Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stalin buses to be launched in 40 former Soviet cities

Buses decorated with the portraits of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin will appear on the streets of 40 cities in the former Soviet republics during V-E Day celebrations on May 9, a campaign organizer said on Thursday. The leader of the "Bus of Victory" campaign, Viktor Loginov, wrote in his blog that the buses will appear on May 6 in Kiev, Minsk, Tallinn and Riga, as well as in many Russian cities, including Moscow, St. Petersburg and Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). “Some 40 cities have joined the campaign so far and it has already broken previous records,” he said. He added that the organizers still have to collect some 150,000 rubles (about $5,000) for the successful launch of the campaign. The “Bus of Victory” campaign was first held in St. Petersburg in May 2010 and is aimed at “counteracting falsifications of our Fatherland’s history.” Members of its organizing committee say they do not belong to any political or public organization.

Downtown Cairo geared for new rallies

A mass rally involving most liberal and Islamist parties and movements in Egypt is expected Friday in Tahrir Square, downtown Cairo. The main reason for the protests was nomination for upcoming presidential election of politicians whom a majority of Egyptians associate with the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak. According to coordinator of the "Coalition for the January 25 revolution,” Ayman Amer, the revolutionary movements unanimously reject participation of former high-ranking officials in today’s political life. "Their nomination is a blow to the revolution, an insult to the memory of the fallen and a mortal humiliation for their families," said Amer. Facebook social network has witnessed an all-out campaign against those who in the recent past held senior government positions. In particular, the Egyptian Islamists and the revolutionaries have criticized the nomination of former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and former Secretary General of the League of Arab States Amr Moussa.

Trailing in opinion polls, Sarkozy lashes out at the left

With his Socialist challenger edging ahead in some polls in the run up to Sunday's first-round vote,
President Sarkozy predicted a political upset while lashing out at the left Thursday, saying the vote "will teach all those people a lesson". By News Wires (text) REUTERS - With his back against the wall, President Nicolas Sarkozy brushed off opinion polls that show he will lose France's presidential election to deliver a defiant speech three days from the first round of the vote. The incumbent, who is forecast to lose to Socialist Francois Hollande by some 10 percentage points in a May 6 run-off, chose an affluent suburb of Paris to hold his second-to-last rally before voters head to the polls on Sunday. In a speech that swung between whispers and roars, Sarkozy promised to halve immigration, overhaul France's unemployment scheme and push the European Union to impose tougher conditions on trade with emerging nations. But the main thrust of his rally was an assault on opponents in the media and the so-called Parisian "caviar Left", whom he accused of having decided on the election's outcome before people had cast their votes. "(The vote) will teach all those people a lesson like they have never been taught before," he told some 500 flag-waving supporters, without specifying whether the "lesson" might be his re-election, a higher score than polls give him or something else. "It's nine against one," he said, referring to the field of ten first-round candidates. "But the people of France refuse to be told what to do." Sarkozy, elected in 2007 with 53 percent of votes against Socialist Segolene Royal, is entering the last stretch of his term saddled with an approval rating of just 33 percent and the worst poll scores of any modern French president seeking re-election. A BVA poll published this week gave him 27.5 percent of votes in Sunday's first round, versus 29.5 for Hollande and a crushing 12-point gap for round two at 44 percent, with 56 percent for Hollande. Other first-round opinion polls show Sarkozy neck-and-neck with his main rival or slipping behind him by one or two points, after a brief stretch in which he was seen in first place. As dark clouds gather over Sarkozy's chances hours before a campaign blackout from midnight on Friday, the atmosphere among his supporters on Thursday was a blend of cautious hope, combativeness and defiance against the media. "You journalists should be sitting in the back; you don't deserve to be in front!" one elderly lady shouted at reporters at the rally in Saint-Maurice, a quaint town of 15,000 with a centre-right mayor. Big surprises? While Sarkozy hardens his rhetoric, Hollande has stuck to his slow and steady approach, encouraging left-wing supporters to vote and avoid a repeat of the 2002 election, when the far-right's Jean-Marie Le Pen knocked out former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin in the first round, largely due to high abstention. An IFOP poll two weeks ago showed that abstention could be as high as 32 percent on Sunday. Sarkozy, rejected by many French people because of his aggressive tone and embracing of issues normally co-opted by the far-right, showed no sign of rowing back from controversial positions on Muslim symbols like halal meat and full-face veils. But he urged supporters to reject far-right chief Marine Le Pen, polling at 14 percent in the BVA poll. "A vote for Marine Le Pen is as good as a vote for Francois Hollande," he said. "Tipping up the table will not solve any problems." Jean-Marc Alomallo, a 45-year-old male nurse from Paris holding a rolled up French flag outside the rally, said he would vote for Sarkozy on the back of his attitude on immigration. In a campaign taking place against a backdrop of deep anxiety about jobs and the economy, the left-right divide has become sharply polarised, with Le Pen and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon sharing some 30 percent of the vote. Still, Sarkozy's camp holds out hope of convincing undecided voters, which a study by political science institute CEVIPOF measured at 46 percent in late March, to switch sides. Samia Benkhader, a 38-year-old mother and human resources worker, said she was one of them. "It's true that we get the impression that things are decided in advance... I think there may be a big surprise."

Disgruntled French set to vote out Sarkozy

Voters look set to turn their backs on conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's first round of an election that could give France its first left-wing president in 17 years just as fears resurface over Europe's sovereign debt crisis. A sickly economy and a deep dislike of Sarkozy's flashy style have dominated the campaign, but the outside world's doubts about France's commitment to balance its public finances are also at stake as feeble growth threatens deficit-cutting targets in Europe's No. 2 economy. The centre-right president, an impulsive showman, and his bland Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, are neck-and-neck in opinion polls for the first round on about 27-28 percent. But Hollande has a wide lead in voting intentions for a May 6 runoff between the top two candidates. Far-right anti-immigration crusader Marine Le Pen, who wants France to abandon the euro, looks set to come third, with hard left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon fourth and centrist Francois Bayrou fifth, polls show. Sarkozy has been a striking figure on the international stage for five years, leading the European response to the global financial crisis, spearheading Western military action in Libya and working in close partnership with powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel to manage the euro zone crisis. But at home, he is unpopular because of a leadership style criticized as vulgar and for being too close to the rich, as well as feeling the brunt of anger over rife unemployment and economic gloom. "There is a very deep rejection of Nicolas Sarkozy," said a former conservative politician who left the ruling UMP party last year. "This election is above all a rejection of his person, of this omnipresent and arrogant government." Hollande, 57, promises to tread a fiscally responsible path, but his focus on tax rises over spending cuts and his call to renegotiate a European budget discipline pact has some analysts concerned that he would create a new euro zone stress point. The Socialist says he wants to change Europe's direction by leading a drive for growth-promoting measures instead of austerity if he wins, setting up a potential clash with Merkel. Polls will be open on Sunday from 2 a.m. EDT (0600 GMT) to 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), and two hours extra in big cities. Reliable projections of the result based on a partial count are published as soon as the last polling stations close at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT). The authorities are threatening big fines to try to prevent exit polls and partial results leaking out on Twitter and the Internet before that deadline. ANTI-SARKOZYISM PREVAILS France is struggling with feeble growth, a gaping trade deficit, stubbornly high 10 percent unemployment and strained public finances that prompted Standard & Poor's to cut its triple-A credit in January. "You can't detach France from what's going on in the wider euro zone and this election happens to coincide with a lot of other things that are exacerbating concern about the vote," said Nomura chief political analyst Alastair Newton, noting that Greece has an election the same day as the French runoff. Hollande has promised to cut the deficit to zero by 2017, a year later than Sarkozy, but both are using growth forecasts that are far above what economists expect, and may have to scramble to find extra revenue or savings. Market unease about how ready Hollande would be to trim spending is fuelled by concern that a resurgent hard left could end up holding the balance of power after June parliamentary elections. "It's not simply fear of what Hollande would do, it's the fact that we're in for a two-month period of political uncertainty in France," said Newton. The Socialist Party, which would join a small minority of centre-left governments in Europe, says it has modernized and moved to the centre since Francois Mitterrand, who oversaw a wave of nationalizations and appointed Communist ministers. While a tub-thumping Melenchon has struck a chord with the young, factory workers and Communists, many people say they will be voting more to get rid of Sarkozy than out of enthusiasm for Hollande. Some of the middle-of-the-road voters who swept Sarkozy to victory in 2007 now see him as too brash and "unpresidential" and object to his hardline stance on immigration. Hollande says he aims to be a "Mr Normal" president. But his lack of dazzle has boosted support for Melenchon, who fires up crowds with calls for a citizens' revolution and confiscatory taxes on the rich. The radical trails at least 10 points behind the mainstream candidates in opinion polls though and, after a brief surge, has fallen back behind Le Pen in the battle for the angry vote. Sarkozy and Hollande have drawn criticism for pandering to the extremes and evading the real issues as Sarkozy swung right on immigration and trade protectionism while Hollande lurched to the left by promising a 75 percent top tax rate for people earning more than 1 million euros ($1.31 million) a year. A debate over warning labels on halal meat took up space early in the race and television shows dissected Sarkozy's early blunders and character flaws, in one case making him discuss a medley of video clips where he spoke out of tone in public. Hollande has had a gentler ride, yet analysts say neither top candidate has addressed the need for immediate savings measures after the election if deficit goals are to be met. "We are in an extremely serious economic and financial situation, and nobody on the right or the left explained this properly during the campaign," said Jean-Thomas Lesueur, head of the Paris-based Institut Thomas More free-market think tank. "As usual, France went into a bubble and didn't broach the serious issues. As soon as the election is over, reality will explode in our faces like a grenade and the erosion of public finances will be the big issue for the next president." EUROPEAN PUNCHING BAG Both Sarkozy and Hollande have vowed to tackle France's industrial decline due to a lack of competitiveness against low-cost foreign manufacturers, but they have shied away from promising deep structural reforms. They have also tiptoed around the issue of slimming down a welfare system that swallows 28 percent of France's gross domestic product each year, higher than any other OECD country. On the other hand, both have raised hackles in Berlin by criticizing European policies. Hollande wants measures to stimulate growth such as jointly issued bonds to finance investment projects added to a European fiscal compact treaty. Sarkozy is demanding a debate on giving the European Central Bank a role in fuelling growth. He has also threatened unilateral trade restrictions on public procurement contracts unless the European Union enacts a U.S.-style "Buy European Act" and vowed to pull France out of the bloc's open-border Schengen zone unless external frontier controls are toughened. Outsiders see his stance as pure election rhetoric, but they find it harder to read Hollande who, with no past ministerial experience, is barely known outside France. If elected, his diplomatic skills will be put to the test at once with a flurry of meetings from a NATO summit in Chicago in mid-May to a G20 heads of state meeting in Mexico in June. ($1 = 0.7621 euros)

Sudan war 'threatens China energy safety'

The war between Sudan and South Sudan threatens China's energy security, and Beijing will continue to mediate a peace deal between the two sides, analysts said Thursday. The comments came as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir vowed Thursday to teach "a lesson by force" to the South Sudanese government over its seizure of the north's main Heglig oil field. "America will not invoke sanctions on them, and the (UN) Security Council will not, but the Sudanese people are going to punish them," Bashir said at a rally of paramilitary troops. Distrust runs deep between the neighbors at loggerheads over the position of their border, how much the landlocked South should pay to transport its oil through Sudan and the division of national debt, among other issues. According to the AP, South Sudan repulsed three attacks from Sudan on Wednesday and another one Thursday. China expressed "grim concern" Thursday at the escalation of conflicts, and again called for the two sides to immediately end such conflicts. "Beijing has done a lot to mediate between the two sides. We will continue to work with the international community to promote dialogue," a foreign ministry spokesman said. At the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit will visit Beijing from April 23 to 28. The two sides are expected to discuss how to further increase political mutual trust, expand bilateral pragmatic cooperation in various fields, and exchange views on regional and international issues of common concern. Yin Gang, a senior researcher at the Institute of Western Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that relieving the current tensions between Sudan and South Sudan would dominate talks between Hu and Mayardit. "The war will impact oil supply to China. About 5 percent of China's oil imports come from Sudan. Given that regional tension in the Gulf is increasing, over 10 percent of oil imports to China would be endangered," Yin said. Li Weijian, director at the Center of Western Asian and African Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Oriental Morning Post that the whole region of Sudan, before South Sudan seceded, was one of those where China had the most successful overseas investment. "China was not only the oil buyer but also invested in the whole oil industry chain as well as many infrastructure programs. Once the conflict intensifies, China will be affected," he said. In the face of al-Bashir's words, South Sudan called for negotiations Thursday. "We can only resolve this through talks with the African Union," said Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan's Minister of Information. Sudan lost about 40,000 barrels per day of crude output - roughly a third of its total production - when South Sudan took control of the Heglig border region, State Oil Minister Ishaq Adam Gamaa said Wednesday. Both countries are facing rising prices and foreign currency shortages as a result of the loss of oil revenues. Li said that the oil disputes between Sudan and South Sudan posed a challenge to China's policy in the region. "Mayardit's visit to Beijing is also proof that China has a relatively strong influence on the two countries," Li said. Other countries also voiced concerns over the worst violence seen since South Sudan seceded in July under the terms of a 2005 peace settlement. "Obviously, given the escalation of violence over the past few weeks, given the rhetoric that's being thrown about, we're very concerned," US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said. Toner reiterated the US call for an "immediate and unconditional cessation of violence" by both parties. Russia has also made similar calls, saying South Sudan's withdrawal of troops would create conditions for resuming talks between Khartoum and Juba. On Tuesday, the UN Security Council discussed possible sanctions against Sudan and South Sudan in a bid to halt a wider war.

Women’s lower status risk for Asian future

The two billion women living in Asia are still paid less than men for similar work and are extremely underrepresented in top leadership positions, even in wealthy countries such as Japan, according to a report issued Thursday. The Asia Society survey on women’s status in health, education, economic activity and political leadership urges improvements to ensure the region benefits fully from its underused pool of human talent. While the status of women varies widely from country to country from one category to the next, overall, ”to continue in this direction would put in peril Asia’s many achievements,” said the report, compiled by Astrid S Tuminez, a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Limits on female employment cost the region $89 billion a year in terms of lost productivity and human resources, the report said, citing United Nations data. Overall, based on various measures the report also uses data from The Economic Forum and other sources the gender gap was narrowest and women’s leadership strongest in New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mongolia. The gap was widest in Pakistan, Nepal, India, South Korea and Cambodia. ”Some economies in Asia with the highest human development rankings also perform most poorly in some measures of women’s leadership,” it said, referring specifically to Japan and South Korea. Asia leads the world in terms of the number of years women have governed as heads of state, and currently has four women leaders. But the report attributes that to dynastic traditions calling for women to take over from fathers, husbands or sons when they die, are imprisoned or killed. It said the problem begins before birth, with sex-selective abortions and infanticide due to a preference for sons in countries such as China and India. It said the bias in favour of sons means that girls in some countries receive poorer medical care, nutrition and education than boys, especially in developing countries. The discrepancy in schooling leaves the majority of women in four Asian nations illiterate, the report said, citing literacy rates of 10 per cent in Bhutan, 16 per cent in Pakistan, 25 per cent in Nepal and 31 per cent in Bangladesh. Although women live longer in Asian nations as in other regions, such disadvantages affect health and earning power over a lifetime, the report noted. ”From the very start, girls in Asia face significant obstacles to fulfilling their human potential, in general, and their potential for leadership, in particular,” Asia Society President Vishakha N Desai said in introducing the report. Pay gaps remain significant, the report said, with the ratio of women’s pay to men’s lowest in South Korea, at 51 per cent, below that of Nepal, Bangladesh and China. Japan’s was not much better, at 60 per cent. The narrowest gaps, the report found, were in Malaysia and Singapore, at 81 per cent, and Mongolia and Thailand, at just under 80 per cent. Globally, women’s pay is 20 per cent to 30 per cent less than men’s, on average. As far as women in senior corporate positions, Japan came in worst in the region with just five per cent of those positions held by women. Thailand and the Philippines ranked highest in this regard, with women holding 39 per cent of senior level positions, while India came in at 14 per cent and China 25 per cent, it said, citing a survey by human resources consultancy Grant Thornton International. The percentage of women on corporate boards was much lower, with Japan at 0.9 per cent, South Korea at 1.9 per cent and China at 8.5 per cent. New Zealand ranked highest, at 9.3 per cent. The global average is 21 per cent, down from 24 per cent in 2009, the report said. The report suggests specific countermeasures, such as providing more mentoring, more generous parental leaves, childcare and elder care, and gender-equal retirement packages would encourage women to persevere with their careers to top management positions. But more fundamentally, it urges greater education aimed at valuing girls and women on a par with boys and men, steps to end sex selective abortions and improvement in women’s property rights and other protections to ensure they can contribute fully to society. The Asia Society, based in New York, is a global non-profit organization seeking to promote closer ties between Asia and the West through arts, education, policy and business outreach.

Afghanistan: ‘Let Our People Live': Herat Activists Call for End to War

A peaceful demonstration against the war and the killing of civilians in Afghanistan was launched in Herat on Thursday, with social activists calling on the government to clarify its position on the Tailban. The demonstration, organised by an activist group which calls itself the "Young Intellectuals Association", expressed anger over the ongoing war and the death of civilians. The activists stood outside the Herat provincial governor's office, chanting anti-war slogans and demanding the Taliban to cease its attacks on civilian organisations. Slogans written on placards and blackboards had messages such as "Stop burning our schools" and "We want peace". Leader of the association Samia Srosh said: "With this civic action, we want to prove that our people are tired of war, and we condemn the latest attacks." Coordinator of civil societies organizations in Herat Khalil Parsa said: "We criticize the insurgents' actions and we want them to stop destroying our country further. Let our people live." The activists said the government needed to clarify its position on the Taliban after President Hamid Karzai referred to the Taliban as brothers in a public address on Tuesday. The demonstrators carried pictures depicting the war and its victims. "The pictures showed the reality of the true victims of war - these victims were neither involved in politics nor in war," a member of the Herat provincial council Sayed Wahidullah Qattali commented. One activist Atifa Mansory said: "Our people, especially our youth, are tired of war and this movement is really admirable." Last week, eight civilians and three policemen died and as many as 12 were wounded when three suicide bombers detonated a vehicle at the Herat government district headquarters.

India enters elite ICBM league with Agni-V

Agni-V launch: China shows signs of admiration and nervousness The Chinese foreign ministry suggested Thursday that India's Agni-V launch should not be viewed as an arms race in the way of better relationship between the Himalayan neighbours. "We are not rivals but cooperative partners. We should cherish the hard-earned momentum of cooperation," Liu Weimin, spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry said. The ministry's remarks came as close to expressing admiration for the test-firing of Agni-V as could be expected of a country which comes within the range of the nuclear capable missile. "China and India are both emerging powers," Liu said. He referred to the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese president Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the recent BRICS meeting in New Delhi saying the "leadership of the two countries agreed to further strengthen cooperation". The foreign ministry's public views were in sharp contrast to a belligerent commentary published by the Global Times, one of the papers on the stable of the People's Daily, which is owned by the Communist Party of China. The Global Times commentary advised India not to be arrogant about its missile capabilities. The commentary betrayed signs of nervousness among hawkish sections of the Communist Party of China over India's missile success. But the more moderate People's Daily and a web newspaper published by the State Council under premier Wen Jiabao did not voice an opinion about the Agni V event. "Even if it (India) has missiles that could reach most parts of China, that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China," Global Times said. "India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China". It also warned India against relying too heavily on its relationship with the United States and the alleged western effort to curb China's growth. The paper carried a graph showing how India's missile capabilities cover several world cities like Moscow, Tehran, Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta and Beijing. "India should also not overstate the value of its Western allies and the profits it could gain from participating in a containment of China. If it equates long range strategic missiles with deterrence of China, and stirs up further hostility, it could be sorely mistaken," the commentary said. Speaking at the foreign ministry, Liu said the need of the need of the hour was to "push forward the bilateral strategic and cooperative partnership". Liu also did not accept a suggestion that the missile launch might affect regional stability. "We hope Asian countries can contribute to regional stability and peace," he said.

India, Eye on China, Tests Missile With Longer Range

India said Thursday that it had successfully launched a missile with nuclear capability and a range of 3,100 miles, giving it the ability to strike Beijing and Shanghai and heightening fears of an Asian arms race. With the launching of the missile, called the Agni 5, India joins a small group of countries with long-range nuclear missile capability, including China, Britain, France, Russia, Israel and the United States. Agni is the Hindi word for fire. The launching comes amid growing international apprehension about the militarization of Asia and a stepped-up strategic rivalry there between the United States and China. In March, Beijing announced a double-digit increase in military spending, and India recently became the world’s top arms buyer, displacing China, in part because China has increased it domestic production of weapons. And on Thursday, South Korea tested a missile capable of hitting anywhere in North Korea, less than a week after North Korea launched a rocket that failed minutes after takeoff. The missile launching in India “increases the perception of an arms race, and the reality of an arms race, in East Asia, particularly between China and India,” said Graeme P. Herd, head of the international security program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, which trains diplomats on peace and security issues.
The timing may be seen as particularly provocative, he said, coming as China’s government deals with a scandal involving one of its top officials and after the United States has stepped up its military presence in the Pacific. “All of this, from the Chinese perspective, looks like a movement from balancing China to containing China,” Mr. Herd said, and could inspire Beijing to strengthen its weapons stockpile and forge closer ties with Pakistan and the Central Asian countries.
The launching was largely celebrated in India, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it “another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science.” The entire nation honors the scientists involved, he said, who have “done the country proud.” The Indian defense minister, A. K. Antony, said India had “joined the elite club of nations” that possess long-range missiles. The United States, which led the criticism of North Korea last Friday, appeared to warily endorse India’s missile launching. “We urge all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding nuclear capabilities,” said Mark C. Toner, a State Department spokesman. “That said, India has a solid nonproliferation record.” India has a “no-first-use” policy. China’s immediate reaction was subdued. At a regularly scheduled news briefing, Liu Weimin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that India and China were “not competitors, but partners,” according to news agencies. The two countries should “work hard to uphold friendly strategic cooperation” for peace and stability in the region, he said. The missile “does not pose a threat in reality,” China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV said, according to The Associated Press. The news channel questioned the accuracy of the missile’s guidance systems and its 50-ton-plus weight, which the Chinese said would force it to be launched from a fixed location, making it an easy target. India said the missile can be launched from a mobile platform. Officials in Pakistan, India’s nuclear-armed neighbor and historic rival, did not return calls for comment. The countries have recently increased trade ties, raising hopes that the longstanding tensions between the two may be ending. The Indian missile’s range would include Tehran, parts of Eastern Europe and Manila. But the focus of the test appeared to be China, analysts said. “Agni 5 will give India complete coverage of targets in China,” Poornima Subramaniam, an Asia-Pacific armed forces analyst at IHS Jane’s Defense, said in an e-mail. “Agni 5 technologically narrows the missile gap between India and China, while the strategic balance between the two rivals is still tipped in China’s favor.” The launching of the Agni 5, from an island off India’s east coast, is part of a missile program that began decades ago. India started its missile development program in 1983. It has suffered occasional setbacks, but last November, it tested the Agni 4, which can hit targets up to 2,200 miles away. It will soon be given to the army for operational use; the Agni 1, Agni 2 and Agni 3 were also given to the army. The Agni 5 weighs about 50 tons and is 51 feet long. It reached an altitude of about 430 miles in this test, the Indian government said. The Agni 5 will be ready for operational use by 2014. “We have achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve in this mission,” Avinash Chandra, mission director for the test, told the Times Now news channel on Thursday. China has a missile that can hit targets at least 6,200 miles away, and Pakistan’s missile range is at least 744 miles. “India has two nuclear-armed adversaries and needs to create minimal deterrence,” said Wing Cmdr. Ajey Lele, a specialist in strategic technologies at the government-financed Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi. Some in India questioned spending so much on a sophisticated missile program as hundreds of millions of the country’s citizens continue to live in extreme poverty. “It is ridiculous,” said Praful Bidwai, a researcher and columnist associated with the Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament and Peace. “We are getting into a useless arms race at the expense of fulfilling the need of poor people.” The Chinese missile program is not directed at India, and the Chinese have assured India of that, he said, adding, “Now, the India missile program is clearly directed to China.”

Bahrain unrest intensifies ahead of Grand Prix

As Bahrain prepares to host this weekend's Formula One Grand Prix, demands by protesters for democratic change are intensifying and the government position is hardening, setting the Gulf kingdom on a path to confrontation, analysts say. Shiite-led street demonstrations have turned increasingly violent, as the ruling Sunni Khalifa dynasty continues its crackdown on dissent in a desperate effort to portray that all is well in the island kingdom ahead of Sunday's race. Regional allies, mainly Saudi Arabia, are lending the Khalifas a helping hand, while the United States has mostly turned a blind eye to the unrest, two key factors, analysts say, that have contributed to the current unrest. The crisis is set against the backdrop of escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which see the success, or failure, of Bahrain's protests as a key piece of the puzzle in regional hegemony. There is a "pretty clear escalation," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group, which this week released a conflict risk alert on Bahrain. Several factors are feeding fears of escalating unrest, he argued. "The (political) stalemate is continuing," and a steady pace of protests are ending in clashes, as protesters use fire bombs and security forces use tear gas and pellet guns, Hiltermann added. According to Amnesty International, at least 60 people have been killed since the explosion of Bahrain's Arab Spring-style uprising in February 2011. Bahrain's majority Shiites claim discrimination and marginalisation by the Sunni monarchy, and recent promises of reform by King Hamad have not been implemented, while attempts at a national dialogue with the opposition have amounted to nothing. And as Formula One teams arrive in the kingdom, the opposition and the increasingly radical youth are calling for mass protests, using the world famous sporting event to shed light on their struggle. For its part, the government is beefing up security and arresting activists, hoping to contain the unrest during the race. Meanwhile, the deteriorating health of a prominent Shiite activist, Abdulhadi Khawaja, on hunger strike since early February, is yet another ticking time bomb. It all makes "for a heavy brew," said Hiltermann, warning that although the uprising is very much a local issue, it is especially dangerous because it has wider regional ramifications. "A key factor here is the US. It doesn't want to rock the boat because Bahrain is a critical link in its Gulf security architecture," he said, adding that the Saudis too "are major power brokers...and have (Bahrain) by the throat economically." Bahrain's crisis has unleashed long-standing fears among Sunni Gulf monarchies that a Shiite revolution in the kingdom would give Iran a foothold in the heart of the Arab Gulf. "Today... Bahrain is seen as a battleground between (Iran and Saudi Arabia)," said Elham Fakhro, a Bahraini research analyst at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies. Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni nation, has suppressed its own Shiite protests in the oil-rich Eastern province, which is connected through a causeway to Bahrain. Along with other Gulf countries, the Saudis sent troops to the island last March to secure major government assets and to free up Bahraini security forces to crush the rebellion. Bahrain is also home to the US Fifth fleet, a crucial asset in the event of a war with Iran. The sectarian dimension to Bahrain's crisis has set it apart from revolts that toppled regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. "First and foremost, the fear is sectarian," said director of the Brookings Doha Centre, Salman Sheikh. The Khalifas and Saudis are focused "too much on threats and dangers that would come from profound change." Bahrain researcher and lecturer at Paris's Science Po, Michael Schmidmayr described the Saudis as a "huge obstacle" to what some believe were sincere efforts by Bahrain's King Hamad to reconcile with the opposition. For a brief moment last November, even members of the opposition felt change might come. Their optimism was triggered by the remarkable sight of King Hamad sitting in front of the local and international press as a world renowned human rights lawyer read out a litany of abuses committed by his security forces against his own unarmed people. Hopes were quickly dashed, however, as the government failed to stop the security forces' excessive use of force and opposition leaders remained jailed. The stalemate meanwhile is breeding radicals among the "Sunni and Shiite youth," said Sheikh, adding that there "are pretty hard and fast positions within a divided ruling family." Schmidmayr warned that the kingdom was headed "towards a new intifada," or uprising, arguing that "it may have already started."

U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is working:Panetta
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seemed optimistic on Wednesday about plans to transition security to indigenous forces in Afghanistan beginning next year. “Our strategy is right, our strategy is working,” Panetta said after a meeting of NATO defense officials in Brussels. Afghan troop levels, which currently stand at around 337,000, are scheduled to peak at 352,000 in October before gradually falling to 230,000 after 2014. The U.S. estimates it will cost between $4 billion to $6 billion a year to field such an army. "We cannot and we will not abandon Afghanistan," Panetta added, after indicating the U.S. would provide $4 billion a year to fund Afghan security forces through 2014. However, Panetta also said another $1.3 billion would be needed from NATO allies. The primary focus of the gathering in Brussels was to prepare for next month's NATO summit in Chicago in which the international community will discuss Afghanistan’s security concerns after NATO combat operations end in 2014. Panetta’s rosy assessment comes on the heels of a wave of coordinated attacks the Taliban launched on Sunday against seven sites in four cities, including rocket attacks in Kabul on the Afghan parliament building and several Western embassies. Differing perspectives emerged regarding the insurgent offensive, with U.S. military leaders putting a positive spin on the situation, praising Afghan security personnel for reacting quickly and minimizing casualties. Critics, on the other hand, believe the attacks illustrate that the security situation in Afghanistan is as bad as it's been since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. They also claim insurgents have infiltrated Afghan intelligence and have proven they are still capable of striking at the heart of the Afghan capital, which is supposedly one of the safest places in the country. Max Boot contends in a Wall Street Journal piece that the U.S. must stay the course and provide more than the $4 billion per year pledged by the Obama administration - which he considers a mistake that can and must be avoided: If we avoid such unforced errors and stick with the plans developed by Gens. Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus and John Allen, we have a good chance to maintain a pro-Western regime in power. The Taliban are too weak to defeat us or our Afghan allies. But we can defeat ourselves. Conn Hallinan disagrees and outlines a much different strategy in Counterpunch, which includes the following: * A ceasefire and stand down of all offensive operations, including the highly unpopular “night raids.” * Shelving any long-term plans to keep combat troops or Special Forces in the country, and shutting down the drone war in Pakistan. * Urging the formation of a national unity government and calling for a constitutional convention. * Sponsoring a regional conference aimed at keeping Afghanistan neutral and non-aligned. * Insuring aid continues to flow into Afghanistan, particularly aimed at upgrading infrastructure, improving agriculture, and expanding education.

Afghanistan earns $400M transit fee on TAPI gas pipeline

Officials in the ministry of mines of Afghanistan announced Afghanistan has reached to an agreement over transit fees for Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline with the three nations. According to a press release issued by the ministry of mines of Afghanistan, the decision was taken by high level delegation of the four countries following a meeting in Islamabad. The statement further added, Afghanistan will receive $400 million annually as transit fees taking into consideration the price of gas in global markets. Afghan mines ministry officials also added an agreement is due to be signed between the four nations during the month of May to finalize the documents of TAPI gas pipeline project. However reports suggest India and Afghanistan have failed to agree on transit fee for gas passing through Afghan territory under the $7.6-billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project, officials said today. Consequently, Islamabad and New Delhi too could not agree on the transit fee for the segment of the pipeline passing through Pakistan, which has linked its fee structure to any India-Afghanistan agreement. The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP or TAPI) is a proposed natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank.[1][2][3] The pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India. The 1,735 kilometres (1,078 mi) pipeline will run from the Turkmenistan gas fields to Afghanistan. Most of sources reports that the pipeline will start from the Dauletabad gas field while some other sources say that it will start from the Iolotan gas field. In Afghanistan, the TAPI will be constructed alongside the highway running from Herat to Kandahar, and then via Quetta and Multan in Pakistan. The final destination of the pipeline will be the Indian town of Fazilka, near the border between Pakistan and India.

Haqqani Network behind Afghan attacks

US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker
following a statement on Thursday said, there is “no question” that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network was behind this week’s coordinated attacks in the capital and other eastern cities. Ryan Crocker following the statement said Pakistan needs to do more to clamp down on the group’s safe havens. Thursday’s statements were the strongest yet from a U.S. official blaming Sunday’s attacks on the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Taliban and al-Qaida. As new details emerged about the attacks, which included an 18-hour siege on key Kabul neighbourhoods, a senior Afghan intelligence officer said that the captured attacker had admitted to being part of a larger team tasked with waging similar operations ahead of a major NATO summit on Afghanistan in Chicago. This comes as US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also earlier said based on the intelligence reports the Haqqanis were behind the attacks that took place. Taliban militants group claimed responsibility behind the coordinated attacks and said heavy casualties were incurred to Afghan and coalition security forces following the clashes. The group also said the attacks were carried out to retaliate the burning of Holy Quran and assassination of 17 Afghan villagers by a rogue US soldier in southern Kandahar province

Karzai calls for early transition after US scandal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
called Thursday for an "accelerated" transition of security responsibilities from NATO forces in the wake of a scandal over US troops abusing Afghan corpses. "The only way to put an end to such painful experiences is through an accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces," his office said in a statement. Pictures published by the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday showed US soldiers posing with the remains of Taliban insurgents, one of them with a man's hand draped over his shoulder. Karzai condemned the pictures as "inhumane and provocative", adding: "It is such a disgusting act to take photos with body parts and then share it with others." The president noted that similar incidents in the past had sparked an angry reaction by Afghans. Every month this year a fresh scandal has rocked the alliance between the US and the Karzai government in their joint efforts against Taliban insurgents. In January, a video showed US Marines urinating on Taliban corpses; in February US soldiers burned copies of the Koran; and in March a US soldier went on the rampage and murdered 17 villagers in their homes. NATO has some 130,000 troops in Afghanistan helping Karzai's government fight the Taliban insurgency, but they are due to pull out by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility for the nation's security to Afghan forces. Plans for the withdrawal will be discussed at a NATO summit in Chicago in May, with the 10-year war increasingly unpopular among troop-contributing nations. The Taliban were also quick to condemn the photographs of US soldiers posing with the remains of militants, calling the two-year-old pictures "inhuman" and vowing revenge. The Taliban "strongly condemns the brutal and inhuman act by the American invading force and their uncultured slaves", they said in a statement. In some of the pictures Afghan police are also seen with their US allies posing with the mangled remains of Taliban suicide bombers. "This is what the invading Americans teach to their Afghan slaves," the statement said, referring to the members of the Afghan security forces trained and funded by the US-led troops. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those responsible would be punished but voiced "regret" that the LA Times had decided to publish the images against his wishes, warning that they could prompt a violent backlash. The LA Times published two of 18 photographs it was given by a soldier who believed they pointed to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that compromised the safety of the troops. One showed a soldier with a dead insurgent's hand draped on his right shoulder. The other showed soldiers grinning and giving a thumbs-up behind the disembodied legs of a Taliban fighter. The incident took place in February 2010, when paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team were sent to an Afghan police station in Zabul province to inspect the remains of an alleged suicide bomber. The soldiers had orders to try to get fingerprints and possibly scan the irises of the corpse, but instead they posed for pictures next to the Afghan police, holding up or squatting beside the remains, the LA Times reported.

Karzai Criticised For Calling Taliban ‘Brothers'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai calling the Taliban ‘brothers' has garnered much attention and strong reactions among Afghans, some arguing it will negatively impact the image of Afghanistan. The actions of the Taliban do not merit the term brother, Chairman of the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS) Mir Ahmad Joyenda said Wednesday. The Taliban, who have "never believed in humanity", should not be called brothers, he said, adding that he feared the international community would cut aid if Karzai continues to refer to them as such. "Calling those who are enemies, who are trying to destroy the city, and who have never believed in humanity, brothers, is greatly disappointing," he told TOLOnews. Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) condemned Sunday's attacks in Kabul and said the Taliban's actions had no regard for civilians, and as such, should be condemned. "The Taliban have no respect for civilians and all their operations harm civilians," AIHRC head Mohammed Musa Mahmoodi. "These acts should be strongly condemned." It is not the first time Karzai has referred to the militant group using this term. He has used it as far back as 2009. Some analysts have previously argued that calling Taliban ‘brothers' would downgrade the morale of Afghan security forces and encourage the Taliban to increase their insurgent activities. Karzai used the controversial in his public address in Kabul on Tuesday, but stressed that what the Taliban had done was against Islamic principles. "You [Taliban] damaged Islam, Afghanistan and its economy," he said. "You did nothing for Islam, you did not work for Afghanistan's independence and you did not work for its people, freedom and development. You worked to prolong a foreign presence."

Shareef brothers can fool no one
Pakistan has its best days ahead and nothing can stop us from succeeding”, said Information and Power Minister, Shazia Marri. This she said while speaking at event organized by the Saylani Welfare Trust here on Wednesday. Shazia Marri said that the democratic government was tackling all issues in an environment of participation and President Zardari had succeeded in creating such an environment. Marri said that Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif were responsible for the damages caused due to the Afghan war, the drug and klashnikov culture and the destruction of our liberal socio-political fabric since they were the staunch supporters of General Zia Ul Haq. “We are tired of such two-faced individuals who first destroy us and then pretend to come for our rescue, Sharifs can fool no one.”, Marri stated emphatically. Appreciating the philanthropic activities of Saylani Welfare Trust, Shazia Marri expressed special gratitude for their tireless service during the catastrophic rains of last year. Marri said that Yousuf Lakhani and his team were the real heroes who battled with all difficulties in order to provide immediate relief to the flood affectees.

Hamza Sharif had been threatening,Ayesha Ahad Malik

The Express Tribune
Additional District and Sessions Judge Safdar Ali Bhatti on Wednesday directed the city’s police chief to provide protection to Ayesha Ahad Malik, who claims to be married to and under threat from MNA Hamza Shahbaz Sharif. The judge disposed of her petition seeking protection with the above mentioned directions to the capital city police officer and with directions to the inspector general of police, the deputy inspector general for operations, the Cantt superintendent of police and the Souther Cantt station house officer not to harass Malik. The petitioner said that Hamza Sharif had been threatening her and had arranged for a false case to be registered against her after she had told Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif about their nikah. She said he had sent thugs to her home and people followed her when she was out. She said she had even received information that Hamza Sharif had hired an assassin to kill her. She said she feared that she and her family were in danger. Malik had filed two other petitions as well: one seeking a case against Hamza Sharif and others for allegedly raiding her home and threatening her; and the other seeking directions to the police to submit a challan against her servant for allegedly stealing from her. In the plea against Hamza Sharif, she said that he had sent a police team to her house on April 6 that included Inspector Rizwan and Shakil Tariq. They had barged into her house, beaten up her servants and threatened to falsely implicate her in crimes if she did not shut up about her relationship with Sharif. In the third petition, she said that her servant Sarwar stole prize bonds and cash worth Rs380,000, gold ornaments, mobile phones, a Rolex watch and other items from her house and police officials were not trying to arrest him or challan him. She asked the court to direct the police to submit the challan and initiate proceedings against him. At a previous hearing, Inspector Muhammad Aslam had told the court that he had interrogated the accused as well as her guard and driver while Malik herself was not cooperating with the investigation. He said that her allegations appeared to be baseless. The judge will resume hearing both remaining pleas today (April 19).

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: Commodity rates rise

The prices of essential commodities recorded an increase of about five to twenty-two percent over the last two months while Indian fruits and vegetables that continued to flood local markets are selling for even higher prices in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Lured by high profits, the fruits and vegetable sellers are putting on sale the Indian fruits and vegetables, particularly in city district of Peshawar that affected the prices of local commodities. Truckloads of tomatoes, onion and other commodities sourced from various Indian cities are entering the country through Attari-Wagah border daily, the local traders said. The Indian bananas of best quality are selling for Rs180 per dozen while the local bananas are selling forRs60-Rs100 per dozen in the province. Chinese apples are selling for Rs180-Rs200, Afghani apples fetch Rs160-Rs180 while those from Quetta and Swat are being sold at Rs800-Rs100. A fruit seller, Gul Muhammad, said that his customers opt for these varieties for their quality. A vegetables seller, Shah Saud, said the prices of Indian tomatoes shot up to Rs80 from Rs40 when supplies stopped for few days two weeks ago. The Bureau of Statistics Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the first time collected prices of 47 essential items from all 25 districts of the province on monthly basis and consolidated the same on the basis of item-to-item analysis. According to the Bureau of Statistics monthly report the prices of 35 items registered an increase while that of the seven items showed a downward trend and some five items, including the labour wages remained unchanged during the last two months. The prices of eight items such as gram pulse, sugar, ghee, rice and maize increased in many districts. The rates of potatoes, chickens, eggs, onion and tomatos recorded a decrease in the province, while that of the matchbox, salt, cigarettes, and unskilled labour remained unchanged during the period.

Aitzaz presents UN report on presidential immunity

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan said the United Nations (UN), in one of its reports, had granted immunity to heads of state from prosecution in a foreign country, a private TV channel reported. The hearing of the contempt of court case against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani resumed here on Thursday. Ahsan also presented the UN report before the Supreme Court’s seven-judge bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk, to support his argument. He further said that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had also stopped courts from trying heads of state in the past. Concluding his arguments on presidential immunity, Ahsan said he would address the charge levelled against the PM and would prove to the bench that PM Gilani did not commit contempt of court.

Pakistan, India must resolve Siachin issue

COAS, Gen Pervez Ashfaq Kayani has said that Pakistan and India should resolve the otherwise quite complicated issue of Siachen, bilaterally. Talking to media in Skardu, he stressed that both countries should co-exist peacefully and harmoniously, and also expressed Pakistan's dire resolve to seek an amicable solution for all political issues and controversies. Replying to a question, he refrained from commenting on question of Nawaz Sharif; " as the world knows the reason of presence of Pakistani forces at Siachin top". He reminded that Pakistan was forced to respond to illegal and unwanted Indian intrusion of the region, and said that Pakistani forces were there to defend its homeland territory. He cautioned that Pakistan's desire and quest for peace and harmony in the region should not be construed as its weakness, and declared that the ongoing rescue operation at Gyari would continue until total rescue of glacier trapped soldiers, while also praying for their safety. He said that all kind of options and efforts would be made in the rescue operations, no matter how long and what cost it took.