Sunday, March 4, 2012

Experts Say Putin’s Victory Convincing, Expect Reshuffle

Russian political experts said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gained a convincing victory in the March 4 presidential elections and a major reshuffle in the Russian government is to follow.

With more than 98% of ballots counted, Putin gets 63.97 percent of the vote, followed by Gennady Zyuganov with 17.17 percent and Mikhail Prokhorov with 7.65 percent. Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Sergei Mironov trail behind with 6.24 percent and 3.83 percent of the vote, respectively.

Experts say Putin will have to fulfill his campaign platform and continue the political reform in the country in order not to disappoint his supporters.

Convincing victory

First deputy secretary of the Russian Public Chamber Grigory Fyodorov said: "The elections were valid, and this is clear to everyone, even to the opposition. Even if we sum up all violations which took place – and they, naturally, did – this won’t affect the existing results in any way. Putin was to win in the first round, he is just more popular. Figures are figures.”

Alexei Mukhin, the head of the Moscow-based Center for Political Information think tank said that though the vote count continues, it is evident that Putin is winning with a wide margin and the general trend would hardly change.

"Those coming third and fourth may swap places, but not the first, second, let alone the last place,” he said.

Political analyst Dmitry Orlov also said Putin’s victory was “extremely convincing.”

“Taking into account that he is seeking his third presidential term, as well as the past economic downturn, intense street activity, such as protests, and the fact that Putin’s predecessor was one of his supporters… all this creates an array of factors that complicated his return,” said Orlov, who appeared on behalf of Putin in televised election debates.

Political scientist Pavel Svyatenkov said it was still unclear whether the society will recognize the election results.

“The most important thing is to understand whether this result will be vested with legitimacy, or it won’t be recognized by the society and the country will plunge into a smoldering political crisis for months or even years,” Svyatenkov said.

Contesting the results

Experts believe that some opposition candidates will attempt to challenge the results of the vote, but they are unlikely to succeed.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who came second in the polls, said he “cannot recognize these elections as fair, honest and worthy.” Orlov said such harsh statements are unusual for Communist leaders, who used to make allegations of that kind only after analyzing the overall data and filing lawsuits.

"I hope that Zyuganov would eventually recognize the results of the polls and will continue his regular work in the State Duma as an opposition leader,” he said.

Independent candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, who is coming third with 90% of the vote counted, said he would express his opinion on the legitimacy of the polls after a thorough analysis of the situation. Sergei Mironov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky have already congratulated Putin on his election victory.

Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the Petersburg Politics Foundation think tank, said, on the contrary, that statements by Zyuganov and Prokhorov were predictable.

“So far, I don’t see any levers they could use to influence the situation, if only they do not focus on delegitimizing Putin. At the moment, the opposition was not ready to such harsh tactics,” he said.

Fyodorov said the issue of the vote’s legitimacy will definitely be raised by representatives of the radical opposition.

“They will try to escalate the situation, provocations are possible, so the authorities should not relax,” he said.

Putin’s program

Experts also spoke about policies that Putin would have to pursue as the head of state.

Fyodorov said that if Putin tries to “rest on his laurels” and will not implement his campaign promises, it may “provoke dangerous radical processes in the society.”

The statement echoes that of political scientist Vladimir Slatinov of the Institute of Humanitarian and Political Research, who says that Putin will have to live up to his supporters’ expectations or he risks losing the support rapidly.

“He [Putin] managed to mobilize the paternalist electorate. He was able to boost expectations. Now it’s time to pay the bills. His failure may result in strong frustration in the groups that supported him just yesterday,” he said.

Reorganization ahead

Experts say that shortly after taking office Putin will reorganize the government, but it was too early to speak of it in details.

“We can speculate on who will leave, but it’s too hard to predict who will replace them. I expect surprises,” Slatinov said, adding that three cabinet members - health and social development minister Tatyana Golikova, science and education minister Andrei Fursenko and transport minister Igor Levitin were the most likely candidates for leaving the government.

Orlov said, in his turn, that the new government will be formed “based on professional qualities and efficiency of the ministers’ work, not on the principles of reshuffle.”

Tearful Putin wins back Russian presidency

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin thanks supporters at a rally near the Kremlin, as vote counts begin to confirm his victory in the presidential poll.

Putin Declares Victory at Rally

Vladimir Putin reclaimed the presidency Sunday in a landslide victory, winning more than 61 percent of the vote, according to early results. But widespread allegations of fraud suggested that the prime minister faces a difficult comeback to the Kremlin.

"I promised you we would win. We have won. Glory to Russia," Putin told thousands of supporters in a tearful address on Manezh Square late Sunday. "We won in an open and fair struggle."

Voter turnout was at 58 percent as of 7 p.m., according to the Central Elections Commission. Notably, the highest turnout was reported in Chechnya at 94 percent.

Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov came second with 17.8 percent, followed by Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky with 8 percent. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov scored 7.5 percent, while Sergei Mironov of A Just Russia finished last with a disappointing 3.67 percent.

Sunday's results showed a marked decrease for Putin from the 71 percent he took in 2004, when he won his second term in office. The turnout then was 64.3 percent. But it was significantly higher than the 49 percent his United Russia party collected in the State Duma election in December.

Putin, dressed in a long black coat, voted at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, accompanied by his wife Lyudmila, who has not been seen publicly in almost 18 months. At December's Duma elections Putin had voted alone.

"I had a full night's sleep, did some sports and then came here," Putin told reporters in televised comments. He also dropped his ballot paper and had to pick it up before placing it into an automatic voting machine.

The prime minister left just minutes before three activists from the Ukrainian women's group Femen ran topless into the polling station attempting to steal the ballot box. They were dragged away by security as they screamed "Putin is a thief!" One had "Stealing for Putin" painted across her bare chest.
Signs of Violations

Reports of violations spread throughout the day, aided by social networks and by almost 200,000 web cameras, which were installed in pairs at most of the country's 90,000 ballot stations.

Putin's supporters rejected the charges as politically motivated.

"This is the cleanest election in Russia's entire history," Putin's campaign chief Stanislav Govorukhin told reporters at United Russia's headquarters. "The violations our rivals and the opponents of our president will now speak of are laughable."

But already late Saturday, when the cameras started transmission, bloggers discovered ballots lying in transparent ballot boxes in the Chelyabinsk region before voting had begun.

At a voting station in rural Dagestan, web cameras showed a man stuffing a voting machine with multiple ballots.

The Central Elections Commission promptly said the result in the village of Tarumovka was invalid, Interfax reported.

Many reports alleged that scores of people had been bused to multiple polling stations in a practice know as "carousel voting" — echoing similar accusations from the disputed December State Duma vote.

A reporter for The Moscow Times witnessed participants of a group of such voters appearing to be bused to several voting stations in the city's northwestern Kurkino district.

In Balashikha, seven kilometers east of Moscow, police detained a young man caught throwing a heap of ballots into the box at Polling Station No. 25.

Communist commission member Vladimir Prokopenko showed a Moscow Times reporter a video he recorded of the incident and said a second offender managed to flee.

Prokopenko said the commission chairwoman refused to sign a complaint by him. The chairwoman also refused to seal the ballot box, as required by law, and berated observers for directing voters to another secured box, he said.

She then expelled Prokopenko on the grounds that he took photos and videos of the voting. The Moscow Times reporter was also forced out.

At Polling Station No. 64 in the city center, angry observers said dubiously large groups of voters appeared in the morning who were not on voting lists and didn't seem to live in the area.

Alexander Gordon, host of a popular political talk show on state-controlled Channel One, said outside a polling station where there were allegations of fraud that he thought the vote was fair.

"What makes these elections special is that there is a large number of people who are interested in showing that they are unfair," he said.

But opposition activists said the vote seemed even less fair than the Duma elections that triggered mass protests.

Leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny said his Rosvybory project had collected reports of more than 6,000 violations by the early afternoon.

A website that collects information about violations said Sunday evening that it had received more than 4,500 reports so far.

The Golos election watchdog's site said it had more than 2,600 reports.
Making Their Voices Heard

Crowds of pro-Putin supporters began gathering outside the Kremlin in the hours before exit poll results were announced. Tens of thousands, many waving Russian flags and blue badges reading "V," crowded onto Manezh Square and Lubyanskaya Ploshchad to show support for Putin — and to head off opposition protests planned for Monday.

Putin later appeared to the Manezh crowd with President Dmitry Medvedev at his side. Their appearance was reminiscent of the duo's surprise appearance at a pro-Kremlin youth rock concert on Red Square on the night of Medvedev's election in 2008.

A worker from a power station in the peat-rich town of Shatura told a Moscow Times reporter on Manezh Square that he and his co-workers had been promised double pay for one shift and an extra vacation day if they showed up for the rally.

The crowd came after large groups hustled in and out of the polling stations starting bright and early in Moscow and beyond.

At Polling Stations No. 267 and 168 at the Degunino Children-Youth Center in northern Moscow, a crowd of around 100 voters of all ages was spotted at 11:30 a.m., a higher number than usually seen at national elections.

Natalya, in her late 20s, who did not give her last name, said she would vote for nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky because she felt he told the truth.

"He might start World War III, but at least he tells it like it is," she said. "When I listen to him — he's a good orator — I find myself nodding in agreement."

She added, though, that she felt there really was no one to vote for.

Many supporters of Vladimir Putin said he won their vote because they felt he promised greater "stability" and "peace" or because "there is no one better than him."

"I voted for Putin because I value stability — that is the most important factor for me," said Yelena Romanova, who brought her two teenage children to give them a lesson in participatory democracy.

"I didn't pay much attention to the protests of the past few months. I think people who really understand the situation and want to live here in Russia want Putin," she said.

While dismissive of Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, she said billionaire metals tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov tempted her.

"By the next election in six years, the people may be tired of Putin. Then I think Prokhorov might have a chance," she said.

Outside Polling Station No. 65, an elderly woman in a fur coat said she voted for the most intelligent candidate.

"You know him, the one who dislikes the Americans," she said, refusing to elaborate or give her name.

But some had very special reasons to vote for Putin.

"I don't let down my own", army sergeant Sergei Putin said outside Polling Station No. 64, adding that he was no relation of the prime minister.

Others said the protests following December's elections had driven them to turn their backs on Putin.

"I voted for Zyuganov, even though I am not a Communist supporter, but that could force a second round. I understand that we might rock the boat, but with all respect to Putin, I think we should live by the law," said Gleb, a 36-year-old lawyer, as he walked out of a polling station in northern Moscow.

Alexei Firsanov, a pensioner who described himself as a retired human rights activist and a former supporter of Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who was barred from the ballot, said he voted for Prokhorov this time around because "he's a new face."

Firsanov described Putin in unflattering terms, but called anyone who voted for Zyuganov in the hope of forcing a second round "crazy."

A mobile voting unit went from apartment to apartment to collect ballots from the elderly or disabled. Many said they voted for Putin, but expressed puzzlement at the list of candidates for municipal elections that were also part of Sunday's vote.

"Roshchin, that's a nice name!" said Yelena Kvasnetskaya, 87, as she voted for somebody she admitted she had never heard of. "May God give Putin health. And may there be no bloodshed!"

Police presence in the capital was heavy. Hundreds of police trucks were parked in downtown Moscow. Earlier last week, the police announced that more than 6,000 policemen would be brought in from nearby regions for Monday's opposition demonstration.

Meanwhile, about 200 municipal buses from different places around Russia were seen lined up along the embarkment of Moscow River nearby the Kremlin. The presence of such buses was leapt upon by the opposition as proof of carousel voting.

But Putin supporters said they were used to bringing thousands of people to Moscow to rally in his support.

Read more:
The Moscow Times

Exit polls: Putin wins Russia's presidential vote

Exit polls cited by state television say Vladimir Putin has won Russia's presidential election, which the opposition and independent observers say has been marred by widespread violations.

Putin tallied 59 percent of Sunday's vote, according to a nationwide exit poll conducted by the VTsIOM polling agency for Channel one television. Another exit poll done by the FOM polling agency for Rossiya TV showed Putin received 58 percent of the ballot.

Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov, got support of some 18 percent, according to the survey, and the others — nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, socialist Sergei Mironov and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov — were in single digits.

If confirmed, claims of violations could undermine the legitimacy of Putin's victory and help fuel opposition protests.

Dengue: This time it’s for sure!

Pakistan Today

Despite hectic efforts and campaigns to educate the people for taking precautionary measures, dengue has returned to Lahore as two more dengue patients were admitted in hospital on Saturday, INP reported.
According to sources, two more dengue patients were admitted in Mayo Hospital Lahore after they were brought to the hospital for medical check up. The patients were identified as Muhammad Farooq, 22, resident of Chonian area and Razia Bibi, 40, of Shadipura area. The doctors diagnosed that they were suffering from dengue fever and shifted them to dengue ward of the hospital. Their condition was said to be out of danger.
TYRE DISPOSAL PUT ON HOLD AS DENGUE THREAT LOOMS: While the dengue epidemic is resurfacing, the Punjab government has failed to take the precautionary measures it had announced last year, to minimise the possibility of mass deaths, GNI reported.
The lethargic attitude of the provincial government is evident from the fact that despite issuing instructions and guidelines last October, which included disposing off used tyres, it has yet to take any steps to secure the people against the dengue virus.
Since the dengue threat this time round is feared to be more lethal than the previous year, the government’s lethargy is bound to add to the miseries of the Punjabi people.
Last year’s guidelines were provided in writing to all the administrative secretaries by the Punjab chief secretary.
Since old motor vehicle tyres act as incubators and transporters for the dengue mosquito and its larvae, their proper disposal was necessary to prevent the spread of the epidemic by eliminating the source.
According to a survey, the government sector possesses a major portion of the province’s old tyres’ stocks. In this regard, each department of the Punjab government was instructed to identify, enlist and quantify all used tyres’ stocks in workshops, warehouses, garages etc of its subordinate offices, attached departments, special institutions and autonomous bodies. All the tyres in stock were then to be shredded or chopped manually or mechanically and were to be stored in covered areas or under plastic sheets. Some of these tyres were to be disposed of by auctioning them.
According to these instructions, all the commissioners and District Co-ordination Officers (DCOs) were asked to provide the necessary assistance to the departments and field formations for shredding and chopping tyres.
Two committees were also constituted for suggesting measures regarding the disposal or auction of the shredded tyres and for assessing the specifications for reusable and unusable stocks of old tyres in consultation with tyre dealers. The committees were also asked to constitute field teams to ensure that all unusable tyres were shredded or chopped and that all the usable tyres were stored in covered and fumigated areas.
In addition, the Punjab health department was asked to request the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, the cabinet and defense secretaries to issue directions to the federal government agencies working in the province for the implementation of the dengue control regulations. The Local Government and Community Development Department (LG&CD) secretary was instructed to depute his field teams to checking petrol pumps, CNG stations and tyre shops and to dispose off old tyres.
The Home Secretary was asked to ensure that no new tyres are imported into the province. The divisional commissioners were to be held responsible for the implementation of these instructions in the areas of their jurisdiction while the commissioners and DCOs were asked to assist the government departments in carrying out these instructions. The IGP and Provincial Police Officer were directed to request for police assistance when required.
As the dengue threat waned last year with the change in the weather, these instructions were put on the back burner. The dengue virus is emerging again as a huge threat to the lives to the people of Punjab, since the provincial government has apparently lost interest in the issue.
Many officials, who were engaged in the dengue prevention exercises, were convinced from the beginning that efforts of such a large magnitude could not be undertaken until the entire provincial machinery was geared up to its optimal operational level.

Afghan army chief warns against another NATO blunder

The burning of Korans at a NATO base in Afghanistan advanced the Taliban's cause and any repeat of similar "negligence" by Western forces would be disastrous, the Afghan army chief of staff has warned.

The destruction of the holy books, which the United States described as unintentional, triggered widespread protests and fatal attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan security forces and heavily strained ties between Kabul and Washington.

"The enemy (Taliban) will enlarge it and make use of it in such a way to instigate everybody," General Sher Mohammad Karimi told Reuters in an interview.

"They took advantage of this incident. They will take advantage."

Karimi, sitting in his office at the heavily guarded Ministry of Defense, lamented NATO's failure to grasp the sensitivities regarding Afghanistan's culture and religion during the United States' longest war, now in its eleventh year.

"Those friends who have come here to help us are not doing it the way we asked them too," said Karimi, adding he was "very concerned" by the burning of a truckload of Korans at Bagram air base about an hour's drive north of Kabul.

"God forbid if this mistake is repeated there will be a lot of trouble next time."

The Koran burnings set back the Western campaign to win the hearts and minds of Afghans in order to weaken the Taliban and force it to negotiate an end to the war. Instead, the Taliban urged Afghans to target foreign military bases and kill Westerners.

Violence spread across the country despite an apology from President Barack Obama -- from street demonstrations to Afghan security forces turning their weapons on U.S. soldiers.

Two high-ranking U.S. officers working as advisers in the Interior Ministry were shot at point blank range in their foreheads at their desks, reinforcing fears of infiltration by the Taliban, who claimed responsibility.

The attack cast doubt on NATO's plan to shift from large combat formations to an advisory role as the alliance tries to wind down the war and pull out troops by the end of 2014.

U.S. officials have said that the Korans were confiscated from prisoners on the base and mistakenly discarded in an incinerator. Afghan laborers found charred remains.

Many Afghans complained the United States and NATO had repeatedly insulted their religion over the years. Muslims consider the Koran the literal word of God and treat each copy with deep reverence.

Afghans will never accept U.S. justice for five American soldiers involved in the burning of the Koran and could rise up in a "storm of fury" if there is no public trial, a senior cleric said Saturday.

Karimi said the United States was not expected to hand over the men to Afghanistan. But he called for a trial and insisted that American military leaders ensure that similar incidents never take place again.


The Koran burning incident was the latest blunder for Washington in Afghanistan. In February, the Pentagon grappled with fallout from a photo showing Marines with what looked like a Nazi SS flag.

In January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta quickly condemned a video showing what appeared to be U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses.

Karimi said the West had failed to comprehend the far-reaching impact of such images in deeply conservative Afghanistan.

He referred to the Afghan soldier who killed four French troops in eastern Kapisa province in January as an example.

"He said he saw the clip of the urination by the soldiers on the dead bodies. It drove him crazy," said Karimi, 66. "Because in our religion even the enemy, you do not disrespect the dead body."

The killings of the French soldiers prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy to pull out of the war a year earlier in 2013.

Any other Western countries following suit would worry Karimi, who graduated from Britain's prestigious Sandhurst military academy and also studied in Russia and Egypt.

Karimi said Afghan security forces, who are largely illiterate and have minimal training, have come a long way. But he stressed they were still highly dependent on Western air support, artillery and intelligence in the war against a resilient Taliban.

Karimi expressed concerns that the United States may want to cut the size of the Afghan army and security forces to reduce funding.

Afghanistan wants to build up security forces to about 350,000, while a Western proposal has been floated for a much smaller size of about 230,000.

"My question to the international community is that you spent billions of dollars to build the Afghan National Security Forces. Now, for a few million dollars, you should not jeopardize ten whole years of achievement," said Karimi.

"If that is reduced, it's just a big gamble with the enemy."

Russians vote for new president

Victory seems certain for current prime minister, despite wave of protests, economic problems and tension with the West.

China boosts military spending

Double-digit increase in defence budget likely to cause concern about the country's security build-up.

Bahraini regime forces attack protesters in Sahla

Saudi-backed Bahraini regime forces have attacked anti-government protesters in the village of Sahla, near the capital Manama, leaving several people injured.

The attack on Sahla was been one of the latest in the Bahraini regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters.

On Friday, regime forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at a group of Bahrainis, who responded by hurling Molotov-cocktails, during an anti-regime protest.

Similar protests were also held in the villages of Dair and Samaheej on Friday.

In recent weeks, several Bahraini civilians, mostly senior citizens and kids, have died from asphyxia after regime troops fired tear gas in residential areas and into homes in violation of international conventions, to which Bahrain is a signatory.

Bahraini troops rely heavily on tear gas and stun grenades to disperse peaceful anti-government protesters.

Amnesty International has warned about the Bahraini government's misuse of tear gas against anti-regime protesters and has called for an investigation into tear gas-related deaths.

Thousands of anti-government protesters have been staging demonstrations in Bahrain since mid-February 2011, demanding political reform and a constitutional monarchy, a demand that later changed to an outright call for the ouster of the ruling Al Khalifa family following its brutal crackdown on popular protests.

Scores of people have also been killed and many others have been injured in the Saudi-backed crackdown on peaceful protesters in Bahrain.

Occupy May Seem To Be Receding, But Look Closer

For people who watch TV news or read newspapers, the Occupy movement might seem to be in hibernation.

Most of the encampments are gone, and diminished numbers take part in protests.

But there's a lot of ferment behind the scenes — at least at Occupy Wall Street.

Check the Occupy Wall Street website and you'll see at least 15 events every day: meetings by working groups on arts and culture, alternative banking, media, security.

'Pop-Up' Protests

And there are actions. This week, it was anti-corporate.

"We're kind of going to occupy a Bank of America and turn it into a 'Food Bank of America,'" Occupy protester Luke Richardson says, describing an event on Wednesday.

Richardson stood behind a table with donated cans of food. Then, an hour later, 200 demonstrators braved the pouring cold rain and marched to the Bank of America headquarters, where they were stopped by police.

The following day, there were Occupy student debt rallies and marches by college students across the nation, including New York, protesting budget cuts and rising tuition.

Richardson describes these daily actions as pop-up occupations.

"We're going to different areas in the city and kind of just becoming a visible presence, letting people know we are still here and trying to get them interested again," he says.

Occupying Indoors

Many Occupy events now happen indoors.

If you show up any afternoon at the public indoor space with cafes, tables and chairs, you will see people sitting in circles; they are the movement's working groups.

"We have many different spaces throughout New York City that have opened up for meetings and processes and actions and events, but it is not as visible in the same way," says Lisa Fithian, an Occupy organizer and trainer.

The General Assemblies — big public meetings — still happen three times a week, although they're far smaller than the ones last fall.

At one recent meeting, a participant in the crowd turned and said, "Pretty uninspiring."

Then there are the biweekly "spokescouncils," where representatives of each working group try to come to consensus on larger proposals.

Serious activists come to these.

Instead of votes, representatives can stand aside, meaning they have concerns but will not block a decision. If a group blocks a decision, its concerns are addressed until hopefully consensus is reached.

Sometimes this process works well. Sometimes it's messy.

An author and organizer named Starhawk has facilitated a number of these councils.

"It's not always easy to figure out how people with totally different perceptual styles, understandings of life can work together and make decisions," Starhawk says.

But the upside is many people who participate feel they "own" the movement.

Hibernating While Processing

Mark Bray, who is with the Occupy Wall Street press team, says most people are not aware of all these different activities because the mainstream media just cares about numbers.

"What we've been doing over the last months is we've been consolidating our organizing, getting better prepared to deal with what may come and getting involved in these struggles on a local level," Bray says. "And I think that we'll see the benefits of that starting to pay off as we move into the warmer months and more people come out. But I think the criteria by which we've been judged in the mainstream media is by crowds."

Organizers point out that this movement is barely six months old. The civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements took years to take off.

Russian election: Putin seeks return to Kremlin

Monitored by web cameras and a network of volunteer civilian observers, Russians voted Sunday in presidential elections expected to return Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.

By midday in Moscow, the independent elections watchdog group had recorded more than 1,000 complaints of irregularities across the country, ranging from questionable voter registration lists to nonfunctioning web cameras to buses believed to be carrying so-called "carousel voters" from precinct to precinct.

The veracity of the complaints could not immediately be determined, but their large number is likely to bolster opposition supporters' suspicion that the election was unfair.

Allegations of widespread vote fraud in last December's parliamentary elections set off an unprecedented wave of massive protests against Putin, who has remained Russia's paramount leader despite stepping down from president to prime minister four years ago due to term limits.

The protests, the largest public show of anger in post-Soviet Russia, demonstrate growing frustration with corruption and political ossification in Putin's Russia. But despite the increased dismay, opinions polls have shown Putin positioned to easily defeat four other candidates and return to the post he held in 2000-2008.

Putin presided over a significant growth in Russia's prosperity and growing stability that contrasted with the disorder and anxiety of the 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin led Russia's emergence from the wreckage of the Soviet Union.

"Under Boris Nikolayevich, life was simply a nightmare, but, you know, now it's OK. Now it's good, I'm happy with the current situation," said 51-year-old Alexander Pshennikov, who cast his ballot for Putin at a Moscow polling station.

But other voters were tired of the heavy-handed ways of the one-time KGB spy. Natalya Yulskaya, 73, said she voted for billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov as a protest gesture against Putin.

"I know the KGB will be in power ... but I gave it a try," she said.

Putin has dismissed the protesters' complaints, portraying them as a coddled minority of urban elitists and as dupes of Western countries that he claims want to undermine Russia. But, sensitive to the galvanized opposition, he ordered installation of web cameras at all of Russia's more than 90,000 polling stations.

How effective they will be in recording or discouraging vote violations was unclear.

Putin's disdain for the protesters became more marked in the last week of campaigning, as he publicly suggested the opposition was willing to kill one of its own figures in order to stoke outrage against him. That claim came on the heels of state television reports that a plot by Chechen rebels to kill Putin right after the election had been foiled. Some of Putin's election rivals dismissed the report as a campaign trick to boost support for him.

Protests after the election appear certain.

"People in Russia are not going to recognize Putin's victory in the first round," Alexei Navalny, one of the loosely knit opposition's most charismatic figures, declared flatly last week.

Another prominent protest figure, Ilya Ponomarev, a parliament member from the opposition A Just Russia party, said the protesters' mood has become more truculent as authorities consistently brushed off their initial demands for nullifying the results of the December parliament election.

"It has evolved from 'we demand a rerun' to 'go to hell'," he said.

The Interior Ministry called in 6,000 police reinforcements to the capital from other regions, the state news agency ITAR-Tass reported Friday.

Whether Sunday's vote is seen as honest is likely to be key; a count without reports of wide violations could deprive protesters of a galvanizing issue.

"Cameras cannot capture all the details of the voting process, in particular during counting," the election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted in a report on election preparations.

Along with the OSCE mission, tens of thousands of Russians have volunteered to be election observers, receiving training for activist groups on how to recognize vote-rigging and record and report violations.

Putin has promised to appoint Medvedev prime minister if he wins the presidency in order to pursue his reform ideas, but many regard Medvedev as lacking the hard-edge political skills to be an effective reformer.

None of the other candidates have been able to marshal a serious challenge to Putin.

A mid-February survey by the independent Levada Center polling agency found Putin getting more than 60-percent support — well above the 50 percent needed for a first-round win. The Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov, got support of about 15 percent, according to the survey, which claimed accuracy within 3.4 percentage points. The others — nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Sergei Mironov of A Just Russia and Prokhorov — were in single digits.

People affiliated with PPP will never surrender


The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday said that the People’s Party did not come into the government with anyone’s help and nor will it pack up on anyone’s demand. He said that those hoping for the downfall of this government will not achieve anything, DawnNews reported.

Gilani was talking to the media in Muzaffargarh, where he stated that PPP was the name of a movement that had given immense sacrifices. He said that the people affiliated with the Pakistan Peoples Party will never sell-out nor surrender.

While inaugurating the Benazir Basti town, Gilani said that he felt immense happiness at this occasion because this area had been devastated by the floods and now once again people can be rehabilitated.

Speaking on the Seraiki province issue, the prime minister said that the Seraiki people do not want an administrative unit and giving them their own province was of highest priority.

Modernization a way forward to development,female education key for country’s uplift

Frontier Post

President of Awami National Party (ANP) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senator Afrasiab Khattak has said that certain factions are busy in creating misunderstandings between religion, traditions and modernization, portraying as if modernization was against religious norms.
“But let me tell you that modernization is not a struggle between culture and religion, in fact it is the way forward towards development while staying within our norms.”
He said this while addressing the 33rd annual day of Jinnah College for Women here at University of Peshawar as Chief Guest on Saturday.
Mr. Khattak pointed out to some of the drastic changes needed in our curricula in order to make it current and compatible with the advanced world while keeping in view the cultural and religious aspects of modernization because we can’t remain a closed society and survive in the world as a developed nation.
Education and increase in the literacy rate for females are key towards development of the country, he added.
The United Nations has directed all the countries in the world to allocate at least 4% of their GDP to the education but unfortunately our allocation is hovering around 2% only, he maintained.
Our country’s budget allocation for education is the least in South Asia and one of the lowest in the world, he said. We must have to change our priorities and make Pakistan as a true welfare and democratic state than a national security state which is only possiblethrough good education, Khattak added.
He praised the tremendous contribution made by Jinnah College for women in imparting quality education to the students of Khyber Pakhtukhwa and FATA.
The students of this college have achieved a lot over the years for which I congratulate the Principal and University of Peshawar, he said.
He announced construction of a new hall within Jinnah College for Women and award of cash prizes to all the topper students under the Chief Minister “Storay Da Pakhtookhwa“ Programme.
Earlier, Principal Prof. Dr. Neelofar Arbab presented the college annual performance report.

Pakistan: Senate elections

After its good showing in the by-polls, the ruling PPP has triumphed in the Senate elections, winning 19 of the seats on offer. Its strength in the upper house has now climbed to 41 from the previous 27, taking account of retiring senators. This makes the PPP the largest party in the Senate by a fair margin in a house of 104. The next strongest, the PML-N, has boosted its strength to 14 after winning eight seats, ANP to 12 after seven seats accrued to it, MQM and JUI-F are now both at seven, PML-Q at five, BNP-Awami at four, PML-F and the National Party at one each, with the tally being rounded off by 12 independents. Two senators from Islamabad and four from FATA also join the reconstituted house. Of the 54 seats being contested, nine candidates were elected unopposed. The PPP-led coalition’s strength is now 70, with some support expected from independents. This is the two-thirds majority that gives the coalition the possibility of having enough strength in the upper house to ensure any constitutional amendments it may move will sail through the upper house. There can be no gainsaying the fact that the results represent a victory for the PPP and its allies, with the Senate opposition now fielding 22 members.
The PPP-led coalition’s victory is made even sweeter if one recalls the air of uncertainty that surrounded the very holding of these elections for months. Rumours and speculations went so far as to assert that the government would be unseated before the Senate elections to prevent the PPP cashing in on a delayed victory on the basis of the 2008 election results. While both victors and runner ups can rightly give themselves a pat on the back for ensuring the conduct of the Senate elections, there are disturbing reports of shenanigans and anomalies. Vote buying has been alleged, and enormous sums of money quoted, but these things are notoriously difficult to pin down, let alone prove. If the allegations have even a grain of truth in them, they represent a blot on the fair face of democracy. We are of course accustomed to enormous sums of money being spent in general elections, a factor that for all purposes has shut the general elections door on all but the vastly endowed with riches. The Senate represents, if there is any, hope that people of merit would be able to find their way to the house and correct the ‘lopsided’ concentration of the rich and famous in parliament. However, on the basis of this Senate election, that cannot be claimed with confidence, the choice along party lines and with seat adjustments between allied parties being the dominant characteristic of these polls.
The unexpected victory of Mohsin Leghari, an independent candidate who had defied his party’s refusal to offer him a ticket, and the consequent defeat of veteran PPP worker Aslam Gill has set off a series of recriminations inside the ranks of the PPP. The disappointed PPP members’ wrath is directed at Babar Awan, who managed his own election but is being blamed for Gill’s defeat. The episode points to dark horses and shifting loyalties within every party, to which the PPP now appears not to be an exception.
While seven general seats from Balochistan have had their results delayed because of objections, that conundrum will be resolved through a vote recount and the results should be available on March 5. It is unlikely that the final result from Balochistan will materially alter the shape of the house. The triumph of the ruling coalition should also be seen as the triumph of democracy, the nascent system finding new roots and strength, albeit in halting fashion and not without setbacks, criticism and introspection. Pakistan’s future lies in consolidating the democratic system rather than dwelling unnecessarily on the undoubted failings of the present ruling coalition. Democracy is about more than the present dispensation. It is about setting the rules of the political game along acceptable parameters and ensuring the all too frequent interruptions of the process in our history are not repeated.

Aftab Sherpao escapes another Taliban attack

Daily Times

Former interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao and his son escaped a life attempt on Saturday when a suicide bomber blew himself after a public meeting in Charsadda, police said.
One of Sherpao’s police guards was killed and MPA Muhammad Ali Khan was among eight people wounded in the bombing, police said.
Police officer Saeed Khan said the PPP-Sherpao chief was passing through the district of Charsadda after addressing a political rally when a young man appeared out of an open field and blew himself up near the politician’s bullet-proof vehicle.
Saeed Khan said he was riding in another vehicle and saw the attacker, but before anyone could take any action, the man detonated the bomb.
“A policeman was killed and eight others were wounded including the provincial assembly member, Muhammad Ali Khan, in the suicide attack,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told AFP.
“The lawmaker is out of danger and being shifted to the provincial headquarters in Peshawar,” he said.
Police said the bomber struck when the security convoy escorting the political leaders left the rally venue.
“The suicide bomber walked in the security convoy and hit the vehicles,” local police chief Nisar Khan Marwat said.
A local leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We made this attack because Aftab Sherpao has cooperated with the government for an operation against us in the Tribal Areas,” Omer Khalid, a local Taliban leader, told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
According to the Bomb Disposal Squad, five to six kilogrammes of explosives had been used in the attack. The blast damaged two police vehicles escorting the PPP-Sherpao leaders, witnesses said. The injured were admitted to nearby hospitals.
Hospital sources said Sikandar Sherpao, the son of Aftab Sherpao, sustained a minor injury at right hand, adding that he was discharged from hospital after he was given first aid.
Sherpao, who comes from an influential political dynasty in the northwest, heads a splinter group of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. He said such attacks could not deter his resolve and he would continue holding such rallies. He was campaigning ahead of parliamentary elections that are expected to be held later this year.
Sherpao, who is also former chief minister of the province, had supervised operations against the TTP during the tenure of former president Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf.
The Taliban vowed to kill him, and have carried out a number of attacks against his party over the years. This was the third suicide attempt on the former interior minister in Charsadda.
In April 2007, a suicide bomber attacked one of the party’s rallies, killing 28 people. In December 2007, a suicide bomber again targeted Sherpao amid hundreds of worshippers at a mosque inside his home in the same region, killing at least 50 people.
Meanwhile, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Masood Kausar condemned the attack on the convoy of the former interior minister.
The governor phoned Aftab Sherpao and expressed his grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives. He also prayed for eternal peace of the departed soul and courage to the bereaved family to bear the irreparable loss with patience. The governor also wished early recovery of the injured. agencies

Quitting Quetta: Abductions spark exodus of Balochistan’s Hindus

The Express Tribune

Over 50 members of the Hindu community across Balochistan have been kidnapped in the last four years, compared to seven instances of kidnapping during former president Pervez Musharraf’s nine years, said Basant Lal Gulshan, the human rights and minorities affairs minister for Balochistan.

“Among those are two assistants from my own pharmacy, abducted two days ago,” the minister said.

The alarming rise in kidnapping of Hindus across the province was confirmed by Balochistan Chief Secretary Ahmed Bakhsh Lehri while speaking to The Express Tribune.

Out of a total of 72 people kidnapped in the past few months, 24 were Hindus, Lehri said.

Of them, 21 have been either released or recovered through the efforts of the community itself, he added.

The chief secretary admitted that the incidence of kidnapping has increased under the present government, compared to the Musharraf era.

Over the edge

Why this particular community though?

Because it is perceived to be financially well-off but weak, said Gulshan.

Settled Hindus are mostly traders and businessmen, and the community comprises two-thirds of the province’s total minorities’ population of 300,000, he said.

Most of them live in Baloch-settled districts of Sibi, Nasirabad, and Bhag and Dhadar in Bolan district, added Lehri. He put the total community’s number at 45,000 though.

Most of the kidnappings, however, take place in Kalat which is home to a major Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Kali, said the chief secretary.

Those abducted are then taken to neighbouring Khuzdar, a tribal district bordering Sindh, which has limited police presence, he said. The district has Levies force but they are too ill-equipped to confront kidnappers, he added.

Contrary to popular perception, the abductors are not separatists, the chief secretary maintained. These are common criminals, mostly unemployed men, who demand a high ransom for the Hindus, he added.

The constant targeting has pushed the community, quite literally, over the edge.

Around 50 Hindu families have moved from Quetta to Karachi in the last two months, said Gulshan, adding that more than 150 families across the province have moved out in the last few years. Most of them went to India on a visit visa, but have not returned, he added.

The exodus may still be reversible. Most have left their business behind under caretakers or managers, and not sold them off, Gulshan said.

Targeting others

Hindus are not the only targeted minority on their way out though.

Zoroastrians, almost negligible in the first place, no longer live in the province, said Tahir Hussain, vice chairperson for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Balochistan chapter.

The community had its share of targeting. Faridoon Abadan, a former provincial minister for minorities and owner of Quetta Distillery Ltd, was kidnapped over 10 years ago and is yet to be recovered.

His wife, Nilofer, was the first woman to be kidnapped in the province last February, but returned home after paying Rs30 million in ransom. The family is now moving out.

The targeting does not stop at religious minorities. After several high-profile targeted attacks, the Hazara community is quitting the province as well.

“Around 16,000 people from the Hazara or Persian-speaking community left Quetta last year,” Hussain said.

Their plight gained national prominence when a ferry, carrying asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, capsized off the coast of Indonesia. Around 55 young men from the Hazara community from Quetta were among those who drowned.

Shujaat, Nawaz blame each other for backing dictatorship

The Express Tribune

A war of allegations of supporting dictators fired up between Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif and PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on Sunday.

Hours after Nawaz’s statement that his party will welcome the Chaudhry brothers if they apologise for committing the “sin” of backing dictatorship, Shujaat quipped that that he [Nawaz] should apologise first for the “same sin” he had committed 15 years back.

He said, “15 years back he committed the “same sin” when he took Pervez Musharraf, dressed in a uniform, inside the assembly hall – the stronghold of democracy.”

“He [Nawaz] alleges that we worked with non-democratic courts, in fact, he should be apologising before asking us to do so.”

Tornado bears down on Henryville, Indiana