Friday, April 1, 2011

Smoking increases among Pakistani women

The number of college and university going women smokers in the country has jumped to 16 percent from six percent in the recent years, said Prof. Javaid A. Khan, a senior chest physician and researcher in his presentation during 12th Biennial Convention of Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA).

He said women smokers

too, are bearing the same health consequences of tobacco usage as the male smokers,

“Pakistanis in general consume Rs. 450 billion worth of tobacco annually including 120 billion rupees on smoking cigarettes daily, added the Consultant Chest Physician, currently associated with Aga Khan University Hospital.

In his key-note address on Tobacco Control – Key to Disease Prevention, he said millions of rupees are also spent on pan chewing, besides niswar and hookah by the masses each year.

According to a PIMA press release issued here on Monday the two day 12th Biennial Convention of the Association, concluded on Sunday evening at Hyderabad, was attended by renowned consultants, including Pediatricians, Cardiologists, Nutritionists, Oncologists, Gynecologists, Hematologists and other medical professionals.

A large number of postgraduate students and pharmacists from all parts of Sindh also attended the moot.

Dr. Javaid A. Khan in his keynote address said tobacco usage in the form of Shisha or Hooka, gaining steady popularity among youth in urban areas of the country, was 100 times more harmful than cigarettes.

“Smoking Shisha for an hour is equal to smoking 100 cigarettes in the same time,” he said.

The chest physician, a strong proponent of anti-smoking campaign said “shisha” also contains nicotine and tar that result in lung cancer and heart attacks.

“Unfortunately many people consider Shisha as a non-hazardous leisurely activity,” he said.

The chest physician referred to a WHO study that showed parents who had only 15 percent acceptability for smoking reflected over 70 percent acceptability for the Shisha smoking.

“It is an alarming trend and there was an immediate need to create awareness regarding diseases caused due to smoking, in one or the other form,” he said.

Dr. Khan deplored that in countries like Pakistan; a single cigarette was cheaper than a loaf of bread and consequently was getting popular among youth due to its availability and affordability.

He said that tobacco was responsible for 100,000 deaths annually in Pakistan.

“Appropriate and efficient measures to prohibit smoking and tobacco chewing will not only prevent deaths but also curtail heavy expenditure incurred on diseases caused due to consumption of tobacco and its bi-products,” he said.

The Chest physician said although cigarettes and tobacco were very cheaply available in Pakistan, medicine especially Tarceva, needed for treatment of lung cancer, cost patients more that US$ 4000 per month, and is unaffordable for majority of countrymen.

Pakistan handles Islamic extremism with kid gloves

Violence and threats against those who dared to speak out against militants underscore extremism's deep reach into Pakistani society. But the government has proved powerless to stem the tide of radicalization.
Loud and combative, Fauzia Wahab is unafraid to denounce mullahs or defend deeply unpopular America. In recent weeks, however, the liberal lawmaker has sat hunkered down in her home in Karachi, rarely stepping out her front door.

Islamic militants elsewhere in Pakistan have assassinated a Cabinet minister and a prominent governor since the first of the year. But the Taliban and other violent extremist organizations aren't the only cause for concern.

The killings of Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti this month and Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer on Jan. 4 have exposed just how deep extremism has seeped into Pakistani society.

When Taseer's assassin, a 26-year-old police commando, made his first court appearance, lawyers in their traditional black suits and black ties greeted him with kisses and a cascade of rose petals.

A weak and corrupt government, led by the secular Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, has proved powerless. Even as it has launched military offensives against the Taliban in several areas, it has sought to appease militants in everyday society. And it has barely tried to stem the tide of radicalization in universities, the news media, security forces, political parties and even the legal community.

The military and intelligence communities also have the power to intervene. But both have ties to Islamic militants that go back decades.

"I have been advised by everyone to go home, to go into hibernation," Wahab, a ruling party member, said during a telephone interview from her home. "What else can I do? Am I supposed to come out on the road and say, 'Come on and kill me?' They are roaming around, and our lives are under threat."

The country's leaders have conspicuously steered clear of the issue that cost Taseer and Bhatti their lives: a blasphemy law that makes it a crime to insult the prophet Muhammad, the Koran or Islam. Human rights advocates say the law is frequently used to settle scores or persecute minorities, particularly Christians. Those found guilty may face the death penalty.

Both Taseer and Bhatti, a Christian, spoke out against the law. But after Taseer's assassination, leaders of the ruling party dropped any talk of revising the law; instead they vowed to not tamper with it.

Extremists were unconvinced and responded with a steady stream of death threats. Sherry Rehman, a leading PPP lawmaker who had proposed amendments to the law, received a spate of them. She has pulled back the amendments and, like Wahab, sits holed up in her Karachi home.

Although Wahab hasn't spoken out about the blasphemy issue, she received threats after saying CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who is accused of murdering two Pakistani men in January, has diplomatic immunity and should be released. Wahab has also accused Pakistan's judiciary of being soft on militants.

Ayaz Amir, a journalist and lawmaker with the main opposition PML-N party, said the killings of the two politicians "have reduced the space for rational talk; people are afraid right now."

"In private, politicians will talk about these things, but on the floor of parliament, on talk shows and in the press, they prefer to keep quiet," Amir said. "This encourages an atmosphere of intolerance to spread."

No institution appears immune. At the prestigious University of the Punjab, a radical group has clamped down on anything it deems un-Islamic, be it music classes or male and female students being seen together. When a professor had several of the group's students expelled for violent behavior last year, other members severely beat him with rods and sticks.

Even the upper chamber of parliament, the Senate, has been affected. After Taseer was assassinated, a move to offer a traditional memorial prayer was rejected, which observers said reflected the raw emotions caused by differences over the blasphemy law.

Meanwhile, extremist groups have been emboldened.

At a rally last month called by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group regarded in the West as a front for the banned militant organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, more than 20,000 Pakistanis jammed a highway in the eastern city of Lahore to hear Islamist leaders urge the government to establish a ministry for jihad, or holy war. India and the West have accused Lashkar-e-Taiba of masterminding the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed more than 160 people.

"I can assure you that the funding for this ministry will be given by [Jamaat-ud-Dawa], and we will present a million trained sons of ours for this purpose," the group's political affairs chief, Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki, told the crowd. "Give these million warriors of God AK-47s!"

Analysts say radical groups can attract large numbers because the government, hopelessly mired in corruption and inefficiency, doesn't provide the unemployed, discouraged masses with much of an alternative.

A third of the population lives below the poverty line. Nearly 7 million children between the ages of 5 and 9 do not attend school, and two of three youths of secondary school age stay at home. Almost half of the population is illiterate.

"There's only one way to turn this around," said Najam Sethi, the former editor of the Daily Times, a liberal-leaning newspaper published by Taseer. "Show that liberal democracy delivers: delivers governance, delivers transparency, delivers the nation into the global economy, delivers jobs, delivers livelihoods and fills up empty stomachs."

"You've got to give people all that to make them turn away from the emptiness of ideology and outrage and passion," Sethi said. "But what has happened is that democracy has not delivered."

Sethi blamed former military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq for encouraging the growth of political Islam in the 1970s and '80s. It was Zia who first imposed a blasphemy law to help win the backing of hard-line religious parties.

The influence of extremists could also be reined in if the military and intelligence communities intervened. But bonds between the Islamists and the generals are resilient and time-tested, dating to the period when the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate teamed up to help fighters in Afghanistan.

Although recent military offensives in places such as Swat Valley and South Waziristan have attained some success against the Pakistani Taliban, elements of the intelligence community continue to nurture ties with militant leaders.

Some militants are regarded as "strategic assets," said a senior intelligence official who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on such matters.

"Putting these people in prison is a sort of control mechanism," the official said. "Though they are still able to run their organizations effectively from prison, it's a bit of a cooling-down period for them, a time to hibernate."

Wahab says there was a moment when leading politicians could have rallied behind Rehman's legislation, which would have removed the death penalty and required prosecutors to prove that the alleged blasphemy was intentional.

"But within no time everyone disowned her or kept quiet," she said. For now, Wahab is in no position to lead the countercharge.

"Most likely I'll be working from my home," she said, sighing. "I'll have to be very careful about my movement."

'Bahrain will prosecute teachers'

he Bahraini education ministry has reportedly formed a committee tasked with taking action against school officials taking part in anti-government protests and strikes.

Reports say some heads of schools, administration staff and as well as teachers have already been summoned for questioning, Xinhua reported late Friday.

The education ministry has cracked down on teachers participating in the protests following harassment of female doctors by masked Bahraini forces.

To express solidarity with the ongoing revolution, thousands of teachers, called by the Bahrain Teachers Society, went on a strike in February and again during last month.

Meanwhile, Education International (EI) has called on its members to take action to protest at the recent crackdown on teacher unionists in Bahrain.

While teachers and students are voicing their demands for more freedom and rights, the Bahraini government has detained several teachers and students making unfounded allegations against them, EI said, adding that some students have also been dismissed.

EI said it has condemned those arrests and excessive use of force. It is urging the Bahraini government to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of teachers, students and unionists.

Gurkhas fought to save UN staff from Afghan protest mob

Four Nepalese guards fought desperately against an armed mob that stormed a UN compound in Afghanistan, but were overwhelmed and died with three workers they were protecting.
United Nations leaders and governments paid tribute to the seven staff killed in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called an "outrageous and cowardly attack" in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday.
The UN Security Council called on the Afghan government to increase protection for UN workers and bring those responsible to justice.
The attackers broke away from a big demonstration in the city against the burning of a Koran, Islam's holy book, by a US pastor.
"Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the building" and set it on fire, UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council.
"The security guards, who were the Gurkhas, tried their best but the number was so high that they were not able to prevent it."
UN officials said the Gurkhas, security mainstays in many world troublespots, were believed to have killed a number of assailants before they were overcome.
An Afghan provincial governor said at least five Afghans were killed in the compound.
An unknown number of UN staff were also wounded and they have been evacuated, Le Roy said. The Mazar-i-Sharif base would remain open though, he insisted, adding that he did not believe the United Nations had been a specific target of the attack.
Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, and a top peacekeeping official had left for Afghanistan to conduct a review of security in UN facilities, Le Roy said.
The attack was the worst suffered by the world body since a bomb blast at the UN compound in Algiers in 2007 that left 17 staff dead.
"Afghanistan has become one of the most dangerous places for UN personnel," the UN staff union said. It listed nine other deaths of UN workers in the country in less than two years, including in targeted attacks, suicide bombings and drive-by shootings.
"This was an outrageous and cowardly attack against UN staff, which cannot be justified under any circumstances," Ban said on a visit to Nairobi.
A 33-year-old Swede, Joakim Dungel, was among the dead, the Swedish government announced.
Norway said that one of its nationals was also killed in Mazar-i-Sharif.
The United Nations did not release the identity or nationality of the third staffer killed.
Condemning the attack "in the strongest terms," the 15-nation UN Security Council held a special meeting on the incident.
It called "on the government of Afghanistan to bring those responsible to justice and take all possible steps, with the assistance of ISAF as appropriate, to protect UN personnel and premises."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has about 140,000 troops in the conflict-stricken nation.
"The dedicated staff of the UN Mission in Afghanistan does courageous work every single day to support the Afghan people under extremely difficult circumstances, including repeated attacks," said US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
Protests against the burning of the Koran in the United States were also held in Kabul, where demonstrators shouted slogans against the United States, Israel and Britain.

Anti-Hunger Advocates Fast to Protest US Budget Cuts

Leading anti-hunger advocates are fasting to protest U.S. budget-cutting proposals that could threaten some of the world's most vulnerable people.The budget passed by the House of Representatives includes deep cuts to programs aimed at alleviating hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. These reductions follow an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts which benefit the nation's wealthiest people.
"We just think that's wrong," says World Food Prize winner David Beckmann, president of the anti-hunger group Bread for the World. He vows to only drink water for a week to protest the proposed cuts.
Deep Cuts
Beckmann is especially concerned about a 40 percent reduction in emergency food aid for disaster victims and refugees - from $1.7 billion last year to $1 billion in the house budget.
"If that would actually happen, we think it would mean cutting off something like 18 million people around the world who depend on food aid," he says. "These are some of the most desperate people in the world."
The protest has been joined by more than 30 organizations, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish and secular groups. Organizers say about 4,000 people are fasting for varying periods of time.
Former Congressman Tony Hall is leading the effort. In 1993, Hall fasted for 22 days to call attention to what he called Congress's lack of conscience toward poor and hungry people.
School meals, small farmers targeted
This year, the house proposed cutting in half a $200-million school meal program for children in developing countries.
"If you picture yourself in a classroom of 20 kids - often times this is the only meal they receive in the day - in essence we would walk into that classroom and pick out 10 kids we would no longer feed," says Rick Leach, president of the World Food Program USA, one of the groups supporting the protest.
And at a time of rising food prices, U.S. development aid aimed at helping improve small farmers' productivity is slated for a 30 percent cut. Nutrition programs targeting the critical first 1,000 days of a child's life would be cut 16 percent.
Leach says Congress can choose one of two paths: "One leads to a comprehensive approach to address hunger. The other leads to historic cuts that have never been seen, never ever been proposed like this by an administration, by a Congress. The effort to address global hunger has always had strong bipartisan support."
Campaign promise
Republicans took control of the House of Representatives this year, promising to make deep budget cuts. Republicans contacted for this story were not available for comment.
But many have said that the United States simply cannot afford to spend the money on foreign aid at a time when the nation is $14 trillion in debt. Some have complained about waste and corruption in countries receiving U.S. aid.
Bread for the World's David Beckmann agrees the United States needs to reduce its deficit. But he says there are ways to do that without cutting programs for the poor and vulnerable.
Raise taxes?
"Right now there seems to be this taboo on raising anybody's taxes," he says. "But it's crazy not to raise taxes for millionaires but to throw kids out of preschool or to cut off the supply of food aid to refugee camps."
There is currently little appetite in Congress for raising taxes. But the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected the deep cuts in the Republican-controlled House budget.
Negotiations are under way to reach a compromise. Observers say cuts to many programs are likely, but the depth and scope are very much under debate.

US Unemployment Drops

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to the lowest level in two years in March, and the government reported the economy made strong gains in creating jobs.

Friday's report from the Labor Department said the unemployment rate was 8.8 percent, one-tenth of a percent lower than the prior month. That is a full percentage point better than the rate in November.

The economy had a net gain of 216,000 jobs. All the job gains came in the private sector, which more than made up for losses in government jobs.

As the U.S. economy recovers from the worst recession in decades, the job market has lagged behind the gains seen in manufacturing, exports and other areas of the economy.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the job numbers mean the economy is showing signs of "real strength." In a speech near Washington, he said 1.8 million jobs have been created in a bit more than one year. He also pledged to continue working to bolster the economy so that every American who wants to work can find a job. He said economic issues are the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up in the morning, and the last thing he thinks about at night.

Economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute said the recovery is gaining traction, but warned it may take until 2018 to cut the jobless rate back to pre-recession levels.

Manufacturing is a key source of jobs and that sector has recovered more quickly than other areas. An economic report Friday said expansion in the factory sector slowed a bit in March after strong gains the previous month.

A separate report said U.S. construction spending has fallen to the lowest level in a decade as the sector continues to suffer from an oversupply of homes and slack demand for other buildings.

US 'Deeply Shocked' by UN Killings in Afghanistan

The United States is expressing deep shock and sadness over a mob attack on a United Nations compound in Afghanistan Friday that killed at least 12 people. The Afghan crowd reportedly was angered by the burning of a Quran last month at a Florida church, an act the State Department called contrary to U.S. traditions.

U.S. reaction was led by President Barack Obama who condemned the attack on the U.N. mission in the strongest possible terms, and appealed to all parties in Afghanistan to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.

The deaths occurred Friday when a demonstration outside the U.N. Assistance Mission in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-I-Sharif turned violent, with protestors storming the compound and setting fire to buildings.

News reports said those killed included Nepalese U.N. guards and European staff members and a number of local Afghans. The incident was believed to be the deadliest attack on the United Nations in Afghanistan since 2001.

In his written statement offering condolences to families of the victims, President Obama said the U.N. aid mission’s work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its people.

The Afghan protest was reportedly spurred by the burning of a Quran two weeks ago at a small Christian church in Florida. A pastor at the same church had threatened to burn the Muslim holy book last year but relented amid appeals from U.S. officials.

At a news briefing, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said the Florida church is outside the U.S. religious mainstream and its actions contrary to American values.

"We’ve been very clear in stating this is an isolated act done by a small group of people, and it’s indeed very contrary to the American peoples’ traditions. This doesn’t reflect the respect that the people of the United States have towards Islam, and we absolutely reject this kind of religious intolerance," Toner said.

In expressing deep shock and sadness over the deaths in Mazar-I-Sharif, spokesman Toner said there is no justification for the murders of innocent people.

Speaking in Nairobi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also said the attack - which he called "outrageous and cowardly" cannot be justified under any circumstances.

The U.N. chief dispatched his envoy in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, to Mazar-I-Sharif to assess the situation and take "any necessary measures" to ensure the security of remaining U.N. personnel.

Protester Rally Into Night in Jordan

Hundreds of demonstrators calling for reform rallied late into the evening in the Jordanian capital on Friday, a week after riot police officers and government supporters violently broke up a rally and a protest camp, leaving one man dead and scores injured.

This Friday’s demonstration, by contrast, went on for several hours without intervention, though the reformists planned to stay on at their new location, the downtown Municipality Square, into the night.

The protesters hailed mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood and the March 24 Movement, a new organization that had planned to camp out from that date until their demands for reform were met, like those who took up temporary residency in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood estimated the number of protesters on Friday at 2,000. The main demands raised by the demonstrators are an end to corruption and constitutional reform that would curb the sweeping powers of King Abdullah II.

Pro-democracy demonstrations have been taking place here regularly since January, when the Tunisian revolution set off a wave of regional upheaval. Responding to public pressure, the king replaced the cabinet and ordered his new prime minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, to begin electoral reforms and reach out to all elements of Jordanian society, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

But progress has been slow, and the opposition groups have meanwhile stepped up their demands for more fundamental constitutional reform.

Security forces were out in force on Friday, and convoys of cars driven by young men and decorated with Jordanian flags and portraits of King Abdullah paraded through streets that were blocked to other traffic. But there were no clashes this time.

Zaki Saad, head of the political bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood, said that promises had been given by the authorities that demonstrators would not be attacked.

“There is now an official decision not to send thugs to attack the demonstrators,” he said in an interview. That, he said, “proves that what happened last Friday was the result of an official decision.”

He was referring to the violence of the previous week when government supporters attacked the protesters with sticks and rods. When the protesters fought back, the riot police were called in, and they broke up the fighting as well as the tent camp.

The opposition groups say there have been attempts to polarize the society and to portray the protesters as antipatriotic. Commenting on the parades of cars on Friday, Mr. Saad said it was “A continuation of the campaign to provoke division among the people, between ‘loyalists’ and ‘reformists’.”

As the effects of Tunisia and Tahrir Square continued to roil the region, there were reports of more demonstrations and arrests in Bahrain, where members of the Shiite majority have been protesting against the regime.

Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni royal family, is, a close American ally and home to the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The strategic island remains under martial law after the king called in Saudi troops to help him quell unrest by mostly Shiite demonstrators last month.

Human rights workers said that up to 400 Bahrainis had been arrested since the crackdown, including political activists, clerics, and several doctors and bloggers.

One prominent blogger, Mahmood al-Yousif, who was detained Wednesday, was released late Thursday after the State Department expressed concern about his arrest.

But at least three other bloggers remained in detention and a prominent doctor from the main Salmaniya Hospital was arrested on Friday, according to Nabeel Rajab, director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.

Mr. Rajab said that protesters were holding candlelight marches at night in the villages outside the capital, Manama. He said that demonstrations continued on Friday afternoon, and that they were being violently dispersed by the police.

On Wednesday night, he said, a 15-year-old boy was killed after being struck in the head by either a rubber bullet or a sound bomb, bringing the death toll up to about 24.

Hundreds of Saudi Shiites staged peaceful protests in the kingdom’s oil-producing east on Friday, Reuters reported, in support of Shiites in Bahrain and political freedoms at home.

Meanwhile, witnesses say Omani police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding the release of people detained in crackdowns by security forces after Friday Prayer in Sohar, an industrial city in northern Oman where pro-reform demonstrations began in late February against tight political control.

PPP leader pays tribute to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Special Assistant to Sindh Chief Minister Waqar Mehdi on Friday said Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s vision was to develop Pakistan in accordance with the principles of founder of the country, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Talking to APP, he said if Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been alive, Pakistan would have been among the developed countries of the world. Mehdi recalled that Bhutto had convened the summit of Islamic Conference in Lahore and united the Muslims nations.

Syrian protesters clash with security forces

The protest movement against Syrian President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule proved its resilience Friday as thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the country, brushing off Assad's limited gestures of reform and defying security forces who beat them back with tear gas, batons and bullets.
At least three people were killed, bringing the death toll from two weeks of demonstrations to at least 75. The government blamed Friday's bloodshed on "armed gangs." However, the state-run news agency acknowledged for the first time that Syria was seeing gatherings of people calling for reform.
The extraordinary wave of protests has proved the most serious challenge yet to the four-decade ruling dynasty of the Assad family, one of the most rigid regimes in the Middle East.
"There's this incredible momentum that has built up across the Middle East that has galvanized people" in Syria, said Joshua Landis, an American professor and Syria expert. But the regime will likely crush any attempts to keep up the resistance — unless the opposition movement can rally enough people to overwhelm the army, he said.
The long-term strength of the burgeoning protest movement is difficult to gauge because Syria has restricted media access and expelled journalists, making it difficult to determine the extent of the protests and how many people are turning out. Two Associated Press journalists were ordered to leave the country Friday with less than an hour's notice.
But the regime had appeared fairly confident in recent days that it could appease the protesters.
Assad made his first public appearance Wednesday since the demonstrations began, blaming a "foreign conspiracy" for the unrest. He then announced he was forming committees to look into civilian deaths and the possibility of replacing Syria's despised emergency laws, which have been in place for decades and allow security forces to arrest people without charge.
His reaction enraged many Syrians who hoped to see more serious concessions after the wave of protests in a country where any rumblings of dissent are crushed.
The unrest comes against the backdrop of revolutionary change across the wider Middle East, including Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
In Yemen on Friday, hundreds of thousands packed a square in the capital and marched in villages and cities across the nation, demanding that longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. The demonstrations appeared to be the largest in more than a month of protests.
Analysts say that by blaming outsiders and offering only minor concessions, Assad is following a strategy that failed leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, who were swept out of power by popular uprisings.
"That speech was a disappointment to everyone," said Andrew Tabler at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "So I think (Friday's protests) are definitely a reaction."
Friday was billed by activists as a "Day of Martyrs," with mass demonstrations in honor of those killed in the protests.
Several eyewitnesses told The Associated Press by telephone that up to 5,000 people were marching in Daraa — an impoverished southern city that has become the epicenter for the movement — shouting "We want freedom!" and "The blood of martyrs is not cheap!" The account could not be independently confirmed.
An activist in Douma, just outside Damascus, the capital, said that he and hundreds of others came under attack by security forces as they left the town's Grand Mosque, chanting slogans for freedom. The troops hit people with clubs and threw stones before firing tear gas and finally live ammunition.
"I saw three people dead and six wounded," said the activist, who, like the other witnesses requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. "Douma's streets are now totally empty except for security forces."
Protests also were reported in the northeastern city of Qamishli and the central city of Homs.
Scores of plainclothes security agents deployed Friday in Damascus near the historic Umayyad mosque. A crowd of at least 300 Assad supporters, carrying Syrian flags and pictures of the president, broke out into clapping and chants of "Allah, Syria, Bashar!" Security forces made no attempt to stop them.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner condemned the violence and called on Syrian authorities to allow peaceful demonstrations.
"We've been very clear all along in our support for their essential rights to express their views," he told reporters in Washington.
The unrest in Syria could have implications well beyond the country's borders, given its role as Iran's top Arab ally and as a front line state against Israel.
The protests also have brought the country's internal, sectarian tensions into the open for the first time in decades. Syria has a Sunni majority ruled by minority Alawites, a branch of Shiite Islam.
Assad has placed his fellow Alawites into most positions of power in Syria. But he also has increased economic freedom and prosperity to win the allegiance of the prosperous Sunni Muslim merchant classes. Dissenters have been punished with arrest, imprisonment and physical abuse.
Assad inherited power 11 years ago at the age of 34 after the death of his father, Hafez, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for three decades. While Assad came to power promising reforms, internal challengers and regional upheaval have slowed down the reform process, including an old guard that fears an end to its privileges.
Syrians have seemed generally sympathetic to Assad facing an old guard clinging to power — but now, it seems, many are starting to tire of the excuse.

Afghans arrest suspected mastermind of UN attack

An Afghan official says police have arrested the suspected mastermind behind the attack on a U.N. compound that killed seven of the world body's foreign staff.
Rawof Taj, deputy police chief in Balkh province, said Friday he was one of more than 20 people arrested after the attack.
Taj said the suspected mastermind was from Kapisa province, a hotbed of the insurgency about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the attack occurred.
The Norwegian Defense Ministry said one of the victims was Lt. Col Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot. A Swede and four U.N, guards from Nepal were also killed. The nationality of the seventh has not released.

Yemenis hold largest protest yet against leader

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis

packed a square in the capital and marched in villages and cities across the nation on Friday in what appeared to be the largest demonstrations in more than a month of demands the country's longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

Youth leaders said they planned a march in the direction of the heavily guarded presidential palace.
Many mosques in the capital shut down — a move unprecedented for Friday, the Muslim day of prayer — as worshippers and clerics streamed to the square outside Sanaa University.
Protesters filled the plaza and spilled out along three adjoining streets. Previous demonstrations have taken up the square and at most two of the streets that feed into it.
The demonstrators set up tents and hung up posters of young men who were fatally shot by government forces during previous protests.

In a parallel demonstration, tens of thousands of government supporters rallied to al-Sabaeen Square outside the presidential palace, where Saleh made a brief speech, telling them, "With my blood and soul, I redeem you," a common chant in the Arab world.

Saleh has ruled Yemen for 32 years. He warns that if he is ousted, Yemen will descend into chaos, boosting the al-Qaida presence already in the country.
On Friday evening, two local newspaper reporters and a television cameraman were detained by security forces, according to Gamal Anaam, member of the Yemeni journalists' union. A security official declined to comment.Security forces also seized a close aide to Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a top military commander and longtime confidant of the president who joined the opposition. The aide, Abdul-Ghani al-Shimiri, who is al-Ahmar's political and media assistant, was detained outside his Sanaa home Friday and is being held by the National Security agency, according to a statement by al-Ahmar's office.
Al-Ahmar's was the most significant in a wave of defections from Saleh's regime by military commanders, ruling party members and others, swelling the ranks of the opposition and leaving him isolated. Al-Ahmar, commander of the powerful 1st Armored Division, deployed his troops at the central square, where demonstrators gather.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was concerned about the situation in Yemen but insisted counterterrorism cooperation was continuing between the two countries.
"It's not something that's directed at one person," Toner said, describing counterterrorism efforts as the top U.S. priority in the country. "It's ongoing cooperation with the government of Yemen."
Still, he said the U.S. wanted resolution to the unrest in Yemen and stressed that Saleh has made concessions. Demonstrators also have made movements, "but they need to obviously come together and forge a way forward," he said.
Saleh escalated his confrontation with the rapidly expanding uprising a week ago, taking on emergency powers that give him a freer hand to quell protests. Parliament, which is packed with his supporters, passed a 30-day state of emergency that suspends the constitution, bars protests and gives security forces far-reaching powers of arrest.
In another development, plainclothes militias were seen taking up positions around the capital. An army officer said the militias are under the command of Saleh's son and are designed to be deployed quickly to trouble spots. He spoke under condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
In a failed attempt to appease the protesters, Saleh offered not to run again when his current term ends in 2013. He then offered to step down by the end of this year and open a dialogue with the leaders of the demonstrators.
Protesters rejected all his offers, furious after his security forces shot dead more than 40 demonstrators in Sanaa last month.
On Friday, there were anti-Saleh protests in at least 14 other provinces around the country. Witnesses said hundreds of thousands of people attended demonstrations in the provinces of Aden, Taaz, and Hadramout.
The Sanaa crowd was supported by soldiers with anti-aircraft guns and Kalashnikov rifles, who set up half a dozen checkpoints around the square to prevent intrusions by president's loyalists.
Protesters, who have called for a "Friday of Salvation," raised black cards while chanting "Ali Leave!" Women and children, their faces painted in the colors of the Yemeni flag, or the word "Leave," joined the protests.
Cleric Taha al-Moutawkel told the crowd during afternoon prayers that Saleh's regime was already collapsing, and he vowed that the protests will remain peaceful.
"Whenever they threaten us, we will face their tanks with our bare chests," he said. "Saleh is over and he knows that, but he is betting that people will eventually run out of patience."
He said that even if the West backs Saleh, the people will keep pushing for his ouster.
"If the president's popular legitimacy plunges, no any power in the West or the East can bring him back," he said.
The demonstrators blame Saleh for mismanagement, repression and the fatal shootings of protesters. They say they will not relent until he goes.

Moscow urges Kabul, ISAF to protect UN mission in Afghanistan


condemned on Friday the "unacceptable" attack on the UN mission in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif and demanded that measures be taken to stop violence against United Nations staff.
Earlier in the day, the UN mission in Afghanistan was thrown into a deep crisis after a furious mob killed eight of its staff and wounded 12 in Mazar-i-Sharif, usually one of the country's most peaceful cities. The accident came after a demonstration against a reported burning of a Quran copy by frantic Pastor Terry Jones in Florida on March 20.
Speaking to the BBC, Jones denied responsibility for the outbreak of hatred in Afghanistan and said "they [Muslims] used the Koran burning as an excuse to promote their violent activities."
"We respect the religious feelings of Muslims, but the attack on the UN representatives in Mazar-i-Sharif is absolutely unacceptable," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We strongly condemn this crime. We urge the law enforcement bodies of Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force to take all necessary measures to stop the violence against UN and its staff."
There is one Russian citizen among the dead. He previously served as a minister-counselor for the Russian Embassy in Kabul, a police source said.

20 U.N. staff killed in north Afghan city

Afghan protesters angered by the burning of a Koran by an obscure U.S. pastor killed up to 20 U.N. staff, beheading two foreigners, when they over-ran a compound in a normally peaceful northern city on Friday in the worst ever attack on the U.N. in Afghanistan.

At least eight foreigners were among the dead after attackers took out security guards, burned parts of the compound and climbed up blast walls to topple a guard tower, said Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a police spokesman for the northern region.

Five protesters were also killed and around 20 wounded.

The governor of Balkh province said insurgents had used the march as cover to attack the compound, in a battle that raged for several hours and raises serious questions about plans to make the city a pilot for security transfer to national forces.

"The insurgents have taken advantage of the situation to attack the U.N. compound," said Governor Ata Mohammad Noor.

He told a news conference that many in the crowd of protesters had been carrying guns. Some 27 people have already been detained over the attack, he added.

Afghan police and army, who the United Nations rely on for their first line of defense, were apparently unable to control the crowd. German troops are also stationed in Balkh, and the NATO-led coalition said they had received a request for help.

"Eight foreigners were killed, and two were beheaded," said Ahmadzai.

A United Nations spokesman confirmed employees had been killed but declined to comment on numbers of dead or their nationalities. He said the attack would not push the United Nations out of Afghanistan.

"We need to secure our colleagues in Mazar-i-Sharif. It's not a question of us pulling out. The U.N. is here to stay," said spokesman Kieran Dwyer.

Staffan De Mistura, the top U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan, has flown to Mazar-i-Sharif to handle the situation personally.

The Russian chief of the mission in the city, Pavel Yershov, was injured in the attack but is now in hospital, Russian state television said, quoting an embassy spokesman.

Russia called on the Afghan government and international forces to "take all necessary measures" to protect U.N. workers in a statement issued by the foreign ministry after the attack.

Romania's foreign ministry said preliminary information suggested a Romanian citizen was among the dead, and condemned the attack. US. President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also condemned the attack.

If the death toll is correct, it would make it the deadliest attack on the United Nations in Afghanistan, and one of the worst on the organization for years.

The worst previous attack was an insurgent assault on a guesthouse where U.N. staff were staying in October 2009. Five employees were killed and nine others wounded.

The two largest attacks on U.N. compounds in other countries are a 2007 bomb in Algiers that killed 17 U.N. staff, and a 2003 attack on the Baghdad hotel that was the U.N. headquarters there, which killed at least 22 people.

Mazar-i-Sharif has remained relatively peaceful as the insurgency gathers force in other parts of the north, and was recently chosen as one of the first areas for a transition of security from NATO troops to Afghan forces.

Long-standing anger over civilian casualties has been heightened by the Koran burning and the recent publication of gruesome photographs of the body of an unarmed Afghan teenager killed by U.S. soldiers.

The Christian preacher Terry Jones, who after international condemnation last year canceled a plan to burn copies of the Koran, supervised the burning of the book in front of a crowd of about 50 people at an obscure church in Florida on Sunday, according to his website.

The Koran burning was denounced by Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through western Herat city and around 200 in Kabul to protest against the same incident, but there was no violence at either demonstration.

Obama condemns killing of U.N. workers in Afghanistan

The United States strongly condemned the killing of up to 20 U.N. employees in an attack in northern Afghanistan on Friday, saying there was no justification for the murder of innocent people.
"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan today," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence."
Afghan protesters, angered by the burning of a Koran by an obscure U.S. pastor, killed up to 20 U.N. staff in Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday in the worst attack ever on the United Nations in Afghanistan.
The State Department said the United States stood ready to assist the United Nations in any possible way, and underscored that the United States believed the pastor's desecration of the Koran was "an abhorrent act."
"We've been very clear in saying that this is an isolated act done by a small group of people," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
"It doesn't reflect the respect that people of the United States have toward Islam and we absolutely reject this kind of intolerance," he said.

Appeasing the Militants, Karzai to Sell out Our Rights

Abbas Daiyar

The Deputy Governor of Helmand, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal has been sacked from his position after the Nawruz concert in Lashkargah, in which he invited female singers. Thousands of people, according to an estimate, more than 30,000, attended that concert. When I was watching the photos on BBC Pashto, the crowd looked bigger than any of provincial religious gatherings. One photo of exciting children enjoying the concert and clapping on the beat of music gave me the most pleasant feeling, seeing the young cheerful faces having fun in the heart of an insurgency-hit province where children and women are the worst victims of terrorism, and with the mental torture living in such an environment. BBC News had a report of that concert, in which police had to be tough to control the crowd. Afghan police managed the security of the concert, and it was a success for Helmand, one of the places to be transferred to Afghan security forces in July by NATO troops. Recently a similar passion was seen in the concert of Farhad Darya, where thousands came, despite the risky security situation. Such events are rare in the volatile provinces of South, where people have little opportunities of entertainment.

During the dark period of Taliban repression, not only our centuries’ old festival Nawruz was banned, but also music was not allowed, and declared “sinful” for the ears. Since the fall of the forces of darkness, we have been defiant to fight extremism and religious fanaticism. Kudos to Farzana Naz, the female singer who made the crowd of 30,000 people cheer with entertainment, for her bravery to go there and for the first time a female singer perform in front of a big crowd in Helmand, not to mention her half-sleeves and no-hijab or veil on her head appearing in public in the heart of insurgency. But this event and a “female” singer’s performance was not something to be “acceptable” for the radical Mullahs and Ulemas of the province. They all complained to Karzai about Mirzakwal, and threatened with repercussions and then the Deputy Governor was sacked soon. Karzai bowed in front the religious radicals and took action quickly on their demand, even not consulting IDLG, the body responsible for appointing and dismissal of governors, district chiefs and other officials.

The question is, why the President has to react on the “complains” of some medieval-thinking extremists against the will of thousands of people? If it was that un-Islamic and against our traditions, why thousands of people, who are very religious, didn’t raise any objection, rather enjoyed the concert? This is one of the most shameful and ridiculous moves by President Karzai recently. Sacking an official for the complaints of a handful of religious extremists is like agreeing to what Taliban did to the people while holding an AK-47 on their head. There are such concerts happening all over the country, but why should Helmand or Mirzakwal be a victim? What violation of Islamic laws and our traditions have been committed in a concert where a female singer appears on the stage and make the crowd of thousands cheer in delight? Well, if we listen to the interpretation of Islam by these radicals, music is Harram (Taboo) their male-honor and ethics say that “female” are a species to be kept under veils at homes, and subjected to a treatment like an object. They think entertainment is bad for public, and people should not rejoice.

The hypocrisy and cowardice of President Karzai is not understandable when locals have no problem with such an event, but he reacts on the “complains” of some fanatics who consider themselves the self-righteous guardian of peoples’ belief and ethics, who think it’s not proper that a female singer come on stage in front of thousands of men, and people listen to music, children clap and smile. They want the people to live in a medieval lifestyle where no one but the village Mullah has the right to set limits to the lifestyle of people and declare what is good and part of our traditions, and what’s not.

It’s an irony that even we are afraid to comment on it. Violence is the weapon for extremists, but our sacrificial compromise cannot be silence. Officials of Karzai Administration say there will be increased violence in Helmand with such “concerts”. What a shame! They want us to live on the conditions of terrorists, even in areas where the Government is confident enough to call for transfer of security responsibility to Afghan security forces from ISAF troops.

President Karzai is very keen with his efforts to negotiate with militants and make compromise deals on their conditions. He is even ready to give up some of our basic rights and freedoms, such as celebration of our cultural festivals, a music concert and performance of a female singer. He wants to appease the militants by bowing down to the “demands” of fanatics. That is the kind of peace that Karzai wants to buy by selling out our freedoms and rights, even before we exercise them. We have fought to gain such rights and freedoms, and we must defend them, not sell out to militants with a peace that will come at the cost of our basic rights and freedoms.

China, Germany call for political solution to Libyan crisis

(Xinhua) -- China and Germany on Friday called for a political solution to the ongoing Libyan crisis as the two countries held a bilateral dialogue in Beijing on Friday.

"Both China and Germany abstained from voting for UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which shows that the two states have reservations on the resolution," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters after co-chairing the first round Sino-German minister-level strategic dialogue with visiting German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

The resolution was adopted to stop violence and protect civilians, Yang said, adding that China is worried by continued reports of deaths and injuries among civilians and the escalation of military conflict in Libya.

Westerwelle also urged those involved to solve the crisis by political means.

"The Libyan situation cannot be resolved by military means. There can only be a political resolution and we must get the political process underway," said Westerwelle.

China maintained that concerned countries should strictly abide by the resolution and respect Libya's sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, Yang said.

"The matter should be addressed appropriately by political and diplomatic means," he added.

Resolution 1973 established a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized "all necessary measures" for the protection of civilians in Libya. France, Britain and the United States have been carrying out airstrikes against from the forces of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's since March 19.

Libyan rebellion leader speaks

Pakistan reopens 1979 Bhutto hanging

President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday signed the reference to reopen the case of “judicial murder” of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

, DawnNews reported.

The reference will now be sent to the Supreme Court.

President Zardari signed the reference in the presence of Law Minister Babar Awan and Sindh Home Minister Zulfikar Mirza, under Article 186 of the Constitution. Secretary to President Asif Hayat and Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar were also present, a press release said.

Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that the reference will now be sent to the Supreme Court by the law ministry. Early this week the federal Cabinet authorised President Zardari to send a reference to the Supreme Court on the matter, he said.

Article 186 of the Constitution states: (1) “If, at any time, the President considers that it is desirable to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court on any question of law which he considers of public importance, he may refer the question to the Supreme Court for consideration”.

Clause 2 of the same Article states: “The Supreme Court shall consider a question so referred and report its opinion on the question to the President”.

Farhatullah Babar said that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had never intended to seek revenge but it wanted to put right a historic wrong and thereby vindicate the position of the founding Chairman of the party.

He recalled that a former judge of the bench of the Supreme Court which upheld the death sentence had subsequently publicly acknowledged that the split verdict was given under pressure from the dictatorship of the time.

The death sentence was awarded to Pakistan’s first directly elected Prime Minister by the Lahore High Court and subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court in March 1979 in a split verdict.

The former premier was executed on April 4, 1979 by the then military dictatorship disregarding appeals by world leaders and amid serious reservations by international jurists about the legal propriety of the death sentence.

The body of the premier was flown secretly to Larkana and was buried without permitting family members to attend the funeral and the last rites.

After Bhutto was hanged, the PPP had described the capital punishment awarded to its founding chairman in the Mahmood Raza Kasuri murder case as a judicial murder and vowed to get the verdict reversed through a review petition, but it did not materialise during its previous two terms in government

Libyan rebels prepared to accept cease-fire if Gaddafi lifts sieges, allows protests

Rebels battling the regime of Moammar Gaddafi would accept a cease-fire if government forces pull out of cities they are besieging and allow peaceful protests, the head of the opposition’s interim government said Friday.We are seeking immediate withdrawal of Gaddafi forces around and inside cities, to give Libyan people the freedom to choose,” said Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the rebels’ Transitional National Council.

“Our main aim is to remove the siege from the cities,” he said.

Abdel Jalil, who formerly served as Gaddafi’s justice minister before defecting last month amid a popular uprising, stressed that the rebels remain steadfast in their demand that Gaddafi and his family leave power. And he said the rebels would need weapons deliveries if the more heavily armed and better organized government forces keep fighting.

In a joint news conference with U.N. special envoy Abdul-Illah Khatib, a former Jordanian foreign minister, Abdel Jalil said: “We have no objection to a cease-fire but on condition that Libyans in western cities have full freedom in expressing their views.” He said that if the inhabitants of the besieged cities are allowed to express themselves, “the world will see that they will choose freedom.”

The rebels’ ultimate goal remains the departure of Gaddafi, Abdel Jalil said. He told reporters: “Our aim is to liberate all of Libya and have a sovereign Libya with the capital in Tripoli.”

He made the comments as Khatib visited the rebel stronghold of Benghazi for talks on a cease-fire and a political solution to the six-week-old Libyan crisis. Khatib said he met Thursday with members of Gaddafi’s government in Tripoli before conferring with the Transitional National Council here Friday. He said he would convey the results of the meetings to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It was his second visit with opposition leaders, he said.Khatib said he told government officials in Tripoli that a cease-fire would need to be “credible,” “effective” and “very final.”

“Each party, of course, says that they will respect the terms of the cease-fire if the other one does, and that is the real challenge,” he said.

The talks came as Gaddafi’s forces continued to lay siege to Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city 130 miles east of Tripoli, while also pressing an offensive in eastern Libya that has driven the rebels out of several Mediterranean coastal towns and oil hubs this week.

In Misurata, where rebels have been under siege for more than a month, government forces shelled the city with tanks and mortars Friday and attacked shops and homes in the city center, Reuters reported.

About 100 miles south of Benghazi, rebels were guarding the western entrance to the strategic city of Ajdabiya while fighting reportedly continued around Brega, an oil refinery town about 50 miles to the southwest.

With the rebels again on the defensive after having recaptured Ajdabiya over the weekend, opposition officials took some solace in the defection Wednesday of Gaddafi’s foreign minister and former intelligence chief, Musa Kusa. They joined U.S. and British officials in hailing the move as evidence that the Gaddafi regime was crumbling from within, and rumors swirled around the Libyan capital Thursday that as many as 15 top regime officials had fled to Tunisia and were seeking refuge in the West.

But it was unclear whether Kusa’s departure would have an immediate effect on the balance of power on the ground or trigger the mass defections that U.S. officials said they were hoping for.

On Friday, a British government official told The Washington Post that Mohammed Ismail, a senior aide and discreet fixer for Gaddafi’s powerful son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, was in London recently to talk to government officials.

British media reports speculated that Ismail was in London to open lines of communication with the West, perhaps to explore exit strategies for one or more members of the Gaddafi family.

A spokeswoman at the British Foreign Office declined to comment on the visit, saying: “We’re not going to provide running commentary on our contacts with Libyan officials.”

According to the Associated Press, British officials contacted Ismail after learning that he was in Britain to visit relatives and told him Gaddafi must quit. Two officials insisted that Ismail had not been sent to London on a mission for Gaddafi and said the aide returned to Libya earlier this week, AP reported.

The Gaddafi government announced a cease-fire a day after the U.N. Security Council on March 17 authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. But Gaddafi’s troops continued to attack rebel-held cities.

Abdel Jalil, the rebel council leader, spoke Friday as if he expected the current fighting to continue. Despite the pounding rebels took this week, he said, “We have full confidence in our forces and our determination that we will be able to unseat Gaddafi and his regime.”

Abdel Jalil also expressed concern over the fate of prisoners taken by Gaddafi forces during the fighting. While the International Committee of the Red Cross has been allowed to visit rebel-held prisoners in Benghazi, he said, no such access has been given by the other side.

Opposition leaders estimate that thousands of prisoners are being held by the Gaddafi regime.

Seeking cash to buy desperately needed supplies, the rebel government is prepared to produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day for export, which would be marketed by Qatar, a Libyan opposition official said Friday.

“The Qatar government agreed, and it is signed, that they’d market the crude oil for us,” said Ali Tarhouni, the opposition official responsible for finance, economics and oil. “The only delay is finding the vessels that will carry the oil.”

However, he said, the opposition’s ability to profit from such exports is limited by sanctions imposed on Libyan oil, from which rebel-held areas are not exempt. Tarhouni said the rebel government is asking the United Nations to lift the sanctions.

Until then, he said, proceeds from sales would go into an escrow account, through which the rebels could receive food, medical supplies, fuel and other humanitarian provisions.

The rebels this week recaptured two oil ports, Ras Lanuf and Brega, then quickly lost control of them in a counteroffensive by Gaddafi loyalists.

But Tarhouni said oil fields in the southeastern part of the country are firmly in rebel hands and can produce crude for shipment via Tobruk, a city near the Egyptian border.

Qatar, a small Persian Gulf emirate, has joined the Western-led coalition enforcing the U.N. no-fly zone and is the only Arab country so far to recognize the rebel government.

Tarhouni said the interim government has also requested recognition by the United Nations as Libya’s legitimate representative.

Protest against hiring of mercenaries for Bahrain

The Bahraini regime, with the aid of the Pakistan Army, has been recruiting Pakistani mercenaries to strengthen their security forces as they clamp down on the revolutionary movement in Bahrain. The comrades of the International Marxist Tendency in Pakistan, gathered around The Struggle, have promoted a protest movement against this in the various organisations they are leading and working with.On March 26 activists of the PTUDC, YFIS, BNT and JKNSF gathered in front of the Islamabad Press Club to protest against the hiring of mercenaries by the Pakistan Army to be used to repress protests in Bahrain and other countries.After the rise of the revolutionary movement in Bahrain, the brutal government has stepped up hiring for its army and police from Pakistan. Under the banner of the Fauji Foundation and the Bahria Foundation of the Pakistan Army, this recruitment is going on in all the major cities of Pakistan.
Unemployed youth with ten years of study, aged between 20 and 25 years and between 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet [1.78 and 1.83 metres] are being hired in big numbers and offered hefty wages. Already there are big numbers of Pakistanis working with the Bahraini police who are being used by the regime to crush the revolutionary movement.
The brutal Khalifa regime is also trying to sabotage the movement by directing it into sectarian lines in an attempt to divide Shias from Sunnis. But the revolutionary people of Bahrain have rejected these manoeuvres and are fighting on a class basis. Many trade unionists and workers in the Aluminum and other industries belonging to the Sunni sect have come forward against the regime and have participated in the revolutionary movement. Old leftist currents are also being reorganized on various platforms.
Now the regime is trying to use the immigrant population from Pakistan and other countries as a pawn in their divide and rule policy. Many are being recruited into the Police to torture the arrested people and to crush the protests. Some of these policemen have been killed while trying to crush the protests. These incidents are being used here by the Pakistani State to gain sympathy for the brutal regime of Bahrain.

Cyril Almeida wrote in The Dawn of March 24:

“The harrowing attacks on Pakistani nationals in Bahrain, including the murder of at least one policeman, has perhaps for the first time drawn attention to the for-hire security personnel who travel from Pakistan to defend the Bahraini kingdom and its ruling class.

“The role Pakistani nationals play in the Bahraini security apparatus was further underlined on Sunday as reports emerged that as many as 1,000 men are being recruited by the army-run Fauji and Bahria foundations for the Bahrain National Guard.

“But the attention garnered domestically by the role of Pakistani nationals in Bahrain — there are as many as 65,000, with thousands employed in the security services, according to a Foreign Office official — has contrasted with the wall of silence that has met the weeks of protests in Bahrain.”

The Bahraini regime has also the complete support of the Saudi and US governments and the Pakistani State is once again playing the role of stooge to its imperialist masters. There are big advertisements in newspapers everyday for recruitment to the security forces of Bahrain. The movement in Bahrain is also spilling over into Saudi Arabia and protests are being held in many cities of Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani State and its ruling class has always served the Saudi regime and once again they will offer their services to help crush this movement.

This protest was called against the recruitment campaign to hire mercenaries for Bahrain or any other country in the coming days. Protestors condemned the slavish attitude of the Pakistani state and condemned the brutal regimes of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and also US imperialism. They demanded that all foreign armies should be immediately withdrawn from Bahrain. They also supported the revolutionary people of Arab World.

These protestors also condemned the brutal Mullah regime of Iran which is trying to crush a revolutionary movement in its own country and is trying to sabotage the movement in Bahrain along sectarian lines. Protestors also condemned the stooges of the Iranian Mullah Regime in Pakistan who are trying to propagate the agenda of draconian Iranian regime here as well.

Demonstrators said that if this recruitment is not stopped more protests will be held in other cities on a much bigger scale. The PTUDC and BNT have also started a signature campaign in solidarity with the Arab Revolution and against the role of the Pakistani State. They vow to collect thousands of signatures from Trade Unions, Students Unions, unemployed youth, lawyers and other activists for this agenda and send them to the people of Bahrain and other countries to express solidarity from the working class of Pakistan.

Saudi demonstrators hold rally in Qatif

Hundreds of people have protested peacefully in Saudi Arabia's eastern city of Qatif, calling on the country's military to end its incursion into Bahrain.
On Friday, protesters defied the government ban on demonstrations in Qatif and held signs that called on the government to pull out of the Persian Gulf state.
Bahrain's main opposition bloc says 250 people have been detained and 44 others have gone missing since a brutal government crackdown against protesters.Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society member and former lawmaker, Mattar Ibrahim Mattar, said on Monday that a large number of Bahrainis get arrested at checkpoints or during house raids. Family members have given accounts about their loved ones not returning home.
“We have around 250 confirmed arrested and 44 who are missing, though that number fluctuates when people reappear after hiding from police,” Mattar said.Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar dispatched their armed forces to assist in quelling protests in crisis-hit Bahrain.The dispatch of troops from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies of Bahrain highlighted concerns about possible spillover from the country, where month-old protest rallies seek to break the Western-backed government's monopoly on power.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the region fear that any concession by Bahraini rulers could embolden more protests against their own rule.
Recently, protesters in Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have been demanding government reforms.
Foreign military intervention in Bahrain has caused UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to call for a meaningful and broad-based national dialogue.
The UN chief has also urged Bahrain's regional neighbors and the international community to support a dialogue process and an environment conducive to credible reform in Bahrain.
Bahraini opposition groups, including al-Wefaq party, have denounced the Saudi military intervention as an invasion of their country.
Bahraini demonstrators maintain that they will continue with their protests until their demands for freedom, constitutional monarchy as well as a proportional voice in the government are met.
At least 20 people have so far been killed and about 1,000 others have been injured since anti-government protests began in the Persian Gulf island nation in mid-February.

UN staff killed in Afghanistan

Afghan officials said at least eight people have been killed at a UN operational centre in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif when protest against the burning of the Quran turned violent.

Demonstrators stormed the UN office Friday, opening fire on guards and setting fires inside the compound after reports that a evangelical pastor burned a copy of the Muslim holy book in Florida last month.

Two of those killed were beheaded by the protesters, according to police.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported from Kabul that people converged outside the UN mission soon after the midday prayers.

The mission is one of the backbones of UN operations in the country, he said. Some of the protesters were armed with knives, and the chief of the mission was badly injured in the attack.

"The protests degenerated into a very violent attack," he explained.

Daud Daud, the commander of Afghan National Police in the north, said five guards working for the UN were among the dead, along with two other people employed at the complex.

He said one other person was wounded. A police official in Balkh province, later said the injured person, who was a foreigner, had also died.

A UN spokesperson confirmed the deaths on Friday.

"The special representative to the [UN] Secretary General, Stephane de Mastura, is on his way to Mazar-i-Sharif now to deal with the situation personally on the ground," the spokesperson said.

Afghanistan: Kabul vs New Kabul City

"New Kabul City" - a shiny new, multibillion-dollar project - sounds like a pipe dream to people living practically on top of each other in Afghanistan's war-battered capital, where most streets are unpaved and security forces are on constant watch for suicide bombers.
But urban planners, investors and government officials working to develop the modern urban area about a 30-minute drive north of Kabul say it will be home to an estimated 1.5 million people when it's completed in 2025.
The $34 billion public-private project - planned to span across 290 square miles at the foothills of the majestic Safi Mountains - is bigger than the existing Kabul.
Elham Omar Hotaki, who works with the government authority developing the project, said the city would include homes and apartments, shops, mosques, a library, a fire station, areas for farming and light industry and even picturesque parks.
"When each mega project starts, everyone thinks it won't happen," Mr Hotaki said, acknowledging that some people are dubious the development will ever be built.
"After World War II, who could imagine that New York would look like it does - a big city? No one. Everyone thought it was impossible, impossible, impossible."But I think it's possible."
Planning for new Kabul City began in 2006 when President Hamid Karzai set up a board of Afghan and foreign experts to develop a new city to provide additional housing for residents of the capital, which is bursting at its seams.
About 4.5 million people live in the city, which was built to handle about 700,000, said Gholam Sachi Hassanzadah, deputy chairman of the Independent Board of New Kabul City Development.
"In 15 years, the population will be more than 6.5 million or 7 million. There is no space for that," he said.
In 2009, the Afghan Cabinet endorsed a master plan to build the new city in three phases spanning 15 years. By 2025, the project is expected to create 500,000 jobs - 100,000 in agriculture, 100,000 in industry and 300,000 in service and other sectors.
The first phase, to be completed in 2015, is to provide 80,000 housing units for 400,000 people. Contracts are to be awarded this year for developing the first 18,400 units, and construction could start as early as January 2013.
"The only thing which can possibly stop this is not a good security situation," Mr Hassanzadah said. "If we have good security, you will see that development will go very, very fast."
Many challenges remain. Insurgent attacks must be curbed, investors need to sign deals and Afghans have to want to buy and rent the homes and businesses to be built.
The plan is for international donors and the Afghan government to supply $11 billion over the next 15 to 20 years to build water and sewer lines, electricity and roads. Japan, which is already working on water feasibility studies, and the Asian Development Bank have pledged to help build streets, initial infrastructure and power lines. Project officials said they could not yet disclose how much Japan and ADB had pledged.
Private investors in Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Azerbaijan also have expressed interest by seeking more information about the development, the officials said.
All told, an estimated $23 billion worth of private sector money for constructing the city after infrastructure is in place is expected to be invested in the project.
Mahmoud Saikal, senior adviser to the Independent Board of New Kabul City Development, said the project requires security and cooperation from Afghan government ministries.
"In Afghanistan, there is an expression that the road to paradise doesn't go through a Persian rug," Saikal said. "It means the road to getting this project materialised is not an easy one."
Though corruption has become endemic in Afghan society, Mr Hassanzadah said it will not be tolerated as New Kabul rises.
"It is a clean project," he said. "We are committed to transparency. Corruption is a two-way road. We expect investors and developers to be transparent as well. ... We will not allow for public money to be abused."
Sayed Daud, a businessman who owns about 150 acres at the site, said only recently has he started seeing a flurry of government and business officials at the site, carrying maps and cameras.
"All this activity is giving us hope," Daud said

Bahrain Is Still a Miserable, Vicious Dictatorship, By the Way

Tired of the confusing and equivocal news from our war in LIbya? (Front of today's New York Times: "Top Libyan Official Defects; Rebels Are Retreating.") Try Bahrain. It's still very simple: our loyal Bahraini allies are continuing to ruthlessly smash the protest movement there.

More than 300 people have been detained since the middle of this month. This week, Bahrain's foreign minister accused the protesters of being agitators covertly backed by Hezbollah.

AFP reported that Hezbollah "vehemently rejected" those claims.
"All we are proudly offering (Bahrain) is political and moral backing as we did for the Arab revolutions in Tunis, Egypt, Libya and Yemen which is legal and part of our duty," Hezbollah said.
One consistent policy toward Bahrain, Libya, and Egypt? How did they come up with that?

Also, Human Rights Watch reported yesterday that Bahrain's security forces have harassed, detained, and beaten hospital patients who were seeking treatment for injuries suffered during the protests. One patient, with more than 100 pellet wounds from birdshot, was removed from the hospital where he was waiting for emergency abdominal surgery and taken away in an unmarked vehicle to a military hospital instead. Another patient with pellet wounds died at the same military hospital after being transferred there by "masked police officers."

A patient who had suffered pellet wounds to the face told Human Rights Watch about how people injured in the protests were separated from other patients:
around 4 or 5 p.m. the hospital transferred him and many of the others who had protest-related injuries to Ward 62, on the sixth floor. He said that from that evening through early the next morning, several groups of men, some in uniforms and others in civilian clothes, most of them masked, entered their room and repeatedly interrogated them on videotape, demanding to know about alleged relationships with opposition figures, Iran, and Hezbollah. The men used anti-Shia slurs against the patients. He said at one point one of the men told the others to beat them with their shoes because they were "najes," or unclean, and the men beat the patients on their heads, hands, and necks.
And Mahmood Al Yousif, a popular blog moderator "who actively discourages the Sunni-Shia tension" in Bahrain, was arrested on Tuesday with no explanation.

UPI reported that now, the United States "gets tough" in response. A deputy State Department spokesperson said:
"We hope that the Bahraini government's decision to arrest bloggers and Internet activists will not make it more difficult to resume a national dialogue that solicits the views and opinions of all Bahrainis."
Yes, America is hoping Bahrain will have a national dialogue. That is how very, very tough and serious we are about confronting the dictatorship there.

Bahrain wages unrelenting crackdown on Shiites

The official line: Bahrain is back to business as usual. Shiite protesters are off the streets after a month of paralyzing demonstrations. A state-run newspaper's headline declares the Persian Gulf island to be "Back on Track."
But police checkpoints dot the highways around the tiny Sunni-led kingdom. Tanks are deployed around the lavish shopping malls in the capital.
And security forces are carrying out nightly raids in the impoverished Shiite villages around Manama, smashing down doors, destroying furniture and spraying graffiti on the walls, residents told The Associated Press.
One Bahraini human rights activist told the AP that he was beaten and hit with shoes by armed, masked men, who threatened him with rape and told to go back to Iran, the Shiite powerhouse across the Gulf.
The relentless crackdown has made major new protests a virtual impossibility for the time being, analysts and Shiite residents say. But the pressure is generating new anger among protesters who had been calling for democratic reform and equal rights for Shiites. Another explosion of unrest in the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet now seems inevitable, they say.
"We cannot stop," said Ali Mohammed, a 33-year-old Shiite teacher fired from his job for participating in demonstrations at Manama's Pearl Square last month. "We might go quite for a bit to mourn the dead and treat the injured and see those in jail, but then we will rise up again."
Allegations of religiously tinged abuse of Shiites are also widening sectarian divisions, increasing the likelihood of Bahrain becoming a flashpoint for tensions between Iran and the Bahraini monarchy's main backer, Saudi Arabia.
The Sunni kings and emirs ruling the Gulf's Arab nations deeply fear that Iran is maneuvering to dominate the region and is using Shiite Arab communities as a tool to do so. Those fears have long focused on Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rule over a Shiite majority in a nation of 700,000 people.
So when Bahrain's Shiites rose up in the capital Manama, demanding political rights, an end to discrimination, an elected government and even the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors saw the hand of Iran. Sunni-led Gulf Arab nations boast that they defeated Tehran's plans with a force of 1,500 troops they sent two weeks ago as Hamad imposed emergency law.
Iran's defense minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, told state-run TV on Tuesday that the region would turn into "a center for flare-ups, hostility and clashes" if what he called "destabilizing and illegal" moves continue in Bahrain.
Major protests ended on March 16 when soldiers and riot police overran a protest camp in Manama's Pearl Square, but the kingdom is keeping a 10 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew in place in Shiite villages and parts of the capital, using it, activists say, as cover for nighttime raids.
Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, said his home in the village of Bani Jamra, northwest of Manama, was raided two weeks ago by several dozen masked men with guns who pulled him from his bed in front of his 8-year-old daughter, blindfolded him and took him to a car where he was beaten for nearly two hours.
"They threatened to rape me and one man was touching my body," said Rajab, 47. "They hit me with shoes and punched me with fists. They were insulting me, saying things like, 'You're Shiite so go back to Iran.'"
On Wednesday evening, Rajab was being interviewed in his home by a television crew in his home when dozens of men in civilian clothes and black ski masks surrounded them in front of his house, pointing rifles in his face and shouting insults.
Other inhabitants of the Shiite villages ringing the capital reported similar nightly raids by police looking for activists or suspected protesters.
Some showed an AP reporter smashed front doors and broken furniture. One displayed graffiti sprayed on the wall of a home in Bani Jamra reading: "Al Khalifa is a crown on your heads," — praising the Sunni dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for two centuries.
All military vehicles on the roads and at checkpoints have Bahraini flags. The solders and police manning them wear ski masks, but people who have interacted with them are alleging that they speak in a Saudi dialect.
The Saudi-led force must leave the Gulf island immediately, senior opposition leader Ali Salman said, because "we don't want Bahrain to turn into a conflict zone between Saudi Arabia and Iran."
The United States has urged the monarchy to respect human rights but is saying little about the allegations of ongoing repression.
Bahrain, which has long attempted to position itself as a stable regional magnate for international business, is doing its best to project an image of calm. Front-page headlines in the state-run newspapers read "Return to Normality," ''Back On Track" and even "Victory."
But the Shiite opposition-run newspaper is filled with photos of protesters' funerals, lists of missing activists and reports of daily clashes in the villages around the capital.
Five-star hotels are empty and office towers in the downtown financial district are locked. Signs on branches of international banks are "closed until further notice" and even Manama's red light district — a popular hangout for Saudi tourists — is deserted.
Not all members of the ruling elite are in denial.
"If I said we're back to normal, I'd be a liar," said Jamal Fakhro, an appointed member of Bahrain's parliament and a Sunni. "Is it calmer? The answer is definitely yes, on the security front. But it's not calm when it comes to people's feelings."
Many Shiites have lost state jobs for taking part in protests and general strikes and 40 students lost scholarships for their role in demonstrations.
Bahrain Human rights organization and opposition groups say at least 20 people have been killed in total, since protests began February 14 and hundreds of activists have been either detained or questioned since martial law went into effect in mid-March. Among those in custody are doctors who treated injured protesters in the state-run Salmaniya hospital, now under control of Bahrain's security forces.
Eyewitnesses said they saw Hani Abdul Aziz Abdullah Jumah, 32, a cleaner and a father of 2-year-old twins being chased by security personnel after clashes broke out March 19 near his home in the Shiite village of Khamis. Then they heard shots being fired, they told Human Rights Watch.
His family said he was wounded by gunfire and taken to a local health clinic in a coma before disappearing. The last time Jumah's family saw him alive was when he was loaded into an ambulance from the Bahraini Defense Force Hospital, accompanied by two masked police officers.
His body was handed over to the family from a different hospital by authorities on March 24.
"When someone leaves home he does not come back," said his father, Abdul-Aziz Abdullah Jumah. "Who is responsible for that? It is the government."

Bahraini activists arrested overnight

Bahraini opposition groups say the Manama regime has arrested 50 activists overnight, just before the massive Friday anti-government protests in the country.

The arrest took place on Thursday, a night before what Bahraini protesters have referred to as the “Day of Rage.” The protests are scheduled to take place after Friday Prayers.

The Bahraini protesters continue to demand the ouster of the 200-year-old-plus monarchy as well as constitutional reforms.

At least 25 people have been killed and about 1,000 others injured during the government-sanctioned crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators.

Joined recently by police units and troops from Saudi and the United Arab Emirates, the Bahraini government forces have launched a deadly crackdown on the popular revolution that began to sweep the Persian Gulf island on February 14.

The Saudi-backed forces have recently been sighted while destroying religious and historical monuments of the Muslim Persian Gulf state.

On Wednesday, the Human Rights Watch accused Bahraini forces of using violence against people that had already received injuries during earlier attacks.

The rights body said it had documented several cases in which the forces had "severely harassed or beaten" patients under medical care in the country's Salmaniya hospital in Manama.