Saturday, March 31, 2012

Amnesty International calls on Jordan to free six political activists

Amnesty International has called on Jordan for the “immediate and unconditional” release of six political activists who are charged with “insulting” King Abdullah II. “Amnesty International believes them to be prisoners of conscience held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and that they are being punished for their pro-reform views and peaceful activities,” the UK-based rights organization said in a statement on Saturday.
The six men were detained in mid-March during an anti-government demonstration in the southern city of Tafileh. If convicted, the six face three years in prison each. “According to information by Amnesty International, at least three of them were beaten by security forces during initial interrogations,” the statement added. Meanwhile, members of pro-reform Jordanian youth groups on Saturday staged a protest rally near the prime minister's office in Amman to demand the release of the activists. Police forces moved in to disperse the demonstrators, and made at least a dozen arrests. Jordanians have, since January 2011, been holding street protests demanding political reforms, including the election of the prime minister by popular vote and an end to corruption. Since the beginning of the rallies, the Jordanian king has sacked two successive prime ministers in a bid to avoid more demonstrations. The king has also amended 42 articles of the 60-year-old constitution, giving the parliament a stronger role in decision-making.

Europeans Pay More For Gas prices have been rising dramatically the past few weeks because of the unrest in the Middle East. Pump prices in America are high, but compared to what Europeans are paying, they may seem like a bargain. In the U.S., Wednesday’s national average for gasoline was at $3.53 per gallon, as monitored by AAA. That’s the 16th straight day prices have increased; prices are already 34 cents higher. In Oslo, Norway, however, the price per gallon is $9.28, according to Norwegian search and news site Din Side. And according to the International Energy Administration (IEA), most Europeans, specifically the British, Irish, Germans, French, and Italians, shell out between $7.50 to $8.00 per gallon at the pump. In Denmark, it was $8.20 per gallon in February. In Greece, they pay $8.45 a gallon. Europeans have their own fuel supplies, so the higher prices do not necessarily come from heavy dependence on foreign supplies. In fact, Norway has a successful oil industry in the Atlantic, as well as the U.K.“The difference between countries comes down to taxes and subsidies,” explained Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service. “Prices are incredibly high in Europe because of the stiff taxes that EU countries put on fuel. The same holds true for many other countries.” Italy’s oil production company, Eni, is the top oil producer in Libya. But Italians paid $7.77 per gallon on average last February, said the IEA. Aside from Europe, the Japanese also have higher gas prices. At the end of last month, they were forking out $6.30 per gallon. And in Canada, the average is $4.49 per gallon. On the other hand, cheaper gas prices are pretty much the norm among OPEC nations in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as Venezuela and Nigeria. Kloza attributes this to state oil subsidies. “There are some countries, Venezuela comes to mind, where the street price is subsidized and you might hear about a very cheap retail number,” said Kloza. “The same holds true for India and China and some other emerging countries where the prices are subsidized by the state.” In 2008, when gas prices peaked at $4.11 per gallon in the U.S., the average retail per gallon was less than $1 in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria. In Venezuela, it was $0.12 to a gallon.

Pakistan raises petrol prices by up to 8.2 percent

Pakistan Sunday raised petrol prices by up to 8.2 percent, the oil and gas regulatory authority said, contrary to its advice to leave prices unchanged. The price of petrol crossed the psychological barrier of 100 rupees and was raised from 97.66 rupees (1.07 dollars) to 105.68 rupees (1.16 dollars) or by 8.2 percent. The authority said in a statement that it had recommended the government keep petroleum prices unchanged "by absorbing the said increase in petroleum levy (or tax) to provide relief to the public at large." The price of diesel and high-octane gasoline was increased by 4.5 percent and 7.0 percent respectively. The price of compressed natural gas, an alternate transport fuel, was increased from 77.12 rupees to 88.70 rupees. Pakistan has to import most of its oil and its weak economy and currency have forced the President Asif Ali Zardari's coalition government to regularly pass onto citizens the impact of global price hikes due to budget constraints. The International Monetary Fund warned Pakistan in February over its widening fiscal deficit and slow growth, saying the economy remains deeply at risk to both internal and external shocks. The IMF said Pakistan's economy would speed up to a 3.4 percent growth pace in fiscal 2011-2012, which runs to June 30, compared to 2.4 percent last year. Global crude oil prices recovered Friday from the prior day's losses, in a market supported by fresh US sanctions against Iran's oil sector. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in May, closed at $103.02 a barrel, up 24 cents from Thursday's market close. In London trade, Brent North Sea crude for May gained 49 cents to settle at $122.88 a barrel.

N-League responsible for load shedding in Punjab

Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Senior Federal Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi have said that the PML-N was responsible for severe load shedding in Punjab. “Shahbaz Sharif sold the interest of Punjab for third time premiership for his brother Nawaz Sharif and their lust for power have thrown Punjab into dark ages,” the two leaders said while chairing a meeting of members of provincial and National Assembly from KP and FATA, district representatives of PML-Q and party workers. Adviser to Prime Minister Syed Qasim Shah presented a resolution which reposed complete faith in the leadership of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and acknowledged that his visionary leadership brought successes to the party. The participants seconded the resolution through a show of hand and resolved to fight every intrigue and treachery to harm the party. The participants through the resolution disassociated themselves from the elements who violated the party discipline. The meeting was assured that the PML-Q would be reorganized in KP on democratic lines and party conventions would be held in all the cities of KP very soon. Shujaat said he would visit FATA to address the problem of the region and bring it into mainstream politics. He said that PML-Q was a coalition partner of the government in centre and Sindh and Balochistan and the party was contemplating joining the KP government. Parvez Elahi said the PML-Q was like a grand family where leaders and workers were respected, criticism was accepted with an open heart and valuable suggestions of the workers were incorporated in party decisions. He was of the view that former PML-Q leader Amir Muqam fell from grace and time would tell that he took a wrong turn at a critical juncture of his political career. Elahi said they should not lend ears to gossipmongers and keep a firm belief in the political acumen of the party leadership.


The armed terrorists had struck Quetta again killing eight people and injuring more than a dozen others on the pretext of sectarian violence. The trouble started when armed terrorists on motorcycles sprayed bullet on the people traveling on a small van from Hazara Township to Marriabad. Five people died on the spot and three others died in hospital while about a dozen people sustained bullet and other injuries. One of the deceased persons was a woman. The victims belonged to Hazara Tribe and were Shia. It is suspected that the sectarian terrorists had made them target to create anarchy in Pakistan on sectarian ground. The incident sparked off trouble and violence when enraged people exchanged gunfire with the police injuring many police personnel. The trouble spread to the whole locality involving local residents of Hazara Town to come out of their residences and stage a protest demonstration. However, some miscreants were involved in attacking the hospital and ransacked some of the department. Almost all the significant political forces and parties had supported the call for General Strike and a shutter down protest against killing the innocent people of their no crime. The shutter down strike was complete and unprecedented in Quetta. It demonstrated solidarity with the victims of violence. The unqualified support to the victims of violence indicated that the society as a whole had condemned the killing on sectarian ground and the criminals stood isolated as they enjoy no support from any quarter in this province. However, the violence spread to neighbouring localities creating a tense atmosphere in this Capital city of Quetta. It is the duty of the Government to unearth the real culprits targeting the Shia community on sectarian grounds and they should be brought to book without any delay. It had become a permanent feature since the Iranian revolution that Shia elements were targeted by a group of sectarian terrorists. We suggested in these columns that the sectarian violence should come to an end restoring peace in Balochistan on permanent basis. The Baloch people are secular by nature and they are not involved in sectarian killings or they are opposed to Hazara tribesmen for any reasons. They have no conflict with Hazara tribes. The terrorists are drawing their strength from somewhere else and not from the Baloch society which is staunchly secular and highly humanitarian in its approach. There is no history of violence against minorities, including religious and cultural minorities, as the Balochs dealt with the minority in a decent and gentle way for hundreds of years and the minorities had no complaints in the entire history. This wave of Shia killing is related with the Islamic Revolution in Iran and since then the violence against Shia or the Hazara Tribe had been started by the criminal conspirators or some no state actors having their own vested interests. There are millions of Sunni Baluchs residing in Iranian Balochistan and they are living in complete peace and harmony having no sectarian conflict with the majority Shia population. Some outsiders did try to disrupt the peace and tranquility in Iranian Balochistan by undertaking some subversive activities which failed to attract the attention of people from Iranian Balochistan. Same is the case with the Baloch dealing with their religious and cultural minorities where the minorities had no complaints to this date. Now it is the duty of the Government to investigate rather properly chase and unearth the real culprits who off and on targets the Hazara or Shia people purely on sectarian grounds. Such incidents had also taken place in Gilgit and Baltistan where a score of people were identified first and killed while allowing others to go. The incident of Gilgit and Quetta may have some links or some common objectives, it is generally believed by some people.

Peshawar: Flower show held in Gor Gahtree

Peshawar got an edge of holding variety of activities in the recent past only to portray the actual face of the people leaving in this oldest living City on the earth. Peshawar once famous for its black roses in the World and known as City of flowers but gone are days when the roadside have green belts because of the negligence on one part or the other. To highlight the softer image of the City there are varieties of program only to portray the real picture of the people living in this historical City. Flowers are reflection of our aesthetic sense and attitude and depicting the real picture, the Tourism Corporation has organized an event by the name of " The World is my Oyster", a flower display held with the cooperation of Floral Art Society and Horticulture Society of Pakistan at Tehsil Gor Ghatree Peshawar for women. The flower show was opened to general public at 3.00 p.m and they were there till the evening. There were infinite varieties of flowers put on display and were nicely decorated keeping international standards. Respected wives of businessmen, intellectuals, industrialists, armed forces personals, politicians and democrats and above all people from different walk of life graced the occasion. Fragrance of flowers made the environment magical for those who turn-up even from far flung area. Provincial Minister for Sports, Tourism, Archaeology and Museum Sayd Aqil Shah and Provincial Secretary Sayed Jamaludin Shah described their respective feelings while talking to the general public. The historical city of Peshawar has witnessed beautiful seasons and eras. Organizers have done a great job for beautiful decorating the flowers, Jan Ali, visitor said on this occasion. The people also lauded the efforts of the government for organizing varieties of program in making the citizens happy and healthy as they can enjoy the environment. "Such programmes convey to the world that we love flowers and are very peaceful rather terrorists," Amina, a mother of two, told APP during her round to different stalls decorated with handsome of flowers. "It shows that we are a living nation and we can prove through such activities that we are peaceful, loving and want to keep our country green and environmental friendly for the future generation," Lubna, a doctor to be, told this scribe.

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US Makes Progress in Afghanistan

The US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday said that the Afghanistan is making progress against the Taliban. Addressing US Marines, Panetta said the Congress would be irresponsible if it doesn't act to prevent drastic military budget cuts. A budget agreement reached last August calls for defence cuts of $487 billion over a decade, a reflection of the drawdown of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the pressure to reduce the nation's deficit. Answering questions from troops and journalists, Panetta also said last year was a turning point for the war in Afghanistan, where the US is winding down its combat role. Afghan forces are doing their job in the country and more than 50 percent of the Afghan population is now living in areas secured by the Afghan government - showing the US strategy of handing over the security to them is working - but ultimately it will be up to Afghans, the secretary said. "We can't let anything, anything undermine that strategy," he said. He said the level of violence in Afghanistan dropped last year for the first time in five years and the Taliban was weakened.

Pakistan: In police custody: Ahmadi school teacher allegedly tortured to death

Master Abdul Qudoos, a well known Ahmadi school teacher was allegedly tortured to death while in police custody in the Rabwah city of Punjab on Friday. The Chenab Nagar Police has registered a case against two accused police officials. Master Abdul Qudoos Ahmad, 43, was taken into custody by the police in the first week of February for questioning in the murder case of Muhammad Yousuf, a stamp-paper seller from Nusrat Abad. He was allegedly tortured ruthlessly during the interrogation, causing severe internal injuries. “When his body could not take further torture, his relatives were blackmailed and he was released. He was admitted to a local hospital where doctors tried to save his life, but Qudoos died due to several injuries and excessive loss of blood,” Abdul Qudoos’s brother-in-law Imtiaz Ahmed said. SHO Khadim Hussain of the Chenab Nagar Police Station told The Express Tribune that on the complaint of Imtiaz Ahmad, a case had been registered against the two police sub inspectors, Sujhat Ali and Manazar Ali under sections 302, 148, 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code. He, however, maintains that the accused was picked up on March 24 and was released two days later as the police was convinced of his innocence. Hussain says a fatal disease could be the possible cause of death. Hussain said the dead body was sent for postmortem examination, adding that if the autopsy proved the cause of death to be torture, action against the accused will be taken accordingly. The spokesperson of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya Pakistan, Saleemud Din condemned the incident, terming it ‘callous and inhuman’. “The way Master Abdul Qudoos was tortured and brutalised is the lowest form of humanity. Police should investigate the murder case and whoever is involved should be brought to justice. The police have no right to pick up any person and subject them to extra-judicial torture,” Din said. Saleemud Din alleged that the real reason for the teacher’s arrest was to taint the reputation of the local Ahmadiyya administration of Rabwah. “Master Abdul Qudoos was the President of Jamaat-e-Ahmediyya’s local chapter and he was arrested to defame the administration.” Saleemud Din demanded the constitution of a high-powered commission to investigate the case. He also urged the government, as well as human rights organisations to take notice of the incident. “The culprits behind the murder should be brought to justice so people can have faith in the police department,” Din said.

Foreign forces should not intervene in Asian affairs

People’s perception of China's international image is always guided by Western media. But to truly know the image of China, the world should not just listen to what Western media says, it needs to look at the true effects. What messages do we get from most Western media reports before Chinese President Hu Jintao started visit to Cambodia? There are two kinds of contents. First, Cambodia should not obey China on the issue of the South China Sea. Instead, it should maintain the prestige of the rotating presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Second, Cambodia has fallen into the trap of Chinese investment and become a dependency of China. All this is quite different with the true feelings of Cambodians. During a discussion meeting on the issue of the South China Sea, a Cambodian scholar said that China will not resort to the threat of force to small countries. China should be regarded as a cooperative partner that provides more opportunities for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The issue of the South China Sea can certainly be solved through friendly consultations. Even the words of so-called "trap of Chinese investment" will disintegrate. The Cambodian people are the direct beneficiary of Chinese aid. Many Cambodians said that their country has just undergone chaos caused by war and urgently needs to rehabilitate. China put huge investment in Cambodia without any conditions. However, some other countries attached some conditions to their aid or have obvious political motives behind their aid. By contrast, China is the true friend of Cambodia.Why is the amicable settlement of the problem of the South China Sea feasible? Why is Chinese image in the Southeast Asia different from what the Western media describes? It is because that some Western people intentionally or unintentionally covered an important factor of knowing Chinese image - the peaceful development strategy of China. For a long period of time, Asian people lived under the influence of the Western countries. However, the situation has become very different today. Just as what Kishore Mahbubani from Singapore said, today is the best development opportunity for Asia in 200 years. China's peaceful development will obviously drive forward the whole Asian development. There are still many contradictions and differences among Asian countries and some issues rooted in history also need to be solved. Since Asian people can rapidly develop economy, they can also peacefully solve these problems by themselves. In fact, the cooperation between China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is also aimed at solving the problems by themselves.

German jobless rate falls further

U.S. and Russia ''disagree'' on Syria

.S. says Washington and Moscow's approach to the Syrian bloodshed are poles apart but the two governments are still talking.

Bahraini protester dies after being shot at demonstration

A Bahraini man died on Saturday after being shot during an anti-government march a day earlier, his relative and the opposition said, blaming his death on what they described as loyalist militia members. The government's media arm, known as the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority (IAA), confirmed that Ahmed Ismail, 22, bled to death after being shot on Friday. Mohammed bu Daniel said his cousin was taking pictures of a demonstration when what he described as "militia members" in an unmarked car opened fire on him. "They took him to Salmaniya hospital and he was martyred there at 4:30." Al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main opposition party said: "The details as related by witnesses and family indicate that the martyr Ahmed was near the main road with a camera in hand for documentation. Civilian police patrols were present and there were armed militias with them... One of the people in one of the cars fired live rounds into the protesters and into the air." Bahrain, where the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family dominates political and economic life, has been bitterly divided since authorities quelled a mainly Shi'ite pro-democracy uprising last March. A year on, protests still flare daily in Shi'ite areas, often ending in violence. The IAA said the case would be investigated as murder, after hearing from people close to the victim that the shots had been fired by men in an unmarked vehicle. "The cause of death according to the medical examiner was critical bleeding due to the wound that had penetrated the upper right thigh, severing the main blood vessel and exiting the other side," it said in a statement. The Gulf state is keen to show it is making progress on reforms it pledged to implement following international criticism of its crackdown on demonstrations, during which at least 1,000 people were detained and several died under torture, by Bahrain's own admission. Protesters have called for curbs on the ruling family's power and an end to sectarian discrimination. A few Shi'ite groups also called for the monarchy to be replaced with a republic. Bahrain's rulers, who invited troops from Sunni monarchies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help quash the uprising, have accused Shi'ite neighbor Iran of fomenting unrest. Iran denies this. Opposition parties say government reform promises are little more than window-dressing to impress Western allies. Bahrain is due to host the Formula One grand prix in April. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, an activist serving a life sentence for his role in the protests, was taken to hospital on Friday, having been on hunger strike for over one month, his lawyer said. A founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Khawaja was convicted on charges including forming and organizing a "terrorist group" to end the Al Khalifa monarchy. Rights group Amnesty International called for his release on Friday. "They took Abdulhadi to the hospital yesterday night, and we only found out this morning," the lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi said. "I am in the hospital now. I'm trying to see him but until now they haven't let me."

Assad’s forces capture Free Syrian Army commander in Damascus area

AL ARABIYA NEWS Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have captured the deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Damascus and its suburbs, Al Arabiya TV reported on Saturday. Colonel al-Moatasim Billah Abu al-Walid is the deputy of Colonel General Khaled Habous who heads the FSA’s operations in the capital and the surrounding area. The capture of Abu al-Walid came days after a report stating that Syrian opposition fighters were planning a campaign of guerrilla warfare in Damascus following a daring operation that took place in the capital’s most secure district of Mezza. The opposition army had set up a military council to coordinate operations around Damascus, bringing the year-old conflict to the capital. The FSA chain of command has been divided and mostly localized. Top leaders General Mustafa al-Sheikh and Lieutenant Colonel Riad al-Asaad are living in Turkey. Colonel Asaad had said the formation of a new military council was “a step towards guaranteeing the unity of the troops and armed forces (of the opposition) on Syrian territory.” Opposition fighters, lightly armed, have been on the retreat from cities since the start of March in the face of the far superior firepower of government forces. The fighters have turned to swift hit-and-run raids, with Damascus, which has been largely spared the worst of the bloodshed, becoming a prime target over the past week.

Yemenis stage fresh anti-regime protests in Taizz

Yemeni anti-regime peaceful protesters have once again poured into the streets in the southern city of Taizz, calling for the fulfillment of their revolution’s goals. Demonstrators held rallies and chanted slogans demanding an end to the corruption and the expulsion of deposed dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh’s family members and loyalists from key positions in the interim government. Yemeni protesters further highlighted that there has been no improvement in the country and their legitimate demands have not been met. According to the Yemeni Youth Revolution movement this is partly due to Saleh and his inner circle’s intervention while the interim government is also comprised of people who are not fit for their jobs. Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, stepped down in February under a US-backed power transfer deal in return for immunity. His deputy, UK-trained field marshal Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, replaced him on February 25 following a single-candidate presidential election backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Hadi will serve for an interim two-year period as stipulated by the power transfer deal which granted Saleh and his closest allies immunity from prosecution. Saleh's eldest son Ahmed now commands the elite Republican Guard, his nephew Yehya heads the central security services and another nephew, Tariq, controls the Presidential Guard. Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party also has17 ministers in the new 34-member cabinet.

Syria says revolt over

Syria says the year-old revolt to topple President Bashar al-Assad is over, but the army again shelled opposition areas on Saturday and rebels said they would not cease fire until tanks, artillery and heavy weapons are withdrawn. Washington and Gulf Arab states urged peace envoy Kofi Annan to set a timeline for "next steps" if there is no ceasefire, and Saudi Arabia repeated a call for rebels to be armed. Annan has said neither measure would be helpful. The former U.N. chief's mission has brought no respite in the killings. Syria also said it would keep its forces in cities to "maintain security" until it is safe to withdraw in line with the peace deal, which Assad has said he accepts. Annan's plan says the army must stop violence immediately and be the first to withdraw forces. "We cannot accept the presence of tanks and troops in armored vehicles among the people," a spokesman for Free Syrian Army commanders inside Syria said. "We don't have a problem with the ceasefire. As soon as they remove their armored vehicles, the Free Syrian Army will not fire a single shot," Lieutenant Colonel Qassim Saad al-Din told Reuters by telephone from Homs. A rebel officer in Damascus said separately: "When Assad's gangs stop the shelling and killing of civilians, then our leaders can issue an order to stop operations and we will commit to it to show our good intentions." Opposition activists reported 25 people killed and five bodies found bearing signs of torture, including two children. A protest singer in Kafr Ruma was killed when his house was raided. A young man and his sister were shot dead when state forces stormed their village, and a man died of gunshot wounds inflicted during a protest in Damascus. HOMS UNDER FIRE Artillery and mortars pounded a pro-opposition part of Homs city, killing one. Ten deaths were reported in Homs province. "Mortars are falling every minute and the sounds of explosions are shaking the (Khalidiya) neighborhood," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Rocket fire killed a child in the al-Bayyada area of Homs and a man was killed in crossfire in clashes near a checkpoint. In southern Deraa province, five were killed by machinegun fire in Kharbat Ghazaleh and three died from wounds sustained in clashes on Friday. Rebels killed six soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel in Deir al-Zor, the Observatory said. Despite the violence, Damascus says it has the upper hand. "The battle to topple the state is over," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad al-Makdissi told Syria TV late on Friday. "Our goal now is to ensure stability and create a perspective for reform and development in Syria while preventing others from sabotaging the path of reform." His assertion follows army victories over rebel strongholds in the cities of Hama, Homs and Idlib, and Assad's acceptance this week of Annan's plan that does not demand he step down. The political opposition remains divided and prospects of Western-led military intervention are close to zero. Assad's opponents have not yet formally accepted the plan. They were due to meet the foreign ministers of allied Western powers, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on Sunday at a "Friends of Syria" conference in Turkey, which provides a safe haven for Syrian rebels. After Clinton met Gulf foreign ministers in Riyadh on Saturday, they said Annan should set a timeline for unspecified measures should his efforts fail to halt the bloodletting. "Given the urgency of the joint envoy's mission, (U.S. and Gulf ministers) urged the joint envoy to determine a timeline for next steps if the killing continues," a statement said. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told a news conference with Clinton: "The arming of the opposition is a duty, I think, because it cannot defend itself except with weapons." WESTERN SCEPTICISM Assad has endorsed Annan's six-point peace plan, which has the U.N. Security Council's unanimous backing, but Western leaders say the 46-year-old Syrian leader has broken similar promises before and must be judged by actions not words. Syria's Makdissi said Annan, who met Assad in Damascus on March 10, had acknowledged the government's right to respond to armed violence during the ceasefire phase of the peace plan. "When security can be maintained for civilians, the army will leave, he said. "This is a Syrian matter." Annan's plan says Syria must stop putting troops into cities forthwith and begin taking them out. "The Syrian government should immediately cease troop movement towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers," it states. A sustained end to violence by all sides would be supervised by a U.N. team of around 250 monitors, diplomats said. Western diplomats say the key to any ceasefire deal lies in the sequencing of the army pullback and ending rebel attacks. They say the opposition won't feel safe negotiating before the army stops shooting, but also note it would be impractical to expect a complete government pullout before rebels respond. More than 9,000 people have been killed by Assad's forces during the revolt, according to the United Nations, while Damascus says it has lost about 3,000 security force members. Western and Arab foreign ministers backing Syrians trying to topple Assad will seek clear endorsement of the Annan plan from the Syrian National Council (SNC), although they themselves doubt whether Assad will genuinely try to implement it. In Libya a year ago, the West and the Arabs quickly granted recognition to a revolutionary national council as the sole legitimate government of Libya. They are not close to doing the same for the splintered SNC in Syria, diplomats say. There is also little chance they will agree to arm rebels. If Assad fails to keep his word, Annan would have to decide whether to call time and tell the United Nations he has failed to make peace through a "Syrian-led process". The issue would then return to the U.N. Security Council, with increased pressure on Assad's allies Russia and China, which have endorsed Annan's mission, to get tough with Damascus.

Trayvon Martin marchers to Sanford, Fla., police: 'We want an arrest. Shot in the chest'

Civil-rights leaders from the NAACP and other groups led thousands of other protesters on Saturday in a march to the city’s police headquarters to demand the arrest of the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous were among those leading the rally through Sanford’s streets, marching behind a huge yellow banner with the words “Justice for Trayvon.” “We want an arrest. Shot in the chest,” marchers chanted.

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gospel music playing in the background, protesters were marching from a technical high school campus on 13th Street through a predominantly black neighborhood to the Sanford Police Station several blocks away. The throng stretched for blocks, weaving past homes, churches and small businesses, many of them boarded up. The rally was organized by the NAACP. Its chapters from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama arranged buses to bring participants to the rally, while others traveled by car. "Because of the age of the young man and because of the circumstances of his death, every community can identify with that," said Bernard Simelton, president of the Alabama state conference of the NAACP. "We've had things like that happen in Alabama where somebody gets killed and the police just sweep it under the rug. It just touches everyone."

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The marchers were demanding the arrest of George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watchman who says he was defending himself when he fatally shot 17-year-old Martin during a scuffle. Martin, who was black, was unarmed as he walked from a convenience store, and the case has become a racial flashpoint with protesters across the nation calling for his arrest. Zimmerman's father is white, his mother Hispanic. Sanford police did not immediately arrest Zimmerman, saying they had no information to disprove his assertion that he acted in self-defense. A special prosecutor has since been named to look into the case.At a press conference before the march, Jealous and Sharpton denied media reports that Sharpton planned to call for an economic boycott of Sanford or the surrounding central Florida area, calling it a "media fabrication." "Put to rest the rumor that there is any discussion of a boycott of the community," Jealous told reporters.Sharpton said there could still be unspecified action against national corporations that support the "Stand Your Ground" laws like the one police cited when they declined to arrest Zimmerman. The law gives citizens wide latitude to use deadly force when a threat is perceived. Sharpton declined to identify those corporations but said, "We take nothing nonviolent off the table." A Florida NAACP leader said that Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee’s stepping aside temporarily was not enough, and that he should be fired. Martin’s death has also attracted international attention. About 300 people gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in London on Saturday in a show of solidarity for the Martin family's cause. Some read poems and others carried placards with the slogan 'No Justice, No peace.' At the end of the three-hour vigil, 17 black balloons where released in honor of the slain teenager.

Three winners in record $656 million U.S. lottery

Three winners who could share a $656 million windfall from the largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history bought their lucky tickets at a 7-Eleven store in Maryland, a Motomart convenience story in Illinois and somewhere in northeast Kansas, lottery officials said on Saturday. Lottery officials said the 7-Eleven store was in Milford Mill, Maryland, near Baltimore, and the Motomart convenience store in the southern Illinois farming town of Red Bud, Illinois. Kansas lottery officials were not releasing the exact location where the ticket was sold except to say that it was in the most populated northeast part of the state. "Each of the winners gets $105.1 million in cash after taxes roughly, but who cares about pennies at this point?" said Carole Everett, spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery. The winners whose tickets had all six numbers of the Mega Millions lottery drawn on Friday night will split the jackpot, the biggest in U.S. history, which rose to $656 million after all sales were tallied, lottery officials said. The winning numbers announced at the drawing in Atlanta were 2-4-23-38-46 and Mega Ball 23. Winners could receive either a one-time payment of their share or take it in 26 annual installment payments. A pre-dawn call alerted store manager Denise Metzger to news from lottery officials that a winning ticket was sold at her Motomart in the tiny farming community of Red Bud, with less than 4,000 residents, about 30 miles southeast of St. Louis. "I screamed, I woke my husband up," said Metzger. Residents swarmed the store within hours of the announcement to check their tickets, although no winner has yet emerged, she said. "I think everyone in town has been here already," she joked. Though the winner may want to remain anonymous, in Illinois the state is required to eventually list his or her identity in public records. The winning Maryland ticket was a single quick pick ticket, in which numbers are automatically selected, sold at about 7:15 p.m. on Friday at the 7-Eleven franchise in Milford Mill in the Baltimore area, Everett said. "They are shocked they are getting the $100,000 bonus," Everett said of the family that has owned the franchise for 10 years after learning of the reward that goes to the sellers of winning tickets. In addition to the three jackpot winners, there were three tickets that matched the Mega Ball number to win $1 million each and 158 tickets that picked five of the six chosen numbers to win $250,000 each, said Kelly Cripe, spokeswoman for the Texas Lottery, which oversaw the Mega Millions game. There had been a tremendous amount of excitement ahead of the drawing, with over one billion tickets sold, lottery officials said. The previous largest Mega Millions jackpot was $390 million in 2007, which was split between two ticket holders in Georgia and New Jersey. About half the lottery money goes back to ticket holders in the form of winnings, 35 percent to state governments and 15 percent to retailer commissions and lottery operating expenses. No matter who won the jackpot, one certain winner is the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The tax-collecting agency subjects lottery winnings of more than $5,000 to a 25-percent federal withholding tax.

Obama proposes new rule for immigrant families

The Obama administration
is proposing to make it easier for illegal immigrants who are immediate family members of American citizens to apply for permanent residency, a move that could affect as many as 1 million of the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally.
The new rule, which the Department of Homeland Security will post for public comment Monday, would reduce the time illegal immigrants are separated from their American families while seeking legal status, immigration officials said. Currently, such immigrants must leave the country to apply for a legal visa, often leading to long stints away as they await resolution of their applications. The proposal is the latest move by the administration to use its executive powers to revise immigration procedures without changing the law. It reflects an effort by President Obama to improve his standing among those Latino voters who feel he has not met his 2008 campaign promise to pursue comprehensive immigration reform. The president's push to pass the Dream Act, a law that would have created a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants enrolled in college or enlisted in the military, was defeated in the Senate in December. No reform legislation has been under serious consideration since, yet the U.S. has deported a record number of illegal immigrants under Obama. Many immigrants who might seek legal status do not pursue it out of fear they will not receive a "hardship waiver" of strict U.S. immigration laws: An illegal immigrant who has overstayed a visa for more than six months is barred from reentering the U.S. for three years; those who overstay more than a year are barred for 10 years. Lisa Battan, an immigration attorney based in Boulder, Colo., said the current process is "encouraging people to remain illegal." The revised rule would allow illegal immigrants to claim that time apart from a spouse, child or parent who is a U.S. citizen would create "extreme hardship," and would permit them to remain in the country as they apply for legal status. Once approved, applicants would be required to leave the U.S. briefly, simply to return to their native country and pick up their visa. The change could reduce a family's time apart to one week in some cases, officials said. The White House hopes to have the new procedures in place by the end of the year. David Leopold, a Cleveland attorney and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn., said the change was a "minor processing tweak, but it has great value to families." Hundreds of thousands of the estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants in California could benefit from the proposed change, according to immigration activists. Republicans accused Obama of making an end run around Congress. "President Obama and his administration are bending long-established rules to grant backdoor amnesty to potentially millions of illegal immigrants," Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement Friday. U.S. immigration officials counter that the revision affects only how the applications are processed, not whether the legal status ultimately is granted. "I don't think that criticism is warranted at all," said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "What we are doing is reducing the time of separation, not changing the standard of obtaining a waiver." That the proposal is being announced in an election year has a whiff of political calculation, said Javier Ortiz, a Republican strategist. "It looks like the president is pandering to Hispanic voters," said Ortiz, asserting that Obama could have proposed the change three years ago when he took office. "I would argue that Hispanics are smarter than that, and they know he has failed to bring forward comprehensive immigration reform." The White House has previously made other administrative changes, such as a policy announced in June that gave prosecutors new authority to put on hold cases against immigration violators who have strong ties to the U.S. and no criminal record. The "discretion policy" encouraged immigration agents to focus on the removal of illegal immigrants who pose a threat to public safety or are repeat immigration law violators. A program intended to cull so-called "low priority" cases from immigration courts began in Denver and Baltimore early this year and is being expanded to six other cities across the U.S. over the next four months, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The more-targeted approach hasn't reduced the total number of people being deported annually from the U.S. Last year, 396,906 people were deported, a record number for the third consecutive year, and many of the deportees were relatives of U.S. citizens. In the first half of last year alone, immigration officials deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S. citizens, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For some immigrants, the danger of returning to their home country for a long period discourages them from seeking legal status. Mexican nationals are required by the State Department to apply for their hardship waivers at the U.S. consulate in Juarez, Mexico, a city plagued by drug cartel violence that saw about 2,000 homicides in 2011. Abel Aguirre de la Cruz and his wife, Jessica Martinez, a U.S. citizen, were carjacked at gunpoint with their infant child in November 2010 in Fresnillo, Mexico, while going through the waiver application process, according to Battan, the Colorado-based lawyer, who represents the couple. On March 15, 20 months after the family first applied for a waiver, the consulate in Juarez requested more information. After the administration's new proposal is posted in the Federal Register on Monday, the public will have 60 days to critique the change.

President Obama: GOP Wouldn't Elect Abraham Lincoln Today

Republicans wouldn't elect Abraham Lincoln if he were alive today, President Barack Obama said during a campaign stop in Vermont on Friday.
Bemoaning the fact that many Republicans these days are opposed to spending more on infrastructure or investing in new technologies, Obama told a crowd at the University of Vermont that it didn't used to be that way. He invoked the 16th president: "The first Republican president, President Lincoln, who, by the way, couldn't win the nomination for the Republican primary right now," Obama said, "in the middle of the Civil War helped to make the Transcontinental Railroad possible, the land grant colleges, the National Academy [of Sciences]." "This has not traditionally been a Democratic or a Republican idea," Obama noted about infrastructure spending. "It was a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who called for a progressive income tax. It was Dwight Eisenhower who built the interstate highway system." Lincoln "understood that we're in this together; we've got to make an investment in our futures," Obama said. "It was with the help of Republicans that FDR was able to give millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, the chance to go to college through the GI bill." The president's remarks came just hours after he signed a 90-day extension of the federal transportation act, funding highways and other transit projects that would have run out of money on Saturday. The GOP House refused to consider a Senate bill, opposed by more conservative members, that would have provided two years of funding.

President Obama: 'See what change looks like'

China rejects Obama’s push to punish countries importing Iranian oil, SKorea seeks agreement

China rejected President Barack Obama’s decision to move forward with plans for sanctions on countries buying oil from Iran, saying Saturday that Washington had no right to unilaterally punish other nations. South Korean officials said they will continue working with the U.S. to reduce oil imports from Iran, as other U.S. allies who depend on Iranian oil worked to find alternative energy supplies. Obama announced Friday that he is plowing ahead with the potential sanctions, which could affect U.S. allies in Asia and Europe, as part of a deepening campaign to starve Iran of money for its disputed nuclear program. The U.S. and allies believe that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb; Iran denies that. China is one of the biggest importers of Iranian oil, and its Foreign Ministry reiterated its opposition to the U.S. moves. “The Chinese side always opposes one country unilaterally imposing sanctions against another according to domestic law. Furthermore it does not accept the unilateral imposition of those sanctions on a third country,” the ministry said in a brief statement Saturday. Beyond the rhetoric, Beijing has taken a two-pronged approach to the U.S. demands, insisting that China has the right to import oil from Iran or any other country while quietly reducing imports of Iranian oil. Though the government has not explained the reductions, oil traders and industry executives have said it may stem more from a pricing dispute with Iran than as a response to U.S. pressure. Behind the scenes, Washington has repeatedly encouraged Beijing to seek supplies elsewhere, and Saudi Arabia offered to fill a shortfall when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Gulf countries early this year. The looming U.S. sanctions aim to further isolate Iran’s central bank, which processes nearly all of the Iran’s oil purchases, from the global economy. Obama’s move clears the way for the U.S. to penalize foreign financial institutions that do oil business with Iran by barring them from having a U.S.-based affiliate or doing business here. Obama’s goal is to tighten the pressure on Iran, not allies, and already the administration has exempted 10 European Union countries and Japan from the threat of sanctions because they cut their oil purchases from Iran. Other nations have about three months to significantly reduce such imports before sanctions would kick in. The main importers of Iranian oil that have not received exemptions from the U.S. are China, India, Turkey, South Africa and South Korea. The administration would be loath to hit a close friend like South Korea or India, or a NATO ally like Turkey, with sanctions, and is working with those countries to reduce their imports. Foreign Ministry officials in South Korea said Saturday that they expect to reach an agreement with Washington by late June on reducing oil imports from Iran. The officials declined to be named because discussions were still under way. The U.S. sanctions are set to take effect on June 28. A European oil embargo, approved in January, starts in July. Put together, Obama administration officials contend Iran is about to face its most severe economic pressure ever. The United States imports no oil from Iran. Energy-starved India, which relies on Iranian oil for 12 percent for its power needs, has said that it does not heed unilateral sanctions such as those imposed by the U.S. and EU. Nevertheless, New Delhi has not remained completely immune to sanction pressures and is slowly easing its dependence on Iranian oil, with a slow decline in Iranian oil imports. The Western sanctions also have made it harder for Indian companies to pay for Iranian oil, with international banks unwilling to handle transactions from Tehran. In February, India irked the West by arranging to make 45 percent of its yearly $11 billion oil payments to Iran in Indian rupees, with the rest paid in a barter system as Tehran seeks Indian-made machinery, iron and steel, minerals and automobiles. Turkey announced Friday it was shrinking oil imports from Iran by 20 percent, apparently bowing to pressure from the United States and th

In Pakistan, a hunt for the million-dollar falcons

So what happened to the million-dollar falcons? That’s the question Pakistani officials have to answer for a wealthy Arab sheikh who alleges that the government snatched his four rare falcons — valued at 350 million rupees, or nearly $3.9 million — from the Islamabad airport. The birds apparently were released into the wild — but maybe not. Customs and wildlife officials have been ordered to produce the falcons. Sheikh Muhammad Sultan Ahmed Mualla, a United Arab Emirates prince, filed a lawsuit this month to force officials to hand over the birds. The sheikh says the falcons were brought into the country legally, with all required passports, visas and medical certificates. The lawsuit states that the situation “may affect foreign relations of both the countries and will lower the prestige of Pakistan in the comity of nations,” according to local media. Falcons in the UAE are issued passports to combat illegal trading and smuggling of the birds. They are in high demand in the region because they are used in the centuries-old sport of falconry, which is popular in the Middle East. The prince brought the birds to Pakistan to give to friends, according to The News, a daily newspaper here. But given recent events, he has decided to take the birds back to the UAE. If he can recover them, that is. Customs officials claim that the sheikh lacked the requisite paperwork. So, realizing the valuable birds would need special care and handling, they requested that the Wildlife Department take custody of them for safekeeping until the owner provided the necessary documents. But wildlife officials say the falcons were unaccompanied and because no one came to claim them within 12 hours, they were released into the wild. “They had no legal documents,” Wildlife Department deputy director Raja Javed said. “If you have falcons, you must claim them.” Wildlife officials orchestrated elaborate media coverage, convening journalists and television crews to document the four captives being released into the air and using the event as an opportunity to tout ongoing efforts to stop illegal falcon smuggling. What exactly happened remains murky — and both agencies are in a PR mode and offering competing narratives. But some believe there has been foul play. “It is strongly suspected that the falcons flown into the air are not the original ones and the originals have been kept with some greedy motivations,” said The News reporter Umar Cheema, who has been covering the scandal. “The entire thing is embarrassing for everyone.” Federal tax authorities ordered television stations covering the release of the falcons to turn over footage of the event. The film could reveal whether common falcons were substituted for the rare birds. So will the government produce the falcons in court? “They have been freed and we do not know where they are,” Javed said. “These are migratory birds. They migrate and they pass through Pakistan.” And, he noted: “This is migration season.”

In Afghanistan, Businesses Plan Their Own Exits

America may be struggling to come up with a viable exit plan for Afghanistan, but Abdul Wasay Manani is sure of his. The broad-set Afghan butcher spent the past seven years trucking cattle in from the Pakistan border and building a thriving business for himself and his family, serving up some of the best hamburgers in Kabul for the embassies and expatriates and their barbecues. But this month, Mr. Manani, 38, flew to India for 14 days to scout out a new business, and a new home, ready to leave Afghanistan and everything he worked to build here, just in case things fall apart when most Americans and other foreign troops leave in 2014. “If the Taliban come like last time, ordering people around with whips, I can’t stay here,” he said. “I have to leave this country to keep my family safe.” Many Afghans share his concern. Interviews with business owners, analysts and economists paint a picture of extreme anxiety in both the domestic and international business communities here as the Afghan-United States relationship deteriorates and as the Western drawdown begins. In this environment, troubling indicators are not hard to find. More than 30,400 Afghans applied for asylum in industrialized nations in 2011, the highest level in 10 years and four times the number seeking asylum in 2005, according to provisional figures from the United Nations. Meanwhile, the number of displaced Afghans outside the country seeking to come the other way slowed to 68,000 last year, down from 110,000 in 2010 and a big decrease from the 1.8 million Afghans who repatriated in 2002, the year after the Taliban were driven out of power. The only Western bank operating here said on Wednesday that it would be leaving. Piles of cash equaling about a quarter of Afghanistan’s annual economic output were physically carried out of Afghanistan last year. Fewer foreign companies are seeking to do business here, and those already here are downsizing and putting off new investments. And there are businessmen like Mr. Manani who already have a foot out the door, working actively toward a Plan B for life and business outside Afghanistan. Senior Afghan officials are acutely aware of it, and are alternately worried and angry. “Sometimes I hear that some businessmen are fleeing and moving their businesses to outside Afghanistan,” President Hamid Karzai said at a news conference this month. “Curses be upon such businessmen that made tons of money here and now that the Americans are leaving they flee. They can leave right now. We don’t need them.” Given the importance of trying to bolster economic independence in the overall plan for Afghanistan, the skittish responses and decreasing investment and hiring strike right at hopes that this impoverished nation, still barely on the cusp of modernity, can thrive on its own. Large companies are expressing worries about security. One of the most significant is Standard Chartered, the only big Western bank with a branch in the country, which said Wednesday that it was turning over its operations to a local Afghan bank and withdrawing mainly because of deteriorating conditions. Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, chief executive of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the head of one of the country’s four big cellphone companies had told him that he planned to take his investments out of the country after 2014. “It is still two years to go, but we are hearing from our businesses that everybody is raising this question,” Mr. Haqjo said. Even those who are trying to stay, foreign companies in particular, have become very conservative. According to the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, capital spending by foreign companies newly registered in the past year, at $55 million, was the lowest rate in at least seven years, and about one-eighth the rate’s peak in 2006. According to Masuda Sultan, an Afghan-American businesswoman who grew up in Queens, the caution is expressing itself in businesses that are downsizing work forces, for example, or holding off on new investments. “Among the people I know, there is planning going on in terms of investment decisions,” she said. “They are not packing up their bags just yet, but people are looking to diversify abroad or into other business sectors within Afghanistan.” Some of the companies that are more heavily dependent on the military and the aid economy, like construction and logistics businesses, are trying to stay put by reconfiguring toward the few areas where analysts feel Afghanistan might have growth potential, like mining or trade. But others are nervous that Afghanistan’s nebulous private sector will not be enough to fill the gap left by the United States’ military and development spending. World Bank figures back up those fears: the bank estimates that outside aid is equivalent to more than 90 percent of the country’s total economic activity, and forecasts a slowdown in growth in the coming years to 5 or 6 percent from about 9 percent, or much lower if security worsens. That is in part because, despite the billions in reconstruction and aid money poured into Afghanistan, there still is no major manufacturing or technology base that could be a driver of future prosperity. A new Pepsi bottling plant on the outskirts of Kabul is trumpeted as one of the few new investment triumphs. “There is a sense that they have to change from a war economy to a postwar economy, and people definitely expect it to contract,” said Thomas Rosenstock, a lawyer, originally from New York, who helps foreign companies entering the Afghan market. “It’s uncertain how dramatic the contraction would be.” Then there are those who are voting with their cash. Each week tens of millions of dollars — some thought to be diverted American aid or drug money — are packed into suitcases or boxes and loaded onto planes leaving Kabul International Airport for destinations like Dubai, capital flight that is increasing steadily ahead of the 2014 deadline, officials say. Noorullah Delawari, the central bank governor, recently imposed restrictions limiting the amount a passenger can take out of the country to $20,000 a trip. But the mountain of departing cash that is officially declared — about $4.6 billion last year, the same size as the Afghan government’s annual budget — may be matched by money fleeing through other airports and over borders, or seeping out through the black market, an Afghan official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We really don’t know how much is being moved,” the official said. Security officials are still struggling to ensure that people passing through the V.I.P. area of the Kabul airport put their bags through X-ray machines installed a few years ago in part to keep people from sneaking cash out, the official said. For Mr. Manani, the butcher, and others like him who do not have huge amounts of capital as a safety blanket, the hopes that they can stay at home and still expand their businesses are being tempered by the need to ensure their families’ safety. His plan is rooted in an effort to start a second business in New Delhi with his local Sikh business partner there, he says. That would enable him to get a long-term visa, and so a way out for his wife and five children, as well as his parents, brothers and a sister and their children, all of whom depend on him and would have to move with him, he says. “Every businessman is just thinking about how to move from here, about how to be safe,” Mr. Manani said as he stood in front of a big cooler where sides of beef and lamb were hanging. Through the doorway into another room, four workers were busily cutting and packing. He grew up in the north of Afghanistan and fought in the bitter civil war of the 1990s. There is no way he wants to relive that experience, he said. “I don’t have the energy to take the gun again and start fighting,” he said. “That’s why I am looking for a way out.”

U.S. Has No Need to Test Atomic Arsenal, Report Says

The United States does not need to explode nuclear weapons in order to be sure its aging arsenal is still potent, and its ability to detect weapons tests by others is good, according to a report released Friday by the National Academy of Sciences. Those conclusions run counter to some of the arguments raised by opponents of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was rejected by the Senate in a landmark vote in October 1999. The report, updating one on the same subject 10 years ago, said it is highly unlikely the United States would need to resume testing, even though many weapons are decades old, because the weapons can be refurbished with a high degree of confidence that they will still work. “We’ve done life extension programs, and we’ve shown we’re able to reset the clock on these weapons,” said Marvin L. Adams, a professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University and a co-author of the report. Judging from the last ten years, he said, “the summary conclusion is that: yup, it’s difficult, but, gosh, we can do it.” Even if other nations conduct tests and develop nuclear weapons capabilities, that would probably not be a reason for the United States to resume testing, the report said, and if the United States needed to develop new weapons, like an earth-penetrating bomb or a very low-yield weapon, it could probably do so without testing. Testing might be needed, though, to develop a bomb intended to release an electromagnetic pulse, the report said. Such a bomb could be detonated at high altitude to destroy electronic and electric systems. The report said that American intelligence agencies have the technology to be confident in their ability to identify the nuclear blasts of other nations. The agencies use satellites, seismic instruments and underwater microphones that can detect explosions, and sniffers that distinguish between chemical or nuclear blasts. Some very small blasts have a good chance of avoiding detection, but these would be too small to be useful in developing a thermonuclear weapon, the authors said. The study was described as a technical effort and explicitly avoided analysis of whether the treaty should be ratified. When brought to a vote in October 1999, the treaty fell 19 votes short of the two-thirds needed for ratification. It was the first time the Senate had voted down a major international security agreement since the Treaty of Versailles, which created the League of Nations, failed to win approval in 1920. The treaty would take effect if ratified by 44 countries that had either bombs or reactors in 1996. But only 36 have ratified the treaty, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Those include Russia, the United Kingdom and France. Arms control advocates say the United States, which already has a large stockpile of advanced nuclear weapons, would benefit if a ban on testing became the norm, because that would slow the spread of weapons. But even the treaty’s supporters acknowledge there is no prospect of another attempt to ratify it in the near future. The report “should dispel the doubts and the concerns that senators who voted no had in 1999,” Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said. “It makes the case very clearly that this treaty is in our national security interest, because we do not need nuclear test explosions, but other nations could benefit from a world in which we have nuclear testing.” Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that “10 years after the Senate debated the nuclear test ban, the world is much more technologically advanced,” with higher confidence in maintaining a stockpile without testing and catching countries that signed up for a test ban but cheated. “But the political reality is that the Senate’s still not there yet,” he said. “Groundwork has to be laid and the case developed so this issue can ripen and senators can look anew at the science, and make a decision on the technical merits.” He said that “obviously we need to get past this election season and see what the political landscape looks like.”

U.A.E. Closes Down U.S.-Financed Democracy Group

On the eve of a summit meeting here between the United States and Arab nations of the Persian Gulf to deepen security ties, one of those countries, the United Arab Emirates, announced that it had shut down an American-financed organization that promotes democracy, State Department officials said. The United Arab Emirates announced the shutdown on Friday of the office of the National Democratic Institute, State Department officials said, a day before the meeting on Saturday attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The country, which has good relations with the United States, did not explain the action, which seemed especially provocative with Mrs. Clinton in the region. Egypt’s recent prosecution of the group, along with the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, prompted a fierce debate in Washington over whether to continue providing military assistance to the Egyptian military. The Obama administration eventually allowed $1.3 billion in arms sales to move ahead, but only after Egypt allowed American employees of the groups to leave the country. The State Department defended the National Democratic Institute’s work in the United Arab Emirates, but provided no detail about what led to the closing of the offices of the group, which is closely affiliated with Congress. A German organization also targeted in Egypt, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, recently closed its office in the U.A.E. at the demand of the emirates’ foreign ministry. The closing of democracy-building organizations cast a shadow on the meeting here Saturday, which was intended to inaugurate a strategic multilateral alliance with the nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council. In addition to the emirates, the group includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Mrs. Clinton said the alliance would create “opportunities to pursue multilateral cooperation on shared challenges, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation and piracy.” As with Egypt, though, she found herself defending American nongovernmental organizations in countries that are important to the United States on security matters. The State Department said the closing of the institute’s office in the Emirates was especially troubling because it coordinated the group’s efforts in the region. When pressed during a news conference about the closing, Mrs. Clinton said “we very much regret it” and said she had brought it up with the country’s foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, at the conference. “I expect our discussion on this issue to continue,” she said. She added that the administration remained committed to the organization’s work in the region, but also said the overarching interest was to cooperate, particularly in the areas of security and antiterrorism. The idea for Saturday’s meeting took shape last fall as the Obama administration moved ahead with its withdrawal of the last American troops from Iraq, reducing the American military presence in the region at a time of brewing tensions with Iran over its nuclear programs. The United States has close bilateral military relations with all six gulf nations, but the administration hopes to develop a more united military strategy and “security architecture” that would include an integrated missile defense system, intended to combat any attack in the region from Iran. (The system would be separate from one based in Europe that the administration said is also meant to guard against Iranian attacks.) “We’re working with each of our partners to develop that architecture, because in order to protect the gulf, no one nation can protect itself,” a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity according to department rules. “It needs to rely on its partners in order to have an effective missile defense system.” The United States has recently stepped up arms sales to gulf nations, including a $30 billion sale of 154 F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and a nearly $2 billion to provide the United Arab Emirates with one of the most sophisticated antimissile systems, known as the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad. The Gulf Cooperation Council, dominated by Saudi Arabia, has become increasingly active beyond its borders. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates sent combat aircraft to the Mediterranean last year as part of the NATO-led intervention against Libya, while Bahrain and the emirates have forces in Afghanistan. That has made the United States eager to work even more closely with the nations as a group. At the same time, however, the gulf nations are some of the least democratic in the world, putting them at odds with the Obama administration’s advocacy of basic freedoms. Mrs. Clinton spent two days in Saudi Arabia last week for talks that focused on Iran and Syria ahead of an international meeting in Istanbul on Sunday devoted to the crisis there. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pressed for more aggressive actions against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to halt the forceful crackdown against protests and, increasingly, armed opposition fighters. Mrs. Clinton also confirmed Saturday that Iran and six world powers including the United States have agreed to meet in Istanbul on April 13 for the latest round of talks about Iran’s nuclear program, the Associated Press reported.

ISI 'funding' politicians: Probe reports can't be traced

Pakistani authorities were unable to trace the reports of two commissions that investigated the funding of politicians by the ISI in 1990, the government's top law officer informed the Supreme Court on Friday.When a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ex-air force chief Asghar Khan against the distribution of funds among politicians by the ISI, Attorney General Anwar-ul-Haq said the reports of two commissions that probed the issue could not be found in the Law Ministry. The Chief Justice remarked that the reports were very important and need to be declassified. He directed the Attorney General to produce them in court at the next hearing on April 23. The bench also took up a recent media report which had alleged that Rs 270 million were withdrawn from the Intelligence Bureau's secret fund to change the government in Punjab province in 2009. Intelligence Bureau chief Aftab Sultan, who personally appeared in court, sought more time to ascertain the facts. Sultan told the bench that the register in which expenditures from the secret fund were recorded was unavailable on Friday. Besides, he pointed out, the reasons for such expenditures are not mentioned in the register. The Chief Justice remarked that the Intelligence Bureau's secret fund was meant to be used for the national interest and not to weaken democracy. He directed the spy agency chief to check the accounts for 2009 and inform the apex court if funds were spent as had been alleged in the media report. The Chief Justice said the journalist who filed the report was standing by his claims while the Intelligence Bureau had not denied the accusations as yet. He asked the Intelligence Bureau chief to submit his response in a sealed envelope at the next hearing. The Supreme Court recently resumed hearing on Asghar Khan's petition against the funding of politicians by the ISI after a gap of over 12 years. Banker Yunus Habib has testified in court that he arranged Rs 1.48 billion for the military, and about Rs 400 million were distributed among politicians linked to the army-backed Islami Jamhoori Ittehad in a bid to prevent the Pakistan People's Party from coming to power in the 1990 general election.

The plea of minorities in pakistan

The national flag of Pakistan has been reduced to little more than a piece of cloth and a splatter of paint, over the years — just as the dreams it once represented, have lost their inspiration and verve. The white space on the flag, signifying the religious minorities in Pakistan, has diminished day-by-day where as the green, denoting Muslim majority, has continued to accrue deeper shades. Unfortunately, the flag and its changing hues are the least of our problems. The problem is not just the constriction of the political space in which the minorities are allowed to operate — our problem is the treatment with which we grace our fellow countryman and how it is, intrinsically, linked to our perception of that person, his community or fellowship — our problem is that the whites of our flag have fallen dim. The political space, supposed to be legitimately that of religious minorities, has virtually ceased to exist. We, as a Muslim majority nation, have convinced ourselves that we are the only target of all oppression, western or otherwise — that there are conspirators behind every shadow — that everyone in the world is out to get our, proverbial, goat and that anyone who is not Muslim is a de facto ally of our perceived enemies. This is why we choose to punish our minorities for crimes that they haven’t committed.
Minorities in Pakistan, today, enjoy a whole range of ‘rights’, be it the talibanised form which gives them a ‘right’ to choose between death or conversion or the more enlightened and civilised one which allows them the ‘right’ of absolute authority over picking the colour of their own, personal and separate tableware, but little else. These minorities are disenfranchised economically — by disallowing them access to respectable jobs or only allowing them access to menial ones. They are oppressed politically by being systemically denied any real voice on any public forum. The voices that do represent them come from throats attached to people as, socially, distanced from a poor Christian or pitiable Hindu as a capitalist is from an ordinary worker. They are broken, culturally, by having their places of worship turned into warehouses or shops of the very items that those particular religions prohibit. It is not without merit that we are ranked high on the Amnesty International’s list of countries with endangered minorities — and how we strive, tirelessly, to safeguard this mantle of ‘honour’.
In this way a new culture emerges, a culture of the oppressed; a culture which transcends all religions, castes, creeds or identities. This culture links every member of Pakistan’s minorities with every other member of the same. This is our gift to our fellow Pakistanis; those who worked and toiled with us to define the Pakistan that we live in today; those whose ancestors gave just as many sacrifices as ours in the ‘good’ fight — our gift to those who bear the burden of our country just as much as we do, if not more. It is from such cultures that new voices emerge – voices laced with the anguish and pain that is felt by members of those communities. Such a voice is the Human Right’s Monitor’s 2007 Report on Religious Minorities in Pakistan. It gives factual details regarding the persecution felt by religious minorities in Pakistan. It gives details of individual cases involving families or communities who have been wronged in the name of religion, sex or class. It is high time that we, as the Muslim majority of Pakistan, come to realise the needs and aspirations of our fellow non-Muslim Pakistanis — that we come to appreciate the pain that we have caused them through our planned and malicious ill-treatment of the minorities; otherwise we will be forced to mourn the day when, there will be no need of any whites in our flag.

Pakistan's Shia community Patterns of death

Patterns of death THE NEWS The minority Hazara community based primarily in Quetta continues to come under attack again and again. This time the killings took place on the Spini Road in the Balochistan capital, as a van carrying Hazaras returning to Hazara Town - one of the areas where the minority Shia community lives in larger numbers - came under gunfire. Five of the victims including a woman died instantly, six others were taken to hospital. It has been stated in the past by Hazara community leaders, and is no doubt the case, that it is the extremist Sunni groups that are targeting them — though some believe their ethnicity may also be a factor. The Spini Road incident on Thursday was followed by more violence as angry protests broke out in Hazara dominated areas, with infuriated people condemning the failure of the authorities to protect them. A police check post and a girl’s college were torched and firing led to the deaths of two more people - a policeman and a protester. Rage is clearly rising. It is hard to understand why so little has been done to deal with the fanatics who have splintered into many groups. Meanwhile, another act of murder in the town of Mastung claimed two local workers employed with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Killings of this kind too have been seen before. These patterns of death never seem to change, winding like serpents gobbling much of the peace and calm that we try to retain. The government has miserably failed to protect people from the monster of hate and obscurantism. As citizens we deserve to hear some answers.

India crowns its beauty queens for 2012

Vanya Mishra, a 19-year-old student from Chandigarh, Prachi Mishra, a 24-year-old investment advisor from Allahabad and 23-year-old TV anchor Rochelle Maria Rao from Chennai won the top honours at the Pantaloons Femina Miss India beauty pageant.
Vanya Mishra was crowned Miss India-World while Prachi will represent the Miss Earth competition and Rochelle Maria Rao will be India's girl at Miss International. The event held in Mumbai featured prominent Bollywood stars including Sonam Kapoor [ Images ], Riteish Deshmukh [ Images ], Tusshar Kapoor [ Images ], Sonu Nigam [ Images ] and Ekta Kapoor [ Images ] among others. Also performing on stage were Akshay Kumar [ Images ], Ali Zafar [ Images ] and Nargis [ Images ] Fakhri even as Tusshar and Riteish promoted their film even as they ribbed the judges including Tusshar's sister Ekta. When time came to select the top winner, the choice was made easy by Vanya Mishra when she was asked to pick between providing 1000 permanent jobs and feeding 1000 underprivileged kids. Mishra picked the latter and walked home with the crown.

In Pakistan, Hindus Say Woman’s Conversion to Islam Was Coerced

By DECLAN WALSH GHOTKI, Pakistan — Banditry is an old scourge in this impoverished district of southern Pakistan, on the plains between the mighty river Indus and a sprawling desert, where roving gangs rob and kidnap with abandon. Lately, though, local passions have stirred with allegations of an unusual theft: that of a young woman’s heart. In the predawn darkness on Feb. 24, Rinkel Kumari, a 19-year-old student from a Hindu family, disappeared from her home in Mirpur Mathelo, a small village off a busy highway in Sindh Province. Hours later, she resurfaced 12 miles away, at the home of a prominent Muslim cleric who phoned her parents with news that distressed them: Their daughter wished to convert to Islam, he said. Their protests were futile. By sunset, Ms. Kumari had become a Muslim, married a young Muslim man, and changed her name to Faryal Bibi. Over the past month, this conversion has generated an acrid controversy that has reverberated far beyond its origins in small-town Pakistan, whipping up a news media frenzy that has traced ugly sectarian divisions and renewed a wider debate about the protection of vulnerable minorities in a country that has so often failed them. At its heart, though, it is a head-on clash of narratives and motives. Hindu leaders insist that Ms. Kumari was abducted at gunpoint and forced to abandon her religion. Local Muslim leaders say she wanted to marry her secret sweetheart: Naveed Shah, a young neighbor who said he had been conducting a secret courtship with her via mobile phone and the Internet for several months. Ms. Kumari, for her part, has said in a court filing and media interviews that she converted of her free will — but public figures have questioned whether she had been pressed or intimidated into saying that. The truth may emerge Monday, when the young woman is due to testify before the Supreme Court in Islamabad. For the past two weeks she has been sequestered in a women’s shelter in Karachi on court orders. When she takes the stand on Monday, many Pakistanis hope she can resolve the central mystery: where do her religious, and romantic, intentions lie? In one sense, the drama is an old story in South Asia, where the contours of society have been shaped by waves of conversions over the centuries. Since the founding of Pakistan, most conversions are to Islam, the state religion. But such conversions usually take place quietly, even in an organized fashion, and the unusual furor surrounding the latest case stems partly from the brash manner of her conversion at the hands of a divisive local politician, Mian Mitho. After Ms. Kumari declared herself a Muslim in her town court on Feb. 27, Mr. Mitho triumphantly led the new convert from the courthouse, parading her before thousands of cheering supporters. Then he drove her in a caravan to an ancient Sufi religious shrine controlled by his family and famed as a site where Hindus have been converted. There, Ms. Kumari was welcomed by Mr. Mitho’s elderly brother, Mian Shaman — the same cleric who had converted her three days earlier — who led her into the towering shrine. When she emerged, now wearing a black veil, gunmen unleashed volleys of celebratory Kalashnikov fire into the air and shouted “God is calling you!” Hindu leaders, enraged, viewed the images as a crass provocation. “If the couple was really in love, then why this fanfare of guns?” said Amarnath Motumal, a Hindu lawyer and human rights activist in Karachi. “It clearly shows they are trying to embarrass the Hindu community and are bent on taking our girls forcefully.” Ms. Kumari’s parents pursued the case through the courts, claiming that their daughter had been abducted by a Muslim supremacist, and that the police and judiciary were biased against them because they came from a minority background. “Mian Mitho is a terrorist and a thug. He takes the girls, and keeps them in his home for sexual purposes,” said Ms. Kumari’s father, Nand Lal, a government schoolteacher, noting that Mr. Mitho’s armed guards had escorted his daughter to court appearances and news conferences. His wife, Sulachany Devi, issued an anguished appeal. “Rinkel was my blood, and she remains my blood. All I want is for her to return home,” she said. Mr. Mitho, in an interview, denied the allegations against him. “I am merely protecting her human rights,” he said. And at the Sufi shrine in Ghotki district, his brother, the cleric who converted Ms. Kumari, was equally unapologetic. “We are saving them from the fires of hell,” said Mian Shaman, a frail man in his 70s with a mottled complexion and a wavering voice. “We consider they are born again, and the sins of their previous life are washed away.” Mr. Shaman estimated he had converted 200 people the previous year. He insisted none had been coerced. “Forced conversions are not permitted in Islam,” he said firmly. Mr. Shaman led the way into the mosque, a spectacular building covered in intricately patterned indigo tiles and a carved wooden roof. Then he walked into the adjacent shrine, where murmuring pilgrims rocked back and forth in front of four tombs containing the bones of the cleric’s ancestors. Women are not permitted inside, he said — they may only peek through a small barred window in the tomb wall — but he made an exception for Ms. Kumari. “She was a special lady,” he said. The case has caused division within the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, of which Mr. Mitho is a member. Earlier this month, President Asif Ali Zardari privately intervened to have Ms. Kumari taken into protective custody. Later, the president’s sister, Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho, delivered an impassioned speech to Parliament about the plight of the Hindu community. “I have a lot of discomfort with this kind of behavior,” said a senior party member from Sindh Province, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the matter. “The state is not giving the Hindus an equal environment. So they are turning to a narrative of forced conversion to fight back.” Pir Muhammad Shah, the local police chief, agreed that Mr. Mitho’s actions had aggravated the situation. “It teased the whole Hindu community, and led them to believe the conversion had been done at gunpoint.” Although Pakistan is blighted by sectarian bloodshed, rural Sindh Province is a relative beacon of religious tolerance. The majority of the country’s Hindus, estimated to number more than three million people, live here, and they have a history of tranquil co-existence with Muslims. The two communities share religious festivals, go into business together, and attend one another’s weddings and funerals. Yet it remains a delicate social balance. In many Sindhi towns, wealthy Hindu traders have been targeted by kidnappers. Conversions, which are freighted with notions of collective honor, can present a jarring social fault line. Officials with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan have spoken of up to 20 forced conversions a month — and Hindu families fleeing for India — but they admit that the research is thin. As Ms. Kumari’s anticipated court date nears, it has revived many old tensions. And while no one is expecting widespread violence in her case, in some of its particulars it bears a remarkable resemblance to an earlier conversion scandal — one in 1936, when a British magistrate returned a Hindu girl to her parents after she had been converted. The result was an 11-year uprising by Muslim Pashtun tribesmen that at one point involved 40,000 British troops.