Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Evolving Strength of Character – by Rusty Walker

Let Us Build Pakistan
by Rusty Walker
If Pakistan needs a strong civil government, it will need a strong leader. If it looks for a heroic voice, someone who is courageous enough to take on a Justice system that has proven itself to be pro-Jihadi and anti-female, pro-rape, run by a Pro-Establishment, Chief Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry- this hero may well be Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s recent speech, covered in two stories in LUBP, deserves another look. He reflected his mother’s bravery, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, and her intelligent and fearless tone, unafraid to speak plain truth and stand up to injustice. His voice sounds like the voice of the people, and has a grassroots type manner of appeal. Unlike manufactured politicians like Imran Khan, Bilawal is not afraid to say the unpopular things. When Imran Khan vaciliated in his condemnation of the murder of PPP governor, Salman Taseer, it was PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who condemned it unequivocally. It will take a new youthful strength of character, to build a consensus from within, to unite the moderately religious and secular elements of society to change the Pakistan into a force in the world. You have the natural resources, you need the leader. It would take a commitment to stay and fight, which I believe Bilawal Bhutto has, in order to make necessary changes to Pakistan’s Military-dominated nation. It was fear of the Bhuttos that have suffered so many deaths, assassinations, killing and judicial murder and it is this grand-son of Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto who is fast rising up to the challenge to take Pakistan into a better future. What type of person could request that the Pak Army Chief Kayani to step down? Why wouldn’t a reorganization of the military and reformation of the ISI be in line, given its abuses? Shouldn’t the elected leader of Pakistan be the one meeting with Afghanistan, China, USA, and yes, Indian heads of state and making foreign policy? Perhaps we need look no further than the handsome and evolving PPP chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Do not forget that this court and the security establishment it represents is associated with assassins and Islamofascists. Therefore Pakistan needs to change from a security state to a fully empowered democracy that uses its resources for economic development. It can no longer afford Jihadist adventures that have undermined the region and destroyed the country and lead to tens of thousands of Pakistani civilian deaths by the very Jihadists nurtured for such misadventures. In his speech he directs his calls for justice for Shaheed Zulfi Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma to the Supreme Court. This is the same court that took almost a decade to finally come to an erroneous decision by freeing multiple rapists of Mukhtaran Mai who was attacked on the orders of a feudal-type village council, (acquittal of fourteen rapists was strongly condemned by Human Rights organizations) and the CJ freed terrorist leader of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Malik Ishaq, who publically bragged of his crimes. The courts have shown its bias towards the Sipah-e-Sahaba/Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat/Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (really one and the same party whose stated genocidal intent for Shias and bigotry for Christains, Ahmadis, Barelvi Sunnis is deeply troubling) , Jamaat Islami, Lal Masjid activists in the past several years, and partiality to political favorites- the smoke and mirrors Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif, and Hamid Gul. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took on the history of hate and manufactured, unsubstantiated accusations over the years towards Shaheed Zulfi Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma. These political witch hunts of elected leaders are precisely the legacies that Pakistan should free itself of. That is, he suggested in positive terms, as if expecting righteous justice from the court; a good tactic, perhaps, but also the only way to cajole the arrogant CJ and courts to hear him. During his address, he also questioned the alleged ethnic bias and chauvinist attitudes that has one standards for the rest of Pakistan and another standard for North Punjabi Pro-Taliban politicians like the Sharif brothers of PML N. As a leader of a federalist party, it is heartening to see that Bilawal understands and appreciates the the diversity of the various ethnic and religious groups that live in Pakistan – in stark contrast to Urban-Punjabi centric PML N and PTIs who strive for manufactured homogeneity as opposed to a dynamic heterogeneity and a pluralist society. One wonders what these two parties would do without relying on the manufactured anti-US hype of the Pakistani media and its bias for them. Bilawal’s speech has highlighted the fault lines in Pakistan that need to be addressed urgently. These are the ethnic fault lines where smaller provinces like Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa are getting more alieanated – not to forget Gilgit-Baltistan, a Shia majority province which is witnessed a surge in the genocide of its Shia population at the hands of ISI-backed Jihadists. It also brought attention to South Punjab which has been badly ignored by the Sharif family provincial government of Punjab. Together this constitutes nearly 75% of Pakistan’s population that have been alienated and whose only hope is that the 18th Amendment that is this PPP Government’s best legislative accomplishment is not hampered further by the PML N-Judiciary combine. The Judiciary, whose bias towards Jihadists and rapists is a matter of record stands badly exposed. It scolds without any actual prosecution, junior army officers on the crucial missing persons case. In sharp contrast to this is its undignified populist-media pandering in going after an elected PPP prime minister, Gillani. By referring to this case, Bilawal has brought the world’s attention to the deplorable conduct of a seemingly biased and politicized Judiciary. Some time back, it was shocking to see prominent journalist, Najam Sethi, referring to this judiciary as an assertive institute against the security establishment. After the Judiciary’s conduct in the Memogate case, this claim by the otherwise respected Mr. Sethi comes across as a joke! This judiciary has exposed its bias. In going after PPP, it accepts petitions and issues orders on the basis of politically motivated trumped up charges where gossip and innuendo are deemed sufficient evidence. However for ISI-backed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorist leader like Malik Ishaq eye witness accounts and boastful press conference brags about mass murders of Shia muslims are termed as insufficient evidence. And the fact that while he was supposed to be in prison, Malik Ishaq was being flown in military headquarters to negotiate with terrorists not taken into consideration when the prosecution is unfairly blamed by Pakistan’s media - where many have s a soft corner for the Taliban. These are the challenges faced by Pakistan and they are not being helped by a politisized judiciary, which has eschewed much needed judicial reform in favour of its selective targeting of the elected PPP government. Bilawal’s courageous speech on this topic needs to be appreciated and is an indication that he is not afraid to speak the truth even if its hurts him – the true quality of a leader. As I write this, the Supreme Court has taken notice of his speech but remains somnolent on the ongoing Shia genocide BB did not have the time to accomplish the educational programs, commissions for women, the economic growth plans, and to contend with entrenched military and ISI that fought her all the way. I believe that like his mother, Bilawal is not just talk, but, action, for pluralism in Pakistan, and the eventual addressing of the massacres of Shia Muslims, he would be, given the support needed from civil society and religious leaders, the one to begin making a difference. Perhaps he would then call for equality for Ahmadiya Muslims and revoke the 2nd Amendment, and the long overdue changes in the Constitution, to include repeal of the Blasphemy Laws. He could give a voice to Hindus and Christians. There is an inner toughness in the calm manner of his speeches. This is an appeal to those readers to listen more carefully to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, he and you, together may be what is needed to make huge positive advances for Pakistan. About the author: Rusty Walker is an Independent Political Analyst, educator, author, Vietnam veteran-era U.S. Air Force, from a military family, retired college professor, former Provost (Collins College, U.S.A.), artist, musician and family man. Mr. Walker is an ardent supporter of Pakistan. Here is a link to Mr. Walker’s other articles published on LUBP:

For many in India, landfill is a livelihood and a home

At New Delhi's 'trash mountain,' some of the poorest reside and eke out a living by picking through garbage in search of bottles, metal and human hair, with dreams of joining the middle class.
The children didn't notice the ravens and occasional vulture circling overhead, or the stream of black ooze that flowed nearby, or the inescapable stench of decay. They were squealing over a 4-cent ride on a small, hand-powered Ferris wheel. The kids are growing up in New Delhi's 70-acre Ghazipur landfill, a post-apocalyptic world where hundreds of pickers climb a 100-foot-high trash pile daily, dodging and occasionally dying beneath belching bulldozers that reshape the putrid landscape. On "trash mountain," families earn $1 to $2 a day slogging through waist-deep muck. But the residents also marry, have children on their dirt floors, pray and celebrate life's other milestones. "I am very proud to be a rag picker; we keep you healthy," said Jai Prakash Choudhary, who has spent years scouring Delhi's dumps in search of cast-off bottles, metal, even human hair. An outgrowth of India's rapidly expanding middle class with its embrace of Western-style consumerism is ever more waste: New Delhi produces about 9,200 tons of trash daily, up 50% from 2007. The garbage is expected to double by 2024, leaving Ghazipur and two other landfills overflowing.
That's afforded the country's 1.7 million rag pickers — with 350,000 in New Delhi alone — more pickings, allowing some to dream of one day joining those middle-class ranks. Rising expectations and hunger for a better life are seen in small ways at Ghazipur, charity workers said. Children balk at donations of unfashionable clothing. Twentysomethings sport stylish haircuts. Many listen to the latest pop tunes on cheap cellphones. Choudhary is a symbol of that slow rise to the middle class, the desire for more. The rag picker, who's in his 30s, ran for councilman in this month's municipal elections here. Although he lost, his candidacy is an inspiration to other rag pickers, and he's promised to try again in a continuing effort to fight for their rights. "Dirt comes from the top," Choudhary said. "Politics is a noble profession, but Indian politicians are not. I won't disappoint people." The first rung for many, including Choudhary, is trash mountain. Most of those living in the shanties ringing the garbage dump are Muslims from impoverished central Bihar state or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who learn quickly which wholesalers will pay the most for their trash, how to scratch out a few feet of living space, where to scrounge for water and power.
In the trickle-down world of trash, they're at the bottom. Because New Delhi has no real door-to-door waste-collection system, the most "desirable" refuse is snapped up by domestic workers or neighborhood pickers, who then take the leftovers to select waste sites around the city. From there, trash trucks dump the rest at Ghazipur, where residents pick over the leavings. "No one wants to be here if they can help it," said Ram Karan, 35, as several sheep munched on trash nearby. "It's a necessary evil." Residents jealously guard their small, makeshift homes, including Sheikh Habibullah, who was busy rebuilding his after a fire razed the neighborhood, crafting a door from a Bollywood poster board. His two-room hut, with dirt floors, rice-bag walls and a palm-leaf roof, houses six family members. Half their $60 monthly earnings go to a local boss for "rent" and permission to siphon off city electricity powering a single light bulb.
"In the slums, you always get ripped off," said Bharati Chaturvedi, director of Chintan, a charity focused on waste-pickers. Once collected, trash is sorted, often by children, into piles up to 12 feet high: plastic bottles, cups, bottle caps, bent cutlery. Buyers pay 5 cents a pound for plastic bags and $18 per pound for human hair, used in wigs. Some finer points of picker etiquette: Don't talk to bulldozer drivers — everyone has a job to do — and scrounge only what's in front of you. "Getting tricky leads to turf fights," said Habibullah, 30, in brown pants, black flip flops and an imitation gold chain. "Otherwise, there's no real skill. It's not exactly silver mining." Child labor is rife, as is gastrointestinal illness. Cancer, birth defects and asthma rates are high. Milk from dairies ringing the landfill — alongside several slaughterhouses and a crematorium — is tinged with lead and dioxin. Most can't afford a change of clothes, let alone a doctor.
"We bathe under the pump," said Jamshed Khan, 45. "The water tastes metallic, but we drink it." Even as passing drivers hold their noses en route to call-center jobs in the nearby Delhi satellite of Noida, believing they've escaped Dante's third ring of hell, Ghazipur residents speak of opportunity, the city's allure, liberation from village pettiness. "It's much freer here," said Sheikh Abdul Kashid, 60, framed by the orange hues of a chemical-induced sunset. "And I've given four children some education. I could never do that back home." Few issues in India are far from politics, and garbage is no exception. Given an energy shortage, overflowing landfills and a bid for carbon credits under the global Kyoto Protocol climate pact, several trash-to-energy plants are planned, including one at 30-year-old Ghazipur. Supporters say these will modernize an inefficient system. Critics say they're a plot by hard-line Hindu politicians to keep down Muslims, would release even more dioxin and would destroy rag-picker livelihoods. Pickers complain that even now they can't keep pace with rising food costs. "I manage to make enough to feed us," said Habibullah, as a small boy walked by naked except for flip-flops. "But I can never get ahead." The more ambitious are no longer content to wait for belching garbage trucks, so they head into neighborhoods to get higher-quality waste from residents, earning more money. "There's a high probability they could be middle class in a generation or two," Chintan's Chaturvedi said. "We can't bring miracles. But as Delhi develops, there's great need for even moderately educated people." Out on the campaign trail a few days before the election, flanked by hundreds of supporters, candidate Choudhary shook hands, held babies and touched the feet of elderly voters, a sign of humility. "I will continue to work and spread awareness about rag-picker rights," he said. "I hope I'm an inspiration to others. Can you imagine no one picking up the waste from your house, even for a day?"

More women are making — and enjoying — beer
A brew and a bro — it’s the classic pairing, right? Not necessarily. From the rise of female brew masters to the growth of women’s tasting groups, women are becoming much more than a pint-size part of the brewing world.The emergence of women as both beer-lovers and brewers happened as the craft beer scene grew overall by leaps and bounds, and that’s no coincidence, says Lisa Morrison, Oregon-based writer, blogger and author of “Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest.”
“I think that women are finally discovering, thanks to craft beer, that beer has flavor,” she says. “When we start getting into the artisan stuff you start realizing that there’s an entire rainbow of flavors that you can enjoy. And because of that you can pair that with all kinds of different food flavors,” Morrison says. “Women love food. We love cooking. We love tasting food. We love sampling different things. So when you put all that together, the cooking with beer, the pairing food with beer, the whole wide-ranging genre of beer styles and beer flavors — it’s something that women can get really excited about.” The marketing message is also different, says Julia Herz, home brewer and craft beer program director at the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association. “Historically, the mass-produced lagers have been marketed as a beverage targeting males in their mid to high 20s, and it seems to me in advertising that I see for craft beer that it’s really not marketed as a gender-specific beverage.” It’s hard to put a number on the trend, but Morrison and others say they’ve personally seen more women take an interest in beer. “It used to be at beer festivals, I was pretty much the only gal. Now it’s definitely venturing more toward 60-40” with women being the 40 percent, says Morrison, who has been involved in the craft beer scene for nearly 15 years. On the business side, beer management remains predominantly male, though there have been changes there, too, says Irene Firmat, founder and CEO of Full Sail Brewing Co. in Hood River, Ore. To support female brewers, a support network called the Pink Boots Society was formed. It includes a consumer tasting group organization, Barley’s Angels, that has chapters in the U.S., Canada, Australia and South America. Being a female beer producer means standing out, says Rosemarie Certo, cofounder and owner of Dock Street Brewing Co. in West Philadelphia. Certo’s interest in beer started when she began making beer at home because she wasn’t happy with what was available domestically at the time. She started Dock Street in 1985 and remembers in the early days going to make a sales pitch to a distributor and being the only woman in a room of more than 50. “I remember not being bothered by it,” she recalls. She sees the craft segment as generally having a different approach to business. “I think it’s easier for women to enter the craft industry only because the craft industry is different to begin with,” she says, pointing out that most people don’t go into the labor-intensive craft beer business with dreams of piling up a fortune. “It’s an industry that is born from a lot of love.” Firmat also started in beer about 25 years ago, a time when there were about 20 craft breweries nationwide compared to today’s 2,000. Back then, it was considered more outlandish to be challenging the big domestic producers than to be a woman in the beer business, she says. As far as operating in a man’s world, she says, “the thing that I always focused on, and it’s what I always tell women in our company, is really focus on being competent. Focus on being good and doing your job and don’t go in expecting to get a reaction.” And, of course, there’s always a silver lining. “You can always tell when you’re at a beer conference because there’s a line in the men’s room and there’s none in the women’s room,” she says with a laugh. One of the things that Firmat sees as a challenge is keeping craft beer accessible to women, which means guarding against the snobbery that can creep in when consumers become very enthusiastic about a product — think wine. “Our responsibility is making sure that the way we communicate is very respectful to men and women,” she says.

France election: Francois Hollande 'wins first round'


Moin Akhtar’s first death anniversary observed

The News International
: The first death anniversary of Moin Akhtar, one of the most beloved comedians, hosts and actors ever to grace the stage and television screens of Pakistan, was observed across the country on Sunday. In a society overflowing with depression, hypocritical behaviours, all sorts of problems and ever-increasing socio-political, cultural and economic crisis, the laughter is a very rare commodity to find and after Moin Akhter, perhaps one of the last remaining giants in genre of sophisticated yet highly entertaining comedy, the laughter has died. Moin Akhtar was born on December 24, 1950, in Karachi. He made his television debut on September 6, 1966, in a variety show held on PTV to celebrate the first Defense Day of Pakistan. He was highly dynamic and versatile performer. He was a film and stage actor, humorist, comedian, impersonator and host. He was also a playwright, singer, film director and a producer. His attempts to avoid vulgarity in his humour made him favorite amongst family audience. He was fluent in several languages, including English, Bengali, Sindhi, Punjabi, Memon, Pashto, Gujarati and Urdu.

Fears of extremism taking hold in Syria as violence continues

As Syria’s revolution drags into its second year amid few signs that a U.N.-mandated cease-fire plan will end the violence, evidence is mounting that Islamist extremists are seeking to commandeer what began as a non-ideological uprising aimed at securing greater political freedom. Activists and rebel soldiers based inside Syria say a small but growing number of Islamist radicals affiliated with global jihadi movements have been arriving in opposition strongholds in recent weeks and attempting to rally support among disaffected residents. Western diplomats say they have tracked a steady trickle of jihadists flowing into Syria from Iraq, and Jordan’s government last week detained at least four alleged Jordanian militants accused of trying to sneak into Syria to join the revolutionaries. A previously unknown group calling itself the al-Nusra Front has asserted responsibility for bombings in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo using language and imagery reminiscent of the statements and videos put out by al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations in Iraq, although no evidence of the group’s existence has surfaced other than the videos and statements it has posted on the Internet. Syrian activists and Western officials say the militants appear to be making little headway in recruiting supporters within the ranks of the still largely secular protest movement, whose unifying goal is the ouster of the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. But if the United Nations’ peace plan fails to end the government’s bloody crackdown and promises of Western and Arab help for the rebel Free Syrian Army do not materialize, activists and analysts say, there is a real risk that frustrated members of the opposition will be driven toward extremism, adding a dangerous dimension to a revolt that is threatening to destabilize a wide arc of territory across the Middle East. “The world doing nothing opens the door for jihadis,” said Lt. Abdullah al-Awdi, a Free Syrian Army commander who defected from the regular army in the summer and was interviewed during a visit he made to Turkey. He says he has rebuffed several offers of help from militant groups, in the form of arms and money, and fears that the extremists’ influence will grow. “This is not a reason for the international community to be silent about Syria. It should be a reason for them to do something,” Awdi said. Flow of jihadis U.S. officials and Western diplomats in the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, say they have seen several indications that al-Qaeda-like groups are trying to inject themselves into the Syrian revolution, although they stress that the Islamist radicals’ impact has been limited. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on “mujaheddin” to head to Syria in support of the rebels earlier this year, and Western diplomats are convinced that operatives affiliated with al-Qaeda carried out a string of bombings in Damascus and Aleppo between December and March. The diplomats say dozens of jihadis have been detected crossing the border from Iraq into Syria, some of them Syrians who had previously volunteered to fight in Iraq and others Iraqi. There may also be other foreign nationals among them, who are reversing the journey they took into Iraq years ago when jihadis flowed across the border to fight the now-departed Americans. The Syrian government facilitated the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq for many years, and there are widespread suspicions that it may be covertly reactivating some of those networks to discredit the revolutionaries, deter international support for the opposition and create conditions under which its harsh crackdown will appear justified. The regime portrayed the uprising as the work of radical Islamists in its earliest days, and the reports that extremists are surfacing in Syria only play into the official narrative, said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “This drip drip drip of extremists across the border . . . there are signs the regime is aiding and abetting it,” he said. “And it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” It is also plausible that these groups, adherents of a radicalized form of Sunni Islam, have turned against their former benefactors and are making their way back to Syria motivated by religious and sectarian zeal. Although many Syrian opposition activists insist their revolution is not sectarian, a majority of Syrians are Sunnis, while Assad, along with most leading figures in the regime and in the security forces, belongs to the Shiite-affiliated Alawite minority, lending a sectarian dimension to the populist revolt. Syrian activists and rebels insist that the extremists are not welcome in communities that have long prided themselves on their tolerance of the religious minorities in their midst, including Christians, Alawites, Druze, Kurds and Ismaili Shiites. A rebel leader in northern Syria who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mustafa, described how he and his men drove out a group of about 15 radicals, all of them Syrian but none of them local, who arrived in a northern village in January. Led by a commander who identified himself as Abu Sulaiman, the group tried to recruit supporters for an assault on the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour. “He had money, he had weapons, and he sent a guy to negotiate with me, but I refused,” Abu Mustafa recalled in an interview in Turkey. “We asked him to leave, but he didn’t, so we attacked him. We killed two of them, and one of our men was injured. Then he left, but I don’t know where he went.” “The good thing is that Syrians are against giving our country to radicals,” Abu Mustafa added. “But these groups have supporters who are very rich, and if our revolution continues like this, without hope and without result, they will gain influence on the ground.” A largely secular revolt There is a distinction between the naturally conservative religiosity of Syrians who come from traditionalist communities and the radicalism of those associated with the global jihadi movement, said Joseph Holliday, who is researching the Free Syrian Army at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington and believes extremists are a small minority. “While there are elements [in the opposition] that are very conservative, they are not the driving force,” he said. “There is definitely an argument to be made that this will increase over time, because insurgencies often become more extremist over time, but for now the driving force behind this revolution is secular.” Adherents of the strict Salafi school of Islam have emerged in many Syrian communities and are playing a role in the opposition, but they, too, are to be distinguished from the jihadis, said Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “People who are local and pious and moving in an Islamist direction and are taking up guns don’t have the same organization and are not necessarily the same thing as jihadists, who are not necessarily al-Qaeda,” he said. “There’s a range of different directions and trends.” Many activists fear, however, that the influence of the extremists is growing as Syrian rebels who have for months appealed in vain for Western military intervention look for help elsewhere. “Of course it is growing, because no one is doing anything to stop it,” said a Syrian activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution from some of the radicals he has encountered while attempting to organize the opposition in many northern communities. “They have rules,” he said. “They say: If we give you money, you have to obey our orders and accept our leadership. Some of my friends drink alcohol, and they aren’t like this. But when they find no other way to cover their expenses, they join these groups and then they follow them.”

Pakistan: Making aviation industry accountable

Daily Times
Yasser Latif Hamdani
The doublethink — to use Orwell’s pithy little word — is so pervasive that at times we forget the laws of physics altogether (i.e. if a plane is not airworthy, it will plummet) It is tragic that a country this size — of 180 million people, with a reasonably large aviation industry and a history that is the oldest in the region — has no aviation lawyers to speak of. This when the industry is no longer limited to just the state-owned airline, but there are other players involved. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), an autonomous public sector body operating under the Ministry of Defence, has no legal process, case law returns and no history of litigation. Part of this of course has to do with the underdeveloped field of tort in Pakistan. It has been 13 months since the Air Blue disaster, but there are no class action lawsuits yet. Had we been a ‘civilised’ country, officials of the CAA and the airline in question would have been hauled to court, and someone would have been made accountable. But not so in Pakistan, where civilised norms are and will remain a distant dream, primarily because our priorities lie elsewhere and the will of God remains an easy scapegoat for our own misdeeds and irresponsible conduct. The legal question of accountability should arise not after an air disaster but whenever an airline defaults on any of its safety obligations under law. In Pakistan however, there are several near misses repeatedly and no one is taken to task. In 1999, the roof of a PIA plane collapsed just as it was about to take off from New York’s JFK Airport. It would have been an unprecedented disaster in aviation history had the plane taken off before the said collapse. Yet no PIA officials were fired and no legal action was taken by anyone concerned. Allah nay bohat karam kiya (Allah blessed us) was the standard official answer. After all, we make sure the ritualistic prayer is said by airhostess before every flight. To hell with safety regulations! The conventional wisdom, “Trust in God but tie your camel”, has no meaning for Pakistan’s airline industry. The doublethink — to use Orwell’s pithy little word — is so pervasive that at times we forget the laws of physics altogether (i.e. if a plane is not airworthy, it will plummet). As far as the Bhoja Air crash goes, numerous theories are being forwarded — like lightning striking the airplane on its final approach to Benazir Bhutto International Airport. Lightning striking airplanes is a relatively common occurrence and airliners are designed to withstand it. To try to pin it on ‘force majeure’ or an act of God is to evade responsibility. The airliner did not crash because it was struck by lightning, if indeed it was struck by lightning. It crashed because of human error. What remains to be determined is whether it was a pilot error or some safety errors by inspectors. Bhoja Air tragedy is not going to be the last one if this sorry state of affairs is allowed to continue. One must also remember the two-seater crash in Model Town a few months ago. In our country legitimate litigation — as arising out of untimely deaths of people due to negligence of an airline employee, such as the pilot — is looked down upon. The result is that airlines are not held accountable for their actions. The absence of the threat of litigation means relaxed attitudes towards the safety and well being of passengers. The CAA — consisting of former pilots, ex-air force officials and lazy bureaucrats — has failed repeatedly to set down and enforce intelligible safety guidelines for smooth operation of air traffic as well as safety. Hardly any safety inspections and due diligence is carried out by the CAA. How did a plane, 27 years old, like Bhoja Air’s 737-200, which had been allegedly reported for instrument malfunction, get into the air? Why or how was the pilot cleared for landing in such rough weather? This points to negligence of the local ground staff and airport. Is there going to be a public inquiry into the crash, which will hold someone accountable or will we simply shelve this as we have shelved air crashes — big and small — throughout our history? The first thing we have to do is adopt European or North American safety standards for aviation in this country. This means mandatory adoption of the latest technology, i.e. wide area augmentation systems coupled with global positioning system along with the inertial navigation system built into planes and ground aids such as the latest VORTACAN systems as back up. Similarly, a ground proximity warning system for flights must also be a mandatory feature. There should be no flying without the aid of these instruments and harsh legal penalties should be devised for default on these counts. Training of pilots and ground crew should be given priority. It should not be assumed that ex-air force men are somehow trained to handle commercial airliners in any capacity. In fact, ex-air force pilots should undergo greater psychological training where their urge to take risks should be minimised. Over-confident pilots with overflowing testosterone and a self-belief not compensated by any extraordinary skill should be prosecuted for any digression from official guidelines. The responsibility for the lives of ordinary citizens should be entrusted only to the most psychologically stable and skillful pilots. All this should be incorporated in regulatory law governing the aviation industry. Nothing less will do or we should consider dispensing with air travel altogether. After all, we banned kite flying because it caused deaths. Why should the same principle not apply to flying? Outlandish perhaps, but that is what we have been reduced to as a nation and as a state. The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at http://globallegalorum.blogspot and his twitter handle is therealylh

Pakistan escapes two air tragedies

Daily Times
* Fuel tank of a private plane leaks as it was about to take off from Lahore airport * Emergency declared as tyre of another plane bursts during landing at Karachi airport
Just two days after the tragic plane crash in Islamabad that killed at least 127 people, two airliners of another private company escaped disaster on Sunday. In the first incident, one of the tyres of a Shaheen Air plane burst as it landed at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport. However, all the 122 passengers and six crewmembers on board remained safe, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesman Pervez George said. Emergency was declared at the airport. He said the plane, a Boeing 737, coming from Islamabad landed at the airport at 12:16pm. Its left tyre burst as it landed. The CAA director general, Nadeem Khan Yousufzai, has ordered an immediate inquiry, the spokesman said. According to reports, the plane was to land at the 25-L runway at the Jinnah International Airport. A malfunction in the landing gear caused the tyre to burst. Firefighters were called in to prevent a fire. The runway was reopened eight hours after the incident. Meanwhile, at least three planes were diverted to Nawabshah airport. The second near-tragedy came when the fuel tank of another plane of the same airline began leaking as it was about to take off from the Lahore airport. Airport officials said the plane, carrying more than 200 passengers, was stopped before it was about to take off for Mashhad, Iran, as the authorities noticed a leakage in the fuel tank. Officials said the Boeing 737 had arrived from Dubai and was heading to the Iranian city when technicians noticed the leak. They attributed the leakage to overfilling of the fuel tanks. All the passengers were disembarked and transferred to the international lounge where they staged a protest. The CAA has fined the private airline for not maintaining its aircraft according to standards.

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Why Arab women still 'have no voice'

Amal al-Malki, a Qatari author, says the Arab Spring has failed women in their struggle for equality.
Is the Arab Spring a movement leading to more freedom and equal rights? Not for women, according to Amal al-Malki, a Qatari author who is very concerned about the rights of women in the Arab world. She is largely skeptical of recent developments and says, if anything, the Arab Spring has only highlighted the continuing “second-class citizenship" of women in the region. She argues that despite some progress made Arab women are still largely absent in the public arena. “We have no voice. We have no visibility... And I am telling you, this is why women’s rights should be institutionalised, it should not be held hostage at the hand of political leaderships who can change in a second, right? Governments should be held responsible for treating men and women equally.” Will the Arab Spring deliver its promises to everyone? Or is there reason to believe that women will be left behind? What has changed for women in the Arab world? On this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, we talk to Amal al-Malki, a woman not afraid to ring the alarm bells, about women's rights in the Arab world, political and social empowerment and Islamic feminism.

Bangladeshi police clash with striking protesters

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at stone-throwing opposition supporters enforcing a strike Sunday to protest a politician's disappearance, leaving dozens injured, police said. The clashes happened in the northeastern city of Sylhet, the hometown of Elias Ali, who heads the local branch of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and who went missing on Tuesday. His party has blamed security agencies and the government for his disappearance, and an 18-party opposition alliance enforced a daylong nationwide strike to pressure the government to find him. The government has denied their claim, accusing his party of hiding him in order to create anarchy in the country. Clashes and arrests were also reported in several other cities and towns during the strike that shut down shops, businesses and schools in many areas on Sunday, a working day in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. The United News of Bangladesh agency, citing police, said that security officials arrested 180 opposition activists. Late Sunday, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a close aide of opposition leader Khaleda Zia, told a news conference they were extending the strike to Monday. He threatened more anti-government protests if Ali is not found, otherwise "our leaders and activists will continue to disappear, and we will sit idle," he said. Local and international human rights groups have reported a number of disappearances of politicians and businessmen in recent years and accused the country's law enforcement agencies of being behind them. The agencies have repeatedly denied involvement. On Sunday in Sylhet, police used tear gas, fired rubber bullets and charged with batons to disperse several hundred stone-throwing protesters, local police chief Sakhawat Hossain said. He said dozens were injured, including seven police officers. Police arrested 38 opposition activists in Sylhet, 190 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of the capital, Dhaka. In Dhaka, traffic was thin on the usually clogged streets amid tight security, with several thousand police deployed across the city of 10 million people. Several homemade bombs exploded in parts of Dhaka, but no injuries were immediately reported. On Saturday, unidentified arsonists set fire to at least five buses in Dhaka ahead of the strike, killing one driver who had been asleep inside his vehicle. Ali's wife said he went missing along with his driver on Tuesday night after leaving their home in Dhaka. His car was found by residents on a street early Wednesday, abandoned and with its doors open. The Asian Human Rights Commission on Friday said Ali's disappearance was not an "isolated" one and criticized the Bangladeshi government for not properly investigating allegations against security agencies. "It is matter of grave concern that the incidents of disappearance are increasing, alarmingly and unabatedly," the statement said. Dhaka-based human rights group Ain-o-Salish Kendra has said 22 people went missing in the first three and a half months of this year, and most of them are politicians who have not been traced. It says 51 people were victims of "enforced disappearances" or "secret killings" in 2011. Recently, a garment sector trade union leader went missing and his injury-riddled dead body was found days later. New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over his death. Ali's disappearance has further complicated Bangladesh's politics. Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party has been holding anti-government protests for months to demand an independent caretaker government oversee elections. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government scrapped the 15-year-old system last year, saying it contradicted the constitution. The opposition says elections will be rigged if held under the current government. General strikes are commonly used by the opposition in Bangladesh to embarrass the government.

French elections: Second round predictions
Polls show that Francois Hollande will maintain his lead at final run off vote on 6th May. Figures given by French polls give the socialist candidate Francois Hollande 54-56% of the vote.
The same polls suggest that between 48-60% of Marine Le Pen’s National Front supporters will vote for President Sarkozy. It is estimated that 83-91% of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s supporters will vote Hollande but that Bayrou’s supporters are more divided. It is estimated that 25-38% of them will vote for Sarkozy. These figures came from samples of approxmately 1,000 voters.

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Demonstrators in Bahrain protest Grand Prix

British TV crew arrested in Bahrain

A team of journalists for Britain's Channel 4 News was arrested Sunday after covering Bahrain's Grand Prix race, which went ahead after a week of angry protests away from the F1 desert circuit. "We can confirm that our foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller and his team have been arrested whilst reporting for the programme from a village in Bahrain," a Channel 4 News spokesman said. Miller left before the end of the race to report on the protests. "Our primary concern is for the safety of the team, and we are working with the appropriate authorities to secure a swift release," said the spokesman. "We are also working hard to establish the whereabouts of the driver who was assaulted and separated from the group." Miller managed to talk to Channel 4 News while being taken to the police station, revealing that he and his team were surrounded by riot police after being detained following a short car chase. After leaving the race, Miller headed to a number of Shia villages on the edge of Bahrain City where protests were expected. The team was on its way back to edit footage of the protests when it was apprehended by security forces, who Miller claimed had been "very aggressive". The foreign correspondent expressed concern over the fate of his hired Bahraini driver, who was also taken in by police. Bahrain's King Hamad was among 10,500 spectators on the main grandstand and a smaller audience watched from other platforms as double world champion 24-year-old Sebastian Vettel of Germany led from start to finish. The country's Shiite opposition had called for the race, held behind layers of security at a time of soaring tensions in the Sunni-ruled kingdom with a Shiite majority, to be called off. Right after the race, protesters burnt tyres on the main road linking the capital to the Sakhir race track, witnesses said, as security forces stopped dozens of others from marching towards the now demolished Pearl Square in central Manama.

Hollande wins round one in French poll

Socialist challenger sets himself up for a May 6 runoff with Sarkozy as far-right leader Marine Le Pen comes third. Socialist challenger Francois Hollande has won the first round of the French presidential vote, setting himself up for a May 6 runoff with right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Estimates of the result broadcast on Sunday as polls closed gave Hollande 28.4 per cent, Sarkozy 25.5 per cent and the far-right's Marine Le Pen 20 per cent. Le Pen's surprisingly strong show could throw open opinion poll projections that give Hollande a 10-point lead in the runoff.France’s interior ministry announced 70.59 per cent voter turnout by 5pm. The number is considered relatively high, but slightly less than the exceptional 2007 turnout for the same time. The result of the May 6 runoff, the run-up to which will include a televised debate, will decide who will be France's president for the next five years. In all, 10 candidates competed in the first round of the race, with Hollande and Sarkozy trailed by far-right leader Le Pen, hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon. A handful of outsiders round out the field. Voting began on Saturday in France's oversees territories, which are mainly islands dotted around the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Inside France, voting took place on Sunday in 85,000 polling stations across the country's European mainland. Casting of ballots began at 8am local time and continued until 8pm. Not all the voters were enthusiastic. Wilson Cohen, who had just voted in the 4th district of Paris, told Al Jazeera that he has little faith in the candidates. "They [the candidates] are all the same. As soon as they get into power, they forget about us," he said. "A lot of people have barely enough money to feed themselves after they pay their rent. But no one is talking about that." Sylvie Renaud Poulet, meanwhile, told Al Jazeera that she was “very afraid” about what the election results might be. “The big issue [of the election] is to save France and to save Europe,” she said. “I’m very concerned that many people will vote for candidates who are not reasonable, who offer things that are not possible in the current state of France.” Pivotal issues "This is an election that will weigh on the future of Europe. That's why many people are watching us,'' said Hollande after voting in Tulle, a town in central France. "They're wondering not so much what the winner's name will be, but especially what policies will follow. That's why I'm not in a competition just of personalities. I am in a competition in which I must give new breath of life to my country and a new commitment to Europe."Hollande says that Sarkozy has trapped France in a spiral of austerity and job losses, and has called for the European response to the debt crisis to be more pro-growth. Sarkozy, meanwhile, says that his rival is weak-willed and would spark panic in financial markets by adopting an approach that involves increased government spending. Al Jazeera's Tim Friend, reporting from Paris, said Sarkozy faced a stiff challenge due to his "extraordinary" unpopularity. "A lot of the people voting will be putting their ballot paper into the ballot box more against Sarkozy than perhaps for the candidate they eventually vote for," he said.

France: Resurgence of the Left

BY:Lal Khan It was in Latin America and particularly Venezuela, where the resurgence of class struggle began. The movements in Europe, especially France, in the autumn of 2010, triggered the Tunisian revolution For the first time in more than three decades, a ‘hard’ left candidate has got into double digits in the polls for the first round of the French Presidential elections being held today. According to the polls, Jean- Luc Melenchon, the candidate of the Front de Gauche (Left Front) supported by the Communist Party of France (PCF) had mustered 17 percent support amongst the electorate. He is now the third most popular candidate after the Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande and UMP’s Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent President. Melenchon has rapidly bypassed the far right National Front party’s Marine Le Pen. At the rally of more than 100,000 at the Bastille Square to launch the campaign on March 18 — anniversary of the Paris Commune — Melenchon thundered, “Spirit of Bastille, we are back; the people of revolutions and rebellions in France. We are the red flag!” The meteoric rise of Melenchon, born in Tangiers, Morocco in 1951, who shifted with his parents to France in 1962, has set alarm bells ringing in the bastions of capitalism far and wide. Bourgeois commentators who until recently ignored him, suddenly could not help pour scorn on him. BBC has called him a “maverick, vulgar, sarcastic, venomous, a bully and narcissist out to provoke” and The Economist, one of the most ardent defenders of capitalism, had typical cynicism for him: “Into the left’s emotional void has stormed Jean-Luc Melenchon, a onetime Trotskyist who is now running for president, backed by the communists. Over the past six weeks Mr Melenchon’s fiery speeches, clenched fists and Utopian promises have captured the left’s imagination...With a nod to 1789, he promises a ‘civic insurrection’, withdrawal from NATO, a 20 percent rise in minimum wage, a100 percent top tax rate (on incomes above $ 473,000 per year) and retirement for all (with full pensions) at 60. It goes down a storm. His rallies at public squares, including at Bastille, end with singing of the Internationale.” The Economist does not mention immediate troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, repealing anti-immigrant laws, public education from the age of two, nationalisation of energy giants and big banks, no austerity measures and renegotiation of EU agreements. In an interview with The Guardian, Melenchon warned rich people who will try to flee France, “No point in leaving because we will catch you. If they don’t pay we will seize what they own...Look we have to smash this prejudice that the rich are useful just because they are rich. Capitalist propaganda always managed to make people think that the market’s interests were humanity’s interests...They call me dangerous because I am dangerous for financial interests and oligarchy in France and Europe...US is in a crisis of hegemony. US’s only comparative advantage today is its military. It’s dangerous because it is a wounded beast.” He lampooned the Socialist Party for not breaking with capitalism and instead falling into the illusion that there could be ‘Good Capitalism’. This is not a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky — it is an expression of a changing epoch where dramatic events are taking place at lightning speed. The class struggle and the left were portrayed as a spent force. Socialism and communism had allegedly failed and a free market economy was the only choice left for humankind. The verdict of the end of history was pronounced. However, at the dawn of the new millennium, it was in Latin America and particularly Venezuela, where the resurgence of class struggle began. The movements in Europe, especially France, in the autumn of 2010, triggered the Tunisian revolution. This culminated in the Arab revolution from the shores of the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Then we saw the Occupy Wall Street Movement that resonated across the planet. The unexpected rise of Melenchon has had to fight a ferocious media campaign and a capitulation of leaders of the traditional workers parties and the unions to capitalism. Revolutionary socialism was abandoned by most left leaders. Melenchon may not win but his radical campaign will have far-reaching implications on the politics and social psychology of Europe and far beyond. With Spain falling back into a recession, there is not a single country in Europe that has confidence of an optimistic economic and financial future. If Hollande wins, his austerity policies will be similar to Sarkozy and probably even worse. Austerity will curtail the market and the debt crisis will inflate. If he shies away from austerity measures, the French capitalist economy could go into a downward spiral, leading to an even deeper recession. This is probably the biggest slump in the history of capitalism and may not recover any time soon. It will be a protracted and painful process that might last for decades. A Sarkozy victory will unleash some of the most unfair attacks on French workers. With its traditions, the French proletariat and youth will not take it lying down. This will unleash a vigorous class struggle and it will affect the whole of Europe to start with. French capitalism is in an impasse. The living conditions are plummeting. Although Melenchon’s policies seem very radical in the context of the last period, they fall short of a general programme of socialist expropriation of capitalist interests. It is an attempt to abolish the consequences of capitalism without abolishing capitalism itself and the state that perpetuates its dominance. Marx called France the ‘mother of all revolutions’. The first revolution in history when the proletariat took power as a class was the Paris Commune of March 1871. Marx wrote at the time in his celebrated work, The Civil War in France, “The working class cannot simply lay hold of the readymade State machinery and wield it for their own purposes. The political instrument of their own enslavement cannot serve as the political instrument of their emancipation.” Stormy events impend. The heat of class struggle can revive the PCF into a mass communist party with its revolutionary traditions of the 1920s. A victorious revolution in France will become the precursor of a united socialist federation of Europe and this in turn will have revolutionary implications throughout the world. The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at

Francois Hollande 'beats Nicolas Sarkozy' in presidential election first round

Sarkozy, Hollande advance to second round of French presidential election, according to exit polls Incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist candidate Francois Hollande advanced to the second round of France’s presidential poll with 25.5% and 28.4% of the vote respectively in Sunday’s first round, according to exit polls by French pollster Ipsos. The far right’s Marine Le Pen came third with a surprise 20% of the vote.

Afghanistan and U.S. agree on strategic pact text

Afghanistan and the United States on Sunday agreed a draft of a long-awaited deal that will define the scope and nature of a U.S. presence in the country for up to a decade after the pullout of most NATO combat troops in 2014. The U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, and Afghan national security adviser, Rangin Spanta, initialed copies of the agreement, paving the way for President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, to review it. "After much hard work together, we are pleased that we are close to completing negotiations on (the) Strategic Partnership," a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kabul told Reuters. "Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates. We believe this agreement supports that goal," he said. The deal, under negotiation now for more than nine months, comes at a time when relations between Washington and Kabul remain badly strained by a number of incidents involving U.S. soldiers that have infuriated public opinion. It spells out the framework for a future U.S. role in Afghanistan, including aid assistance and governance advice. But it will not specify whether a reduced number of U.S. troops - possibly special forces - and advisers will remain in the country after NATO's 2014 withdrawal deadline, with that issue to be covered in a separate status of forces agreement. Negotiations on the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) were delayed for months until U.S. negotiators agreed to Karzai's demands to hand over operation of American prisons in the country to Afghan control and to hand over leadership of night raids on homes to Afghan forces. DEADLINE FOR FINAL DEAL NEAR Both sides have been keen to allay Afghan fears that they are about to be abandoned by clinching a deal that they hope will calm nerves ahead of NATO's planned pullout and a phasing out of Western aid. Insurgents staged coordinated attacks in Kabul and elsewhere a week ago that paralyzed the capital's centre and diplomatic area for 18 hours. The Taliban claimed the attacks, but U.S. and Afghan officials blamed the militant Haqqani Network. The U.S. embassy spokesman said the agreed wording of the deal would now enter "internal consultation processes" on both sides and would be examined by the U.S. Congress if needed before finally being reviewed by President Obama. "Both President Obama and President Karzai have said they hope to sign this agreement before the NATO Summit in Chicago," the spokesman said. The late May Chicago summit will see Western leaders try to agree on future funding and support for the 352,000-strong Afghan police and army. That support is expected to amount to $4 billion a year, with the Afghan government contributing around $500 million a year of that. The Afghan government is separately negotiating similar deals to SPA with other NATO member states and U.S. allies, who contribute to the 130,000-strong coalition force. Karzai recently said he wanted the United States to contribute $2 billion a year under the U.S.-Afghan SPA, but an Afghan government source said on condition of anonymity that the deal negotiated by Crocker and Spanta contained no firm numbers. Until the agreement is finalized, the U.S. embassy spokesman said he could not discuss its content.

Obama on verge of clinching Democratic nomination after low-key primary race against no one
It’s official:
President Barack Obama will clinch the Democratic nomination for president Tuesday, ending a low-key primary race that many Americans probably didn’t realize was happening. Obama is certain to reach the 2,778 delegates he needs to secure his party nod for a second time when five states vote on Tuesday. He has won almost every delegate so far, with a few exceptions in some Southern states that won’t vote Democratic in the fall anyway.But don’t expect a big party, or any party. Campaign officials say they are focused on the general election, as they have been for months, and the all-but-certain Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. All this is a stark difference from four years ago. At this time in 2008, Obama was still in an epic primary battle against Hillary Rodham Clinton. The fight for the nomination didn’t end until June, on the last day of the primary calendar, when Obama inched across the finish line on his way to the general election and eventually the White House. There was a party that night, and why not? Obama was a big underdog heading into the 2008 primaries. Facing the well-financed former first lady, Obama was the junior senator from Illinois, a black man with a funny sounding name. No foreign policy experience. No military experience. Obama’s resume may have been a bit thin, but he parlayed his compelling life story and an inspiring message of hope and change into an unlikely run for the Democratic nomination and victory over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The partying was intense that night in 2008 when Obama became the first black to win a major party nomination to run for president. Obama’s top campaign aides were in a Chicago bar near campaign headquarters. The candidate wasn’t there, but the bar tab was open. “There are red shots, blue shots and green ones. I have no idea what I’m drinking, and don’t give a damn,” Jeff Berman, Obama’s 2008 delegate expert, wrote in his new book about the 2008 campaign, “The Magic Number.” “Time after time, we lock arms, let out a yell, and send it down the hatch.” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt was succinct when asked if the campaign was planning a similar celebration Tuesday night, after the primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island. “No sir.” This year, Obama’s march to the nomination has generated little interest because he has no major primary challenger, no one who made the ballot in more than a handful of states. In Iowa, which gave Obama his first victory in January 2008, Democratic caucus-goers didn’t even vote for president this year. Instead, they held rallies to fire up supporters for the general election. Democratic voters, however, are not unanimously behind the president. In Oklahoma, anti-abortion protestor Randall Terry, who founded Operation Rescue, got 18 percent of the vote in the Democratic presidential primary March 6. That should have been good enough to win eight delegates, but state party officials said Terry didn’t follow party rules and was not a “bona fide Democrat.” The delegates were awarded to Obama; Terry complained he was the victim of “political insider trading.” In Alabama, 18 percent of Democratic voters voted for “uncommitted” in the March 13 primary, so the state party will send eight uncommitted delegates to the Democratic national convention. Obama is unlikely to win Oklahoma or Alabama in the general election. Regardless, LaBolt said Obama’s campaign is busy building the largest grassroots operation ever. “Now that we are on the doorstep of the general election, the choice Americans will have in November has already come into view: between a president who has fought every day to create jobs and restore economic security for the middle class, and a Republican nominee that would return to the same policies that led to the economic crisis,” LaBolt said. Republicans have a different view, now that Obama has a record to run on. “He was a blank slate four years ago, and people projected onto that blank slate their hopes for the future,” said John Ryder, a member of the Republican National Committee from Tennessee. “Now we’ve got a record. How’d that work out for you?” Berman, who is not with the Obama campaign this year, said Obama may not be able to recapture the same magic he had in 2008, but he still has plenty of advantages. “He can’t have what he had the first time,” Berman said in an interview. “But it’s not like he lost everything. They know where their people are, they just have to figure out how to motivate them.” ___

French presidential election turnout lower than 2007 midday Sunday

Turnout in the first round of France's presidential election was 28.29 per cent at midday, slightly lower than the 31.21 per cent in the first round of 2007's poll, which saw President Nicolas Sarkozy
elected. Turnout for the whole day in 2007 was 83.77 per cent. In 2002 the abstention rate was much higher, with 21 per cent at midday and 71.6 per cent for the whole day. The poor turnout resulted in Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin being eliminated and right-wing incumbent Jacques Chirac facing Front National Jean-Marie Le Pen.Abstention rates have varied from 15 to 30 per cent in presidential elections since 1965. This year's Socialist candidate, François Hollande, voted in the south-western city of Tulle on Sunday morning, while Sarkozy voted in the plush 16th arrondissement of Paris. Sarkozy faces nine challengers. Voting ends at 6pm.French law forbids the publication of exit polls or a result before 8pm. The law has stirred up a row as to whether it is practical in the internet era. Sarkozy was criticised by some of his rivals when he said he would not be shocked if someone gave the result before the deadline. The authorities have threatened to sue any media that break the embargo, including Belgian and Swiss broadcasters.

France election: high turnout among early voters – video

Paris-on-Thames votes for president

France's Sarkozy fights to keep job as voters to go polls

French President Nicolas Sarkozy cast his ballot Sunday in the country's presidential elections as he fought to keep his job in the face of challenges from nine other candidates. Sarkozy voted with his wife Carla Bruni in Paris. Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, who has mounted a strong effort to unseat the center-right Sarkozy, voted earlier in the city of Tulle. He urged the left to unite behind him as he cast his vote. "We must bring together the left, and before we bring together the left, we must bring together the Socialists. It's a process, and I think that I have the capacity to do it," he said. Pierre Oriacombu, a business consultant, told CNN he was voting for the incumbent. "We have a lot of problems, and I think Nicolas Sarkozy does a better job with these problems than many others," he said. But Julien Ceval, voting at the same polling station as Sarkozy and Oriacombu, is backing Hollande. "We need to stop Nicolas Sarkozy and to make a change," said Ceval, an engineer. "I'm not really sure Hollande is the man who will change France but I want to try." More than a quarter of French voters had cast ballots by noon, the Interior Ministry announced. That put turnout on pace to be lower than when Sarkozy was elected in 2007, but higher than in 2002, when his predecessor Jacques Chirac was voted in for his final term. A polling station in Toulouse, in the south of the country, had a steady stream of voters, mostly elderly people, but also including some families dragging along little children and shopping baskets. Officials in Toulouse say they are hoping for 70% turnout, and said voting was going smoothly. Voting started Saturday in France's overseas territories, including Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique and French Polynesia. Voters in mainland France headed to the polls Sunday. In addition to Sarkozy and Hollande, candidates include Jean-Luc Melenchon on the extreme left, Marine Le Pen on the extreme right, centrist Francois Bayrou and Eva Joly of the Greens. Melechon, Le Pen and Bayrou had double-digit support in opinion polling ahead of the vote, behind the two frontrunners. Last week, polls suggested Sarkozy was trailing Hollande going into the first round of voting. French law forbids the reporting of exit poll results on election day itself. The economy and jobs have been key election issues, as France struggles to overcome low growth and a 10% unemployment rate. Sarkozy, the flamboyant politician who has led the country since 2007, told Le Figaro newspaper Thursday that voters had a "crucial choice" to make for their country. He pledged new strategies for economic growth and job creation, saying France was seeing signs of recovery this year.Hollande, a center-left candidate, called for a European Central Bank rate cut in an interview Friday on French radio station Europe 1. "There are two ways we can go. The first is to lower interest rates if we indeed believe this is a way to support growth. And I believe it is, and that the European Central Bank should go in that direction," Hollande said. The second way, he told Europe 1, "would be to lend directly to states themselves, rather than the chosen path, which has been to support the banks." Asked if, as president, he would participate in a U.N.-led military intervention in Syria, Hollande said: "Yes, if it is at the request of the United Nations, we would participate in this intervention." Sarkozy, who has been vocal on the international stage, told Europe 1 on Thursday that France was at the center of diplomatic efforts to put pressure on Syria over its crackdown on dissidents. In an interview Friday with CNN affiliate BFM-TV, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe suggested Hollande was jumping on the bandwagon with regard to Syria. "The problem with Francois Hollande is that in matters of foreign affairs, he is always running behind the train," he said. "France's position has long been known; we will participate in military operations under a U.N. mandate, but when all is said and done, France is not a spectator at the United Nations, it doesn't wait for U.N. decisions; it is a player, it creates solutions and all that's around them, as we have been doing now for weeks and weeks." A survey from CSA for BFM-TV, published Friday, gives Hollande 28% of the vote in the first round to 25% for Sarkozy. If no candidate wins an absolute majority, a runoff election between the two with the most votes will take place May 6. A second round matchup between the two front-runners would see Hollande extend his lead to 57% support, compared with 43% for Sarkozy, the survey suggests.

Bahrain stages F1 Grand Prix despite protests

The controversial Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix has taken place despite continuing anti-government protests. The race track has been heavily guarded by police, dogs and armoured vehicles to keep activists away. On Saturday, protests intensified after the body of a Shia man killed in overnight clashes with security forces was discovered on a rooftop. Many protesters wanted the race to be cancelled, but the government was determined it would go ahead. West of the capital, Manama, demonstrators have set up barricades of burning tyres. Witnesses say police have set up checkpoints near the circuit and officers armed with pump-action shotguns are lining nearby roads. Ahead of the race Bahrain's King Hamad al-Khalifa said that he was committed to reform in the kingdom. "I also want to make clear my personal commitment to reform and reconciliation in our great country. The door is always open for sincere dialogue amongst all our people," he said in a statement. His comments came after police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters who took to the streets on Saturday. Many of them had gathered near the village where anti-government demonstrator Salah Abbas Habib's body was found. British Foreign Secretary William Hague also called for restraint in dealing with protesters. The protesters are demanding an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family. Ahead of Sunday's race, armoured vehicles patrolled the streets to stamp out any demonstrations. Formula 1's governing body, the FIA, only went ahead with the Grand Prix after the government said it had security under control. The race was eventually won by two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Last year's Bahraini Grand Prix was cancelled after 35 people died during a crackdown on mass demonstrations calling for greater democracy. The Bahraini government, headed by the al-Khalifa dynasty, had been keen for this year's race to go ahead to prove it had the 14-month uprising under control. BBC correspondent Caroline Hawley says that staging the event has had the opposite effect, highlighting the small Gulf state's political problems. On Friday, Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa said cancelling the Grand Prix "just empowers extremists", and insisted that holding the race would "build bridges across communities". FIA President Jean Todt said he had no regrets about the race. He said extensive investigations into the situation in Bahrain had unearthed "nothing (that) could allow us to stop the race". "On rational facts, it was decided there was no reason to change our mind," Mr Todt said. Shia protesters say going ahead with the race lends international legitimacy to a government that is continuing to suppress opposition with violent means. Human rights groups and activists estimate that at least 25 people have died since the start of the latest protests, many as a result of what has been described as the excessive use of tear gas. Hunger strike Meanwhile, the Danish ambassador visited hunger striker Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja - who also holds Danish citizenship - in hospital on Sunday, Bahrain's BNA news agency said. It said that the human rights and political activist was in "good health". His family have consistently maintained that he is in a critical condition. He has been on hunger strike for more than 70 days after being arrested for protesting against the government. He is now reported to be refusing water. Mr al-Khawaja's daughter, Zeinab al-Khawaja, was also briefly detained amid protests on Saturday afternoon. The BBC's Bill Law says the visit by the Danish ambassador is fuelling suggestions that Mr al-Khawaja will be stripped of his Bahraini citizenship and sent to Denmark. He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday to appeal against his conviction and life sentence for plotting to overthrow the government.

Bahrain police attack demonstrators near Pearl Square in Manama

Bahraini regime forces have attacked anti-government protesters holding a demonstration near the iconic Pearl Square in the capital, Manama, Press TV reports.

UK police accuse PIA crew of stealing goods

The United Kingdom police have asked the
PIA management to stop its crewmembers, including airhostesses and stewards, from stealing goods from hotels and shops during their stay in that country, it is learnt reliably. According to sources, a superintendent of Greater Manchester Police, North Manchester Division, Stuart Ellison, said in a communication to the Pakistan International Airlines: “I would be grateful if PIA could confirm by return the steps it will take internally to support us as we look to solve this problem together.” After repeated attempts to contact him, PIA spokesman Sultan Hassan said the query had been communicated to the department concerned and its response was awaited. Mr Ellison said that retailers, hoteliers and individuals had been voicing concerns over the conduct of PIA crew. The goods stolen form hotels included gowns, towels, kettles and glasses, he said. Some of the key retailers from the Market Street Area of Manchester were regularly detaining PIA crew for shoplifting offences. He said PIA’s reputation was at stake because if a hotel filed a complaint, police would have to take action and detain the suspect/s and without a backup / standby crew available the aircraft might be delayed. “Often the relatively low value of stolen property, the fact that your crew have openly disclosed that they’re returning to Pakistan the following day and the fact that the store has recovered its property has meant that police arrests have not been sought. However, given that there may be three PIA crews in the city at one time, the regularity of reports of theft (shoplifting) by PIA crew has increased to a point where positive action has to be taken.” He said that following a complaint, “an arrest is made, your staff members will be processed at our Custody Suite and, because of them being overseas nationals who we cannot verify at a UK address — and thereby assure ourselves that they would answer bail if released, they will be kept in custody overnight and detained to appear in court the following day”.

Balochistan: Imran’s trite discourse

EDITORIAL:The Frontier Post
One thought that PTI chief Imran Khan would speak at his Quetta rally an idiom strewn with freshness, imagination and hope. But sadly he fell for the insipid, stale and trite. He just spoke the fashionable line that mixes the ignorance of hideous objective realities obtaining in Balochistan with motivated talk. The Balochistan problem is not the issue of the Baloch people's rights. They have them, constitutionally and legally. But those stand usurped by the tribal chieftains and sardars, with the tacit acquiescence of the centre, if not with its full collusion. The real Balochistan problem is in fact to liberate the enslaved Baloch commoners from this thralldom to come into their own to live as fuller human beings, the masters of their own wills and destinies. Had indeed objective reality informed his discourse, Khan would have demonstrated an acute sensitivity to that huge lot of the Baloch youths, many times bigger than the ones who thronged his rally, living haplessly in these very contemporary times in the darkness of serfdom and bondage. And he would have given them hope. But instead who too spoke of humouring up the sardars and chieftains, labelling them as leaders, which by no definition they could be. They are the tyrants and exploiters of their enslaved people; they are their suppressors and oppressors; they grow ever richer and mightier on the toils of their serfs to rank amongst the country's wealthiest people, while reducing their enslaved humanity into ever-abject penury and poverty.The Khan would have added a feather to his hat and set himself poles apart from the common rung of the politicos, had he shown an animated recognition of this pulsating reality and spoken out on behalf of the disempowered emasculated Baloch common citizenry. He did not. He showed himself all for the sardars. Had the "nationalists" not been duped by Nawaz Sharif into boycotting the 2008 poll, he says the matter would have been different from what they are now. But what he seems oblivious of is the reality that the Balochs crowding the incumbent provincial government and legislature are no commoners but the sardari scions donning the cloak of nationalists. And yet the things are real bad in the province, indeed could never be worse.If he means a change, he too needs a change in his very insight and outlook, which at present seem too simplistic and too childish. The Balochistan issue is not as simple as he appears to deem it to be. It is a complex issue, arduously involving as it does the emancipation of the enslaved Baloch commoners from the sardari shackles, empowering them, and helping them to benefit maximally from the rich natural wealth of their provincial abode for their own advancement. As it happens presently, the chieftains and sardars conveniently wear the mask of Baloch nationalism to coerce extract the maxim benefits from the state for their own wellbeing and opulence. They wrench out bigger gas royalties to enrich their coffers and beef up their arsenals. They wangle hefty payments for the lands they sell to the state for development projects or other purposes and the bonanza they spend on building up their cash stacks, arming their private militias and expanding their private jails. Their tribes they leave high and dry. They build no schools to their tribal people. They give them no health centres or clinics for healthcare. They construct them no roads for travelling convenience. They give them not even small irrigation works to farm their virgin fertile lands. Indeed, they obstruct and even resist development in their respective fiefdoms lest their enslaved tribal people get introduced to modernity and advancement and get ideas in their heads inimical to their entrenched suzerainty. For this fear of the sardari elites, the whole of the tremendous natural wealth of the province is in fact lying largely untapped and unutilised. Had indeed the khan been briefed correctly by his aides, he would not have even spoken of mollycoddling of the so-called "estranged Baloch leaders", perched in alien laps outside the country. Firstly, because they are not even the unquestioned chiefs of their own tribes, let alone the others. Over the time, the tribes have ceased to be monoliths they erstwhile were, with most having fractured into factions because of the sardari scions' internecine fighting. Secondly, each tribe, even after factional fragmentation, inhabits a particular area that still serves as the exclusive preserve of the respective sardari dynasty, not open to other dynasties' encroachment. Thirdly, various dynasties are perpetually at loggerheads and in adversarial mould. No Bugti, no Marri, no Mengal et al is an acknowledged leader of all Baloch. The tragic death of Nawab Akbar Bugti may have come handy to political operators, nationalists or otherwise, to ply their trades. But ask the Kalpars and the Masuris. The truth may be bitter; but you will know. So when next time, Khan goes to Quetta he must speak for the Baloch commoner, not for the Baloch sardar. It is the commoner who needs a helping hand, not the sardar who reaps moolah, whether it is summer or winter, whether it is rain or sunshine. In that alone lies the key to the Balochistan problem. Everything else is just jiggery-pokery.