Monday, September 19, 2011

Yemen violence

Yemeni security forces have killed at least 26 people and wounded more than 100 on a second day of violence across the country.

Gunmen loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh were continuing to fire upon anti-government demonstrators in Sanaa, with hospital sources saying the total death toll since Monday was now more than 50.

Government troops and snipers in nearby buildings opened fire on Monday at peaceful demonstrators and passers-by in the capital's Change Square, where they have camped since February demanding regime change, witnesses said.

Protesters were sprayed by water cannons and tear gas, and also baton charged, before the security forces opened fire with machine guns, they said.

Additional deaths were reported in the southwestern city of Taiz, where two people were killed and 10 were injured by gunfire from Saleh loyalists, Al Jazeera journalists stationed in Yemen said.

Despite the casualties, mass demonstrations continued on Monday in towns near Taiz - in Ibb, Dhamar and Shabwa - and in the northwestern province of Saada.

Abdu al-Janadi, Yemen's deputy information minister, rejected accusations that the government had planned attacks on the protesters, and accused what he described as "unknown assailants" of carrying out the acts.

"This attack was prepared so as to kill as many people as they could ... This is a plot against all the Yemeni people," al-Janadi told a British broadcaster.

Power transfer

Monday's clashes come a day after security forces opened fire at tens of thousands of civilian protesters marching for an end to Saleh's 33-year rule, killing 26 people.

The violence ended a weeks-long stand-off between the two sides, becoming Yemen's worst incident of bloodshed since a similar massacre killed 52 people in mid-March.The renewed crackdown on protesters came amid reports that Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, Yemen's vice-president, would sign a Gulf Arab initiative to arrange for a transfer of power in Yemen "within a week".
"Within a week, the vice-president will sign the Gulf Initiative in the name of the president," a high-ranking Saudi official, who requested anonymity, told reporters.

Last week, Saleh authorised Hadi to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition.

The initiative was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council and sets the path for a peaceful transition of power from Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978.

According to the Saudi official, "among the guarantees demanded by Saleh are that his son be kept in the next government".

Saleh left the country three months ago for Saudi Arabia where he has been recovering from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound.

The president has since January faced protests over nepotism and corruption from reform activists inspired by the Arab Spring.


The US, the European Union and other member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the violent unrest in Yemen during a meeting in Geneva on Monday.

The US was concerned at "increasingly disturbing reports about violence'' and urged the Yemeni government to rein in the security forces, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, US envoy to the council, said.

"The United States believes that now is the time for an immediate, peaceful and orderly transition," Donahoe said, adding that those responsible for abuses against civilians needed to be brought to justice as part of the reform process in the Arab nation.

Abubakr al-Qirbi, the Yemeni foreign minister, rejected claims of excessive force by the police and pro-government armed groups, by pledging his government's commitment to political reforms and accusing some opposition groups of terrorist activity.

"We have presented evidence proving that many accusation made against security organisations are baseless," al-Qirbi told the meeting.

He expressed "sorrow and condemnation" for Sunday's violence and bloodshed in Sanaa, but rejected calls for an independent international investigation into the crackdown, saying they were "inconsistent with the recommendations calling for dialogue between Yemeni political parties to solve the crisis".

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Obama to propose $1.5 trillion in new tax revenue

President Barack Obama will propose $1.5 trillion in new taxes as part of a plan to identify more than $3 trillion in long-term deficit reduction and slow the nation's escalating national debt.
Obama's tax plan is aimed predominantly at the wealthy and draws sharp contrasts with congressional Republicans.
It comes just days after House Speaker John Boehner ruled out tax increases to lower deficits. It also comes amid a clamor in his own Democratic Party for Obama to take a tougher stance against Republicans. And while the plan stands little chance of passing Congress, its populist pitch is one that the White House believes the public can support.
The core of the president's plan totals just more than $2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. It combines the new taxes with $580 billion in cuts to mandatory benefit programs, including $248 billion from Medicare.
The administration also counts savings of $1 trillion over 10 years from the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The deficit reduction plan represents an economic bookend to the $447 billion in tax cuts and new public works spending that Obama has proposed as a short-term measure to stimulate the economy and create jobs. He's submitting his deficit fighting plan to a special joint committee of Congress that is charged with recommending deficit reductions of up to $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
In a defiant note, administration officials made clear Sunday that Obama would veto any Medicare benefit cuts that aren't paired with tax increases on upper-income people.
Officials cast Obama's plan as his vision for deficit reduction, and distinguished it from the negotiations he had with Boehner in July as Obama sought to avoid a government default.
As a result, it includes no changes in Social Security and no increase in the Medicare eligibility age, which the president had been willing to accept this summer.
Moreover, the new tax revenue Obama is seeking is nearly double the $800 billion that Boehner had been willing to consider in July. Republicans were already lining up against the president's tax proposal before they even knew the magnitude of what he intended to recommend.
"Class warfare may make for really good politics but it makes for rotten economics," GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman, said Sunday in reaction to one Obama tax proposal to impose a minimum tax rate on wealthy filers.
Former President Bill Clinton on Monday dismissed GOP claims that the tax on the wealthy would discourage jobs creation and hamper economic growth.
"Republicans in Washington always say the same thing," Clinton said on NBC's "Today" show. He called their argument an insult to wealthy Americans, including many who don't mind paying more.
Key features of Obama's plan, as described by senior administration officials Sunday evening:
—$1.5 trillion in new revenue, which would include about $800 billion realized over 10 years from repealing the Bush-era tax rates for couples making more than $250,000. It also would place limits on deductions for wealthy filers and end certain corporate loopholes and subsidies for oil and gas companies.
—$580 billion in cuts in mandatory benefit programs, including $248 billion in Medicare and $72 billion in Medicaid and other health programs. Other mandatory benefit programs include farm subsidies.
—$430 billion in savings from lower interest payment on the national debt.
By adding about $1 trillion in spending cuts already enacted by Congress and counting about $1 trillion in savings from the drawdown of military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, the combined deficit reduction would total more than $4 trillion over 10 years, senior administration officials said.
Republicans have ridiculed the war savings as gimmicky, but House Republicans included them in their budget proposal this year and Boehner had agreed to count them as savings during debt ceiling negotiations with the president this summer.
Obama backed away from proposing sweeping changes to Medicare, following the advice of fellow Democrats that it would only give political cover to a privatization plan supported by House Republicans that turned to be unpopular with older Americans.
Administration officials said 90 percent of the $248 billion in 10-year Medicare cuts would be squeezed from service providers. The plan does shift some additional costs to beneficiaries, but those changes would not start until 2017.
Illustrating Obama's populist pitch on tax revenue, one proposal would set a minimum tax on taxpayers making $1 million or more in income. The measure — Obama is going to call it the "Buffett Rule" for billionaire investor Warren Buffett — is designed to prevent millionaires from taking advantage of lower tax rates on investment earnings than what middle-income taxpayers pay on their wages.
At issue is the difference between a taxpayer's tax bracket and the effective tax rate that taxpayer pays. Millionaires face a 35 percent tax bracket, while middle income filers fall in the 15 or 25 percent bracket. But investment income is taxed at 15 percent and Buffett has complained that he and other wealthy people have been "coddled long enough" and shouldn't be paying a smaller share of their income in federal taxes than middle-class taxpayers.

ANP rally for ban on terrorist parties

The Awami National Party held a protest demonstration here in front Lahore Press Club on Sunday against the lawlessness in Karachi and demanded banning of political parties involved in terrorism.
The demonstration was organized by ANP’s City chapter and led by its local president Qurban Khan Kakar, while central General Secretary Ehsan Wayne and provincial leader Arif Azhar participated in it.
The protestors were carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans in favour of their demands and chanted slogans against the political forces alleged to be involved in Karachi’s target killing. ANP leaders also demanded that for the restoration of ‘Commissionary System’ in Sindh.
The leaders of the ANP while addressing the participants claimed that MQM chief, Altaf Hussain media conference from London was a poor bid to pressure the judiciary against the backdrop of Supreme Court’s suo moto notice of the Karachi’s situation. They also claimed that MQM has trained militants at her disposal, as Altaf Hussain offered his support to the army in terms of manpower.

Report argues that Afghan night raids make more enemies than they catch
Increased nighttime military raids by international military forces in Afghanistan have created a resentment that has undercut any battlefield gains from the tactic, according to a report released Monday by a U.S. think tank.

The New York-based Open Society Foundations, founded by liberal billionaire George Soros, said in its report that NATO and U.S. troops have made important improvements in the way they conduct night raids following complaints from the Afghan government that its citizens were being treated unfairly or rudely. Civilian casualties are down, and the operations are better targeted.However, the report says even nighttime raids conducted with the best practices breed discontentment and mistrust among both ordinary Afghans — who feel less secure knowing that men in uniform might burst into their homes at any time. The Afghan government has repeatedly called for a reduction in nighttime operations over which it has little control and said such raids undermine efforts to reconcile with those who open to leaving the insurgency, according to the report.

The findings are potentially troubling for an international mission that is likely to depend even more on quick-strike operations like night raids as the U.S. and other troop-contributing nations draw down forces over the next few years.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly denouced nighttime raids in speeches and interviews, saying that the operations — in which a small group of soldiers push into a compound and search the premises and the residents — treat too many civilians as if they are insurgents and violate citizens’ privacy in an intensely closed society. Troops on night raids are also regularly accused of mistreating women or defiling copies of the Quran. Though the allegations often turn out to be specious, they still damage the reputation of NATO troops.International troops conducted an average of 19 raids a night between December 2010 and February 2011, according to NATO figures cited in the report. More up-to-date figures were not available but the researchers interviewed a NATO official in April who said that as many as 40 raids might take place on any given night in Afghanistan. That represents a sharp increase over the past two years, the report says.

“The escalation in raids has taken the battlefield more directly into Afghan homes, sparking tremendous backlash among the Afghan population,” the report argues, adding, “Complaints over night raids have marred Afghan relations with international partners, particularly the United States, and have complicated long-term strategic partnership discussions.”

A spokesman for NATO forces in Kabul said that night operations are always conducted along with Afghan forces and approved by Afghan officials. He said that the tactic continues to be one of the most effective ways to combat the Taliban insurgency.

“Night operations are an effective method of maintaining the pressure on the enemy while minimizing risk to innocent civilians,” Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said. “Eighty-five percent of night operations are conducted without a shot being fired and account for less than 1 percent of civilian casualties.”

Cummings said, however, that NATO forces are reviewing the report and is open to implementing any recommendations that will improve their operations in Afghanistan. He did not say if NATO was willing to sharply reduce raids.

The author of the report, Erica Gaston, said the increase in raids has come alongside an increase in insurgent attacks, meaning that Afghan citizens are not feeling any of security benefits from the operations.

“Afghan civilians are bearing the brunt of the surge in raids, without seeing security improvements,” Gaston said in a statement.

Eight killed as Pakistan anti-terror cop targeted

A car-borne Taliban suicide bomber flattened the house of a senior counter-terrorism police officer in Pakistan's financial capital Karachi on Monday, killing eight people including six policemen.
Senior Superintendent Aslam Khan, who was unhurt in the attack but whose home was destroyed, told AFP he had been threatened by the Pakistani Taliban -- which is allied to Al-Qaeda -- and that he was the target.
"It was a car bomb attack on my house," he said. "I was receiving threats from Tehreek-e-Taliban. Taliban are involved in this attack."
Khan heads the counter-terrorism unit of the Police Crime Investigation Department in Karachi, investigating Islamist militant cells in the city.
Several neighbouring houses were also wrecked in the attack, private Pakistan TV channels showed, with four cars being badly damaged and a two-metre (six feet) deep crater left in front of Khan's home.
An AFP reporter at scene saw rubble, mud and pieces of glass scattered over a large area in the upscale residential neighbourhood.
"Eight people including six policemen have been killed and several others were wounded," Shoukat Hussain, another senior police officer, told AFP. "A child and a woman were also killed.
"It was a car suicide attack," Hussain added.
Speaking to reporters outside the remains of his one-storey bungalow, Khan said: "I woke up from sleep and saw fire around. I ran towards the other rooms of the house and saw my family safe but bewildered.
"This was a cowardly act of Taliban. I am not scared of Taliban. Let me tell you that I will not spare them in future."
Saud Mirza, another senior police officer, confirmed that Khan had previously been threatened by the Pakistani Taliban and had recently received a written threat.
Witness Naeem Shaikh said he was taking his children to school when he heard a huge explosion.
"I went across a lane and saw this house destroyed and huge flames around it," said Shaikh, who lives in the area.
He saw the bodies of a boy, later identified as a second-year school pupil, and his mother lying near the house. "The boy's schoolbag was lying shattered nearby," Shaikh said, choking.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.
Nearly 4,700 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked networks based in the country's northwestern tribal belt since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in 2007.
On Thursday, a bomber killed 46 people when he blew himself up in a crowd of mourners as they gathered for prayers in the northwestern town of Jandol, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the once Taliban-infested Swat Valley.
Karachi, Pakistan's economic hub, is currently undergoing its worst ethnic- and politically-linked unrest in 16 years, with more than 100 people killed in one week alone last month.
The gang wars have been linked to ethnic tensions between the Mohajirs, the Urdu-speaking majority represented by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and Pashtun migrants affiliated to the rival Awami National Party (ANP).
The nationally ruling Pakistan People's Party, which was elected in 2008 after nine years of military rule, insists that civilian authorities are capable of controlling the bloodshed, despite calls for military intervention.