Friday, April 15, 2011

Saudi-backed troops shoot Bahrainis

Bahraini forces backed by Saudi troops have opened fire on anti-government protesters in the northwestern village of Bani Jamrah, dispersing the protesters by force.

Witnesses say Bani Jamrah is now surrounded by military tanks and all entrances to the village are closed. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Bahraini security forces have also attacked a crowd of anti-government protesters in Karzakan as they were heading to the village's cemetery following the Friday Prayers.

Anti-government protest rallies were also held in Diraz village and the town of A'ali where hundreds of protesters attended the funeral procession of Allama Sayyad Alawi al-Ghureifi.

Since the beginning of anti-government protests in Bahrain in mid-February, scores of protesters have been killed and many others have gone missing. Their bodies are frequently found days after.

According to the opposition, over 800 opposition activists have been arrested.

The protesters are demanding an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

Bahraini security forces with the assistance of Saudi and UAE troops are brutally cracking down on demonstrators.

Protesters, however, say they will continue their street demonstrations until their demands for freedom, constitutional monarchy as well as a proportional voice in the government are met.

Protesters in Bahrain defy ban on rallies

Los Angeles Times
Bands of protesters in more than a dozen villages Friday defied Bahrain security forces and the government's ban on demonstrations to press for the ouster of the country's ruling family.

At least one person died, dozens were injured and some were arrested as protesters, mainly in Shiite Muslim villages, held rallies against the ruling Sunni Muslim dynasty, according to an opposition political party, human rights groups and media reports. Some protesters reportedly encountered tear gas or were shot at by security forces using birdshot.

Early Saturday, during a fierce sandstorm, groups of protesters broke the curfew and tried to reach the Pearl Square traffic circle, where they had camped for weeks before the government cracked down. But the protesters retreated when they heard that a fleet of police cars was approaching.

Since King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa invoked emergency rule 10 days ago prohibiting rallies, residents have protested almost daily in their villages. But Friday's rallies stemmed from an effort by hard-line opposition groups seeking the end of the dynasty, which members of the majority Shiite population assert has long discriminated against them, to have protesters leave villages and march on main roads to important landmarks.

The Bahraini government set up military and police cordons at the main roads into Shiite villages. By mid-morning, ski-masked soldiers in tanks and armored personnel carriers and riot police with batons, guns and tear gas had established checkpoints and taken up positions on the Budaiya highway, which threads together villages such as Sar, Bani Jamra and Duraz.

The streets were largely empty on what should have been a busy weekend shopping day. Pairs of fighter jets skimmed the highway and other Shiite areas.

But protests flared around 3 p.m., as groups of young men ranging in number from a few dozen to a few hundred gathered by mosques and cemeteries in villages and moved toward the blockades.

On the highway by Duraz, riot police surged down a street leading into town, firing tear gas. In the village, young men collected before a small Shiite mosque and walked down the main street toward the police, unarmed, some wearing scarves and white rags to shield themselves from the tear gas, whose acrid smell hung in the air.

They warned visitors that police were firing rubber bullets. With each round of tear gas, the front line ran back toward the square, an ebb and flow reportedly repeated in other villages.

In the village of Maameer, 71-year-old Isa Mohammed Ali died after inhaling tear gas, according to the opposition group Wefaq, which did not back the rallies. Ali's family said emergency calls to the island nation's main hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Center, which is surrounded by security forces, went unanswered. The Interior Ministry confirmed Ali's death, and concluded, without an autopsy, that it was due to natural causes.

In a statement, the ministry said of the rallies: "Police forces were instructed to deal appropriately with all such gatherings to maintain safety, stability and security in Bahrain."

Five to 10 people were arrested in the village of Samaheej, according to the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

Since the crackdown last week, pro-government news media have depicted the protests as the work of outside forces, a thinly veiled though still unsubstantiated reference to interference in the opposition movement by Bahrain's Shiite neighbor, Iran.

Bahrain has cut phone ties and direct flights to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. The pro-government English paper, the Gulf Daily News, quoted Bahrain's foreign minister as saying that Lebanon's Hezbollah is supporting discord and terrorism in the tiny monarchy, and that Persian Gulf countries plan to deport thousands of Lebanese Shiites for alleged ties to Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

In the villages, though, people spoke of the daily threats they live with under martial law. In Bani Jamra, a Shiite woman told of soldiers putting rifles in her face as she walked to the hospital and telling her to go back to Iran, as her frightened 9-year-old daughter cried beside her. Nearby, a group of young men built barricades of cinder block and plywood.

In Khamis, the father of 20-year-old Ibrahim Sabat said his family brought him home from a hospital despite a bullet wound because they feared he would be taken away by the police, as others have been.

Sabat's father spoke next to a low building where the body of Hani Abdulaziz Jumah was being washed before his funeral. Jumah, a street cleaner, was chased by riot police on the evening of March 19 into an adjacent construction site, where he was shot at point-blank range in the left arm and knees and was beaten so badly that bone, blood and tissue were found on the floor and walls, according to Human Rights Watch.

Neighbors found him barely alive and took him to a hospital. Security forces then took him away. His family was denied contact with him, and was notified of his death several days later.

According to the Wefaq opposition group, at least 122 Bahrainis have gone missing since the crackdown.

Gilani to visit Afghanistan Saturday

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani will pay a day-long visit to Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Saturday to meet its leadership. The Prime Minister will hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a wide range of issues including bilateral relations, Afghan situation, regional security, terrorism and extremism besides cross-border infiltration.The Prime Minister is visiting Afghanistan on the invitation of Afghan President Karzai.

Bahraini authorities must urgently reveal the whereabouts and legal status of more than 400 mostly Shi’a opposition activists detained in recent weeks, Amnesty International said today amid concerns about their safety after reports that at least three have died in custody.

Security forces detained leading human rights defender ‘Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and his two sons in law in a raid on his daughter’s home, where they were staying, last Saturday. He was assaulted before being taken away barefoot and denied access to his medication. Alkhawaja’s and his sons in law’s whereabouts remain unknown. One of Alkhawaja’s daughters has launched a hunger strike to demand her relatives’ release.

“These further arrests are evidence of the mounting toll of opposition activists who have been thrown into jail because of their involvement in the protests that have rocked Bahrain since people came onto the streets in February to demand reform,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“We are increasingly concerned for the safety of these detainees, especially after reports of two further deaths in custody last Saturday. The Bahraini authorities must immediately reveal the detainees’ whereabouts, allow them access to their lawyers and families, and protect them against torture or other abuse.”

With two new deaths last Saturday, at least three detainees have now reportedly died in custody in suspicious circumstances since the beginning of the month.
According to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry, detainee Ali Isa Saqer, 31, died in hospital on 9 April after security forces intervened to prevent him causing “chaos” in prison.

Two other detainees – Hassan Jassim Mohammed Makki, 39, and Zakaria Rashid Al-Ashiri, aged 40 – reportedly died in custody on 3 and 9 April respectively. The authorities have attributed both deaths to sickle-cell anaemia, an inherited blood disease.

“The Bahraini authorities must ensure that these three deaths are independently investigated, promptly, fully and thoroughly,” said Malcolm Smart.

“It is alarming when so many deaths occur in so short a period when the great majority of detainees are being held in secret locations and there is no known independent access to them.”

“These are conditions ripe for torture and other serious abuses.”

From mid-February until mid-March 2011, Bahrain was gripped by popular protests inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt.

Protesters, mostly members of the majority Shi’a Muslim community, complain that they are discriminated against and marginalized by the ruling Sunni Muslim minority.

Some of the protesters have called for a new constitution, an elected government and greater freedoms and opportunities. Others, including many of those now detained, advocate replacing the monarchy with a republic.

Bahraini security forces used overwhelming force to quell the mid-February protests, killing seven protesters and injuring hundreds.
After a brief lull, and after protesters began to stage marches and sit ins outside the Pearl Roundabout, including in the Financial Harbour, in Manama security forces launched a brutal crackdown in mid-March resulting in clashes that led to further deaths and injuries.

Shortly before the renewed crackdown, the King declared a state of emergency and Saudi Arabia sent a thousand troops into Bahrain to buttress the government.

On Monday, the Minister of Interior reportedly announced that 86 of those arrested in relation to the protests had been released after legal procedures were taken against them.

Bahrain: Is a U.S. Ally Using Torture to Put Down Dissent?

On March 17, Ibrahim Shareef, the head of the anti-government activist movement Waad, was snatched from his home at gunpoint by what his family describes as Bahraini security forces. Thrown into a waiting sport utility vehicle, he was driven off into the night. Today he's still missing, whereabouts unknown.

As the island kingdom's Sunni regime continues to crack down on anti-government activists and prominent Shi'ites, Shareef and more than 460 others are believed to be in government custody. New arrests happen daily in the country, which is home base of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. Bahrain was designated an official Non-NATO ally in October 2001, after the 9/11 attacks on America.
While there have been wild rumors of the whereabouts of the arrested dissidents, the likely truth is dire enough. Nearly all may be held in prisons around Bahrain, with an unknown number undergoing questioning and torture. On Wednesday, opposition party al-Wefaq claimed that at least four detainees had been killed since April 2, from injuries sustained from police-inflicted torture. Human Rights Watch says another three died in March, including one man who arrived in custody with knees blown out by ammunition fired at close range.
Meanwhile, press scrutiny of the regime of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has been severely hampered. Foreign media are largely shut out of the country; and Mansur al-Jamri, the editor of Wefaq's newspaper al Wasat, sits in custody alongside other journalists and bloggers. "There are concerns that heightened restrictions on international press and the levels of intimidation among much of the Shi'a community will prevent important information from getting out," says Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at Chatham House. "Many people are scared that talking to the international media or human rights groups will endanger them or their families."

The result has been catastrophic for the opposition. Based on accounts from Bahrainis who were taken into custody in the revolution's earlier days, the treatment of prisoners can be brutal. The corpses of recent alleged victims may be evidence of torture as well. According to Human Rights Watch, the body of a 31-year-old Shi'ite activist named Ali Issa Saqer bore "signs of horrific abuse." The organization says the other bodies displayed signs that they too had met a "violent end." (See pictures of government troops routing protesters from Pearl Square.)
Bahrain's Interior Ministry says that Saqer died in a jailhouse rumble that got out of hand; it claims two others died while in custody from complications from sickle-cell anemia. But while the disease is common in Bahrain, neither victim had shown symptoms of carrying it pre-arrest. "I very much fear there will be more death because there is no transparency in all this," says Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. "We're not seeing where they're being held, or their names, and it's these kinds of conditions that make for torture and brutality and death."
It doesn't take much to get arrested in Bahrain these days, as the country operates under a reign of terror. People can be taken into custody for any number of reasons: speaking out against the King or vague association with activist groups (offenses can include carrying a Bahraini flag, deemed a symbol of the anti-government movement). They are routinely hauled out of their cars at police checkpoints after being identified as Shi'a. Once jailed, they reportedly face interrogators bent on getting them to incriminate themselves, even for nonviolent political association. The regime is taking extreme measures to extinguish any flicker of rebellion. "The hard line faction of the ruling family is [eliminating] any and all forms of political dissent," says Stork. "There are still raids into villages every night. It's punishment, creating a state of fear, so that no one will stick out their head and raise their voice."
In Manama, those who have been arrested at gunpoint and let go tell of being bound by their hands and feet with cables tied so tight blood circulation is cut off; they described being gagged and blindfolded for days. According to HRW, the regime has, in the past, used electro-shock devices. These include cattle prods and stun guns, which immobilize victims' bodies and leave visible marks.
Once the torture ends, jailhouse conditions are still brutal. One leading activist spent six months in prison, in a cell he described as being "not much wider" than a bath towel. He was allowed so little contact with the outside world that towards the end of his imprisonment, the family was unsure if he was still alive. Briefly released, he was re-arrested last month, now one of the 460 missing.

Before Laughing at Chinese 'Time Travel' Ban, Look at U.S. Censorship

CNN reported Thursday that China has banned "time travel." According to China's State Administration of Radio, Film & Television, officials are referring to TV shows and movies with characters who travel back in time and change history - although I'm sure actual time traveling is banned too.
Movies like "Terminator" and "Back to the Future" are seen as clouding the minds of Chinese youth. The idea of changing history by time travel also goes against the country's cultural beliefs. I'm pretty sure this goes against most Western beliefs too. Certainly the Christian religion doesn't condone the idea of going back in time to change events in the Bible. However, most of us have a keen sense of humor and recognize the notion of time travel as fantasy and entertainment.
Yet I wonder if the right-wing radicals would jump on this band wagon if given the chance. Could we see protests against time travel right here in the United States? It sounds as far-fetched as time travel itself, but I've seen stranger protests materialize.
Just a year ago, Americans protested against quality health care. That probably seems as strange to the Chinese as their time-travel ban seems to us. We also passed the Patriot Act, stripping away our basic rights in the name of security. If Homeland Security deemed time travel movies to be a threat to U.S. security, would we ban them too?

According to, films such as "Scarface" and "Frankenstein" were banned in certain U.S. states during their initial release.

In 1997 "The Tin Drum" was banned in Oklahoma City. Several sponsors pulled out of William Shatner's new comedy TV series because of it's title: "S#*! My Dad Says." We aren't without our own quirks of censorship and odd government rulings. Before we laugh at the Chinese for this latest round of nonsensical censorship, let's try to keep things open in our own country.
Don't throw stones at glass houses or TV sets. Until we repeal the Patriot Act, we probably don't have room to laugh at the Chinese ban on anything. Let's give a better example to our friends around the world. No censorship or revoking any "rights" ever proves to be effective. Sometimes we don't get it right either.

Prime Minister Putin hits the ice

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir has learned how to ice skate as he had promised.

On Friday night he went to the skating rink at Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium. At the time the All-Russia competitions for young hockey players, called the "Golden Puck" was taking place.

The Prime Minister was wearing a red and blue uniform with the number 11 on it when he took to the ice.

He shook hands with every hockey player and wished them all luck in reaching the finals.

In February of this year, during a videoconference with members of the Russian hockey team that won the Universiade in Istanbul, Prime Minister Putin vowed to learn to skate.

He started training two months ago and has kept his promise to the sporting world.

Obama deserves second term

President Barack Obama said Friday on campaign trail he can make the case for a second term, and voters will come to see him as the candidate best prepared to serve as president by next year's elections, according to an interview he gave to the U.S. media.

In an exclusive interview he gave the Associated Press, Obama acknowledged that the state of the economy could be his biggest hurdle to clear in winning reelection.

"I think the economy's going to continue to improve, and I think I'm going to be able to make an effective case that... I am the person who is best prepared to finish the job so that we are on track to succeed in the 21st century," Obama said in the video interview conducted in Chicago, where he attended fund-raising events the previous night.

"I think I can make that case, and I think that, in the debates that take place over the next 18 months, the American people will feel that I deserve a second term," he said.

Chicago is Obama's home, and the president's reelection campaign headquarters is also located there. He made the reelection announcement on April 4. According to a Gallup poll released on Friday, Obama's approval rating stood at 41 percent, an all time low. Gallup said the figure was fueled by economic dissatisfaction.

Protesters Removed From BP AGM

Bahrain regime accused of harassing UK-based students

The government of Bahrain is putting intense pressure on the families of students in Britain who were photographed attending a peaceful protest in Manchester in solidarity with the country's pro-democracy movement.

The gulf kingdom has stripped government-funded scholarships from those who attended the event outside the BBC building last month, the students say, and told parents to order their children home.

Students involved have told the Guardian they have "strong and well-founded" fears that they and their families could suffer beatings and torture as a result of the Bahrain government's crackdown on the protest 3,000 miles away and that they are likely to be arrested on their return.

"My mother was crying when she called me," said Rashad, whose attendance at the protest was his first such political action. "She said they are going to arrest you and that scared me. I told her I didn't do anything wrong but she said she was worried about my safety. They said I should come back to Bahrain, but we can't go back home. We will be arrested and disappeared. It has happened to others and I fear we are going to be tortured. We want the British government to protect us."

The students, who used pseudonyms to protect their families, said at least nine people studying in Manchester, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Reading and London had seen their £850 a month subsistence grants removed and had been told their tuition payments would be axed. Some said they had been made homeless as a result of the cuts and were considering requesting asylum in the UK when their student visas expire.

Sulieman, another student who said his scholarship had been revoked, said the ministry of education in Bahrain called his father to order him home a couple of days after the protest, in a pattern repeated for many of the protesters. "My father asked how they knew I was there and they said they had video footage and pictures," he said. "They told him I must come back, but I am not going back."

The students believe some of the images were taken by Bahraini or Saudi "spies" alerted to the event on Facebook. The demonstration was disrupted by interventions from supporters of the regime and some people whom protesters identified as being from Saudi Arabia.

Some of the families have also received visits from the Bahraini authorities, according to Amin Elwassila, an Arab activist in Manchester who is supporting the group.

"It seems very strange that every time something happens here in Britain there is a repercussion there," he said. "Some of them started receiving phone calls from their families telling them that the Bahrain government had contacted them telling them they will be removing their scholarships and that on their return to Bahrain the students will be questioned by the authorities. They were all very frightened. Some of the families were receiving regular visits. Not all families of Bahraini students were contacted, just those who had been on the demonstration."

The Bahraini embassy in London declined to comment on the claims of government's sanctions against students and forwarded inquiries about the withdrawal of scholarships to the cultural attache, who did not return calls.

On Friday night a further solidarity protest was scheduled at the same location, but all of the Bahraini students the Guardian spoke to said they were too afraid to go.

The sanctions against the students come amid increasing international concern at Bahrain's treatment of dissenters. The British government has raised with Bahrain's interior minister the deaths of four dissidents in the last week, three of whom were in police custody.

Next Thursday, Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, will travel to Bahrain after calling for the immediate release of all those detained for expressing themselves.

Zainab al-Khawaja, a 27-year-old mother, will on Saturday enter the sixth day of a hunger strike in protest at the arrest and beating of her father, the human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and her husband and brother-in-law. Her US-based sister, Maryam al-Khawaja, said she was now very weak and dizzy and her family want her to go to hospital. She is resisting partly because the hospitals are said to be in the control of Bahrain's military.

Kandahar - the polio capital

Eliminated in the relatively secure northern and central provinces, polio persists in the insecure southern and eastern provinces, according to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

The southern province of Kandahar is the worst affected: Of the 25 polio cases confirmed in Afghanistan in 2010, 11 were in Kandahar. In 2009, 38 cases were reported - 21 in Kandahar; and in 2008, 31 cases, with 12 in Kandahar, according to WHO.

In the past three years polio cases have been reported in fewer than 12 of the country’s 34 provinces - and there has been only one confirmed polio case reported in Afghanistan so far this year - a two-year-old boy, now permanently disabled - in Damaan District, Kandahar Province.

Canada, which has stationed over 2,000 soldiers in the province since 2006 and is committed to major humanitarian and development projects there, had vowed it would support aid agencies in eradicating polio in Kandahar by the end of 2009.

“It’s mostly due to a lack of access to children that we have been unable to curb polio in Kandahar,” Abdul Qayum Pokhla, provincial director of public health, told IRIN, adding that rampant insecurity had denied immunizers access to tens of thousands of children.

“There are also gaps in the polio programme as we’re unable to supervise its actual delivery to the populace and monitor the programme’s effectiveness,” he said.

In 2009, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross, a major breakthrough was achieved when Taliban leaders issued “support letters” for the polio campaigns.

“The Taliban may not attack us but too often we cannot corroborate the lists the immunizers give us,” said Pokhla, adding that lack of awareness among rural communities about polio immunization was also a key challenge.

Conflict-related internal displacements and cross-border movements to and from neighbouring Pakistan (where polio is endemic) have also been cited as causes of the spread of polio. Most of the returning Afghan refugees from Pakistan have come through the eastern province of Nangarhar, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Access denied in Zabul

In Zabul Province, next door to Kandahar, local Taliban insurgents allegedly opposed the March 2011 anti-polio drive, meaning that tens of thousands of under-five children missed out on immunization.

Arshad Quddus, a WHO polio officer in Kabul, said WHO was aware of the situation in Zabul and was working with local health workers to explore a “window of opportunity” and implement a localized anti-polio campaign in the near future.

“WHO is extremely concerned about almost 70,000 children in Zabul who must be immunized against polio,” said Arshad, adding that the disease was persistent in the province.

MoPH officials said about 7.8 million children are due to be immunized this year but the coverage ratio hitherto in Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand provinces was under 50 percent.

“In every immunization round we miss a small percentage of children and that’s why polio has remained endemic in Afghanistan,” said MoPH spokesman Kargar Nooroghli.

Russia Warns NATO Over the Size of Libya Attacks

As NATO leaders sought additional aircraft Friday to oppose the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, Russia warned the alliance not to use too much military force there.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said it was crucial not to use “excessive military force which will lead to further additional casualties among civilians.”

“We believe it is important to urgently transfer things into the political course and proceed with a political and diplomatic settlement,” he said at a news conference at the end of a two-day meeting here of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s foreign ministers.

Russia has strongly opposed the NATO mission in Libya from the start, getting support from Brazil, China and India.

On Friday, Mr. Lavrov suggested that NATO’s actions had exceeded the U.N. Security Council’s resolution, which calls for a no-flight zone and protection of the civilian population. He said that at one point some counties had wanted to send ground forces into Libya, in breach of the mandate, though he then conceded that that did not happen.

NATO officials dismissed Mr. Lavrov’s criticism. “We are strictly adhering to the U.N mandate,” said NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Mr. Rasmussen was still trying Friday to obtain more aircraft from alliance members. He said he had indications that allies would provide extra strike aircraft for the operation.

“I’m hopeful that we will get the necessary assets in the very near future,” Mr. Rasmussen said at the news conference after the meeting. He declined to name any countries.

Britain and France had asked its NATO allies to provide more strike aircraft so that the coalition could hit targets in Libya with more precision. But it was clear Friday that several big alliance members, including Italy, Spain and Poland, were not willing to provide strike aircraft.

Despite the differences between Russia and NATO over Libya, both sides had lengthy discussions Friday at the NATO-Russia council, which is supposed to foster closer cooperation and trust between both sides.

At the meeting, NATO discussed the controversial issue of U.S. plans to deploys parts of a missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for cooperation between NATO and Russia on the issue, saying such that would protect Europe and Russia against threats.

“From the NATO side, our position is very clear: We are thinking about two separate systems, a NATO system and a Russian system, but with a common objective,” Mrs. Clinton told the foreign ministers Friday. “So these two systems should coordinate and cooperate closely, exchange data and thereby make the overall architecture effective.”

She said the two missile defense centers — one for data sharing and one for advance planning and coordinating operations — could serve as linchpins for a cooperative approach to European missile defense. “They could offer a higher level of protection for NATO and Russia than if we acted separately.”

“We want to work together to set up mechanisms that will ensure long-term cooperation on missile defense between NATO and Russia,” she said. “We are optimistic that the NATO-Russia council can agree on a way forward based on the principle of equal partnership.”

Mrs. Clinton also raised the prospect of new negotiations to strengthen conventional arms control in Europe. But Mrs. Clinton insisted that “to get there, Russia must be willing to talk to its neighbors about its equipment and forces in disputed territories.”

Mrs. Clinton was referring to the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria, which is attempting to break away from Moldova, as well as the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that are supported by Russia.

On a more harmonious note, Russia and NATO agreed that Moscow would supply helicopters to Afghanistan and help assist the transit of military equipment and logistical supplies into the country.

At the end of the summit meeting, Mrs. Clinton gave an optimistic assessment, saying the alliance was united in its goal.

And in a move aimed at starting a major debate on nuclear weapons, Mrs. Clinton said NATO would begin what she called a NATO posture review process “to determine what mix of conventional, nuclear and missile defense forces NATO will need going forward.”

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

Saudi Shias rally for second day, call for rights

Hundreds of Saudi Shia protested in the oil-producing east for a second day on Friday, calling for the release of prisoners held without trial and political and religious rights, activists said.

The protesters took to the streets in the Shia Muslim centre of Qatif in Eastern Province and in the nearby village of Awwamiya. They carried banners showing solidarity with the Shia of neighbouring Bahrain who have been targeted by police after the government cracked down on a protest movement.

The rally was a continuation of protests held in Qatif and Awwamiya a day earlier calling for release of detainees, an end of arbitrary arrests, and political and religious freedoms including an end to official ban on protests.

“The rally was in a main street in Qatif… They were showing solidarity with the Bahraini people and also calling for the release of some prisoners held for over 16 years without a trial,” one activist told Reuters by telephone.

He said the two-hour rally had around 400-500 protesters who did not clash with police forces stationed around the area.

Another activist, in the village of Awwamiya, said he took part in a rally that also had around 400-500 protestors and also avoided conflict with police.

“They were calling for human rights and showing solidarity with the Bahraini people as well as calling for reforms in Saudi Arabia and the release of prisoners,” he said. “The security forces were very close but there were no clashes.”

A police spokesperson in Eastern Province did not answer requests for comment.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and major US ally, is an absolute Sunni Muslim monarchy that tolerates no form of dissent. It has not seen the kind of mass uprisings that
have rocked other autocratic Arab elites in the last few months.

Shias in Eastern Province have long complained of discrimination, a charge denied by the government.

They have held some protests over the past few weeks resulting in police detentions of some demonstraters, but almost no Saudis answered a Facebook call for protests in Sunni cities in the kingdom on March 11, amid a high security presence.

On Wednesday activists in Eastern Province said the Saudi authorities released 13 Shia prisoners who were detained after taking part in demonstrations last month. Many others are still in custody, they said.

UNHCR, Unicef to jointly mainstream Afghan refugees

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) signed an agreement for enhanced collaboration to support mainstreaming services for Afghans in the joint programmes under One UN.

This new initiative between the two UN agencies is in line with the Government of Pakistan’s Management and Repatriation Strategy for Afghans in Pakistan for the years 2010-2012.

During the last 30 years, UNHCR has been supporting primary education services in the schools located in the refugee villages in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Punjab provinces. On the other hand, Unicef has been supporting the government in its efforts for equitable access to basic education for all children through capacity building, service delivery and advocacy.

The collaboration between UNHCR-Unicef as stipulated in this partnership indicates that the latter will collaborate for the inclusion of assistance for Afghans in the areas of Water Sanitation and Hygiene, Education, Maternal and Child Health, Nutrition and Child Protection and Education in the agency’s relevant programs.

Presently, UNHCR is providing free elementary education to more than 74,000 Afghans through 176 schools in 81 camps. In addition to the provision of free education, the agency also facilitates the repair and maintenance of schools, provide teacher’s salaries and school supplies to students. Under the signed initiative, Unicef will include Afghan children and women in the agency’s programmes to achieve sustainable solutions and ensure their rights to access social services during their stay in the country.

Currently, 60 per cent of the total Afghans reside in urban areas in Pakistan access public education services. The strengthened partnership between the two agencies will enhance advocacy and inclusion of Afghan children in the government’s education policies and programs.

UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan, Timo Pakkala witnessed the signing ceremony. Country Representative Pakistan, Mengesha Kebede, said, “The UNHCR is entering into new cooperation with a sister UN agencies to strengthen partnership in finding durable solutions for the protracted Afghan refugee situation in Pakistan.”

He noted that the collaboration will contribute to building social equity, human development and promote social cohesion in the host Pakistani communities.

Unicef’s representative, Don Rohrmann stated that the agency’s programmes aim for inclusion and equity and thus Afghan children’s rights are included in its education programme across the country.

Afghanistan’s endgame

By:David Miliband
The Frontier Post
The epochal events in the Middle East this year have redefined foreign policy. There are new priorities and challenges that need intensive Western engagement. But it is imperative that the war in Afghanistan does not become the “forgotten war,” as happened with such dangerous consequences after 2002. There are signs of a significant turn in policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in February of a “political surge.” NATO’s senior civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, said last month “the time is now right to take the risk and pursue the political agenda with the same energy we have brought to the military and civilian surges.” These deviations from the otherwise relentless focus on military operations, allied and Afghan, need to be taken to a whole new level of urgency, coherence and effort. The 2014 end date set by NATO will prove illusory unless there is an endgame. And that endgame must be negotiations, involving Western powers led by the United States, with all factions in the Afghan struggle and their backers in the region. The issue is not simply that the political arm of the Defence-Development-Diplomacy triad has been missing in action. A political settlement is not one part of a multipronged strategy in a counterinsurgency; it is the overarching framework within which everything else fits and in the service of which everything else operates. UN Mediator First and most important, the United Nations Security Council needs to appoint and empower a UN mediator to facilitate talks, with a clear mandate setting out principles of the endgame and an open invitation to all to participate. The mediator should come from the Muslim world. His job would be to canvass the views of all parties and create the confidence for and commitment to a process for serious talks about the future of Afghanistan. He should for a start develop the idea of a safe place in a third country - an Arabian Gulf State, Turkey or Japan - for all the sides to talk. We need steps by which each side can prove its bona fides. The Taleban want an end to night raids, safe passage to and from talks, prisoner releases. We need to propose localised cease-fires, security for development projects on the model of the polio vaccination campaigns that the Taleban have supported in the past, a Taleban declaration of disassociation from Al Qaeda. Third, there needs to be clarity of civilian command of the international presence in Afghanistan, to match the clarity of military command. As the US appoints a new ambassador this year, this appointment needs the personality, instruction and length of mandate to convene and cohere the disparate strands of civilian effort between now and 2014. The job description would include being President Hamid Karzai’s principal interlocutor, working closely with him on the endgame strategy, liaising strongly with the Commander of the ISAF to ensure that military strategy comes behind it, and creating a framework within which the political strength of the UN, and the development strengths of contributing nations, can bear full fruit. Fourth, Pakistan needs a long-term relationship with the United States and the European Union based on responsibility and respect. Fifth, there needs to be a process to get all the neighbours talking in a serious and structured way. The new UN envoy should be responsible for regional engagement as well as internal talks. In the first instance these should be bilateral. The medium-term goal should be a Council of Regional Stability that oversees a compact between the neighbors and Afghanistan. Ethnic strife Our leverage will decline, not improve, as 2014 approaches. The insurgency can spread, outstripping the ability of international and Afghan forces to check its growth. The warlords can strengthen their grip. Inter-ethnic strife can come to look more and more like civil war. Two international conferences - in Kabul in the summer and Bonn in December - currently have scant agenda or preparation. The agreement on a new political approach would make them historic occasions. The theory and practice of counter-insurgency leads everyone to incant the cliche that there is no military solution; but it is a cliche because it is true, so it is time that we stopped behaving as if there were a military solution and developed a political one. For that politicians need to give a lead. That is the way forward in Afghanistan - working to mend it not just rushing to end it. David Miliband is a member of the British Parliament and former foreign secretary (2007-2010)

Frontier Women College celebrates first reunion

The sixty-one year old Frontier College for Women (Frontierians) held its first reunion in 61 years in a very colourful ceremony with thousands of graduates of all ages showing up and expressing their joy at the unique event. Everybody praised the principal Mrs. Naiuzat Liaqat, who initiated and spearheaded the efforts to hold the re-union of the most ancient female college of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Few could match the joy and the length of association of Mrs Musarrat who had been one of the first students of the college, then served as teacher and retired as principal of this college; she could rightly say that the college was her whole life. In her soft spoken way she recalled that the idea of a college for women was discussed way back in the April 1948 with Quaid-e-Azam. After approval of the project, the college was established in the April of 1949. She said that Quaid-e-Azam had said that if his sister had been of college going age, she would have been the first student of this college. The words of the great Quaid showed his pleasure at the establishment of the college as well as its importance for the region. She disclosed that the total cost of the college including the building came to a hundred and five thousand rupees.. While some of the prominent personality, she said the world top Cardiologist, now in US Mrs. Sohala Ali, International Courts of Justices, Khalida Rashad, Arshad Qaiser, Judge of the NAB Court Joint Director Intelligence Bureau Fareeda Bano, known Mrs Ali Begum who had distinction in CSS and above all the golden lady Mrs. Sardar Haider Jaffar, who was the leading woman in Tehrik-e-Pakistan and the one who hoisted the Pakistan's flag along with Mrs Nazir Telah Mohammad on the Civil Secretariat Building in 1947 were some of the prominent graduated from this college. After her speech many old and ancient students of the college were reduced to sobs as they remembered the carefree days of their youth. To turn the sobbing atmosphere into an otherwise Somaila Saleem of the Computer Department was asked by the stage secretary Yusra to show the old building, it corridors, even flowers of that time through a slide show on projector, followed by a Pashto song by Mrs. Shaheen (Bibi Shereene Zarre Gule) lady like yellow flower which enthralled the sitting spectators. Head of the Organizing Committee Dure Shawar Zaman, Assistant Professor Law Department thanked members of the committee including Mrs. Nisahat, of History Department, Roshan, Assistant Professor of Urdu, Azra Khurshid, Assistant Professor of Zoology, Assistant Professor Shahida Gillani of Home Economic, who excellent decorated the stage, Mrs Taleem Shahid, Mrs. Naheed Haider. Earlier, the ceremony was started with recitation from Holy Quran Syeda Shehnaz, followed by Sadaf Saeed with a melodious Naat. Saba Javed presented a poem for the old fellow with the theme "Wo Range Suba Kabi Na Pole" and national song by Sadaf with her melodious voice that really turned the whole complexion into joyful moments for the Frontierians.