Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saudi Girls Are Doing Something Radical: Playing Sports

by:Bob Cook,
In my area of the United States, Muslim girls play sports, with or without wearing a hijab. The only contentious issue regarding Muslim girls on my 6-year-old daughter’s T-ball team last year was whether the post-game snack was halal. My 12-year-old daughter’s junior high basketball team had Muslim players, part of a team that collectively spoke five languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, Polish, and text. But in Saudi Arabia, the idea of Muslim girls playing sports is a radical concept in Saudi Arabia, where a conservative interpretation of Islam means women should not exercise, lest they, as one cleric put it in 2009, risk losing their virginity by tearing their hymens. Really. In a reverse of how it goes in the United States, private schools, more free from religious requirements, have let girls play sports, but state-run schools, which are under religious requirements, officially ban them. But one state-run school is flouting that ban. From Reuters: A girls’ school in Saudi Arabia has defied a religious ban on female sports by erecting basketball hoops and letting pupils play at break-time, the daily al-Watan reported … . The school in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province has now become the first state-run girls school openly to encourage sports, Watan reported, quoting a supervisor as saying it would expend pupils’ energy “in a positive way.” … “The school administration is hoping to instill the importance of sports among the students and introduce them to its benefits, as well as allowing them to spend their spare time doing something beneficial,” Amina Bu Bsheit, a school supervisor, was quoted as saying by Watan. She added that the school, which was not named in Watan’s report, still does not provide a physical education class but that the students play during weekly “activities classes.” How did the school get so brave to defy convention? In part, because world pressure on Saudi Arabia’s retrograde attitude on women — include Human Rights Watch’s call Saudi Arabia be banned from the 2012 Olympics for having no women athletes — is causing King Abdullah to, slowly and slightly, loosen restrictions on Saudi women. King Abdullah in 2011 allowed women to vote and run for office in municipal elections, and he has called for more education and employment opportunities for them. Despite the apparent risk of inadvertently losing their virginity, women are getting involved in sports clubs in Saudi Arabia, to the point that al-Watan — which is owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, by the way — also has reported that the country is considering forming a ministerial committee to consider the possibility of making those clubs legal. Again, from Reuters: Abdullah al-Zamil, a senior official from the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, the top Saudi sporting body, said the committee was being formed to end the “chaos” surrounding women’s sports clubs, which are effectively unregulated, Watan reported. The General Presidency of Youth Welfare only regulates male clubs and its head was recently quoted saying he would not endorse Saudi women athletes at the 2012 Olympics. Before we in the modern Western world get too smug about how Saudi Arabia treats its women — which is deplorable — we should realize that women were denied athletic opportunities in the United States not all that long ago, that it took federal law to get schools and organizations committed to girls’ athletics in any wide-ranging way, and that there are still Christians in this country that believe it is an affront to God for girls to play sports.

Sharifs’ Swiss accounts?

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has accused PML-N President Mian Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, of money laundering of $32 million, and default of Rs 6 billion, and promised to raise the matter in Parliament as well as move a reference to the National Accountability Bureau. He said this at a press conference in Islamabad on Saturday. This evoked a fierce reaction from PML-N spokesman Senator Mushahidullah Khan and Punjab CM’s Adviser Senator Pervez Rashid, who both said that Mr Malik should produce his evidence. The two party spokesmen also assailed Mr Malik’s credibility, and related his accusations to the contempt conviction of Prime Minister Gilani for not writing letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to restart the case against President Zardari over the Swiss accounts. Mr Malik’s accusations do not relate to a recent occurrence, but to the Sharifs’ exile in Saudi Arabia, which began over a decade ago, and which Mr Malik claimed was financed by these accounts. It also shows that, rather than write to the Swiss authorities, as the Supreme Court has asked it to do in the NRO case, the government sleuths have preferred to investigate the Sharifs. However, the Sharifs and the PML-N must not treat these accusations lightly and should not expect their political charisma to overcome everything. They should be ready to disprove these allegations because if they do not, they could gain currency, and like many rumours, could attain the status of truth by virtue of going unchallenged. Therefore, these accusations must be contradicted vigorously, and Mr Malik must be made to produce whatever proof he has. As Mr Malik said, if this money indeed exists, then it must be the ‘looted money of the poor’. So far, there have been accusations aplenty against the PML-N leadership, but none of the charges have stuck. The Sharif brothers should not think that just because of this, no accusations will ever stick. Though accusing Mr Malik of being a liar might be satisfying, it will not make the charges go away, and it must be remembered that he has been in charge of the government’s investigative machinery for long enough to have dredged up the evidence that would allow him to make the kind of accusations that he is. Instead of encouraging Mr Malik in this adventure, the government must focus on the matter of the money lying in the Swiss accounts, which will only be brought back if the case is pursued vigorously, beginning with the writing of the letter, not writing which has led to the Prime Minister’s conviction for contempt.


New Pashto Song 2012

Threat from mounting public job losses tested Obama’s economic strategy

As the economic recovery has struggled to pick up speed, one of the biggest stumbling blocks has been job losses in state and local governments, which have been on the rise for much of President Obama’s term. Early on, Obama fought for aid that saved hundreds of thousands of these jobs, economists say. Yet a year later, when his economic advisers said another large round of aid was critical for the health of the economy, Obama declined to make it a key part of his agenda. His political advisers said such an effort would be fruitless. Republican opponents on Capitol Hill, including some who were glad to see the public sector shrink, were arguing that these jobs were not vital for the economy. Today, as Obama seeks another term, the heavy job losses at the state and local level remain a significant economic concern. His response at different moments underscores how the president has sometimes fought hard against the political odds for policies he thinks crucial and at other times relented when the chances of success seemed so low. Since the beginning of his term, state and local governments have shed 611,000 employees — including 196,000 educators — according to government statistics. Unlike the recovery in private-sector employment that Obama and his reelection campaign often cite — with businesses adding 4 million jobs since hiring hit its low point in 2010 — the jobs crisis at the state and local level has continued throughout his term. On Friday, new government data showed that economic growth slowed in the first three months of the year, in part because government at the local, state and federal level has been spending less money — money that could have fueled economic activity. The state and local job losses are significant for several reasons, economists say. For one, these losses have a broad social impact. Laying off teachers means larger class sizes and fewer after-school programs, for example. What’s more, federal aid can go directly to state and local governments to prevent job losses, a relatively effective way to sustain economic growth. (Tax cuts, by contrast, can lead indirectly to job growth if they increase the amount of money consumers spend.) “The job losses at state and local governments is the most serious weight on the job market,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who has advised both parties. But others have viewed the job losses differently, saying they help shrink excessive public payrolls. “We’re not going to get this economy going by growing the government,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last year. “It’s the private sector that’s ultimately going to drive the recovery.” Andrew Biggs, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that nobody wants people to lose their jobs unnecessarily but that it was right for the federal government not to do more to save these positions, because state and local governments had become bloated. “It strikes an emotional chord with people if we have teacher layoffs, but we have hired a great many teachers in the past several decades,” Biggs said. He added that the layoffs “ultimately get you closer to where you should be in terms of the size of the public-sector workforce.” Top Obama administration officials say that they fought hard for additional aid to state and local governments and are proud of what they accomplished. “We helped stave off a disaster, but do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Former congressman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who pushed for additional spending on states and localities as the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the effort ran into wide resistance across Washington. “It was Republicans but also some conservative Democrats, and the administration was skeptical that we could get enough support to make the fight worthwhile,” he said. A wall in Congress By the end of Obama’s first year in office, businesses were beginning to hire again. The unemployment rate had started to come down. But White House economists were worried. State and local tax revenue had collapsed during the recession and was not recovering. Obama had tried to address the problem in the 2009 stimulus bill by including more than $150 billion in aid to state and local governments to fill budget gaps. But as his second year began, economic advisers told the president that state and local governments were still poised to lay off huge numbers of workers, posing one of the biggest threats to the burgeoning economic recovery. Independent analyses by an organization consulted by administration officials suggested that states and localities together still faced at least a $180 billion shortfall. Up to 900,000 jobs would be at risk. Obama asked his legislative advisers if there was any chance Congress would step in if he made an all-out effort. None, they responded. The politics were terrible. Republicans had blasted the original stimulus program for failing to lower unemployment as much as the administration had predicted. Many Democrats, like Republicans, were worried about ways to limit government spending and slow borrowing, given rising voter concern about the debt. Other Democrats told the White House they had no interest in bailing out Republican governors who boasted of shrinking government and had criticized stimulus spending in the first place. “In late ’09-’10, there was widespread agreement among the economic team that state fiscal relief . . . was pretty much at the top of the list in terms of effective stimulus,” said Peter Orszag, Obama’s budget director at the time. “From a political and legislative perspective, it was unfortunately at the bottom of the list.” As the White House crafted its plan to boost the economy in the president's second year, Obama did not make additional aid a central element. Instead, he pressed for other proposals to drive growth, including some deemed gimmicky by some of his economic advisers — for instance, a small-business lending fund. (Others, such as a hiring tax credit, had more support.) Lawmakers say the administration realized that more aid for states and localities was necessary — deep within the president’s budget was a proposal for $25 billion in more help — but was worried about pushing for it when Congress was demanding action to tame the debt. “They were nervous,” said Rep. George Miller (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “As much as they knew you had to engage in this kind of spending, as much as they knew you knew you had to not let the economy ruin the education system, it’s a tough one when all the attention is on deficit.” The tide started to shift in the spring of 2010, when it became clear that without additional federal action, hundreds of thousands of teachers could lose their jobs. Obama publicly called for $50 billion in more aid. Republicans balked, but Obama ultimately succeeded at getting a little more than half that amount. ‘Long-term effects’ But the aid was insufficient to meet the needs of states and localities. In 2010 and 2011, they cut 457,000 jobs. “Federal aid mitigated the harmful effects of the spending cuts in the early years of the budget crunch, but its expiration last year had a catastrophic effect,” said a report released this month by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The impact of the cuts was most visible in education, where states and localities cut 178,000 jobs. As a result, according to the American Association of School Administrators, many schools increased class size, eliminated summer programs, shortened the school week to four days or shut down altogether. Some states have cut funding for higher education in half. Beyond education, dozens of states have cut funding for services for the elderly and disabled and for emergency service providers such as police and firefighters. Experts worry that the cuts will have lasting effects. “There’s a big body of research showing that a lot of the things that state and local governments spend their money on have long-term effects on the economy and society as a whole,” said Nicholas Johnson, vice president for state fiscal policy at CBPP. “Cutting school funding now can hurt the education of a future workforce.” Moreover, job losses in state and local government hit a workforce that is disproportionately composed of women and minorities. With the economy stagnant, Obama asked his advisers in August to assemble another plan to boost the economy. Independent economists and officials at the Federal Reserve agreed that local and state job cuts were holding back the recovery. But Obama’s team did not plan to include a proposal to address the problem. When Obama asked why not, his advisers answered that Congress would never agree to more aid. But Obama instructed them to insert a $35 billion aid plan into the proposal anyway. In the fall he made a speech to a joint session of Congress saying the layoffs of teachers were “unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours.” Then he went on a bus tour to promote the plan. It went nowhere in Congress. In the past few months, as the overall economic recovery has tried to pick up steam, states have stopped losing jobs and added a small number of positions. But economists say losses are likely to continue at the local level. Jason Furman, a top White House economic adviser, said the administration is continuing to push for action — even if Congress will not go along. “We’ve signed two rounds, and we’re pushing for a third round,” he said. The aid has been “substantial,” he added, “but still less than we wanted.”

Security dilemma in Asia needs fresh input

The Pakistani military announced Wednesday the successful test of a mid-range nuclear capable missile. The global media in general perceived it as a reaction to India's launch of the Agni-V
on April 19. At the same time, speculation about North Korea's third nuclear test has been swirling. Asian countries are obviously addicted to pursuing a strategic strike capability. There is no convincing global standard for whether a country should have a long-range nuclear strike ability. The world has long had an oversupply of weapons. Weapons of mass destruction are proliferating, making their management more difficult. Countries developing strategic strike weapons should be persuaded to give up this desire, but their aim does have its own logic. The long-term reduction of regional tensions will not be possible unless persuasion is coupled with efforts to alleviate countries' sense of insecurity. Pakistan's retaliatory tests of mid and long-range missiles were expected before New Delhi's Agni-V missile launch. Both India and Pakistan have a nuclear deterrent or neither side has one, it is difficult to tell which scenario is more positive for the stability of South Asia. China firmly opposes new nuclear tests by Pyongyang. If North Korea insists on doing so, China is unlikely to help Pyongyang shield itself from diplomatic consequences. But Washington, Seoul and Tokyo should seriously consider granting more strategic space to the North. Pressing Pyongyang too tightly often leads to these tense moments. Standpoints and principles decide what is right and wrong. Countries' clout and the fragile order of Asia today are also factors in making the right judgment. Weak countries, if challenging this grain, are going against the interests of regional stability as well as their own. But the security pursuit of weaker countries should not be simply dismissed. Major powers should take more initiative in facilitating the communication. The understanding of the US, South Korea and Japan toward North Korea, and India's understanding toward Pakistan are minimal compared to the hostility between them. As the country with the largest comprehensive strength in Asia, China is trapped in a combination of regional complex issues. It is making efforts to help reach more agreements within Asia, including curbing its reaction to disputes at times to create possibilities for consultation. The US, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are trapped in a security dilemma. Among them, China is the most moderate. Strategic mistrust is toxic to Asia. At this time, it is important the stronger sides avoid being overly assertive. It has been rare for small countries to be brought to their knees by deterrence. Washington and its Asian allies should try more conciliatory approaches. We hope South Asia is not heading toward a vicious arms race, and that a new nuclear test will not happen in North Korea. To avoid these requires much more actions than just chanting slogans. Washington needs to understand the mentality of Asian countries, and make some real contributions to the region.

Russia Calls on Syria to Firmly Confront the Terrorists

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia and China have adopted 'unified stance' towards the crisis in Syria based on the need for consolidating the bases of the international relations in line wiht the principles of the UN charter and international law. In an interview with the "Russia 24" TV channel aired on Friday, Lavrov added "It is impossible to find a compromise for the crisis in Syria without taking into account the stances of Russia and China in this regard." Russian Foreign Ministry Condemns Terrorist Acts in Syria, Calls for Confronting Terrorists Russian Foreign Ministry condemned in a statement the series of terrorist acts in Syria and held the extremist Syrian opposition responsible for escalating violence in the country to thwart the implementation of the peace plan of UN special envoy, Kofi Annan. "The attempts of the extremist Syrian opposition to inflame the situation in the country and fuel violence even at the expense of the lives of innocent people raise serious concerns," said the statement . It added that "the provocative goal behind these attempts is clear, which is to foil Annan's plan-based peaceful settlement in Syria that is being implemented and was unanimously approved by the Security Council and supported by the entire international community." The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed the necessity of firmly confronting the terrorists operating in Syria, calling on all internal and external sides to stop providing any kind of support to the terrorists as provided by the Security Council's anti-terrorism resolutions. "Moscow firmly condemns these brutal acts that have claimed many victims as a result of the bombings which took place in Damascus, Aleppo, Lattakia, Banias and Jableh and in three neighborhoods in Hama," said the statement. It expressed Russia's deepest condolences to the victims' families and relatives and wishes for speedy recovery to the injured, stressing the necessity of finding the plotters and perpetrators of these crimes and holding them to account. Russia and Iran renews rejection of any foreign intervention in Syria Russia and Iran today renewed rejection of any foreign intervention in Syria's domestic affairs, stressing the need for settling the crisis in Syria through a comprehensive national dialogue. Russian foreign Ministry announced that the Russian President's special representative to the Middle East, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, stressed during a meeting with the Iranian Ambassador in Moscow Mahmoud Riza Sajidi the need for supporting the efforts of the UN envoy Annan and the work of international monitors in the country.

Bahrain hunger striker force-fed, drugged

The wife of a jailed Bahraini activist and hunger striker said on Sunday he was being drugged and force-fed, but authorities denied the accusations saying the man had agreed to receive medical treatment. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of 14 men imprisoned on charges of leading an uprising in the island kingdom last year, has been fasting for more than two months. "I went to see my husband today and he told me that he was drugged last Monday," Khadija al-Mousawi told Reuters by phone after what she said was her first visit to her husband in two weeks. "After he woke up he found two IV (intravenous) injections in his arms and a feeding-tube down his nose. It was done against his will," she added. Bahrain's Defense Forces Hospital, where Khawaja is being kept, dismissed the accusations in an emailed statement. "We want to be clear that the patient has not been force-fed or treated against his will," said the statement quoting a spokesperson. "He has been taking limited nutrition supplements voluntarily, but when his blood sugar dropped significantly today, his doctors asked for and received his consent to insert a naso-gastric tube for nutrition. At no time was he drugged or restrained." Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's wife said a doctor had told her husband it was his duty to start the force-feeding to keep the activist alive, however her husband saw the act as a violation of his rights. The activist had decided he had no choice but to accept the feeding through a nose tube and intravenous injections, she added. "My husband told them he will only accept (the intravenous feeding) until his trial on Monday and depending on the outcome will decide what to do next." Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was given a life sentence for calling for the creation of a republic. An appeal hearing is to be held this week in the case of Khawaja and 13 others jailed for leading last year's protests. Bahrain, where the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family rules over a majority Shi'ite Muslim population, has been in turmoil since an uprising erupted last year demanding reforms after successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. The protests escalated ahead of last week's Formula One Grand Prix, drawing criticism of Bahrain from some governments, rights groups and media watchdogs who say police use excessive force and the government should find a political solution. Western allies such as Britain and the United States, whose Fifth Fleet is moored in Manama, have offered only muted criticism of Bahrain.

Militants' quick training in Pakistan poses problem to intelligence agencies

'Fast turnaround' militants are able to stay below radar before returning home to launch attacks, analysts say
Western security officials are worried about a wave of so-called "fast turnaround" volunteers who travel to Pakistan and obtain training from militant groups so quickly that they escape detection before returning to their home countries to launch attacks. Analysts say the unprecedented speed with which new militants are being accepted for training by groups such as al-Qaida poses major problems for intelligence services as such individuals are likely to stay "below the radar". The fears have been reinforced by one recent episode when, security sources say, British volunteers arrived in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, found their way to a religious school that has a reputation as a gateway to militant groups and, though they appear to have had no references, were within days participating in a training course run by al-Qaida or a linked extremist organisation in the rugged tribal zone along the frontier with Afghanistan. After only a short stay in Pakistan, the volunteers had returned to the UK. Previously volunteers would have had to travel with reliable references from individuals known and trusted by extremist groups in Pakistan and would spend weeks "in quarantine" before being accepted. Frequently they would be tested in combat or in other ways to ensure they were not spies. Richard Barrett, head of the expert committee established by the UN security council to oversee sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaida, said: "People are going in for a shorter time and so are much harder to spot. They are not seeing senior people, just lower-level trainers and maybe a middle-ranking leader, so security issues [for the extremist group] are less." Barrett said some intelligence indicated that Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old gunman who killed seven people in France in March, had spent possibly less than a day with a group known as Jund al-Khalifa in Pakistan. One earlier plot cited by security officials as indicating the new "fast turnaround" trend is an al-Qaida bomb plot against the New York subway in 2009. A US court has heard how three volunteers travelled to Pakistan from the US in August 2008, hoping to enter Afghanistan and join the Taliban. Turned back at the border, they were invited by al-Qaida operatives to a compound in Waziristan, where they spent about a week listening to lectures and watching videos of al-Qaida attacks. A second week was spent at another compound learning bomb-making techniques. They then were sent home. European officials have also circulated a document found on two militants – an Austrian and a German of Turkish origin – detained in Germany last year on their return from the zones along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and tried earlier this year. The document is thought to have been authored by a senior figure within al-Qaida and recommends that westerners who seek out the group should be trained quickly and sent back to their home countries as soon as possible. Almost all the most serious plots in the UK have all involved the training of volunteers in Pakistan by al-Qaida. However, the flow of extremist volunteers from the UK to Pakistan has reduced substantially in recent years. Other high-profile successful attacks in Europe, such as the Madrid bombing of 2004, have been by self-forming networks following the ideology of the group but not formally linked to it. Though the White House has said it has no "credible information" of a threat before the first anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden in a US special forces raid, high-profile events such as the London Olympics this summer remain a target, experts say. A recent Home Office report spoke of "a high-level threat of AQ-inspired extremism from males aged between 20 and 38" to the Olympics. "The individuals of interest to the police are predominantly British-born second and third-generation migrants from south-east Asia. There is also interest from a number of Middle Eastern political movements and AQ-affiliated groups from north Africa," the report said.

U.S. Drone Strike Underlines Clash of Interests in Pakistan

An American drone strike killed three suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt on Sunday, an official said, in the first such attack since the country’s Parliament demanded an end to those missions just over two weeks ago. The remotely piloted aircraft struck an abandoned school building in the densely populated central bazaar of Miram Shah, the capital of the North Waziristan tribal agency, killing three people and wounding two, a government official and a local resident said. The militants were believed to be Punjabi Taliban fighters with the Haqqani network, which carried out a series of attacks in Kabul and two other Afghan cities on April 15. The school building that was struck on Sunday was thought to be a base of operations for militants, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. In Washington, a senior official confirmed the strike, describing the compound as a “staging and planning area for Al Qaeda, the Haqqanis and other terrorists.” He said the militants based there “were preparing explosives for use in attacks inside Afghanistan,” similar to the April 15 attacks. The C.I.A. strike underlined the tensions between American diplomatic and security priorities in Pakistan. Officials from the two countries are trying to reset relations that stalled badly after American warplanes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghanistan border in November. Last week, President Obama sent his regional representative, Marc Grossman, to Islamabad for two days of high-level talks that aimed to reach agreement on a variety of contentious issues, including drone strikes, the reopening of NATO supply lines and the clearing of at least $1 billion in American military aid that is overdue. The agenda for the talks was framed by a strongly worded resolution passed by Pakistan’s Parliament on April 12 that contained a list of demands, including an end to drone attacks and an unconditional apology for the killings in November. Yet while Obama administration officials say they are ready to negotiate on many issues, they are unwilling to stop the drones and are angered by the continued use of Pakistani territory by Taliban insurgents and their allies. Administration officials were particularly riled by intelligence reports indicating that the April 15 attacks were coordinated by Haqqani leaders in North Waziristan — a fact that swung the internal argument against fully apologizing to the Pakistanis for the November killings, senior officials say. Last week in Islamabad, American negotiators told their Pakistani counterparts they had located Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, in Miram Shah during the assault, a senior Pakistani official said. Pakistan’s military vigorously denies it is soft-pedaling the fight against the Haqqanis. Generals say their forces, now thought to involve about 150,000 regular and paramilitary troops in the northwest region, are stretched by combat in other parts of the tribal belt. “We have already shifted huge numbers of troops off the eastern border. We can’t do any more,” a senior Pakistani security official said. Diplomats from both countries insist that their talks are starting to make progress in some areas, like the reopening of NATO supply lines, the dispute about overdue military aid — variously estimated between $1.18 billion and $3 billion — and the nudging of the Afghan Taliban toward peace talks. Yet the drone strike on Sunday in Miram Shah indicated that the C.I.A. would press ahead with its operations. The drone fired two missiles at the abandoned girls’ school, which had been occupied by militants since they bombed it four years ago, said a local resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. North Waziristan is also a hub for the Pakistani Taliban, a force that is related to but separate from the Afghan Taliban. That group’s reputation for ruthlessness was underscored on Sunday when the body of a beheaded British aid worker was found in an orchard in the western city of Quetta. The worker, Khalil Dale, 60, a manager for the International Committee of the Red Cross who had worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, was kidnapped close to his office in Quetta last January. A note accompanying the body, signed by the Taliban, said he had been killed because the Red Cross refused to pay ransom for his release.

Shabnam given lifetime achievement awards

Government of Pakistan has honoured the undisputed queen of the golden era (1960-80) of Pakistani cinema and her musician husband Robin Ghosh with Lifetime Achievement Award. Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani conferred the award in a ceremony organized by Pakistan Television (PTV) in Lahore on Saturday night.The Bangladesh-born actress and her husband are visiting Paksitan after over a decade to attend the PTV event held to pay tribute to the couple for their contribution to Pakistan’s silver screen. PM Gilani while addressing the ceremony glorified the services rendered by the duo."Their departure to Bangladesh had caused great loss to the Pakistani filmdom", the prime minister said. While terming both the artists as ambassadors of both Bangladesh and Pakistan, he stressed the need to strengthen ties between the two countries in all sectors.

Some hard lessons about college costs

In the political battle over college student loans, where will the SMART MONEY go? Democrats and Republicans both say they want to keep the interest rate on subsidized loans at 3.4 percent, but remain at odds over where the money should come from. Of course, what makes the issue so volatile in the first place is that college costs have been skyrocketing, but why?

Gaddafi donation reports dash Sarkozy hopes of reelection

Recent media claims that former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi sought to fund the French President Nicolas Sarkozy campaign in 2007 have hampered his hopes of re-election.
Sarkozy on Sunday rejected the accusations as a “diversion” plotted by his Socialist opponents. On Saturday, leftist French news website Mediapar released a 2006 document in Arabic that was signed by Gaddafi's foreign intelligence Chief Mussa Kussa, offering 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign. Mediapar said the agreement followed a meeting on October 6, 2006, attended by Gaddafi's spy Chief Abdullah Senussi, the head of Tripoli's African investment fund Bashir Saleh, close Sarkozy associate Brice Hortefeux and arms dealer Ziad Takieddine. Last year, Muammar Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam also claimed Libya financed Sarkozy’s campaign. The revelation comes as opinion polls predict Sarkozy would lose the May 6 runoff to Socialist Francois Hollande, who promises government-funded jobs programs and higher taxes on the rich. Sarkozy was the French interior minister before the presidential election in 2007. Upon winning the election, he invited Gaddafi to France and let him set up his Bedouin tent close to the Elysée Palace in Paris. The French president also reportedly referred to Gaddafi as the “Brother Leader” at the time.

Bahrain police 'continue to torture detainees'

Human Rights Watch has accused Bahrain's police of continuing to beat and torture detainees, including minors. The report comes nearly six months after an independent inquiry prompted the government to pledge reforms. The country insists it is committed to putting the recommendations of its own report into the handling of protests in 2011 into practice. More than 40 people died in last year's unrest and 1,600 were arrested.According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report policemen regularly take young men to secluded places and beat them for up to two hours before transferring them to a police station. Boy 'beaten' Some said they had been threatened with rape if they did not reveal where activists were hiding the petrol bombs that are regularly hurled at police. The report said treatment inside police stations had improved significantly in the last six months, but it also warned that unlawful police behaviour on the streets may well make young protesters even more desperate and determined to confront their government. The campaigning group said it had interviewed 14 young males, including seven children. It said five of the beatings had happened in April alone. "Bahrain has displaced the problem of torture and police brutality from inside police stations to the point of arrest and transfer to police stations," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW. On Sunday, there were reports that a 13-year-old was being held in custody for assaulting a police officer and taking part in a street gathering in a village south of the capital, Manama. According to his lawyers, quoted by AFP news agency, the boy was "beaten and tortured" at a police station where he was still being held. The HRW report comes a few weeks after Amnesty International also warned that the country's reforms had only scratched the surface. In November, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report acknowledged numerous human rights abuses and systematic torture of detainees as security forces put down anti-government protests. In response, King Hamad promised lessons would be learned and laws would be reformed to protect freedom of speech and other basic rights.

Hollande promises new era for France as Sarkozy hopes to close gap

French presidential frontrunner Hollande promises a new era for France as Sarkozy hopes to close gap ahead of May 6 election.

Mehran Bank: Funds For Nawaz Sharifs

Karachi: Lyari battle leaves 24 killed in 3 days

Two policemen including a CID officer, a citizen and two miscreants were killed while 20 others sustained injuries in a gun-battle in Lyari on Sunday, as the armed operation against gangsters continued for the third consecutive day. The death toll in three days of fierce battle between law enforcers and criminals has climbed to 24. Those injured in rocket and hand grenade attacks also included police personnel and media men. The situation remains volatile in Lyari as criminals are putting up tough resistance by using hand grenades, rockets and sophisticated weapons against law enforcement agencies. Several residents have fled from their homes due to the ongoing wave of violence. However, police and FC personnel have captured some parts of the area and taken positions on rooftops of tall buildings, as crack down on gangsters continues in the troublesome area. At Juman Shah plot, an Armored Personnel Carrier's (APC) tyres were destroyed when it came under rocket and grenade attack. However, the policemen inside the carrier remained unhurt. A CID official, Fayaz Ahmed lost his life in a rocket and fire attack in Cheel Chowk area. Rockets fired from unknown direction on police personnel and representatives of media near Cheel Chowk, injuring over a dozen people including 2 media persons and 2 DSPs. SSP CID, Chaudhry Aslam talking to Geo News termed as 'negative propaganda' the reports of help provided to police by Lyari gang war's ring leader Arshad Pappu, Ghafar Zikri and Akram Baloch to enter Lyari area. At least 24 people including a SHO have been killed since the start of the operation. The armed operation launched by police in coordination with FC against criminal elements on Friday still continues in Lyari where law enforcement agencies have been facing resistance and retaliation from miscreants in the area. The terrified residents of Lyari claimed that due to the operation, they had been confined to their homes and in the exchange of fire between the police and gangsters, bullets had entered their homes, creating fear and panic among the residents.

Allegation against Sharifs

Interior Minister Rahman Malik has definitely added to an already hot political temperature that rose after the Supreme Court verdict in a contempt of court case against Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on April 27 and the PML-N, seeking the premier to step down, threatening a long march to force the prime minister to resign. The interior minister threw the bombshell when he accused the Sharif family on Saturday of 'robbing' 31 banks, development finance institutions and non-bank financial institutions of over Rs6 billion to build "their industrial empire". The allegations came a day after Nawaz Sharif asked prime minister to relinquish his office after the SC verdict. He threatened to use all options to send the government packing if the demand was not met. Rahman Malik hurriedly called a news conference at his office to level the allegation that the Sharif family had used coercive tactics against banks and other financial institutions to arrange the "staggering sum for their 19 industrial units". With a pile of files lying in front of him, the minister claimed he was dishing out the "first installment of the corruption of Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif and more evidence in other fraud cases will soon be made public". He said that he had in his possession all documentary evidence and threatened to file a reference with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) next week. He suggested the NAB as well as the Supreme Court to take notice of what he called fraudulent extraction of money by the Sharifs. He alleged that the Rs6 billion default had forced Nawaz Sharif to join hands with former president Farooq Ahmed Leghari to dislodge the Benazir government. The deal had been finalised between the two during investigations into the Mehran Bank scam as both were beneficiaries, the interior minister claimed. He alleged that Mr Leghari had sold his "barren land in Dera Ghazi Khan for billions of rupees". The minister accused the Sharif family of defaulting on payment of $32 million for paper manufacturing machinery leased from a British-based firm, Altowfeek Company, in Feb 1995. The amount was paid after the High Court of Justice, Queen's bench division, ordered the British authorities to charge four properties owned by the Sharif family in Britain. He alleged that the Sharif family was involved in money laundering and had deposits in 10 banks in Switzerland. The PML-N hit back to repudiate Rahman Malik's allegations saying they were a bunch of lies. In a statement to media, Senator Pervaiz Rashid leveled the counter allegation that the rule of People's Party was a story of loot and plunder, bringing forth a fresh scam every other day. The PML-N lawmaker, however, did not present any evidence that his leaders were not involved in the money laundering scandal; he rather confined his statement to tit for tat rhetoric that charged the PPP leadership in the same coin. The interior minister's allegations are not new but date back to the period when Nawaz Sharif took over as prime minister for the second time. Mr Sharif also surrendered four of his family industries, including the Ittefaq Foundry, and the matter went to the Lahore High Court to recover his bank loans amounting to more than Rs6 billion. The LHC appointed a commission to evaluate the worth of the industries and it reported that all the machinery was removed from the industries soon after the offer was made. The commission valued the value of the land and said it was not more than Rs2 billion in worth. Later, more shareholders of the Ittefaq Group of Industries approached the LHC that Sharifs were not entitled to offer their share in the group and that they were not responsible for loan obtained by Mr Nawaz Sharif. The issue saw a lengthy litigation which has not yet ended decades after the Sharifs offered the property to adjust bank loans against the outstanding bank loans. Even otherwise, the PML-N chief has not so far clarified his position and given no evidence to repudiate allegations. The very fact that Nawaz Sharif surrendered four units of his family's industries and the LHC underwent a lengthy process of litigation which is yet to see the final disposal of the case, is a major evidence that he faltered in repayment of loans. The issue needs an in-depth as it would be in the interest of the Sharifs themselves to offer them for a probe to vindicate themselves.

Arab-Israeli actress for Cannes jury
Arab-Israeli film star Hiam Abbass
has been named to the jury of next month’s Cannes Film Festival. The selection, announced Wednesday, is the latest international honor for Abbass, who won a 2008 Ophir, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscar, for playing a Palestinian woman in the Hebrew/Arabic drama “Lemon Tree.” The 51-year-old Abbass will join A-list jury members including Ewan McGregor (“Trainspotting,” “Beginners”), Diane Kruger (“Inglourious Basterds”) and director Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”). Much of the press coverage about her selection has described her as Palestinian, although the Nazareth-born performer holds Israeli citizenship. A three-time nominee for the Ophir, Abbass is one of Israel’s highest-profile actors, Jewish or Arab. Twice nominated for a European Film Award, she has starred opposite Natalie Portman and Juliette Binoche (in Israeli director Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone” and “Disengagement,” respectively). Her forays into American filmmaking include a role in 2007 indie favorite “The Visitor,” and a part in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 drama “Munich.” As a member of the Cannes jury, Abbass will help decide the winner of prizes including the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top honor. With the exception of Abbass and a short film by a student at Tel Aviv University, Israel will sit out this year’s Cannes festivities. The 2011 event saw an Israeli film, Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” win the festival’s prize for best screenplay.

A ‘summer cloud’ over Egypt-Saudi ties
Crisis in relations sees lawyer arrested, embassy held; ex-security chief also makes headlines he detention of Egyptian lawyer Ahmad Gizawi in Saudi Arabia, and his subsequent sentencing to 20 lashes and one year in prison, has sparked a wave of controversy that mixes religion, politics, and national pride. The issue is part of the broader issue of Saudi-Egyptian ties, which is headline news in nearly every Arab daily Sunday. Egypt’s most widely circulated paper, Al Ahram, reports that the Saudi ambassador to Egypt was recalled following “unwarranted demonstrations and protests” outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Giza, Cairo. The article emphasizes the importance of keeping the relationship between the two countries intact. The bond between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is referred to as “the thermometer of inter-Arab relations,” but one that for now is suffering from a “summer cloud.” Various columnists in the Egyptian press are also choosing to highlight the importance of this connection by referring to historical precedents. An editorial in the Egyptian daily Youm7 discusses Camp David, saying that this is “the worst rift since 1979… when diplomatic ties were severed with Egypt for signing a peace agreement with Israel.” Another columnist for Al Ahram focuses on the Yemeni civil war in the 1960s, and speaks optimistically about a quick resolution. While Egyptian papers point to Gizawi’s human rights lawsuit against Saudi Arabia as the motive behind his arrest, the Saudi Arabian press focuses its explanation elsewhere. Reformist Saudi Arabian paper Al Watan quotes a Saudi official saying that the story suffers from “misinformation,” and was “made up from the outset.” Saudi-owned Al Arabiya claims Gizawi is being held on drug smuggling charges including “21,389 Xanex pills…hidden in cartons of baby milk.” The website also features a video of the contraband allegedly seized and claims to have a “video recording [of him] verbally acknowledging it.”

Saudis isolated as Qatar announces it’s to send female athletes to Olympics
Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), President, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal said that they would again not any female competitors to London 2012 Qatar’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) has announced that it will send at least three female athletes to the London 2012 Olympic Games, and Brunei has indicated that 400-metre-runner Maziah Mahusin could be selected for their team, the first time either country has sent female athletes to the Olympics. Qatar’s announcement has intensified calls for Saudi Arabia to be kicked out of this summer’s games after its officials announced they will not prevent female citizens from competing in the Olympics but it will not officially endorse them either. Qatar’s NOC revealed on April 8 that swimmers Wafa Arakji and Noor Al-Malki as well as air rifle shooter Bahia Al-Hamad, 19, will be sent to the games. Al-Hamad won a silver medal at the Arab Championships last month to add to the three gold medals and two silver she won at the 2011 Arab Games in Doha. All three have been granted quota places rather than qualifying automatically, arranged by the world governing bodies and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The decision to send Qatari female athletes to the Olympics for the first time since they made their debut at Los Angeles in 1984 will help Doha’s campaign to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, where they are facing rivals Baku, Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo. “We are absolutely delighted that we have been able to secure another place for one of our young female athletes at London 2012,” Qatar Olympic Committee General Secretary, Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, said in a statement. “We are grateful to the IOC for their support in helping make this happen.” “Athletes like Bahia, Nada and Noor will also provide inspiration to the next generation of female Qatari sports,” he added. The announcement came just four days after Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC) President, Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, said that they would again not send any female competitors to London 2012. Speaking at a press conference in Jeddah, the Prince said, “Female sports activity has not existed [in the kingdom] and there is no move thereto in this regard. At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other international championships.” The Prince also said recently that Saudi women living and training abroad may represent the kingdom and could participate but only if they are accompanied by a male guardian and are modestly dressed. Prince Nawaf acknowledged there was a growing demand for sport among Saudi women. “There are now hundreds or thousands who practice sports but in a private way and without any relationship to the General Presidency of Youth Welfare,” he said. A spokesperson for the IOC told The Muslim News they are “still in discussion and working to ensure the participation of Saudi women at the Games in London.” Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East and North Africa Division, Christoph Wilcke, told The Muslim News the issue is “more complicated than just the participation or non-participation” of Saudi women at the games. In a February report titled Steps of the Devil’: Denial of Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia HRW documented the systematic discrimination against women in sport in Saudi Arabia, including their exclusion from the 153 sports clubs regulated by Nawaf’s ministry, the SAOC and the 29 national sporting federations, which are also overseen by Nawaf in his capacity as head of the NOC. Wilcke called on the IOC to abandon its “minimalist approach that is not going to help bring real change…if the IOC keeps talking forever it’s saying we have no serious interest in protecting the Olympic Charter based on fairness and justice.” “The IOC can say lets see what we can do to help” adding that there is existing working models of other conservative Muslim countries where men and women are segregated but both are provided access with facilities. He added that HRW would like to see more than “a symbolic gesture or just a token” of allowing women living and training outside of the kingdom to participate in the games “if Huda [Abdullmoheen] or Manaal [Sari], (expats) won a medal and the women in Saudi Arabia felt inspired they could not do the same; they can not train in Saudi Arabia.”

Jordan at critical juncture

Jordan’s Prime Minister-designate Fayez Tarawneh says the country is facing a critical situation amid popular demonstrations demanding reform and an end to corruption.Tarawneh said the transitional government is trying to pave the way for political reforms at a time when Jordan is in a “critical situation.” Tarawneh made the comments during a parliament meeting in the capital, Amman, on Sunday. The Jordanian prime minister-designate served as the premier and head of Jordan’s royal court under the rule of King Hussein, father of Jordan’s King Abdullah II. King Abdullah II ordered Tarawneh to form a new government following the resignation of former Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh on April 26. Khasawneh resigned six months after forming a government he had promised would implement reforms in Jordan. Thousands of Jordanians, however, took to the streets in Amman on April 27 to protest the appointment of Tarawneh to form a new government. The latest development comes at a time when Jordanians have been holding demonstrations since January 2011 to demand political and economic reforms and an end to corruption.

Obama, Clintons deepen political and policy ties

Once a tense rivalry, the relationship between President Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton
has evolved into a genuine political and policy partnership. Both sides have a strong incentive in making the alliance work, especially in an election year. For Obama, Bill Clinton is a fundraising juggernaut, a powerful reminder to voters that a Democrat ran the White House the last time the economy was thriving. For the spotlight-loving former president, stronger ties with the White House and campaign headquarters mean he gets a hand in shaping the future of the party he led for nearly a decade. Obama's re-election campaign has put Bill Clinton on notice that he will be used as a top surrogate, further evidence of how far the two camps have come since the bitter days of the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton, now his secretary of state. On Sunday evening in northern Virginia, the current and former president planned to make the first of three joint appearances at fundraisers for Obama's campaign. The host? Terry McAuliffe, a close adviser to both Clintons and one of the most ardent protectors of their political brand. "It makes absolutely clear that, to the extent that there were different wings of the Democratic party, there is now one wing of the Democratic party," said Chris Lehane, a Clinton backer. "And it's the president's party." Clinton's willingness to be a good soldier for the Obama campaign could end up paying political dividends for his wife, who is frequently talked about in party circles as a potential presidential candidate in 2016 despite her repeated denials. Hillary Clinton has benefited enormously from her partnership with Obama, with her popularity skyrocketing during her time in his Cabinet. Democrats say the overt signs of unity between the Clintons and Obama put the president at a distinct advantage over likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor must soothe the wounds from his GOP primary fight and figure out whether the last Republican president, George W. Bush, will have a role in the 2012 race. Discussions are under way at Romney's Boston headquarters about the degree to which Bush will participate, if at all, in the general election. Many Republicans are reluctant to publicly associate with Bush, who left office deeply unpopular, especially as the Obama campaign seeks to tie Romney to Bush's economic and foreign policy positions. While Obama and the Clintons are rarely described as friends, people close to them say the relationship has warmed significantly since the 2008 nomination contest. In that race, the former president slammed Obama's candidacy as a "fairy tale" while Obama sarcastically told Hillary Clinton that she was "likable enough." The thaw started as a matter of political necessity: Their party was desperate to retake the White House after eight years of Republican rule. Hillary Clinton offered Obama a gracious endorsement, both Clintons campaigned for Obama, and the newly elected president picked his former rival to be America's chief diplomat. It took longer for Obama's relationship with Bill Clinton to soften as the two men found common ground in the pressures of the presidency. "There are not very many people who understand what it's like to live in the White House and bear those burdens," said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who worked in the Clinton White House. "Bill and Hillary Clinton are two of those people." When Obama's health care bill was in trouble, he and his staff, which included several veterans of the Clinton White House, called on the former president for help. In late 2009 and early 2010, Bill Clinton went to Capitol Hill to rally support and worked the phones with wary Democratic lawmakers. After the Democratic party was battered in the 2010 elections, Obama called in Clinton for an Oval Office meeting. Afterward, the two made an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room to talk to reporters. When Obama had to leave for a holiday party, Clinton stuck around, relishing in the attention and the give-and-take with the press. That day in the briefing room underscored what some Democrats see as their one major worry in pairing Obama with Clinton too often. The ease with which Clinton connects with a range of audiences can call attention to the challenge Obama sometimes faces in doing the same thing. But that certainly hasn't stopped the Obama campaign from seeking Clinton's help in winning a second term, and Clinton has made it clear he is ready and willing. Obama's campaign advisers have sat down with Clinton for strategy and advice-seeking sessions, and the former president had a prominent role in movie produced by the campaign in which he promoted, among other things, Obama's decision to order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. "There is no better Democratic ally than President Clinton," said Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager. The next stop on the Obama-Clinton fundraising tour comes later this spring in New York City. Democrats say they expect to see the former president on the campaign trail, probably holding rallies in pivotal battleground states. The size of his role, they say, depends on how close the race becomes.

France Vote: Voters say ‘non’ to Sarkozy in Le Pen heartland

Far-right candidate
Marine Le Pen came top in the first round of the presidential election in the Gard region of France, but will her supporters now back right wing President Nicolas Sarkozy? FRANCE 24 met her local supporters to find out.The town of Besseges in the Gard region of southern French is a National Front stronghold and a microcosm of France’s political evolution. The depressed former mining town of 3,000 inhabitants lies in the hilly north of the Gard administrative region, where extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen won 25.5% of the vote in the first round of the French presidential election, sending shockwaves across France. Nationwide, Le Pen came third in the first round of the presidential election on April 22, with the National Front getting 18% of the vote. It was a record-breaking score for the far right party, beating the 16% that Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won to get through to the second round of the 2002 presidential election. In Besseges, the blonde, 43-year-old National Front leader did even better than the Gard average in the April 22 round, winning 26.56% of the vote. Socialist François Hollande won the first round in this town with 29% of the vote while incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy came third with just 19%. In the run-up to the May 6 final round, all eyes are on whether Le Pen’s supporters will choose Sarkozy, or Hollande. With Hollande holding an average 10-point lead in the opinion polls, Sarkozy is desperately trying to woo Le Pen’s supporters by focusing on traditionally National Front issues such as immigration, national identity and tightening border controls. But in Besseges, most far-right activists and ordinary voters expressed disappointment with Sarkozy’s track record and maintained that the French president had failed them and the country. Speaking to FRANCE 24, an overwhelming majority of Besseges residents said they would not support a president “who had broken all his promises”. Sarkozy will 'not get my vote' Benjamin Tallon
is a young National Front activist and a member of the Besseges town council.The 26-year-old engineer accused Sarkozy of being a hypocrite by taking up National Front issues in his “desperate bid” to secure the far-right vote. “Sarkozy has always been after our voters,” he stated. “He promises to reduce immigration in 2007 and he’s doing it all over again. Locally, when there are election battles between the National Front and the Socialists, the UMP always tells people to vote Socialist. “I am a natural conservative, and I would normally support the conservative candidate in the second round. “But Sarkozy has shown the country that he is a hypocrite. He will not get my vote.” The former Socialist He told FRANCE 24 that he believed the work ethic in France had been undermined by a social benefits culture that allowed people to earn without working while penalising those “that get out of bed every morning and go to work”. “I’ve voted Socialist in every single election until now,” he said. “I still believe in the social model; that there should be a safety net for people who lose their jobs. “But it should only be for people who deserve it. You can’t simply move to this country and start claiming benefits at the expense of people who work hard. “Marine Le Pen has promised to put a stop to this and that’s why I am voting for her. Francois Hollande has not addressed this issue. In fact he has avoided it and even said that benefits should be extended. It breaks my heart.” The father of two said that some of his co-workers of North African descent also voted National Front and claimed this was proof that the party had shaken off its racist stigma. “I recognise the value of immigration,” he argued. “But we should only allow people in who are prepared to work. “As for the second round, it is my civic duty to vote. So I will go to the polling station, but I will put a blank card in the envelope. I can’t support either Sarkozy or Hollande.” Baptiste Gazancon, 37, turned to the FN after his construction company collapsed last year. The doctor Jean-Francois Grillo, 61, is a radiologist who has supported the National Front all his adult life. Like many other far-right party supporters, he sees Sarkozy’s UMP and Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS) as two sides of the same coin, and refers to both parties as the “UMPS”. “Sarkozy’s attempts to get the National Front vote are so obvious and so shallow they are pitiful,” he declared. “I will cast a blank ballot in the second round of the election because both the Socialists and France’s mainstream conservatives have progressively destroyed this country over the last 30 years. “But I predict a victory for Francois Hollande. What this means is that France will edge closer to the economic situation we see in Greece and in Spain. “This will be devastating for our country, but it will mean that the National Front will become the only sensible voice of conservative opposition in France.” The former Legionnaire Sebastien Bosquet is a tough-looking and gruff-talking former French Foreign Legionnaire, the unit that was the alma mater of National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.His opinions are direct: “We love our country the way the English love their queen, and Marine Le Pen is the one person that unites people who genuinely love France and want it to succeed.” A public transport worker from Montpellier, Bosquet was in Besseges to visit friends, who are also National Front supporters. Bosquet said he would not vote in the May 6 second round. “I refuse to lend my support to candidates who insult us, and especially not Sarkozy,” he stated. “They want our votes but as citizens, as people with opinions, they couldn’t care less about us. “Both candidates and both parties are the same and whatever the outcome of the election, nothing will change. France will continue on its downward spiral.” The old campaigner Yves Gailhac, 62, has been an ardent supporter of the FN all his life.Of all the voters FRANCE 24 met in Besseges, Gailhac was the most blunt. “I’ve never been a racist and I have never been a fascist,” he argued. “That is not what the National Front is about and it never has been. “Some National Front people are going to vote for Sarkozy because he is the conservative candidate and because he has been talking up issues like immigration. “They’ve got it all wrong. He’s a hypocrite. Five years of Sarkozy have been terrible for France. “I predict Hollande will win, and things will continue to be just as terrible. “France will end up like Greece and within two years there will be a revolution. The National Front will come through as the only party with the real answers.”

Mitt Romney's Blind Trust Not So Blind

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Gaga conquers packed Olympic Stadium

Despite the fervent prayers of conservative Christian groups and small protests outside Jamsil Sports Complex Stadium, Lady Gaga took to the stage Friday night, to the screams of more than 40,000 fans. It was reportedly the largest crowd in the stadium since Michael Jackson held a concert there in 1996. The 26-year-old singer first took to the Gothic castle-inspired stage riding a mechanical horse and donning a warrior-like outfit, complete with metal helmet during “Highway Unicorn,” She then addressed the controversy over the age ban on her concert for the first time since she arrived last weekend. All attendees had to show ID and receive “18 and over” bracelets before being allowed into the stadium. However, groups of teenage fans still showed up to show support for their idol outside the venue. “I was told your government decided that my show was only for those 18 and over. So, I’ll make sure it will be 18 and over,” she declared. And while she avoided the excesses of some of her more famous TV performances, Lady Gaga performed with abandon. Some of the highlights included the singer being dropped into a giant meat grinder during the song “Americano” and opening up “Born this Way” by recreating the opening of her music video where she gives birth to a new race of humans. And no Lady Gaga show would be complete without several elaborate costume changes. The pop star started out in a rhinestone bra and harem pants and completed two costume changes within the first 30 minutes of the show. By the end, she had worn everything from a white puff dress with a large Mardi Gras mask to a piano dress to her infamous flame-throwing bra. Among her hit songs that she performed Friday night were “Just Dance,” “Bad Romance” and “Papparazzi.” The show also included a number of songs from her latest album such as “Heavy Metal Lover,” which was performed while riding a motorcycle around the stage.“I just forgot the words I’m so excited,” she exclaimed during her ballad “Hair.” Made while the singer accompanied herself on a piano attached to the motorcycle, it was a mistake few would have noticed, let alone griped over. The song was written about the singer’s childhood. “My parents didn’t always understand how I used to dress,” she said as she introduced the piece. Between songs, Lady Gaga shared words of encouragement with the audience, telling them to just be who they are. “You’re as free as you decide,” she said. “Breathe love and compassion.” She ended the show with two encores of “Edge of Glory” and “Marry the Night” from her third album “Born this Way.” Researcher Ziimaa Gatsanjamts from Mongolia said she wasn’t a big Lady Gaga fan before the show, but now hopes to start listening to her music more. She was impressed with not only the show, but the pop star herself. “I think it was a really good show, well organized,” she said. “I think she has a strong character and personality.” Meanwhile, Nick, an English teacher, said he’d been a fan for five years, and this was the first time he had seen Lady Gaga in concert. He said his favorite part of the show was when Gaga sang several songs while playing the piano. “It shows that she’s a real artist,” he said. From Seoul, Lady Gaga is taking her show onward to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and down to Australia.

President Obama's humor goes to the 'dogs' during annual dinner

The humor at the 98th annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner went to the dogs. President Barack Obama poked fun Saturday at everything, from the Secret Service scandal to the lavish spending by the Government Services Administration, to the upcoming general election. However, it was a spoof about Mitt Romney and his dog Seamus that highlighted the president's monologue. The joke recalled a political ad released by the Newt Gingrich campaign that took aim at Romney for admitting he once put his family dog in a cage and perched it on the top of his car. "I know everybody is predicting a nasty election, and thankfully, we've all agreed that families are off-limits," the president said. "Dogs, however, are apparently fair game."

Afghans Call For More Pressure on Pakistan After US Talks Falter

Afghan political analysts reacted to the failure of Pakistan and the US to end the diplomatic deadlock between them after meetings in Islamabad last week, saying that the US needed to put more pressure on Pakistan. The New York Times reported Friday the talks failed as Pakistani officials asked for an unconditional US apology over the Nato airstrike in Pakistan which killed at least 24 soldiers on November 26 last year. It said that the US had been considering making an apology until the Taliban's coordinated attacks on Kabul and three eastern provinces of Afghanistan on April 15 which were found to be planned and mounted by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. An Afghan military analyst responded to the failure of the talks, saying that the US should use any kind of pressure on Pakistan to make it stop supporting insurgent groups. "The US should put Pakistan under all kind of possible pressure, whether it's economical, political or even military, to make them stop the insurgency affecting other regional countries," military analyst Noorul Haq Oluomi said. Another commentator believed that the main problem between the two nations is over Pakistan encouraging pro-Pakistan figures in Afghanistan politics after 2014. "The main point of contention between US and Pakistan is not that [the apology], the main point is who will lead Afghanistan after 2014," Faizullah Jalal, Kabul University professor told TOLOnews. "Pakistan wants the Taliban to have an important role in the leadership of Afghanistan, which is very difficult for the US to accept." Pakistan has yet to announce whether it will participate at the Nato summit in Chicago which is going to be held in May this year. The US has said it would be embarrassing if it doesn't participate. A US government official told the NYT that the failure for the pair to reach an agreement in Islamabad would not be resolved quickly. "This is the beginning of the re-engagement conversation," Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said in Washington Friday. "We're going to have to work through these issues, and it's going to take some time." The Nato airstrike last year led to Pakistan blocking Nato's supply route to Afghanistan and boycotting the Germany-based Bonn international conference on Afghanistan, to which the US responded by suspending military aid to Pakistan, estimated to be between $1.18 billion to $3 billion. The US-Pakistan dialogue was revived after US President Barak Obama and Pakistani president Yousaf Raza Gilani met on the sidelines of the nuclear summit meeting in Seoul last month. Since then, Pakistan's Parliament has reviewed its relations with the US and called for an end to the US drone strikes which the US considers the most effective weapon against insurgents' hideouts in border regions of the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders.

Bombs hit Bangladesh capital amid strike

Nine small bombs exploded in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Sunday, police said, after an opposition supporter was shot dead in clashes ahead of a fourth nationwide strike in eight days. Security was tight across the country with around 10,000 policemen deployed in Dhaka and most shops, offices and schools were shut amid tensions over the disappearance of an opposition leader. There was no damage or injuries from the explosions but one opposition supporter was shot dead elsewhere in clashes with ruling party activists late on Saturday, police said. Two of the nine homemade bombs were hurled at the Secretariat, home to several government ministries and offices, deputy commissioner of police Syed Nurul Islam told AFP. "Two unidentified youths drove motorbikes outside the Secretariat gate, stopped and then hurled two small bombs that exploded with loud noises, creating panic among officials," he said. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been leading angry protests since one of its leaders, Ilias Ali, went missing on April 17 in a case it believes was an abduction by the security forces. Five small bombs exploded at the start of the latest strike on Sunday at Mirpur in northern Dhaka and two more exploded in front of the opposition headquarters in the city, police officers told AFP. The BNP supporter who died on Saturday was hit by three bullets in the southern town of Lakshmipur during a fight between BNP and ruling Awami League party workers, police inspector Monirul Alam said. "He died of his wounds after he was rushed to a hospital," Alam told AFP, adding another person was also critically injured. Three BNP activists were killed last week in clashes with police in Ali's constituency in northeastern Sylhet district. Police found Ali's car abandoned in an upmarket district of Dhaka. His driver is also missing. The BNP fear Ali has been killed and accuse the elite Rapid Action Battalion security force of abducting him, an allegation both the force and the government have rejected. Ali is the highest profile opposition politician to have "disappeared" since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took power in January 2009. Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday urged the Bangladesh government to order an independent investigation into the recent disappearances of opposition and political activists. Quoting two Dhaka-based rights groups -- Ain-O-Sailash Kendra and Odhikar -- HRW said the disappearance of least 22 people had been documented in 2012 alone and more than 50 people since 2010. The families of Premier Hasina and Khaleda Zia, head of the BNP, have competed for power for decades in Bangladesh with the personal rivalry between the two women often triggering street clashes between their parties.

Pak-US ties have bright future ahead: US envoy

The Nation
The Untied States Ambassador Cameron Munter said on Sunday that U.S. hopes for long-term relationship with Pakistan. Talking to media persons during a visit to Shalimar Bagh Lahore, Ambassador Munter said that Pak-U.S relations exist on the people’s level also, as U.S. wanted strengthening of ties with Pakistan. The U.S. Ambassador said it is an honour for him to visit Lahore. He said that this historical city was the best place for sightseeing; its beauty and warmth have always charmed him. Accompanying the ambassador, American consulate in Lahore Nina Maria Fite said Pak-US ties have a bright future. He said that both the countries have relations on public level.

ANP gave identity to Pakhtuns

The News
Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti on Saturday said the Awami National Party (ANP) gave identity to the Pakhtuns by renaming the province as Khyber Pakh-tunkhwa. “The ANP-led government ushered a new era of development in the province,” he told party workers in Anwar Khan Killay in Takht Bhai tehsil in Mardan district. He said the ANP had made unprecedented sacrifices for bringing peace to the province and curbing the menace of terrorism. He said peace was a prerequisite for development. Hoti said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and the security forces with the cooperation of the masses defeated the militants. He said the ANP leadership honoured all the pledges made to the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and undertaken record uplift work in the province. The chief minister said that every part of the province was being paid equal attention in terms of progress and development. He added nine universities were set up during the past 60 years in the province but the ANP-led government established nine universities in four years only. Hoti said the budget of the province increased by 80 percent over the last three years and the goal of provincial autonomy was achieved. He said that loadshedding will be over in the province soon as new small and medium size hydel-power generating dams were being built in the province. On the occasion, he announced construction of several roads in the area and handed over keys of the fire-brigade vehicle to the officials of the Tehsil Municipal Administration Takhtbhai. Earlier, the CM reached the venue in a helicopter and attended a reception of Zafar Khan.

British Red Cross doc kidnapped in Pak found dead

The beheaded body of a kidnapped British doctor working for the International Committee of the Red Cross was found dumped by the roadside on Sunday in the southwestern Pakistan city of Quetta, police and Red Cross officials said.Khalil Rasjed Dale, 60, was abducted by suspected militants on January 5 while on his way home from work."The ICRC condemns in the strongest possible terms this barbaric act," ICRC director-general Yves Daccord said in a statement. "All of us at the ICRC and at the British Red Cross share the grief and outrage of Khalil's family and friends." British foreign secretary William Hague also condemned the killing. "This was a senseless and cruel act, targeting someone whose role was to help the people of Pakistan, and causing immeasurable pain to those who knew Mr Dale," Hague said in the statement. Police discovered Dale's head and body wrapped in plastic near a western bypass road. His name was written on the white plastic bag with black marker. "A sharp knife was used to sever his head from the body," said Safdar Hussain, the first doctor to examine the body. "He was killed about 12 hours ago." Quetta is the capital of southwestern Baluchistan, Pakistan's biggest but poorest province, where Baluch separatist militants are fighting a protracted insurgency for more autonomy and control over the area's natural resources. Pro-Taliban militants are also active in the province, which shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran. Dale had worked for the ICRC and the British Red Cross in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq before coming to Pakistan. He had been managing a health programme for Baluchistan for almost a year when he was abducted, the ICRC statement said. "We are devastated," Daccord said. "Khalil was a trusted and very experienced Red Cross staff member who significantly contributed to the humanitarian cause." Four health workers, including two doctors, were kidnapped by militants the week before Dale's disappearance from the Pishin area of Baluchistan, near Quetta. They were freed after a shootout between police and their kidnappers.

Seraiki Province: For Seraiki nationalists, it’s a moral victory

Concerned over Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani’s conviction in the contempt case, Pakistan Peoples Party loyalists and Seraiki nationalists have termed it “an attempt to revert the democratic revolution that was set to hit Pakistan.” Chief Organiser of the Pakistan Seraiki Party Mansoor Karim Sial believes that the democratic norms that were established during the four-year rule of PPP have been attacked by the conviction of Prime Minister Gilani. “Democracy is neither a magic wand nor it is a one-day process but in fact it is a continuous process and PPP government was leading the society towards a democratic revolution and the decision may hamper the national democratic revolution.” The PPP representative character, Sial said, was maligned hit by the decision. “Such verdicts are only appreciated in courtrooms, not on the roads by the public,” he told “The real historic decision is not the one given by SC, it’s the decision taken by the party (PPP) to form the Seraiki province,” he added. The decision to form a separate Seraiki province, if implemented, could be one of the most crucial ones taken during PPP’s current regime. Zahoor Dhareja, a writer and an intellectual from Gilani’s hometown of Multan, believes the PM has been punished for raising voice for the establishment of Seraiki province and Seraiki Bank. “A democratically elected Seraiki prime minister has been convicted for not changing his stand over the issue creating a new province for his nation” he said. Despite the conviction, he firmly believes the “one-sided decisions” will not be able to demoralise the “Seraiki nation.” “Victimization will strengthen the Seraiki people and it will be a blessing in disguise for them in their quest for a Seraiki identity and a province,” Dhareja said. While it may seem that the court verdict has made the PM and his party, political martyrs, but writer and intellectual Ahsan Wagha believes that internally, the party exudes a triumphant confidence. but inside the ruling party the feeling is of winner. “The government, especially the prime minister, will enter the Seraiki region with a brave face and the Zardari-Gilani government, having been put under pressure, may not care to move toward practicalities of the province.” Meanwhile, member of PPP’s Central Executive Committee Haidar Gardezi was critical of the judiciary’s decision, saying that it always set selective standards by “supporting the dictators and victimising the democratic governments.”

Pakistan: Looming confrontation?

In the National Assembly (NA) the other day, Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani threw down the gauntlet to the opposition to move a no-confidence motion against him if they were adamant that he was no longer the PM after the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) contempt conviction. On the occasion, neither the Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar nor his PML-N colleagues were present in the house, the former having absented himself despite his blood-curdling threat to prevent (physically?) the PM’s entry into the NA, the latter for having walked out when the PM entered. Not that that prevented Chaudhry Nisar from repeating his unparliamentary threat in Nawaz Sharif’s press conference. This language, tone and message is hardly befitting of the Leader of the Opposition, considered a PM-in-waiting in parliamentary democracies. His leader, Nawaz Sharif, did not tarry far behind his lieutenant. He demanded the PM step down immediately “otherwise he will face unexpected results”. There is an implied threat in the sub-text of this message too. Both PML-N leaders need to be reminded that such language and messages would shame even a criminal denizen of Bhaati Gate in Lahore, let alone two major opposition figures. In the meantime, reports suggest the PML-N is reaching out to all the opposition parties and even the government’s coalition allies to try and create a front against the PM to stage protests throughout the country. So far, however, the latter are standing firm with the PM, while the latter present a picture of differing perspectives, not all of which may serve the PML-N’s purpose. For example, the other opposition parties in the NA did not follow the PML-N out of the NA but instead chose to listen to the PM’s speech. Outside parliament, Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) presents the PML-N with a dilemma. Convergence of interests against the PPP-led coalition government notwithstanding, the two parties are at daggers drawn because each views the other as its real rival, especially in Punjab, the PML-N’s traditional stronghold. How to square this with the need to come together against the PM is the conundrum for both sides. The US State Department spokesperson meanwhile has stated that Washington recognises and will continue to work with the PM. There are reports that in the light of the SC verdict, the PPP is mulling over the possibility of moving a resolution in the NA reiterating presidential immunity. The PML-N is not the only party contemplating street mobilisation in its cause. The PPP workers have already been out in anger at the SC verdict. Sporadic such protests continue. If the PML-N succeeds in mobilising its own and other opposition forces’ cadres on the streets, there is every likelihood that the PPP will not take this lying down. If it were in turn to mobilise or even turn a blind eye to the spontaneous mobilisation of its workers, a looming confrontation cannot be ruled out. Such a confrontation could throw the country into new uncertainty and chaos to add to the crises that already afflict us. It is interesting to note that on the very day the SC delivered its verdict against the PM, the PPP won a by-election in Multan on a seat it regained after decades. Does this presage a divide between politics and the judiciary? And yet the Sindh High Court saw fit to dismiss a petition praying for stopping the PM from working. The immediate fallout of the SC verdict is scary enough. But what may be exercising thoughtful minds even more is the danger that the possible looming confrontation may derail the entire effort to ensure a smooth democratic transition from this government to the next through the ballot box, a transition not very frequent in our unfortunate history, but critical if the democratic system is to be consolidated. The PML-N willy-nilly has a vested interest in such a transition. Wiser and more moderate heads in the PML-N are cautioning the leadership not to abandon its policy of restraint over the last four years, which has earned it the jibe of being a ‘friendly opposition’, a description not ordinarily considered disparaging in long established democracies. The restraint was dictated by our sorry history of praetorian forces waiting in the wings to take advantage of any seeds of confrontation between the two sides of the civilian political divide. If the effort for a democratic transition were to be derailed, the only beneficiary would be parties outside parliament like the PTI. Hence the discomfort of the PML-N on the horns of its dilemma.