Friday, November 30, 2012
By Scott WilsonStrung across chaotic streets and through mazes of yard-wide alleys, the iconic green flags of the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known as Hamas, festoon the gray acres of cement-block buildings.
rediff.comUnited States needs to successfully manage its relationship with emerging powers like India and China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Outrage at Egypt's mounting constitutional crisis spread abroad, with the United Nations human rights chief and international bodies joining the opposition in criticising its restrictions on basic freedoms.
The woman in line to become the face of America abroad has been hit with strong opposition from Republicans, but her many defenders see a principled, engaged and highly intelligent forceIt is a remark that has come back to haunt Susan Rice. At the height of the 2008 election cycle, the then foreign policy adviser to Democratic candidate Barack Obama took a swipe at Republican opponent John McCain who had once donned body armor to visit a Baghdad market on a visit to Iraq. Rice, who is now battling for a nomination to be America's next secretary of state, did not hide her scorn at McCain as she spoke about Obama's upcoming trip to the Middle East: "I don't think he'll be strolling around the market in a flak jacket," she said. It was the sort of blunt, insulting language common during a hotly contested election and also fairly common with Rice. But it is hardly the sort of sentiment suited for the position of America's top diplomat. Now, McCain is making Rice pay. The Arizona senator is leading a fierce charge against Rice, using her public comments over who was behind a September terrorist attack in Libya that killed a US ambassador to beat back her hopes of replacing Hillary Clinton. While the attack on the Benghazi consulate is the nominal reason for McCain vowing to "do everything" to block Rice, there are some who see personal motivations rooted in an aspect of Rice's personality that has reared its head repeatedly throughout her career: her bluntness. "The fact that Susan ridiculed him for wearing body armor walking in a market really stuck in McCain's craw. That made it very personal. He got called a sissy by a woman who has never served in the military," said one close Washington observer of the spat. McCain and the Republicans are not alone in picking up on Rice's temperament when it comes to being the next face of America abroad. Influential Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote a scathing piece in which he concluded Obama needed someone with more sensitivity. "Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice," he wrote. The Russians too have been grumbling with anonymous leaks declaring Rice "too ambitious and aggressive". Yet Obama has doubled down on Rice. He warned, in a rare western gunslinger kind of way, that if McCain and others "… want to go after somebody, they should go after me". Obama has put his presidential authority on the line to get his way. That might be because Rice is far more than just someone known to speak bluntly. At her current job as US ambassador to the United Nations she is seen as a savvy and tough operator who has done much to repair America's status there after the willful neglect of the George W Bush years. She has had a glittering career in foreign affairs via senior roles on the National Security Council, being America's top diplomat in Africa and numerous engagements in wonkish think-tank circles. Her many defenders see her as principled, engaged and highly intelligent. "She is a sharp woman. She's Type A. She likes to achieve her goals and she is tireless," said Michael Williams, co-editor of Power in World Politics and who worked with Rice on the 2008 Obama campaign. Indeed Rice has been a high-flying achiever since high school, racking up an enviable CV in academia and practical diplomacy all over the world. But, in the vipers' nest of Washington DC, she has now made enemies. Nor do they seem likely to be placated. Rice earlier this week held private meetings with McCain and other Republican senators, but some came out even more critical afterwards, including moderate Maine senator Susan Collins. Again, a few observers see Rice's perceived prickly personality at work. "Maybe she rubs them up the wrong way when she's trying for a love in," speculated one. No 'sharp elbows' But what sort of woman is Rice? She does not have a hard luck origin story. Unlike her President, there is no tale of a struggling single mom. Nor, like her famous Republican namesake Condoleezza Rice, did she grow up in a racially divided South. Instead Rice is a child of privilege and wealth among the Washington DC establishment. Rice's father, Emmett J. Rice, was a governor of the Federal Reserve, and her mother, Lois Dickson Rice, is an education expert at the famed Brookings Institution – an august body Rice herself would eventually join. Rice, 48, attended the city's famous National Cathedral School, where generations of Washington's elite offspring have been educated. She stood out in that heady crowd, becoming president of the student council and class valedictorian. She also showed a tough streak being known for her physical play on the basketball court (something appreciated by the hoops-loving Obama) and earning the nickname "Spo" which was short for "Sportin". She left an impression. After Milbank penned his critical piece one of Rice's former teachers, John Wood wrote in to fiercely defend his ex-pupil. "I saw no 'sharp elbows' whatsoever. In a very demanding school she was laid back and funny, but also focused and hard-working," Wood wrote, pointing out the school still used the revised honor code that Rice drew up three decades earlier. Rice has often been good at getting people to step up for her. The most important being Bill Clinton's secretary of state, Madeline Albright, who has long acted as a mentor. The Rice and Albright families knew each other socially as Rice grew up. Albright helped her get her first job at State in 1997, when she catapulted in as head of the Africa desk to the reported annoyance of older Africa hands and the African press. When she was sworn in, as one of the youngest assistant secretaries of state ever, Albright was reported to have told Rice's mother: "I feel like I'm swearing in family." But Rice shone in the role which saw her deal with major crises like the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Dar es Salaam and bloody conflicts in Congo, Eritrea and Ethiopia. "She was a wonderful ambassador for Africa policy. She knows her dossiers; she is hard and she is sharp," said Professor William Zartman, an Africa expert at John Hopkins University who worked with her on African policy. Indeed Africa has long been Rice's expertise. The transition from white rule to black rule in Zimbabwe was the subject of her prize-winning doctoral thesis. She worked for five years for Bill Clinton at the National Security Council, specialising in peacekeeping and Africa and increasingly working as an advocate for a more interventionist policy. That belief sprang out of a failure to prevent the 1994 Rwandan genocide and was cemented on a visit to the benighted country where Rice saw piles of bodies in the streets. She told one reporter of the experience: "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required." That explains, many say, much of Rice's tough-minded stances on issues like the intervention in Libya, taking a hardline on Sudan and her open criticism of China and Russia when they blocked a UN resolution condemning brutality in Syria (she called it "disgusting"). "The part that people miss in all of this is that she is a believer. She really does care," said John Norris, a director at the Center for American Progress. That passion is coupled with a ferocious work ethic. While pregnant with her first child Rice did not take any time off until the day before the birth. It also comes with a keen intellect and a breadth of knowledge that few match. While working with Rice when she was a foreign policy adviser to Obama, Williams remembers her briefing foreign ambassadors at the Denver Democratic convention in 2008. He was stunned at her mastery of issues far outside what he had understood to be her specialty. "I had not expected her to be so clued in," Williams said. But that work ethic – unlike the famously single Condoleezza Rice – has not prevented her from a suburban family life. Rice met her husband, Canadian television journalist Ian Cameron, while at college at Stanford. The pair have two children and live in Washington with Rice commuting to New York for UN duties. That has sparked a few complaints that she has missed important meetings, but most analysts see Rice as having done well at the UN – the brusque treatment of Russia and China aside. "At the UN she has put a bunch of savvy political professionals in there who know the UN pretty well," said Norris. She has also developed a good working relationship with Hillary Clinton, which was not always guaranteed. When Rice – who served so long in the Clinton White House – plumped for Obama in 2008 it was seen by some around Hillary as a betrayal. But, it seems, the wounds have healed. Nor is that the first time. 'She is a sharpie. But she follows orders' For all those who say she has a reputation as a bare-knuckle fighter, there are others who say it is just the nature of her work and professional passions. Michael O'Hanlon, a fellow at Brookings, clashed repeatedly with Rice when he worked for Clinton's 2008 campaign. "We battled hard yet parted as close friends despite it all. She is very likeable and appealing," O'Hanlon said. Indeed some believe the current sniping around Rice has a lot to do with sexism. Few male political figures are critiqued for their aggression. There is also serious politics at play. Almost 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives have come out against Rice now, but that might be simple party strategy. If Rice fails to make it through the nomination process, then the next choice is likely to be Massachusetts senator John Kerry, which will open up his Senate seat for a fresh election. But that sort of cynical politics is the world Rice has lived in for a long time. Nor has Obama exactly carried out a US foreign policy in his first term defined by morality, rather than Realpolitik. Obama surged troops in Afghanistan, escalated drone attacks all over the globe and failed to close Guantánamo Bay. "Barack Obama became a less ideological but more effective version of George W Bush," said Professor Aaron Miller, a vice-president at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. That is a philosophy that almost no one thinks Rice will change. Clinton has her own vast power base and has been seen as an effective global ambassador for America, yet her fundamental foreign policy is seen as still emanating from the White House. But Rice is far closer to Obama than Clinton and thus far less likely to be able to push back. Her recent career has been tied closely to Obama's and she is a member of his inner circle. "She is tough. She is a sharpie. But she follows orders," said Zartman. That last characteristic – one rarely mentioned in most profiles – may end up being the most important personality trait of all if Rice does indeed ascend to America's diplomatic hot seat. "Will American foreign policy change? That is not a question up to Rice. That is a question driven by Barack Obama," said Miller.
GOVERNMENT SUFFERS SETBACK AS VOTERS TURN TO SECULAR PARTIES
KEEP TURKEY SECULAR.Turkey's Islamist-leaning AK Party won local elections yesterday, but fell short of the overwhelming victory leaders had hoped for, reports the Los Angeles Times. With most of the votes counted, the party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan won 39% of the vote, but lost ground to secularists in Istanbul and other big cities. "This is a message from the people, and we will take the necessary lessons," said a disappointed prime minister. This is the first poll setback for the popular Erdogan since coming to power in 2002. Observers said that the struggling economy may have contributed to his fall in support, an 8-point decline from the last election. The election was marred by violence as clashes broke out in various sites across Turkey, killing five people and injuring dozens.
Three mid-level managers held for preventing workers from leaving factory premises after fire alarm went offf.Police in Bangladesh have arrested three managers of a factory where a fire killed at least 110 people. The managers arrested overnight on Tuesday were accused of stopping workers from leaving the plant, saying an alarm was just a routine fire drill. "All three are mid-level managers of Tazreen. Survivors told us that they did not allow the workers to escape the fire, saying that it was a routine fire drill. There are also allegations that they even padlocked doors," Habibur Rahman, head of police in the capital Dhaka, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. Dulal Uddin, an administrative officer, Hamidul Islam, store room head, and Al Amin, a security officer in charge at the time of the Saturday evening blaze, apparently told workers of Tazreen Fashion that they had nothing to worry about when the fire started. Survivors and witnesses told AFP that workers, most of them women, tried to escape the burning factory, which supplied clothes to international brands including Walmart, European chain C&A and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung company. Order books and clothing found at the site show the company was also making clothing for Disney Pixar, Sears and other Western brands. The Associated Press news agency reports that blue and off-white shorts from ENYCE, the label now owned by Hip Hop mogul Sean 'Diddy' Combs, were piled and stacked in cartons on the floor. Rahman said police also questioned Delwar Hossain, owner of Tazreen, about alleged violations of building rules after inspectors found the nine-storey factory only had permission for three floors. Around 700 garment workers have been killed in dozens of fires since 2006, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, an Amsterdam-based textile rights group. But none of the owners have been prosecuted over previous blazes. Campaigners say Western firms whose clothes are made in Bangladesh hide behind inadequate safety audits in an effort to shave costs. After European chain C&A and Hong Kong-based Li & Fung confirmed they had orders at Tazreen, the US retail giant Walmart also acknowledged some of its products were made there and said it had terminated ties with the supplier.
Unrest continues in Tahrir Square after assembly rushes through vote on controversial draft constitution for Egypt.
AL ARABIYA NEWSFormer premier and intelligence chief Ahmad Obeidat joined thousands of Jordanians on Friday to protest fuel price hikes, demanding regime reform and the resignation of Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur.
Amnesty International calls Manama to release 12 jailed political activists who were involved in anti-regime protests last yearAmnesty International urged Bahrain on Friday to release 13 jailed opposition activists, saying doing so would prove the Gulf monarchy is "genuinely committed" to reform and respecting human rights. Amnesty said the men, who were involved in anti-government protests last year and convicted by a military tribunal on charges that included "setting up terror groups to topple the regime," were prisoners of conscience who should be freed immediately. All of them maintain their innocence.
Six people have been killed in Pakistan over the past 24 hours in the latest round of continued terrorist attacks against the country’s Shia Muslims, Press TV reports. Terrorists killed a medical couple on Thursday in their hospital in the port city of Karachi, shortly after a father and his daughter were also targeted in the city. The man was instantly killed and his 14-year-old girl was in critical condition after sustaining bullet wounds in the abdomen. Three others also lost their lives in similar acts of violence in Karachi. The latest spate of violence against the Muslim community has triggered mass protests in the city, which is the capital of Sindh Province and the country's main commercial hub. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in mosques across Karachi on Friday to condemn the ongoing terrorist attacks against Pakistan’s Shia minority, who make up an estimated 30 million of the country’s 180 million-strong population. Pakistan's top court earlier ordered security authorities to take immediate action against nearly 7,000 pro-Taliban militants who have reportedly made their way into the country's largest city. Violence has escalated against Shia Muslims in different parts of Pakistan in recent months. Since the beginning of 2012, hundreds of Shias have been killed in the country. Pakistani Shia leaders have called on the government to form a judicial commission to investigate the bloodshed. Thousands of people have also lost their lives in bombings and other militant attacks since 2001 when Pakistan entered an alliance with the US on the so-called war on terror, according to local media. Thousands more have been displaced by the wave of violence and militancy sweeping the country.
After touring a Pennsylvania toy factory that's churning out would-be holiday gifts, President Barack Obama warned Friday of a "Scrooge" Christmas if Congress does not pass legislation extending tax cuts for 98% of Americans. The visit and speech was part of Obama's campaign-like push to curry public support for his plan to avert the so-called fiscal cliff and the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that would come with it. "Let's get that done," Obama said of approving tax cuts for most Americans, while letting rates for the top 2% go up. "Let's go ahead and take the fear out for the vast majority of American families so they don't have to worry about $2,000 coming out of their pockets next year."
The Dutch parliament will approve a motion to abolish a law that criminalizes blasphemy, mainly due to strong support by the Liberal Party (VVD). On Wednesday, a majority of parties in the Netherlands stated that the blasphemy law was no longer relevant in the 21st century. The VVD party had refused to support efforts to annul the law during the tenure of the previous government in order not to upset the fundamentalist Christian party SGP, whose support was necessary in the upper house of parliament. According to the SGP, the decision to lift the ban on blasphemy is a “painful loss of a moral anchor and a symptom of a spiritual crisis.” The law, introduced in the 1930s, has not been invoked over the past half century. However, it is still off-limits under the Dutch law to insult police officers or the country’s monarch, Queen Beatrix. The move to decriminalize blasphemy gained strength in 2011 during the trial of the far-right anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, when a Dutch court ruled that he had the right to criticize Islam even if his opinions were insulting to many Muslims.
A Qatari poet was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for a verse inspired by the Arab Spring that officials claim insulted Qatar’s emir and encouraged the overthrow of the nation’s ruling system, the poet’s lawyer said. The poet, Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, was jailed in November 2011, months after an Internet video was posted of him reciting “Tunisian Jasmine,” a poem lauding Tunisia’s uprising, which touched off the Arab Spring rebellions across the region. In the poem, he said, “We are all Tunisia in the face of repressive” authorities, and the piece criticized Arab governments that restrict freedoms. Qatari officials charged him with insulting Qatar’s ruler, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and “inciting to overthrow the ruling system.”
By Ali K ChishtiThis year has been the most violent in Karachi's history, with more than 2,000 people killed in political, sectarian and gang violence. After the MQM and ANP - seen as rivals in Karachi but both part of the ruling coalition led by the PPP - boycotted the recent Senate session in protest against the increasing violence in the city, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf visited Karachi and chaired meetings with the administration and law enforcement agencies. "Enemies of the state want to destabilize the state's efforts in the war against terrorism through deterioration of law and order situation in Karachi," the president said in statement. MQM Senator Syed Mustafa Kamal, the former mayor of Karachi, said the prime minister should take immediate action on law and order in Karachi. He demanded the imposition of emergency in the city. "Peace cannot be restored in Karachi without an army operation," ANP Senator Ilyas Bilour said. "But the action should be across-the-board."But the traders are not ready to wait for that. Siraj Kassem Teli, a representative of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told reporters that businessmen had decided to carry guns to protect themselves. "The extortionists simply want us to go bankrupt, lock down our businesses, and go home. We just cannot let this happen. We will not submit to their blackjacking," he said. "If we will have to carry firearms to save our businesses, then so be it." "Our traders have lost more than Rs 20 billion in business, and our industrialists have lost at least Rs 45 billion," said Atiq Meer, the chairman of the Karachi Markets Alliance. Sharfuddin Memon, spokesman for the home department of Sindh, admitted there were not enough policemen in the city but said they punch above their weight in foiling crime and attacks. The total number of policemen in Karachi is 40,000, of which only 8,000 are deployed at police stations. Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, who is heading the five-member Supreme Court bench hearing a case on violence in Karachi, remarked during a hearing that there was hardly any trader in Karachi who wasn't paying extortion money or was safe. He said turf wars had risen to the extent that political workers of one group could not go into the territory of another. When the Rangers chief told the court his paramilitary troops had deployed additional force and took immediate action on information about crime, Justice Amir Hani Muslim intervened and said the Rangers could only hand people over to the police, who were supposed to charge and prosecute them. On another occasion, the Sindh police chief told the court some officers had political affiliations and their backing was so strong they did not obey orders. Justice Jamali asked him how many police officers misused political influence. The inspector general said he was making a list of such policemen. Police is also among the major terrorist targets. Of the 2,014 people that have been killed in Karachi this year, more than 74 were policemen. According to police data, two intelligence agents have also been killed. According to the Sindh Law Ministry, not a single suspect has been successfully prosecuted in Sindh over the last three years for target killing. Although political violence in the city had seen a decline, Taliban attacks and sectarian violence have been increasing rapidly, with the Shia community especially vulnerable. But tensions de-escalated after Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad held a meeting with key religious leaders. "Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is only one fourth of the problem," said senior police officer Raja Umar Khattab. "The real problem is the fighting between various groups for more resources." Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah said the police were doing their best and had controlled violence to a large extent. He said police had arrested and charged criminals but they were freed by courts. CID supercop Chaudhry Aslam, who has been at the forefront of anti-terror activities, said the solution to Karachi's problems was more policing, backed by speedy justice. MQM leader Faisal Sabzwari agrees. "The solution is simple," he says. "Local policing backed by solid prosecution, along with better coordination is the way to go."