Friday, April 6, 2012

Russia proposes joint anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan
With the Alliance’s war on opium in Afghanistan suffering setbacks, the director of Russia’s Drug Control Service has said the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and NATO could cooperate in battling drug trafficking in the Central Asian hotspot. A special anti-drug agency is being created within the SCO to coordinate the member-countries' fight against drug-trafficking, Viktor Ivanov said at a press conference in Moscow on Thursday. Ivanov sees the new agency as a means not only for combating heroin use in Russia and beyond, but as a means for creating a “reset” between the two regional organizations. "When this agency has been formed the SCO will become a lot more effective,” he said. “It will turn this organization into a key regional anti-drug structure and create a unique opportunity to reset relations between the SCO and NATO." The leading figure in Russia’s war on drugs then provided some insight as to how the two organizations may divide their drug-fighting efforts. "If SCO countries concentrate their potential and capabilities in intercepting drugs on their territory, NATO – as the organization with a huge contingent in Afghanistan – could concentrate on destroying drug production in Afghanistan," Ivanov said. The Russian director specifically identified the objects of interest in Afghanistan, including "poppy fields, laboratories, and storage and logistics facilities." Ivanov then showed how the Alliance, with its heavy troop numbers, could effectively divvy up its responsibilities in Afghanistan. "(NATO’s) military contingent, including the non-governmental armed formations, is about 4 million strong. If the over 130,000-strong Afghan military and police contingent is added, there will be five law enforcement personnel per each hectare of the 130,000-hectare optimum area, or one law enforcer per 2,000 square meters sown with opium,” he said. Ivanov said that each 2,000 square meters, “which is equal to the area of a small supermarket,” would be destroyed “if this opium poppy were to be mown." If desired, the NATO contingent jointly with the Afghan military, could destroy opium plantations in Afghanistan in one day, he added. Ivanov earlier criticized NATO for not being active in destroying opium poppy plantations in Afghanistan. He said Russia is the largest consumer of Afghan heroin. There are 5 million drug addicts in Russia and up to 100,000 Russian citizens die of drugs each year, according to the Federal Drug Control Service. US and NATO officials have been stuck in a Catch-22 in the fight against Afghan opium. On the one hand, they are attempting to "win the hearts and minds" of the local population, which depends on the cultivation of opium poppy for their livelihood. At the same time, they need to cut off finances to the Taliban insurgency, which gets much of its funding through the sale of opium poppy to foreign markets. Afghanistan now produces some 90 per cent of the world’s opium, the great bulk of which ends up on the streets of Europe and Russia. More than 100,000 Russians die from drug abuse each year, and with the country in the grips of a dire demographic crisis, it cannot afford to ignore NATO’s halting efforts to combat the opium scourge.

Afghans hoard opium as safe financial haven
Opium is emerging as a new gold standard in Afghanistan, where traders and farmers are hoarding the drug as a source of ready cash to hedge against the risk of a power vacuum when foreign troops leave, the country's UN drugs czar said. Fear is mounting among Afghans and foreign governments alike that the planned pullout of most NATO combat troops by the end of 2014 and Afghan national elections in the same year could see the country engulfed in more conflict.
"You see suddenly people are rushing to opium and cannabis as in the eurozone we were rushing to the Swiss franc before the euro," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan. "It's basically an economic reflex, understandable by itself, toward a very insecure question mark, what will I be, where will I be, how will I be and my family too." Afghanistan supplies about 90 per cent of the world's opium, from which heroin is made. Corruption also infects many aspects of life and the buoyant drug trade flourishes. The poppy economy in Afghanistan, which provides an income for insurgents, grew significantly in 2011 with soaring prices and expanded cultivation, according to a UN report. In 2011, the farm-gate value of opium production more than doubled from the year previously to $1.4 billion and now accounts for 15 per cent of the economy, the UNODC said. "A lot of people were buying the opium and the cannabis as a kind of gold standard, as a kind of security, financial guarantee for a very insecure future," Lemahieu said. "Wall Street principles are being applied by the Kandahar farmers every day," he said. Read more:

Special Tribute to Fareeda Khanum

Radio Pakistan Lahore is organizing a special music concert titled "Malka-e-Ghazal" on Saturday to pay tributes to legendary Ghazal singer Farida Khanum. All FM-101‚ FM-93 channels and Medium Wave stations as well as the current affairs channel. National Broadcasting Service will broadcast live the concert from 2:10 p.m. Live Audio will also be available on Radio Pakistan's website Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan will be the chief guest while renowned poet and former Chief Secretary Punjab Javed Qureshi and Director General Radio Pakistan Murtaza Solangi will be the guests of honour. Renowned intellectuals‚ musicians and experts will throw light on the life and services of Farida Khanum. On this occasion a musical performance will also be organized in which following artists and singers will take part. Shujaat Hashmi‚ Compare Hussain Bukhsh Gullu‚ Singer Hamid Ali Khan‚ Singer Rubina Qureshi‚ Singer Ijaz Qaiser‚ Singer Fareeha Pervaiz‚ Singer Sara Raza‚ Singer Shabnum Majeed‚ Singer Ali Abbas‚ Singer Habib Ali‚ Singer Shujaaat Ali Khan‚ Singer -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Farida Khanum (born 1935) is a Ghazal singer from Punjab. The Times of India has called her "Malika-e-Ghazal" (Queen of Ghazal). In 2005‚ she was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz‚ Pakistan's second highest civilian honour by President. Early life Born in (1935) in Calcutta and raised in Amritsar. Her sister is Mukhtar Begum. She started learning Khayal from her sister Mukhtar Begum at age seven and later learnt classical music from Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan. Her sister Mukhtar Begum would take her‚ a seven-year-old Farida‚ to Khan's place for riyaaz. She migrated to Pakistan after partition of India in 1947. Career Farida Khanum gave her first public concert in 1950 and then joined Radio Pakistan where she courted fame and fortune. She became a star when Pakistan's president Ayub Khan invited her to a public recital in the '60s. The ghazal she is most associated with is Aaj Jaane Ki Zidd Naa Karo.

Veena fears assassination on return

Controversial film star
Veena Malik fears that she may be assassinated by another ‘Qadri’ on her return to Pakistan. While sharing her fear with, Malik says, “I have received threats from extremists. My friends ask me not to be worried but I take them (threats) seriously. I will reconsider my homecoming plan.” Veena however, quickly added, “Pakistan is my country and I will come back one day.” Veena thinks that a Qadri like hardliner may target her on her return because of her nude photoshoot. Mumtaz Qadri had shot dead Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for calling blasphemy laws ‘black’. Veena is busy these days in shooting three Indian movies, ‘Jungle of South India’, ‘Dal Mein Kuch Kala Hai’ and ‘Dil Ne Dil Ko Pukara’.

AT&T to unlock your contract-less iPhones this Sunday
AT&T confirmed today that it will unlock iPhones beginning April 8 for customers whose contracts have ended, and are in “good standing.” Unlocking an iPhone means that the customer is cut from its ties with the carrier. That is, the person can insert a sim card from the carrier of their choice and run the phone with them, despite having purchased it through AT&T. Until this point, AT&T kept its iPhones locked, even if the contract had expired, binding those users to the carrier if they wanted to use their iPhone. The move has been long over due. Phones are the property of the person who purchased it, and they have the right to use it freely on whatever carrier they please. An unlocked AT&T phone, however, will not be compatible with Verizon’s service. iPhones built for these two carriers differ in hardware that cannot be overridden with the software unlock. Prior to this, people had to jailbreak their phones in order to run separately from AT&T. This process is dangerous for the phone, as it nulls the warranty and makes the phone more susceptible to malware. The company will begin unlocking these phones on this coming Sunday, April 8. Accounts must be in good standing, no unpaid balances, and must not connected to a long-term plan with AT&T.

Obama tailors election-year message to working women

President Barack Obama,
leading in the polls among women voters, said on Friday he wants to help working women fight discrimination and juggle the demands of motherhood but stopped short of making promises on gender equality if he wins re-election. At a White House event on women and the economy, Obama noted "there has been a lot of talk about women and women's issues lately," a nod to the emergence of contraceptive rights, working women and all-male establishments as heated issues in his race for re-election in November. "But I do think that the conversation has been oversimplified," Obama said. "Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn't be treated that way." A USA Today/Gallup poll released this week showed Obama with a strong edge over Republican Mitt Romney, his most likely rival for the White House, among women voters in electoral battleground states including New York, Ohio and Virginia. Obama won 56 percent of women's votes in 2008, giving him the edge he needed to win the election over Republican contender John McCain. His fellow Democrats have accused Republicans of waging a "war on women," with proposed cuts to healthcare and the birth control group Planned Parenthood. The White House, meanwhile, has sought to cement Obama's support for women with moves such as a policy requiring employers to give women free birth control. Obama, who was raised by a single mother, said that for him women's issues were not a passing concern. "Women are over half this country and its workforce, not to mention 80 percent of my household if you count my mother-in-law," the father of two girls told the group. "Every decision I make is about making sure they, and all our daughters, and our sons, grow up in a country that gives them the chance to be anything they set their minds to." The president said he was pushing for legislation to equip working women with more tools to fight pay discrimination, given that women in the United States still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man does for the same work, despite equal-pay legislation he signed in 2009. SMALL STEPS "When more women are bringing home the bacon, but bringing home less of it than men who are doing the same work, that weakens families, it weakens communities, it's tough on our kids, it weakens our entire economy," he said. White House officials said they were focused on encouraging companies to give women more flexible working hours, including telecommuting options, and other small steps to help mothers care for their children while advancing their careers. More ambitious plans, including increasing the length of maternity and paternity leave in the United States, which is a fraction of that afforded to parents in Europe, Canada and other advanced economies, is not on the immediate agenda. "Extending parental leave is really something that requires Congress to act," a senior administration official said, saying gridlock on Capitol Hill and a fractious relationship between Republicans and the White House made such an agreement unlikely. Obama has yet to outline much of his agenda for a second term. As the campaign has gained momentum, he has focused on blaming Republicans in an unpopular Congress for blocking key initiatives and warned voters that Republicans would hurt the middle class and repeal health and retirement programs. On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president supported women's admission to the all-male Augusta golf club, which is currently under pressure to allow in the female chief executive of IBM. Romney then said he also thought women should be allowed in.

Swat Valley: From Taliban stronghold to ski resort

Pakistan's government is hoping that a former Taliban stronghold can attract tourists and boost business for the country. Malam Jabba, in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, is a seven-hour drive north of the capital Islamabad. It is Pakistan's winter wonderland, where people live on just dollars a day, surrounded by natural beauty. It’s also the Pakistan that few see, with scenery that rivals anywhere in the world. Many here hope this natural beauty will help get the Swat Valley back on the map as a leading tourist attraction. Here, the Karakorum mountain range soars into the sky, home to Pakistan's only public ski resort. This year the Pakistani government set up a winter festival to attract tourists back to the region – they called it "Ski and Smile Swat." That would have been unthinkable four years ago, when the Taliban went on a shockingly effective offensive through this territory. They took land and banned anything they deemed un-Islamic – no more music, no more dancing. No more skiing either. Mateeullah Khan was the resort's ski instructor. “We thought we weren't going to ski again because of the Taliban,” he told CNN’s Reza Sayeh. Khan says everyone in the area was in danger. “I just migrated, I left,” he added. Standing in the snow are the ruins of one of the area’s top hotels, destroyed by the Taliban. “The Taliban threatened us, told us they would slaughter us if we didn't leave,” said Nosherwan Khan, who says he worked at the hotel for two decades. “When our staff saw the building destroyed, we cried.” In 2009 the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the Taliban. Hundreds were killed and nearly two million displaced. But the army eventually pushed out the Taliban and peace was slowly restored. Government officials say their marketing campaign is working. Little by little, tourists are coming back to the region. “I can't express my feeling when we have peace in Pakistan and this region especially. It makes us feel easy,” said tourist Muzafar Hussain. But for many here, the rebuilding of the Swat Valley's top ski resort isn't happening fast enough. “Holding this (ski) competition - the aim behind it is that peace is restored in this area. People should visit us and they should build this ski facility for us,” said Mateeullah Khan. Only then, says Khan, will Malam Jabba be able to share its natural beauty with the world and help Pakistan fulfil its untapped tourism potential.

China Says Wanted Militants Use Nearby Countries to Stage Attacks

Chinese security officials have issued a list of six men suspected of being members of a militant group that they said used Asian nations as staging grounds for terrorist attacks in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. The group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, has claimed responsibility for a series of knifings and explosions that killed at least 18 people last July in Xinjiang, home to ethnic Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking and largely Muslim people who make up about 40 percent of the region’s population. The July attacks, in the city of Kashgar, were among several in recent years, apparently mounted by Islamic separatists protesting the heavy-handed rule of Uighurs by China’s Han majority and seeking independence in what they call East Turkestan. In a posting on its Web site late Thursday, China’s Ministry of Public Security displayed the names and photographs of the six suspects, calling five of them major figures in the East Turkestan group, and it gave accounts of the crimes they are accused of. The ministry said all six had engaged in terrorist activities in Central, West and Southeast Asia as well as in “a certain South Asian country,” a veiled reference to Pakistan. China has repeatedly said that Islamic terrorists who strike in Uighur areas were trained in Pakistan. Some human rights advocates discount the importance of the East Turkestan group, widely referred to as E.T.I.M., saying that the movement is small and largely ineffective, and that many attacks, which involve crude weapons like knives, do not bear the earmarks of a terrorist organization’s support. But a more serious picture of the militant group’s significance has been emerging, according to Muhammad Amir Rana, the director the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, based in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. The institute, which receives support and financing from Western research groups, universities and governments, has been profiling radical groups inside Pakistan since 2005, drawing on researchers and public sources. Mr. Rana said the East Turkestan group was concentrated in North Waziristan, the most turbulent corner of Pakistan’s tribal belt, where its influence among jihadists is so strong that the movement’s leader there, Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, was rumored to be Osama bin Laden’s successor after his death in May. That “indicated that they have a very effective network in these areas,” Mr. Rana said. Mr. Turkistani has been leading Chinese fighters inside the tribal belt since May 2010, when an American drone killed his predecessor, Abdul Haq al-Turkistani. In May 2011, Al Qaeda announced that Abdul Shakoor Turkistani would be leading its fighters and organizing its training camps in the tribal belt, according to The Long War Journal, a blog that tracks jihadi statements in Pakistan. Mr. Rana said that in the past year the movement split into two factions. One focuses on the separatist movement inside China, while a separate hard-line faction, now known as the Turkestan Islamic Party, concentrates on global jihad. The Chinese militant fighters are also present in northern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, he said. China has generally confined its remarks about Pakistan-based terrorism to expressing support for the Pakistani government’s anti-militant efforts. But the authorities in Kashgar, in southern Xinjiang, charged in a statement last August that the leader of at least one of the attacks there in July had trained at an East Turkestan Islamic Movement camp in Pakistan, China’s neighbor and close ally. The statement said that, while in various Asian regions, the suspects had planned terrorist attacks, trained members, faked passports, bought weapons and posted videos online. One suspect, Nuermaimaiti Maimaitimin, had claimed responsibility for the Kashgar attacks. About two weeks before that, 18 people died in an attack on a police station in Hotan, another city in Xinjiang. He was sent to prison in the unnamed South Asian nation in 1999, the ministry stated, but escaped in 2006.

Bahrain hunger striker's daughter arrested

Authorities in Bahrain said Friday that they've arrested the daughter of a human rights activist who has drawn international attention and widespread protests with a hunger strike that he's sustained for nearly two months. Zainab al-Khawaja was detained outside the Interior Ministry complex, said her lawyer, who is also representing her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. Her father is striking to protest the life sentence he received for his alleged role in the unrest that continues to embroil his country. The elder activist was arrested last April for his role in anti-government demonstrations in Bahrain in February and March. In June, he and seven other Shiite opposition activists were found guilty of plotting to overthrow the country's Sunni royal family. The Interior Ministry said Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested Thursday night after it told her several times that she was in a restricted area "in which standing is prohibited." The ministry also said she "attacked an on-duty public employee."Their lawyer, Mohammed Al Jishi, said she had been calling out for her father, who was at the Interior Ministry complex and was to be moved to a military hospital because his condition was deteriorating. He said that the hunger striker was transferred to the hospital Friday, but that the government had not given his family permission to see him. They were told of the transfer Friday. Al Jishi has expressed concerns that his client could soon die and that the last time he saw him was two days ago. The Interior Ministry's general inspector said that "all policies and procedures of the prison facilities in Bahrain meet international human rights standards, and all detainees have consistent and reliable access to professional medical care," according to a statement from Maj. Gen. Tariq H. Al Hasan, a spokesman for the ministry. On March 30, the government reported that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja had low blood pressure and was taken to Bahrain Defense Force Hospital, where he was treated and returned to Jau Prison the following day. Records showed that al-Khawaja had lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and had a low hemoglobin level, though not critically low, the government said. He was also reportedly taking fluids, mineral supplements, glucose and juice on a daily basis. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit human rights group started by al-Khawaja and for which his other daughter, Maryam, works, has appealed for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds. Demonstrators and Bahraini authorities have continued to clash in recent months, with the opposition accusing the government of using heavy-handed tactics.

'No attacks' launched from Afghanistan after 2014

Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against any country after foreign troops withdraw, the war-torn nation's foreign minister told Al-Jazeera in an interview, excerpts of which were received by AFP on Friday. "Afghan soil will not be used against any country in the region," Zalmai Rassoul said, when asked if the United States would be allowed to continue drone attacks on Pakistan after all foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. "The presence of the remaining forces in Afghanistan is for training, equipping and securing Afghanistan's security. It has been mentioned, it is going to be mentioned, that this force is not for use against any neighbours in the region," Rassoul told the Doha-based television channel. The US drone war on Islamist militants in Pakistan is one of the major sticking points in Washington's relations with Islamabad, which reached their lowest point last year when airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November, six months after a covert US raid killed Osama bin Laden. Pakistan responded by shutting its Afghan border to NATO supplies and evicting US personnel from an air base reportedly used as a hub by US drones. US President Barack Obama in January confirmed for the first time that US drones target Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil, but American officials do not discuss details of the covert programme. According to an AFP tally, 45 US missile strikes were reported in Pakistan's tribal belt in 2009, the year Obama took office, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011. The Al-Jazeera interview, in which the Afghan foreign minister reiterated his desire to improve long-strained relations with neighbouring Pakistan, is due to be broadcast on Saturday.

Jobs Report: The Beginning of a Disappointing Trend?

By Daniel Gross
It's a good thing the stock market isn't open Friday. If it were, the disappointing March employment report, a rare piece of negative economic news this spring, would likely have caused stocks to nosedive. As it was, U.S. stock futures (which were open) slipped, the dollar is falling and Treasury prices are spiking on the report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the U.S. economy added only 120,000 payroll jobs in March, a sharp decline from recent jobs growth. The unemployment rate slipped to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent in February, but that's largely because the workforce declined. In short, this is the type of report that is more typical of an economy beginning to emerge from recession than one that has been growing for nearly three years. The addition of 120,000 jobs represents the 15th straight month in which jobs were added. Compared with March 2011, there were 1.9 million more payroll jobs in the U.S. in March 2012. But this represents a sharp slowdown from the pace of job creation. In each of the previous three months, the economy had added more than 200,000 positions. As is typical, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised the job creation for previously reported months. The January figure was revised from a gain of 284,000 to a gain of 275,000, while the February figure was revised up from 227,000 jobs created to 240,000. Looking back, BLS discovered an extra 4,000 jobs that it hadn't detected last month — a negligible figure. The unemployment rate continued its decline, falling from 8.3 percent in February to 8.2 percent in March. But that's not necessarily good news. BLS creates its jobs metrics through two surveys. In the establishment survey, it calls up companies and asks them how many people they employ. This survey produces the payroll jobs figure. In the household survey, it calls up people at home and asks them about their work situation — whether they're working, whether they are looking for work, or whether they have stopped looking and are no longer in the labor force. The results of this survey produce the unemployment rate. And in March, the labor force actually shrank by 164,000. The labor force participation rate fell from 63.9 percent in February to 63.8 percent in March. That's why the unemployment rate fell. Where were jobs created in March? Manufacturing had a strong month, adding 37,000 positions. Gains were also seen in professional and business services (31,000), health care (26,000), and food services and drinking establishments (37,000). There was significant weakness in retail, which lost 34,000 positions in March. Average hourly wages bumped up a bit, but because the average number of hours worked fell in the month, average weekly wages fell as well. And in March, as it has for the last two years, what I've dubbed the "conservative recovery" continued. For much of the past two years, the private sector has consistently added jobs while the public sector — federal, state and local government — has consistently cut them. That trend continues in March, though there are signs that austerity's effect on public sector jobs is waning. In March, government reduced employment by 1,000. Since May 2010, government employment has fallen by one million while the private sector has added 3.7 million jobs. All in all, this was a disappointing report that was at odds with the prevailing data flow. Other labor market indicators have been trending in a more positive direction. Weekly first time unemployment claims are at a four-year low. In March, layoff announcements fell sharply from the previous month. At the end of January, there were 3.46 million job openings in the U.S., up 21 percent from the number of openings in January 2011. Ultimately, however, the monthly payroll jobs figure is the one that matters most — for the economy at large, and for the politicians whose electoral success will depend in large measure on the payroll jobs figures for the next several months. We'll have to wait 30 days to see if March's report was an anomaly or the beginning of a new, disappointing trend.

3,200-year-old mummy mask to stay in US
Court rules no proof artefact that went missing four decades ago from Egypt and ended up in Missouri was stolen St Louis A St Louis museum can keep hold of a 3,200-year-old mummy's mask, a federal judge has ruled, saying the US government failed to prove that the Egyptian relic was ever stolen. Prosecutors said the funeral mask of Lady Ka-Nefer-Nefer went missing from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo about 40 years ago and that it should be returned to its country of origin. The St Louis Art Museum said it researched the provenance of the mask and legitimately purchased it in 1998 from a New York art dealer. US District Judge Henry Autry in St Louis sided with the museum. The US government "does not provide a factual statement of theft, smuggling or clandestine importation," Autry wrote in the March 31 ruling."The Government cannot simply rest on its laurels and believe that it can initiate a civil forfeiture proceeding on the basis of one bold assertion that because something went missing from one party in 1973 and turned up with another party in 1998, it was therefore stolen and/or imported or exported illegally," the judge wrote. A message left with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities was not returned.The 50-centimetre-long funeral mask of painted and gilded plaster-coated linen over wood with inlaid glass eyes was excavated from one of the Saqqara pyramids, about 25 kilometres south of Cairo, in 1952. Ka-Nefer-Nefer was a noblewoman who lived from 1295 BC to 1186 BC. Exhibit US government investigators suspect the mask was stolen sometime between 1966, when it was shipped to Cairo for an exhibit, and 1973, when the Egyptian Museum discovered it was missing. The art museum bought the mask in 1998 for $499,000 (Dh1.8 million) from a New York art dealer, and it has been on display at the museum in Forest Park ever since. US Attorney Richard Callahan said a decision on whether to appeal has not been made. "We're just looking to make sure we haven't missed the tiniest bit of circumstantial evidence," Callahan said. "We're back to the drawing board and studying it."

Bahrain opposition rallies for hunger striker

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Bahrain on Friday for the release of a jailed activist who has been on hunger strike for almost two months. Two demonstrations -- in Jidhafs district of Manama and in the village of Aali -- uged the release of rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, witnesses told AFP. The protesters carried pictures of Khawaja alongside Bahraini flags and chanted his name. Bahrain's largest opposition movement Al-Wefaq warned that the activist's life was now in danger and urged the international community to intervene and press for his release. Khawaja, who was condemned with other opposition activists to life in jail over an alleged plot to topple the Sunni monarchy during a month-long protest a year ago, began his hunger strike on the night of February 8-9. Late on Thursday, Al-Wefaq said his daughter Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested after she protested outside the interior ministry's hospital where her father was being held to urge his release. "In a phone call to her husband, Zainab announced starting a hunger strike in solidarity with her father," said the Shiite opposition grouping. A police statement on state news agency BNA said she was arrested for having "attacked a public employee who was doing his duty" and who "repeatedly informed her she was not allowed to stand at the entrance" to the ministry. Front Line Defenders, a Dublin-based non-governmental organisation, warned Tuesday after a visit to Manama that Khawaja, who it said has shed 25 percent of his body weight, could die in jail as he is "at risk of organ failure." Bahraini authorities said Wednesday that Khawaja lost some 10 kilogrammes (22 pounds) of weight and that he was showing signs of low hemoglobin, "although not at a critical level, since prior to going on the strike." They said in a statement that Khawaja was "taking fluids, mineral supplements, glucose and juice on a daily basis." Khadija al-Moussawi, the activist's wife, said Monday on Twitter that her husband told her over the phone that he decided to refuse taking glucose "because the situation has gone worse in our beloved homeland." Khawaja, who is also a Danish citizen, has been allowed visits by the ambassador of Denmark, the government said. Tensions have been running high in Bahrain where an independent inquiry said in November that 35 people were killed in the Shiite-led unrest between mid-February and mid-March 2011.

North Carolina Crafts a New Beer City, USA
Move over Milwaukee and step aside St. Louis! There’s a new Beer City, USA. Asheville, North Carolina is now the hottest spot in the brewing world. The city can make its claim for brewing supremacy in the wake of the No. 3 craft brewer, New Belgium Brewing, announcing it will be locating an East Coast brewery there. New Belgium’s announcement comes not long after the No. 2 craft brewer, Sierra Nevada, announced they would be building their East Coast facility in Asheville. “New Belgium’s expansion will enhance the craft brewery cluster that is growing here. The jobs and investment the company is committing will be a major boon for the region and for the state” said North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue. “While the overall beer market experienced a 1.3-percent volume decrease in 2011, craft brewing saw significant growth, surpassing 5-percent total market volume share for the first time,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that with the variety of styles and flavors to choose from, Americans are developing a strong taste for high-quality, small-batch beer from independent brewers.” While the craft beer segment is still a small portion of the overall beer market, it has shown steady growth the past few years. In 2011, craft brewers represented 5.7 percent of volume of the U.S. beer market, up from 5 percent in 2010. The steady growth is leading more entrepreneurs to take the craft beer plunge. The Brewers Association counted 1,989 breweries in operation at the end of 2011, an increase of 11 percent. The BA estimates that small brewers employed about 103,585 workers in the U.S in 2011 and more breweries are coming online each month. “We saw rapid growth in brewery openings last year, particularly with microbrewery start-ups, and these numbers are poised to rise even more in 2012,” said Gatza. “In February 2012, we already topped 2,000 operating breweries — a truly remarkable milestone.”

Saudi protesters demand release of political prisoners

Saudi anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets across the oil-rich Eastern Province to demand the release of political prisoners.The protests were held in Qatif and several nearby towns, including Awamiyah, on Friday. Activists say over 30,000 people are locked up in Saudi jails solely because of their demands for reform.
Last October, the US-based Human Rights Watch called on Saudi authorities to stop the ''arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters, relatives of wanted persons, and human rights activists'' in Eastern Province. The arrests in Saudi Arabia have been carried out despite the fact that the authoritarian kingdom is a party to the Arab Charter on Human Rights, Article 14 of which prohibits arbitrary detention. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also criticized the Al Saud regime for silencing dissent through intimidation and the violation of the basic rights of citizens. Saudi Arabia's east has been the scene of anti-government protests since February 2011, with demonstrators demanding rights reforms, freedom of expression and the release of political prisoners. Several demonstrators have been killed and dozens of activists have been arrested since the beginning of the protests in the region. Riyadh has intensified its crackdown on anti-government protesters since the beginning of 2012.

Bahraini regime forces attack protesters outside Manama

Saudi-backed Bahraini forces have attacked thousands of anti-regime protesters on the outskirts of the capital city of Manama, Press TV reports. On Friday, police fired teargas at demonstrators who were calling for the release of prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike for nearly two months, as well as other imprisoned activists. The massive rally was organized by the main opposition bloc al-Wefaq. Meanwhile, a female anti-regime protester died on Friday, almost a month after a teargas canister hit her home during an overnight attack by regime forces. Her death comes a week after regime forces shot dead a young protester in the village of Salmabad. On Thursday night, Bahraini forces arrested al-Khawaja’s daughter, Zainab, for protesting against her father's detention. Activists say she has now been transferred to a prison outside Manama. Last week, Amnesty International called for the ‘immediate and unconditional release’ of al-Khawaja and other detained activists in the country. The rights group considers al-Khawaja a ‘prisoner of conscience, detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.’ Al-Khawaja, the co-founder and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested in last April and was later sentenced to life in prison by a military court last June for what it described as ‘plotting to overthrow the government.’ According to Amnesty International, his conviction was based on a confession he made under duress, and no evidence was presented showing he had used or advocated violence during the mass anti-regime protests.

Taliban blow up girls’ school in Mohmand

The Express Tribune
Militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for blowing up a girls’ school in Safi sub-district of Mohmand Agency on Thursday night, officials said. The two-room primary school was located in Malak Zargar Adeenkheel village. A senior official of the agency’s political administration confirmed the incident, saying the veranda and one of the school’s rooms were completely destroyed. The other room was partially damaged. According to a resident, the school was also housing furniture from a boys’ middle school that was bombed earlier. The attack reduced that furniture to rubble as well. Safi is the most affected sub-district of the agency where 46 institutions have been destroyed in bombings. Other infrastructure is in a shambles and few job opportunities are available in the area. Assistant Education Officer Dast Ali told The Express Tribune that about 220 tents are required to continue to temporarily run destroyed schools in the agency. “We have provided tents to two primary schools in Khwaizai and Baizai a few weeks ago,” he said. Last week, Political Agent Adil Sadique has said that the administration is trying to seek assistance from foreign donors for reconstruction. A recent report of the Fata education department stated that around 89 schools have been destroyed in the agency. The figure reached 91 following last week’s bombing of a newly-constructed primary school in Khwaizai and the one destroyed last night. The report said that Rs436.5 million is required for the reconstruction of schools destroyed in the agency, of which Rs265.5 million is needed only for schools in Safi.

Zardari to discuss all issues with Singh

Pakistan on Thursday said it is looking forward for meaningful engagements with India to promote peace and security in the region. "President Asif Ali Zardari, during his forthcoming visit to India on Sunday will discuss all the issues with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to promote intra-regional peace and prosperity in this part of the world," said Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit in his weekly press briefing here at Foreign Office on Thursday. The spokesman said, "We are looking forward for constructive engagement between the two leaders in New Delhi." He said the two leaders will discuss all the issues which continue to take priority in bilateral relations. He said the meeting between President Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will provide an opportunity to contribute Pakistan's vision of intra-regional cooperation to ensure peace and security in the region. He said the engagements between the Pakistan and India are necessary for building trust but clarified that Pakistan will not compromise on the outstanding issues including the Jammu and Kashmir. He said, "there is no question of changing our position on Jammu and Kashmir" adding that fair and just settlement of the core issue is imperative for lasting peace in the region. Replying to a question about reports of new missile test by India, the spokesman said Pakistan will maintain its credible defence. Expressing concerns on the violation of human rights in Indian Occupied Kashmir, the spokesman expressed the satisfaction that the international community is also increasingly focusing on the grave and serious human rights violation in the occupied territory. He said there are no two views to revoke the draconian armed forces power acts and other such laws which have added to the miseries of the Kashmiri people. He said the people of Kashmir are struggling for their self-determination and no amount of repression could suppress this indigenous movement. Replying to a question about US bounty announced the arrest of Hafiz Saeed and Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki, the foreign office spokesman said Pakistan has adopted a legal and principled position on the issue that it cannot proceed against them without any concrete evidence. The spokesman said, "Pakistan will not accept any pressure on this issue." He said both Pakistan and United States are democratic countries and such issues should be advanced through a legal procedure. He however said Pakistan has clarified its position on it and asked the American government to provide concrete evidence to proceed legally. "Pakistan would prefer to receive concrete evidence to proceed legally rather than to be engaging in a public discussion on this issue," spokesman said. The spokesman rejected the notion that Pakistan is facing US pressure on the restoration of Nato's supply line. He said the parliamentary process for new terms of engagements with the United States and NATO is still underway adding "we will proceed further on all the matters in accordance with the parliamentary guidelines. He said, "I don't see any pressure from America on Pakistan on the issue of discussion on foreign policy in the Parliament." He said when the Parliament will complete its work both the countries will have more cooperation in the war against terror. The spokesman said both Pakistan and US have shared objective of eliminating scourge of terrorism and extremism and both have been working together on it. On the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and foreign financial assistance, the spokesman said Pakistan has been discussing bilateral cooperation in energy sector with Russia. A technical delegation from Pakistan also visited Russia in this regard, he added.

A defiant Bilawal

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's speech at Naudero on the eve of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's 33rd death anniversary was as much to correct history as to caution the Supreme Court which he believed is "close to repeating the mistake of the past". And he advised the judges to "resist the temptation to obey the establishment," as if the cases now before the apex court against the government is a kind of judiciary-military joint adventure. That come what may Prime Minister Gilani will not write the letter to the Swiss authorities, he left nobody in doubt, re-etching the red line drawn by his father President Asif Ali Zardari, that the PPP "cannot allow the court to dig up my mother's grave and put her martyred corpse on trial". Bilawal couldn't be more direct in his counter offensive. But as they say there is a method to all this; it is necessary for the PPP to sweep Sindh in the coming elections for it to be in a position to form a government at the centre. A faction of the Sindh PPP and PPP voters are not in agreement with the PPP leadership's deals with the MQM, particularly those cut by Interior Minister Rehman Malik. In the evolving electoral scenario this may lead to erosion of the PPP vote bank in Sindh, further cutting the space available to the PPP in the province. Since the Sindh card, the most potent political weapon, so often successfully used by the party is under threat of being lost, the PPP central leadership is duly upset. Hence the young Bilawal's proactive call for 'justice' to the Sindhis as against the Punjabis, although his party has repeatedly claimed that the PPP draws equal strength from all provinces. It is indeed a shrewd move and in case Prime Minister Gilani is convicted by the Supreme Court for contempt of court, it would serve as a powerful tool in the PPP's hand to drive home the point that it has never been accepted by the Punjab-dominated establishment.

US scholarships to continue for KP, Fata students

The US Consulate General here has said the cancellation of Ambassador Cameron Munter’s speech at the University of Peshawar by the Pakistan government due to security reasons would not have any effect on US support for underprivileged students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). A press release by the US Consulate General said: “Local and national media have reported statements from the University of Peshawar’s Chairman of Political Science alleging that thousands of U.S.-funded scholarships for university students were withdrawn following the cancellation of Ambassador Cameron Munter’s visit to the university. These statements are not factual.” According to the press release, since 2008 USAID’s FATA Livelihoods Programme has provided scholarships to more than 1,360 students across the region. It said over 90 percent of these scholarships have assisted students from low-income households who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to continue their education.The United States is committed to continuing to work with the Pakistani government to improve educational opportunities for KP and FATA’s talented youth, the press release added.

I know power of PML-N, says President Zardari

President Asif Ali Zardari said that he is ready to face the challenges of the PML-N.While addressing ticket-holders of the PPP and party workers, he said that the PML-N has transgressed its limitations and he knew how to keep it within control.He said, “If had not given relief to the PML-N, it would have been impossible for me to oust Musharraf from rule.”He said that rulers of Punjab have become proud of their achievements and he knew it better how to bring them down.He said that he would represent his party in every division of Punjab before general elections.He said that the PPP sacrificed for the restoration and uplift of democracy.He said that the candidates who lose election should not dishearten; rather they should learn lessons from circumstances.