior ministry also urged residents to ignore text messages and leaflets to join a rally in Damascus's Umayad Square on Sunday night for their own safety.

In a message on state television, the ministry called on people not to respond to the calls, which it said were "tendentious" and "untruthful".

But pro-government Syrians have previously taken to the streets to show their support for al-Assad.

However, Al Jazeera's Perry, said that while pro-government protests have been called for in Damascus, the authorities are advising people not to attend.

"They're also sending residents text messages that they should not attend any demonstrations," he said.

The unrest in Syria came to a head after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for scrawling graffiti inspired by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries where the Baath Party has been in power for nearly 50 years.

In another move said to be aimed at placating protesters, Syrian authorities on Sunday released a lawyer - Diana Jawabra -along with 15 others who were arrested for taking part in a silent protest demanding the release of the children responsible for the graffiti.

This follows news of the freeing of 260 political prisoners.

Assad also faces calls to curb a pervasive security apparatus, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.

Mush, MMA blamed for wrecked Swat

Awami National Party (ANP) MPA Jaffar Shah Saturday blamed former president Pervez Musharraf and the religious leaders for turning peaceful Swat into the valley of death and destruction.

Talking to The News, he said those who fled the area were now doing politics in the district owing to the bold policies of the ANP.

He said the provincial government would provide employment opportunities to the jobless people under the Bacha Khan Rozgar Scheme.

He said he had banned the transfer of the teachers in his constituency, PK-85 Swat, so that the study of the students should not be disturbed.

He said a girls’ college would be established in his constituency while two schools had been upgraded to higher level.

He said the jobless youth would be inducted in the police on the 600 vacant posts in the district.

Implementation of Fata reforms sought

Supporting the political, administrative, social and legal reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, representatives of almost all major political parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Saturday asked President Asif Zardari to immediately implement the reforms in Fata.

A meeting of the political parties’ joint committee on Fata reforms was held at the residence of Pakistan People’s Party-Sherpao (PPP-S) chief Aftab Sherpao to evolve consensus on the issue.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, Sherpao said that all the political parties were unanimous in raising voice in support of Fata reforms.

He said the committee members asked President Asif Ali Zardari to implement the package of reform that he had announced on August 14, 2009.

“All the political parties on the committee have agreed to raise voice for implementing the reforms. The committee will be used as a forum to find consensus on other issues in future,” he said.

Referring to findings of the committee’s recent meetings, the PPP-S leader said all the political parties believed that the people of Fata deserved the same rights, freedom, protection and economic opportunities like other Pakistanis.

“We share deep concern that the people of Fata are denied basic democratic and human rights and economic opportunities. We have pledged to help the residents of Fata achieve their rights,” he said.

Sherpao said the committee believed in political, economic, social and administrative reforms in Fata, which were necessary to obtain sustainable peace and development in the tribal regions.

Peace, he said, was not only vital for the people of the Fata but it was also necessary for the wellbeing of all Pakistanis.

Prominent among the participants were Akram Shah of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Anisa Zeb Tahirkheli of the PPP-S, Mukhtiar Bacha of the National Party, Prof Ibrahim and Haroon-ur-Rashid of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Abdul Jalil Jan and Jalaluddin of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, Anwar Kamal Marwat and Rehmat Salam Khattak of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Hashim Babar and Arbab Tahir of the Awami National Party and Mirza Jihadi of the PPP

Doctors on strike; lady health workers on strike; teachers on strike; PCS officers on strike.

The Frontier Post
Where are administrators?
Doctors on strike; lady health workers on strike; teachers on strike; PCS officers on strike. Nurses agitating; factory workers agitating; government employees agitating; transporters agitating. Flood-battered demonstrating; gas consumers demonstrating; power users demonstrating. Protestors blocking roads; protesters burning tyres on streets; protestors torching utilities’ offices; protestors gheraoing police stations; protestors stoning government buildings. Look around, and the whole of the country appears on strike or in agitation. But where are the administrators? So much of turmoil would indeed be a nightmare for administrators anywhere else in the world and drive them into sleepless nights. But not so troubled are ours. They are having a jolly good time, vacationing or hibernating or just playing political football. The painstaking labours to think out ways and means to grapple with such a mind-boggling multiplicity of adversities afflicting the nation injuriously they are not letting to hurt their health. They are leaving these afflictions to the divine powers to take care of while sparing their own selves to fatten their muscles and improve their facial complexions. The best they offer for the redress of the people’s vows is to choke the media with their pious vows, keeping the ground all empty. And this ground is screaming with stalking poverty, squalor, pestilence, joblessness, deprivation, denial, and the rampage of terrorist bomb and criminal gun. And as a harried citizenry is yelling to the administrators to secure them some relief, some respite, from the multiplying miseries making a hell of its life, they are telling it to feel gratified with their policy of reconciliation and consensus. This policy they hold out to this wretched citizenry as the panacea of all its woes. This they tell it would wipe out its afflictions and wants on its own. And if it has happened not so far, they sure would tell it that it is all for its own misfortune written in the scriptures, and not their fault. Such an insouciance of administrators to a people’s miseries is indeed hard to find even in a banana republic. The people are wailing on streets and homes. But the administrators are just sitting pretty, seemingly enjoying this tragic show. There indeed are two Pakistans: a Pakistan of the affluent, the privileged officialdom and bureaucracy, landed aristocracy, big business, big industry and a formidable corporate sector; and a Pakistan of the poor, deprived and denied. The Pakistan of the rich is the administrators loved baby and with their blessings it is flourishing even in these traumatic times. The Pakistan of the downtrodden is an orphan that receives a rich lip service from the administrators but gets only bones to feed on. All the gravy goes to the Pakistan of the rich to sup on and fatten on. And while the administrators go to every extra mile to pamper and indulge the Pakistan of the rich, they have only a short shrift for the Pakistan of the downtrodden. So protective are they of the Pakistan of the rich that they have evolved cunningly a sly contrivance of stakeholders. When it comes to taxing traders, businessmen, industrialists and land barons, they say they would take the stakeholders into confidence. And as these stakeholders refuse, which they often do, the administrators just stand down apologetically. But no such niceties they know of when it comes to overtaxing the Pakistan of the downtrodden, sinking under the unbearably heavy burden of indirect taxes of all hues and brands known to the administrators. So as the island of a Pakistan of the privileged is rejoicing, celebrating and partying all the time, the oceanic Pakistan of the downtrodden is in a perpetual state of mourning over its denizens’ irreversible doleful lot. And as some of us once thought this sorry state of affairs wouldn’t hold any longer and the downtrodden would rise up against this unjust order, we were scoffed at by the oracles of the Pakistan of the privileged. They said the downtrodden would not. And they indeed have not, proving us ignorant and the privileged Pakistan’s oracles knowledgeable. They knew, while we did not, that the privileged Pakistan had smitten the downtrodden into such an impotence that even the youth of the Pakistan of the poor had not the grit and stamina of Tunisian and Egyptian youths to rise up against an unjust state order. And we never knew and those oracles did that the administrators of ours could safely leave the downtrodden untended and unattended. Still, one knows not how the turmoil presently gripping the land would finally settle down.

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.

Indonesian Muslims protest Gadhafi, int'l strikes

More than 10,000 Muslims marched Sunday in Indonesia to support pro-democracy and reform movements in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, calling for the immediate resignation of Libya's leader and protection of civilians.

Men, women and children attending the rally in the capital of the world's most populous Muslim nation waved Indonesian flags and shouted "Allah akbar," Arabic for "God is great."
Banners and placards carried by marchers read: "Revolution for freedom," "No to Dictator Ghadafi" or criticized the international air strikes that have checked Libya's military and helped rebels gain control of key towns.
Participants in the rally through downtown Jakarta organized by the Islamic-based Justice and Prosperity Party called for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to resign and for civilians to be protected.
Justice and Prosperity Party leader Hidayat Nur Wahid told the crowd the Gadhafi dictatorship must be ousted to stop a humanitarian tragedy.
"Ghadafi should accept the reality that people don't want him anymore as their leader," Wahid said. "We demand that the international air strikes over Libya be stopped for the sake of innocent civilians' safety."
The crowd also denounced Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip. Islamic Jihad, a militant group that frequently attacks Israel, confirmed two members were killed in a Sunday airstrike there.
Weeks of stepped-up rocket and mortar attacks have fed concerns of another large-scale Israeli military operation against Gaza militants.
The crowd in Jakarta swelled to an estimated 10,000 people and the rally was mostly peaceful, said police officer Riza Rusmawan from the traffic management center. Associated Press reporters at the scene said the crowd size was much higher.
Indonesia's own "people power" revolt toppled long-ruling dictator and Washington ally Gen. Suharto in 1998.
The vast majority of Muslims in the nation of 237 million practice moderate Islam.

Clinton hints at strained US ties with Pakistan

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described relations between the United States and Pakistan on Sunday as "very challenging," a tacit admission of strained ties between the key allies.
Speaking after Pakistan boycotted a trilateral meeting on Afghanistan in Brussels in protest at a drone attack that killed 39 people, Clinton said Islamabad was caught between wanting to help and dealing with its own extremist threat.
"It's a very challenging relationship, because there have been some -- some problems," she said in an interview with the ABC program "This Week."
"It's a very difficult relationship, because Pakistan is in a hard position, trying to figure out how it's going to contend with its own internal extremist threat," she said.
"But I think, on the other hand, we've also developed good lines of communication, good opportunities for cooperation, but it's something we have to work on every day."Clinton noted the cooperation of the Pakistani government in securing the release of Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor accused in a double murder, as well as in the fight against Al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism.
"We were very appreciative of getting our diplomat out of Pakistan, and that took cooperation by the government of Pakistan," she said. "We have cooperated very closely together in going after terrorists who pose a threat to both us and to the Pakistanis themselves."
Washington always insisted that Davis had diplomatic immunity from prosecution. He was released earlier this month after a payment of $2 million, but Clinton has denied the United States paid any compensation.
Intelligence sources in the northwestern city of Peshawar said 12 Pakistani Taliban militants were among those killed in the March 17 drone strike on a militant hideout in the North Waziristan tribal region.
But the US ambassador was called in to meet with foreign secretary Salman Bashir who conveyed "a strong protest" over the attack and demanded an apology and explanation from the United States.
"It was evident that the fundamentals of our relations need to be revisited. Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state," a foreign ministry statement said.
"It was for the White House and the State Department to hold back those who have been trying to veer Pakistan-US relationship away from the track," the statement added.

Syria frees 260 political detainees: rights group

Syria has freed 260 political detainees, including Islamists and Kurds, who were being held at the country's infamous Saydnaya prison, rights groups reported Saturday.
"Syrian authorities have freed 260 detainees, mainly Islamists but also including 14 Kurds, in a move that comes as part of the promises authorities made recently to boost freedom in Syria," Abdul Karim Rihawi, president of the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights, told AFP.
Rihawi said most of the freed prisoners had served three-quarters of their sentences.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also announced that more than 200 prisoners had been released from Saydnaya.
An official contacted by AFP on Saturday could not confirm the report.
At least 13 people have been killed in protests this month demanding major reforms in the country, which has been ruled by the Baath party for close to 50 years.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad announced a string of reforms on Thursday, including the release of all activists detained this month and the possibility of ending emergency rule, in place since 1963.
But protesters have vowed to continued to hit the street until all their demands are met.