Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Worldwide unemployment rate rising, says ILO

The International Labour Organisation said Monday that austerity measures were driving up jobless figures around the world and predicted global unemployment would hit 202 million people in 2012. By News Wires (text) AFP - The International Labour Organisation warned Monday that austerity measures are hurting job markets worldwide and predicted global unemployment of 202 million people in 2012, up six million from last year. The ILO's World of Work Report 2012 said fiscal austerity and labour market reforms had had "devastating consequences" for employment while mostly failing to cut deficits, and warned that governments risked fueling unrest unless they combined tighter spending with job creation. "The austerity and regulation strategy was expected to lead to more growth, which is not happening," Raymond Torres, director of the ILO's Institute for International Labour Studies, told journalists in Geneva. "The strategy of austerity actually has been counterproductive from the point of view of its very objective of supporting confidence and supporting the reduction of budget deficits." The report said some 50 million jobs had disappeared since the 2008 financial crisis. It predicted a global unemployment rate of 6.1 percent in 2012 – 202 million people, up three percent from the provisional estimate of 196 million for 2011. It forecast a rise to 6.2 percent in 2013 as another five million people become unemployed. "It is unlikely that the world economy will grow at a sufficient pace over the next couple of years to both close the existing jobs deficit and provide employment for the over 80 million people expected to enter the labour market," the report said. It warned that trends were especially worrying in Europe, where nearly two-thirds of countries had seen unemployment go up since 2010. It said labour market recovery had also stalled in major economies such as Japan and the United States. A growing and better-educated workforce was meanwhile struggling to find enough good jobs in places such as China, while workers still faced acute job shortfalls in the Arab world and Africa, it added. Torres, the report's lead author, came down hard on Europe, accusing it of "ill-conceived fiscal austerity". "For example in Spain, the deficit was reduced from a little over nine percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 8.5 percent of GDP in 2011, a very small reduction after a drastic austerity programme," he said. "The narrow focus of many eurozone countries on fiscal austerity is deepening the jobs crisis and could even lead to another recession in Europe." He meanwhile singled out Latin America for praise, saying the region had seen an employment recovery and, in some cases, rising job quality. The report found the risk of social unrest had gone down on average in Latin America as job prospects improved. But worldwide, the risk of unrest had increased in most countries, it said. "This is not surprising given that good jobs remain scarce and income inequality is rising," Torres said. "There is a growing sense that those most affected by the crisis are not receiving adequate policy attention." The ILO blamed austerity policies for reducing small business' access to loans, and urged governments to restore credit to small firms, strengthen labour market safety nets and adopt measures to help young workers and other vulnerable groups.

Obama: No permanent Afghan bases

President Obama, speaking early Wednesday in Afghanistan, said the U.S. will stick to the 2014 deadline to turn over security fully to the Afghan government.

Nawaz is getting irritated by the twig in his own beard: Marri

Sindh Information Minister, Shazia Marri,
addressed a press conference on Monday. The press conference was yet another series of heated words being spoken amongst the two premier parties of Pakistan, PPP and PML Ms. Marri referred to Nawaz Sharif as a thief by stating, “Nawaz Sharif is that particular thief who is getting irritated by the twig in his own beard”. She said that Nawaz Sharif is portraying the character of Zia-ul-Haq and is urging the nation for the long march, just for his own interest. She informed Nawaz Sharif by quoting that Bar Councils within Sindh had rejected Nawaz’s plea for the long march. “Nawaz, who ran away from this country to save his life, would never understand about democracy. If he was so loyal to the Pakistani population, he should have stayed here and faced the judicial system of the country”, she further stated.

Lyari Operation-01 May 2012

Thousands march in London to support workers’ rights

It’s been a year of high-profile anti-capitalist struggle across the western world with sit-ins, occupations, strikes and demonstrations grabbing the headlines. And to commemorate Labor Day, around 2,000 people marched through central London in solidarity with workers across the world. This year’s Labor Day comes at a very relevant time as the UK government is enacting harsh austerity measures which many feel are targeting the poor and ordinary workers. So the message from the marchers today is “no” to austerity and “no” to the coalition government. At a rally in Trafalgar Square, union leaders told the crowd that the government is ruling on behalf of rich elites at the expense of the poor. Just last week it was confirmed that Britain has slipped into a double-dip recession. The government says spending cuts are necessary to address the huge budget deficit and national debt, but critics say they’re just choking growth. Next week tens of thousands of civil servants, lecturers, health workers and other employees will take industrial action over the government's controversial public sector reforms. With the economy showing no signs of improving, Britain looks set for a prolonged period of industrial dispute.

US embassy in a quandary over Chen

News that Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist from Shandong Province, has entered the US embassy in Beijing and may seek asylum has made the rounds among US and European media. The question was even raised during a press conference with US President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Washington, though Obama declined to comment on this specific case. In the Western media, Chen is a hot potato for Chinese authorities. Now he is making Washington uncomfortable. Chen, unlike other dissidents who made abstract human rights goals in China, has many detailed complaints about the country's grass-roots governance. He travelled to the US embassy from Linyi, Shandong, and now these problems have entered the US sphere of import. All countries are plagued by various public complaints. Chinese petitioners are motivated by various incentives. If petitioners' requests are not met by domestic authorities and turn to the US embassy, this is not only embarrassing to China but also puts the US in an awkward position. The US embassy would have no interest in turning itself into a petition office receiving Chinese complaints. It is easier just preaching universal values to the Chinese public, and occasionally, helping a few exemplary cases that best illustrate US intentions. It is never willing to involve itself in too many detailed disputes in Chinese society. The Western media has portrayed Chen as a blind activist hero, and some Chinese have echoed this view. These have given Chen a wrong impression of his importance to the US and his individual influence in China. His self-judgment has been ruined by exaggerated media reports. Chen Guangcheng incident will not affect Sino-US relations. The upcoming China-US Strategic & Economic Dialogue is unlikely to dwell on him. Quite a few out of favor Chinese people have sought to exaggerate their influence by relying on overseas powers. But this is a poor idea. The time when foreign governments could guide Chinese authorities in making policy is long gone. In recent decades, hundreds of Chinese ran to the West seeking to put pressure over China, but none of them gained the prominence they wished. The progress of human rights needs the support of comprehensive social development. The West has brought this idea to China, which is not against human rights. Conflicts are often the exaggeration of some specific problems. The sustaining support of human rights can only come from within China. The West has no ability to provide much detailed help in this regard. They are frustrated more by their own human rights issues now. The West has put all the blame on Chinese authorities for the Chen Guangcheng issue. Now he is reportedly in US embassy, which has proven to be a dramatic twist. Let us see how the US government can satisfy both Western media and Chen himself.

Pakistan: 'N' govt longmarch tantamount to treason

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani
Tuesday said no province could launch a long-march against the federal government because it it would be tantamount to be treason. He was speaking in a Pakistan Television (PTV) programme “Prime Minister Online”. Replying to a question regarding the long-march announced by the Punjab government, the Prime Minister said such act could be considered as “treason” as it would be a step of the provincial government against the federal government. “It is totally unacceptable,” he added. Earlier, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) President Mian Nawaz Sharif had said that Gilani was no longer the prime minister of Pakistan anymore since his conviction and vowed that every option including a long-march would be launched to honor the verdicts of the SC.

May Day protests marred by vandalism in San Francisco

10 protesters arrested at LA Intl. Airport on May Day
May Day demonstrations were marred by vandalism in San Francisco,
while other demonstrations in California were largely peaceful. Protesters were converging on downtown Los Angeles for a march and rally this afternoon near City Hall. The march is expected to jam the afternoon commute, with numerous streets scheduled to be blocked off until at least 7 p.m. Hundreds of demonstrators from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the Party of Socialism and Liberation and the Latino health activist group Bienestar gathered at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Broadway about 1 p.m. to rally and begin marching to Pershing Square, where a larger rally was planned.
Thousands of protesters were expected to participate in May Day rallies across Los Angeles to register their views on a variety of issues, including fair labor practices, immigration and income inequality.Police said the group at Olympic and Broadway had not caused any problems. “It’s festive,” LAPD Officer Sara Faden said over salsa music blasting from a truck. In a sign that the ideals of the Occupy movement still resonate, in Oakland about 400 people gathered at City Hall plaza at midday to reiterate their commitment to confronting social inequality and police aggression. Some demonstrators wore face coverings and carried shields crafted from plastic garbage cans. Others identified themselves as medics, with crosses of red tape, in the event of clashes with police. A small skirmish broke out between some protesters and riot-gear-clad officers. About 12:40 p.m., at least one protester threw bottles and at least one metal paint can at officers who formed a line to hold back the crowd. One officer, who asked not to be named, was splashed with yellow paint and kicked in the ribs as he sought to arrest a protester who officers said had rushed the police line. Separately, CBS reporter Doug Souvern tweeted that protesters attacked and dismantled one of his station's news vans. In San Francisco, May Day protests began early, as a demonstration that started peacefully in Dolores Park on Monday night ended with widespread vandalism. More than 100 masked protesters -- dressed in black and gray and wielding crowbars and paintball guns -- descended on a busy restaurant and retail stretch in the city’s Mission district. Vandals smashed windows, defaced cars and attacked the neighborhood police station. On Tuesday, a glass crew was parked outside of the Mission district police station, and Jeffrey Garcia was inside filing a police report about damage to his two vehicles. His Volkswagen Passat and Chevrolet pickup had been parked on Valencia Street while he had dinner at a nearby restaurant. “I heard the noise, and the next thing I know, I come out and bang!” said Garcia, who provides battery service for a towing company. Vandals had slashed all four tires on his Passat, keyed the shiny black car and sprayed it with red paint. His pickup was also keyed. He was at a loss to explain the vandalism and the protesters. “We work 20 hours a day, and they have nothing to do,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s just crazy.” Brittney Nicolulis, manager at a home furnishing boutique on Valencia Street called Therapy Home, said she and her colleagues heard a rumbling about 9 p.m. Monday and looked out the window to investigate. “Our first assumption was peace marchers,” said Nicolulis. “We get those all the time. We ran to the door and heard smashing and gunshots and sounds that were not about peace.” Nicolulis, who was with her colleagues at Therapy’s clothing store next door, took shelter behind the cash register as vandals smashed windows at both stores. “They came really fast and left really fast,” she said, “like a hurricane. It was really scary. It felt apocalyptic and primal. We keep hearing this was Occupy Wall Street and against the corporations. But this is a locally owned business. You’re not putting any corporation out. We’re the little guys. Everyone I talk to, nobody gets it.” A police source said there was one arrest. Tuesday saw wider disruption in San Francisco but far less damage. In advance of a threatened strike by union workers, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District decided to shut down ferry service for the Tuesday morning commute. Service resumed as normal in the afternoon. Hundreds of demonstrators snarled traffic on busy Market Street during a lunchtime demonstration, chanting union slogans and “We are the 99,” performing street theater and painting an outsized yellow and red “Rise up 99%” sign on Montgomery Street in the middle of the Financial district. Ismael Lara, a Financial district janitor, joined the protest Tuesday because his contract is slated to expire in July and his company is asking for deep concessions from its workers. “Hopefully we’ll get a little bit of money, and benefits will stay the same,” said Lara, who marched with his wife. “They want us to pay for some of our health insurance.” By the time the demonstration began to dissipate and move west on Market Street just before 2 p.m., police said there had been no arrests.

Anti-austerity anger sweeps Europe on May Day

U.S. 2012 'May Day' Protests From Coast to Coast

Stinging gas has caused 'May Day' protesters to flee downtown Oakland and police detained at least six people in New York as Occupy demonstrators and labor and immigration activists participated in "May Day" protests across the country on Tuesday. video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player Protest organizers said they intended to show the "1 percent" what life without the "99 percent" would look like, as they encouraged workers and students to take a day off in solidarity against income inequality and "unjust" corporate practices. Police in Oakland took at least four people into custody on Tuesday though it is unclear if police fired the gas as several hundred protesters blocked traffic near Oakland City Hall, the Associated Press reported. ABC New York affiliate, WABC, reported that four protesters were detained during the march across Williamsburg Bridge, connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and at least two protesters were detained in Midtown Manhattan.
An estimated 200 protesters are in Madison Square Park in New York City, while another 500 people are in Bryant Park. In Chicago, an estimated 1,000 people have gathered in a section of Union Park despite occasional rain, the Chicago Tribune reported. There have been an unknown number of arrests in Philadelphia and Los Angeles International Airport related to the protests. As letters containing white powder, later determined to be non-toxic, arrived in mail rooms of Manhattan banks and New York's City Hall, a wide range of protesters gathered around the buildings of corporations and city centers across the country. The FBI announced on Tuesday that that they arrested a group of anarchists who allegedly plotted to use explosives to blow up a bridge near Cleveland, Ohio and attack this summer's Republican National Convention in Florida. The FBI's criminal complaint does not state the attacks were planned as part of the May Day protests. http://www.latimes.com/videogallery/69693893/News/VIDEO-May-Day-Protests-Spread-Across-Los-Angeles-Team-Coverage Pete Dutro, an Occupy organizer from Brooklyn, N.Y., said the date of the nationwide strike is related to the Haymarket massacre in Chicago. Demonstrators were protesting on May 4, 1886 in favor of an eight-hour workday when a bomb was thrown, killing both police and workers. Some labor groups recognize May 1 as "International Workers' Day.""Without labor, we do not produce things. That's kind of why this started," Dutro, 37, said. "The labor conditions were not good back then, people were being exploited and you had a huge disparity in income. And that's what we're facing right now." Dutro, a part-time tattoo artist and former grad student studying finance, said he became involved early on in the Occupy Wall Street movement because of his personal experience as a business owner and his struggle to pay for health care. Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2004 and not able to afford health insurance, Dutro said he had to close his two businesses, a tattoo shop and web design company. He said they together employed 25 people. "I was a real job creator, but at that point in my life I could not afford health insurance and the cost of living and running a business was outrageous," he said. Dutro and the other Occupy Wall Street protesters were cleared out of Zuccotti Park in November, two months after they began their encampment, and protesters have since been forcibly removed in cities across the country.
Andy Thayer, a Chicago Occupy member and the spokesperson for the Coalition Against NATO/G-8, called this year's strike "a national phenomenon" with immigration rights advocates partnering with the Occupy movement. "There's a good buzz about it -- the kind of display not been seen in many decades: a demonstration of solidarity on immigrant rights, but also about labor's winning back rights or winning rights anew," Thayer said. Events are taking place at all hours of the day, from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York. In New York, community groups, unions and Occupy Wall Street protesters converged at a number of locations starting at 8 a.m., including the Chase Building, New York Times Building, Sotheby's, and a U.S. post office. Protesters planned to march over the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan after meeting in Continental Army Plaza at 10:30 a.m. Dutro said some events are taking place without a permit, like a guitar workshop in Bryant Park, which he expects will attract attention from the police. "Everything's been really crazy," Dutro said, in reference to the planning leading up to May 1. "People are coming back to town, asking what's going on." Dutro said he received 200 emails on Monday about the events. "It's a nightmare," he said. Dutro said he has been coordinating with protesters in other cities, including Los Angeles. There, a strike at Los Angeles International Airport is scheduled for 6 A.M. in conjunction with some members of the Service Employees International Union and United Service Workers West. Another protest event in Los Angeles, dubbed, "Let Them Eat Cupcakes," is planned for tony shopping area, Rodeo Drive, around noon. In Chicago, gatherings include a protest at noon in Union Park, followed by a march downtown at 1 p.m. Thayer said there is "special urgency" in Chicago related to Chicago's NATO summit on May 20 to 21. Later in May, Thayer said there will be a mass march led by veterans against war who will be turning in their medals in Grant Park. The Federal Protective Service, which guards federal buildings, announced last week that there will be protective "Red Zone" around Chicago's downtown federal buildings this week in advance of the summit. The Chicago Tribune reported that the officers will carry non-lethal weapons. Thayer called the security plan "totally over the top," and said it reminded him of the security detail for the "Trans Atlantic Business Dialog" which took place in 2002."They looked like Ninja Turtles. It was such an offensive display of hardware it was frightening to kids," Thayer said, adding that 'the latest display by the Feds" will "give people a taste of what life is like in other countries on a regular basis -- troops in the streets for weeks at a time. It breeds real resentment. Chicagoans are p.o.'d that this is taking place in conjunction with the May Day march."When asked if the nationwide protests, which are aiming to disrupt the work day and commuting, risk alienating workers who are not participating in the day's events, Dutro said he would sympathize with their frustration.But, "by complaining, I would say you further help others that maintain the status quo, and what is clear is the status quo is not working," he said. "Yes, they have families and have to work and all these other things. But in the greater scheme of things, if we don't solve these problems now there will be less and less work to go to." ABC News' Richard Esposito contributed to this report.

Moutai tops China's liquor brand list

Moutai: China's top liquor brand and considered the national spirit of China. Its history can be traced back to the Han dynasty. Made by China Kweichow Moutai Distiller Co Ltd. Wuliangye: Considered the second-best liquor brand following Moutai and has a history of more than 600 years. Made by Wuliangye Group Co Ltd in Yibin, Sichuan province. Yue-Sai: A cosmetic brand established in 1992 by Yue-Sai Kan - a former TV program host. The brand was purchased by L'Oreal Group, one of the world's largest cosmetic and beauty companies, in 2004. Zhonghua: A cigarette brand established in 1951 and supplied only to political leaders during its first 20 years. Made by Shanghai Tobacco (Group) Corp. Lan: A jewelry brand founded by Yang Lan, a famous Chinese TV host, and singer Celine Dion in 2009. NE-TIGER: A clothing brand established in 1992 which concentrates on high-end dresses and uses unique Chinese clothing techniques, including embroidery. Zhuyeqing: A type of green tea produced in Emei Mountain, Sichuan province. Its products cost between 500 yuan ($79.30) and 5,000 yuan per 500 grams. The brand is owned by Sichuan Emeishan Zhuyeqing Tea Industry Co Ltd. Langjiu: A liquor made using the same source of water as its rival Moutai and has more than 100 years of history. The brand is registered by Sichuan Langjiu Group Co Ltd. Shanghai Tang: A clothing brand that was founded in 1994 in Hong Kong and is famous for its modern qipao and Chinese-style clothing. The brand was sold to Richemont Group in 2000. Shanghai Vive: A cosmetic brand established in Shanghai in 1903. The product was popular among Chinese women and was well-known internationally in the 1930s. Shanghai Jahwa United Company Ltd relaunched the brand in 2010. Source: Research Center for Luxury Goods and Services at University of International Business and Economics

Occupy Wall Street resurgence a dud

Occupy Wall Street hoped to use May Day to shift back into high gear, but a poor turnout suggests the movement may not be able to regain its former glory.

Kimmel's theory: Anderson is 'high'

Obama hails troops, signs agreement on surprise Afghanistan trip

President Barack Obama thanked U.S. troops for their service and signed an agreement on cooperating with Afghanistan on an unannounced trip there Tuesday, the first anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan. "Afghanistan has a friend and a partner in the United States," Obama said before he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement outlining cooperation between their countries once the U.S.-led international force withdraws in 2014. On his third trip to Afghanistan since taking office, Obama also addressed troops at Bagram Air Field and will make a televised address at 7:30 p.m. ET. At the signing ceremony, Obama said neither country asked for the war that began more than a decade earlier, but now they would work in partnership for a peaceful future."There will be difficult days ahead, but as we move forward in our transition, I'm confident that Afghan forces will grow stronger, the Afghan people will take control of their future," Obama said. Addressing a concern in Afghanistan that the United States will abandon the country once its troops leave, Obama said: "With this agreement, I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them." He later added that the United States "did not come here to claim resources or to claim territory -- we came here with a very clear mission to destroy al Qaeda," referring to the terrorist organization responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks. Karzai offered his thanks to the American people for helping Afghanistan, and the presidents shook hands after signing the document in the atrium of the King's Residence, part of the Presidential Palace in Kabul. Obama warned the Afghan people and, later, the U.S. troops he met with of difficult days ahead. In his remarks at the Bagram base, Obama sounded emotional as he specified that soldiers could see friends get hurt or killed as the mission winds down. However, he said the end was in sight, and he promised his support as president for U.S. forces and their families, both now and when they return home. The security risks in Afghanistan were evident from the secretive nature and timing of the trip. Obama landed in Afghanistan in the cover of darkness, and the signing ceremony occurred in the late evening.The Strategic Partnership Agreement provides a framework for the U.S.-Afghanistan partnership for the decade following the U.S. and allied troop withdrawal, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the flight. Specific levels of U.S. forces and funding are not set in the agreement and will be determined by the United States in consultation with allies, the officials said on condition of not being identified. Noting the anniversary of the bin Laden mission, the officials called it a resonant day for the Afghan and American people. More than 130,000 troops from 50 countries serve in Afghanistan, according to the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force. The United States is the biggest contributor, providing around 90,000 troops, followed by the United Kingdom (9,500), Germany (4,800) and France (3,600). The war that began in 2001 is increasingly unpopular in the United States, with the latest CNN/ORC International poll in late March showing 25% of respondents supporting it and 72% opposing it. More than 2,700 troops from the United States and its partners have died in the war, the majority of them American. In 2011, the United States outlined its plan to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The move was followed by withdrawal announcements by most of the NATO nations. Last week, Afghan National Security Adviser Rangin Daftar Spanta and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker initialed a text that outlined the kind of relationship the two countries want in the decade following the NATO withdrawal. The deal had been long expected after Washington and Kabul found compromises over the thorny issues of "night raids" by U.S. forces on Afghan homes and the transfer of U.S. detainees to Afghan custody. It seeks to create an enduring partnership that prevents the Taliban from waiting until the U.S. withdrawal to try to regain power, the senior administration officials said. Obama previously visited Afghanistan in March 2010 and returned in December of the same year. He also visited Afghanistan in 2008 as a presidential candidate. A report issued Tuesday by the Pentagon said that sanctuaries for insurgents in neighboring Pakistan continue to be a problem for the coalition forces and Afghan government. "The Taliban-led insurgency and its al Qaeda affiliates still operate with impunity from sanctuaries in Pakistan," the semiannual report said, adding that "the insurgency's safe haven in Pakistan, as well as the limited capacity of the Afghan government, remain the biggest risks to the process of turning security gains into a durable and sustainable Afghanistan."While the coalition is on track to turn security fully over to Afghan control, the insurgency "remains a resilient and determined enemy and will likely attempt to regain lost ground and influence this spring and summer through assassinations, intimidation, high-profile attacks and emplacement of improvised explosive devices," according to the report. The report covers security developments in Afghanistan from October through March. It noted several "significant shocks" during that period, including the release of a video of U.S. Marines urinating on corpses, the inadvertent burning of religious materials by U.S. personnel, several "green on blue" incidents in which coalition forces were killed or wounded by Afghan troops and the alleged killing of 17 civilians by a lone U.S. soldier. However, the report also said that the insurgency has been "severely degraded" by Afghan and NATO combat operations, noting that the "most significant security-related development" during the reporting period was the continuing decline in violence. After five consecutive years in which enemy attacks had increased, they decreased by 9% in 2011 and are down by 16% so far in 2012. The report attributed the improvement to the expansion and improved training of Afghan security forces. Afghans partner with coalition forces on 90% of coalition operations, taking the lead on about 40% of them, according to the military. Along with the insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan, the report noted that Iran is trying to ensure a "dominant, long-term role" for itself in Afghanistan along with the permanent withdrawal of foreign forces. While much of Iran's activity involves openly reaching out with economic and cultural support, the report said there also is "covert support, including the provision of weapons and training for various insurgent and political opposition groups," including the Taliban.


Bahrain police fire tear gas at protesters

Protests break out on World Labour Day as opposition calls for release of prisoners awaiting new trials.
Riot police firing tear gas and stun grenades routed protesters in Bahrain's capital as the government came under mounting international pressure to release jailed leaders of last year's uprising. An appeals court decision on Monday to grant a retrial to 21 opposition figures was not enough to defuse resurgent unrest among the Gulf Arab state's majority Shia Muslims, and street rallies resumed on Tuesday. A heavy riot police presence cut short a demonstration in the market area of Manama as tear gas and stun grenades were unleashed at several dozen who chanted anti-government slogans to mark World Labour Day.
Several thousand protesters and suspected supporters were sacked or suspended from work last year during a crackdown on the uprising and some say they have not got their jobs back. The cassation court, the highest judicial body in the Gulf Arab state, on Monday shifted the case of 21 men who were convicted in a military court to a civilian court and freed one, lesser-known prisoner. Seven of the 21 are abroad or in hiding. But the court ruled the men would remain in jail, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on a hunger strike for three months. Khawaja's wife Khadija al-Musawi said that Monday's court decision does not change her husband's demand for an immediate release - which has become a centerpiece of anti-government protests in recent weeks. 'His condition to stop the hunger strike is to be free,'' said al-Musawi. 'If not, then the option is to die, and his death will be his freedom.' Government promises In response, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, adviser to the government's Information Affairs Authority, said: "We have full faith in the independent judiciary system in Bahrain and will wait to see these appeals take place. We are confident the outcome will be just." He said the defendants faced serious criminal charges that went beyond the exercise of basic human rights. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN human rights agency, told a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday that it had urged Bahraini authorities to bring about the release of Khawaja. "There is no reason for him to be held incommunicado and he should be given immediate access to his family, to the Danish ambassador...and to a doctor and a lawyer of his own choosing." Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based as a bulwark against Iran across the Gulf, remains in turmoil over a year after Shia-led protests first erupted, inspired by uprisings against autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. Opposition parties stage big rallies every week and clashes between riot police and youth protesters break out nightly in Shia neighbourhoods around the island country, whose government is dominated by the Sunni al-Khalifa family. The unrest has cracked the stability of Bahrain and spurred Saudi calls for a union of oil-exporting Gulf Arab monarchies to help counter Iranian influence and neutralise protest movements. Opposition leaders said the protest campaign would continue until all prisoners were released and political and human rights reforms enacted.

Obama signs agreement for US-Afghan partnership

President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai (HAH'-mihd KAHR'-zeye) have signed an agreement aimed at cementing a lasting U.S. commitment to Afghanistan after the long and unpopular war comes to an end. Obama says the costs of the Afghan war have been great. He says the deal with Afghanistan allows the U.S. to wind down the war, but still stand by Afghanistan and its people. The president says the deal will also pave the way for "a future of peace." Karzai says postwar agreement will seal an "equal partnership" between Afghanistan and the United States. Obama and Karzai signed the agreement at the presidential palace in Kabul shortly after the U.S. president arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday, slipping into the country under the cover of darkness.

Occupy Wall Street's May Day protests begin in New York with focus on banking giants

Dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists spread out to protest at banks and other New York City businesses today to mark International Workers Day, or May Day. Protesters gathered at Bryant Park in Manhattan and prepared to march to financial institutions including Chase, Citibank and Bank of America. Police in riot gear lined the front of Bank of America on West 42nd Street, facing several dozen Occupy activists marching behind police barricades. "Bank of America, bad for America!" they chanted. Julian Kliner, 22, said their main issue with the banking giant is "how many people the Bank of America foreclosed as a result of predatory lending." He said the bank also financed projects that were environmentally questionable. Another group picketed outside New York University to protest the university's expansion plans in Greenwich Village. Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where the Occupy movement began last fall, was empty Tuesday morning except for a few police officers. Nearby Wall Street was heavily barricaded as office workers stream by on their way to work. Occupy activists had said they planned to bring business to a standstill on May Day, but the crowds protesting in the rain Tuesday morning were modest. The Occupy movement in New York has relied on demonstrations and marches around the city since Nov. 15, when police ousted hundreds of protesters from their base in Zuccotti Park, where they had camped since Sept. 17. Paul Browne, the police department's chief spokesman, said recently that the department was "experienced at accommodating lawful protests and responding appropriately to anyone who engages in unlawful activity, and we're prepared to do both."

Obama, Under Veil of Secrecy, Visits Kabul to Seal Agreement

President Obama landed here Tuesday, on a surprise visit, to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan meant to mark the beginning of the end of a war that has lasted for more than a decade. Mr. Obama, arriving after nightfall under a veil of secrecy at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, flew by helicopter to the presidential palace, where he was to meet President Hamid Karzai before both leaders signed the pact. It is intended to be a road map for two nations lashed together by more than a decade of war and groping for a new relationship after the departure of American troops, scheduled for the end of 2014. Mr. Obama was scheduled to address the American people from Afghanistan on Tuesday evening, which would be the middle of the night in Afghanistan. The address – on the first anniversary of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan – will give Mr. Obama a new opportunity to make an election-year case that he has wound down two expensive and now unpopular wars, here and in Iraq. The agreement with Kabul, completed after months of fraught negotiations, pledges American aid for Afghanistan for 10 years after the withdrawal of the last American soldiers. More symbolic than substantive, it nevertheless marks a transition for the United States, from the largest foreign military force in Afghanistan to a staunch, if faraway and complicated, ally. The agreement and Mr. Obama’s decision to travel to Kabul to sign it are also meant to reassure Afghans that the United States will not abandon them once the soldiers leave, White House aides said. The Karzai government faces a continuing insurgency from the Taliban and the meddling of neighbors like Pakistan and Iran, as well as problems of the government’s own making, like corruption. The relationship between Afghanistan and the United States has been particularly turbulent in recent months. A United States Army staff sergeant is accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians in March, and a group of American troops mistakenly burned Korans in February. In April, Taliban suicide bombers conducted synchronized attacks around the country, raising new questions about what Afghanistan will look like after American troops leave. After he and Mr. Karzai sign the agreement and make brief statements, the president is to fly back to Bagram, where he will greet troops before delivering a 10-minute address to the nation on Afghanistan, his first in more than a year. As on two previous visits, he will spend only a few hours on the ground. Still, the visit is laden with political significance, coming as it does in the thick of an election season at home, just four days before two big campaign rallies that will serve as the symbolic kickoff of Mr. Obama’s re-election bid. Mr. Obama’s campaign has recently emphasized his decision to order the raid that killed Bin Laden, who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks from an Afghan sanctuary and drew the United States into war. With Bin Laden dead, along with much of his Qaeda high command, Mr. Obama has moved with increasing dispatch to wind down American military involvement here. With polls showing a large majority of Americans weary with the war, the president’s aides have debated whether to accelerate current plans, which call for withdrawing 22,000 troops – the balance of the “troop surge” – by September. It remains unclear whether the United States plans to make changes. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has criticized the president for publicly announcing a date for withdrawal, saying that would allow the Taliban to simply wait out the United States. Mr. Romney has said he would make a decision on when to pull out troops based on the judgment of his generals, though at other times, he has endorsed bringing them home as soon as possible. With heavy coverage of the Bin Laden anniversary, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have also sparred over how to interpret the raid. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has questioned whether Mr. Romney would have made the same decision, while Mr. Romney replied that “even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.” For Mr. Obama, the visit is a chance to meet again with Mr. Karzai, who has had a star-crossed relationship with the United States. On a stop here in March 2010, the president delivered pointed criticism of Mr. Karzai for the rampant graft in the Afghan government. Ten months later, Mr. Obama made a return trip, only to be grounded at Bagram by swirling winds and dust clouds. He was forced to speak to Mr. Karzai by phone, even though the two men were only 35 miles apart. Though Mr. Karzai has signed off on the partnership agreement, he has frequently expressed frustration with the American presence here, bitterly criticizing the United States on issues like night raids conducted by Special Operations troops, for example. Hammering out a protocol on the conduct of night raids was one of the issues that opened the door to completing the broader agreement. The pact addresses a broad range of issues, from security to social and economic development. But it does not contain specific dollar commitments by the United States, which had led some critics to dismiss it as less a blueprint than a symbolic gesture. Signing the partnership agreement sets the stage for a NATO meeting in Chicago next month, at which the United States will try to persuade other NATO members to contribute money to Afghanistan’s future. That could prove tricky, since several of the countries are wrestling with their own fiscal woes. At a White House meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan on Monday, Mr. Obama praised Japan for being the largest financial donor to Afghanistan, after the United States. Japan, he noted, will hold a donors’ conference on Afghanistan after the NATO meeting, focusing on economic development. Even with the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014, the United States is likely to spend more than $2 billion a year to help Afghanistan with its security. Any civilian aid would come on top of that. Mr. Obama’s trip occurred on the same day that the Pentagon released a report on Afghanistan showing a decline in attacks initiated by the enemy but still “long-term and acute challenges” because of insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan and what it called “widespread corruption” in the government in Kabul. The report, a twice-annual review required by Congress, cited improvements in the capabilities of the Afghan army and police, which now number nearly 345,000. But despite the relative good news – the report said that enemy-initiated attacks were down 16 percent from a year ago – the review said the insurgency still had the ability to plant large numbers of homemade bombs, stage high-profile attacks, regenerate itself and adapt under pressure. “The insurgency continues to exert its influence in Afghanistan through alternate methods, including kidnappings, intimidation tactics and robust assassination efforts, as well as messaging at mosques and leveraging the network of familial, tribal and ideological sympathizers to exert their influence in areas controlled" by the Afghan security forces, the report said. Over the long term, the report warned, “the Taliban retains its goal of overthrowing the elected Afghan following the withdrawal of international forces." For the White House, keeping a wrap on Mr. Obama’s travels posed customary hurdles, especially because the trip came on a weekday, when a president typically has a full schedule. He kept a normal schedule on Monday, speaking to a construction workers’ union in the morning and playing host to Mr. Noda at lunch. In the afternoon, he and Mr. Noda took part in a news conference in the East Room, where the president got a question on whether he was politicizing the Bin Laden raid. Later in the evening, Mr. Obama slipped out of the White House and traveled to Joint Base Andrews, where he and a small circle of aides boarded Air Force One, which took off in secret after 11 p.m. A small group of reporters, including one from The New York Times, were allowed to accompany the president, after they agreed not to report on his whereabouts until his helicopter landed in Kabul.

MAY 1ST 2012

Occupy May Day protests begin around the globe; protest turns violent in San Francisco

Hundreds of protesters gathered in New York and other cities around the world Tuesday for a day of marches, strikes and teach-ins for what the Occupy movement has called a “general strike” for economic justice. May Day protests have been launched for some 125 cities in U.S., Europe and Australia, on a day labor unions have typically celebrates as International Workers Day. This year, the Occupy Wall Street movement has called for May 1 to be “A Day Without the 99 Percent” and urged students to skip school and employees not to go to work to show their support for the movement. Already an estimated 4,000 workers have marched through downtown Athens to protest the austerity measures in that country. In the U.S., New York labor unions, immigrant groups are expected to participate in a large-scale march from Union Square to Wall Street later in the day, and Occupy D.C. protesters are set to march from Meridian Hill Park to the White House Tuesday evening. In San Francisco, the protests took a violent turn, when some Occupy protesters broke windows and spray-painted police cars in the Mission District Sunday night, according to news reports. Organizers said a plan to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge has been scrapped. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that law enforcement is ready to manage what is expected to be a day of wide-ranging demonstrations throughout the city, including possible bridge and tunnel blockades, dozens of smaller pickets and a “pop-up” occupation of Bryant Park across the street from the headquarters of Bank of America. Occupiers say Tuesday will start of their spring resurgence, after the cold weather lull following the eviction of dozens of Occupy camps across the country in the late fall and winter. It is the first of what they hope will be several high-profile protests throughout the month of May, including events organized for the G8 Summit May 18-19 at Camp David and the NATO summit in Chicago May 20-21. “A lot of people thought we weren’t doing much because we’ve been working on this for months, since January,” said Jackie DiSalvo, an English professor who is an organizer for Occupy Wall Street. “This is our coming out. We’re calling it our spring awakening.” Locally, members of Occupy D.C. plan a festival and rally at Meridian Hill Park beginning at 3:30 p.m., followed by a 6:30 march from the park to the White House. Marchers are set to head down 14th Street to New York Avenue to the White House. A D.C. police spokesman said they have no plans to shut down lanes of traffic to accommodate them.

May 1st: Labor Day and Pakistan

One more Labor Day is being observed today across the world to give credit and to pay tribute to laborers. Through casting a glance at history, it becomes clear that in the 19th century, particularly during its last decade, various social movements emerged like a storm against the oppressors for getting due rights. However, there is not much change I look in the present scenario. I know many people who work as a manual laborer just for a small amount and they aren’t any weekly off days. If anyone gets sick or is unable to come to work for some reasons, he cannot imagine getting paid this day. Indeed, he would end up spending money on a visit to doctor just so he can get back to his life of servitude. One can only describe those working hours as restless, endless and stressful. Sometimes, it would be so hard when one is forced to compare himself to an animal and struggle to find a single difference. Ironically, this is not a story from the ancient times; rather, it is an account of my personal experiences. If we look at the larger perspective, this picture is the same, on the streets, in the marketplaces, and in the fields of this country. The structure does its best to squash poor laborers and workers. For last 64 years, millions of people in Pakistan including women and children have been victimized by a few influential hands, particularly the landlords, for their daily bread. A vast majority of laborers and daily-wage workers remain outside the domain of labour laws, which means that workers have no paid holidays, no job security, no medical coverage, no pension or provident fund, no limit on the work hours and are paid no overtime. One might as well just refer to them as bonded labour. According to the constitution of Pakistan, bonded labour is a severe crime, but no one cares about implementing laws that could protect workers and laborers. Every year on May 1, people across the globe, including Pakistan celebrate Labor Day as a public holiday. A few arrange get-togethers to enjoy the much needed holiday while others spend it either watching TV, playing games or sleeping in their beds all day. The idea is to gain as much from this day as one can – for oneself. But, what no one does is think about what this day truly stands for. I ask now: have any of us done anything to understand the problems of laborers on Labor Day?

Putin joins mass Soviet-style May Day march

Russia's president-elect Vladimir Putin on Tuesday joined over 150,000 people in a Soviet-style march through Moscow to celebrate labour day and show off public support ahead of his inauguration.
Accompanied by kitsch brass music and surrounded by multi-coloured balloons, Putin and outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev led the most extensive May Day march in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Police said around 150,000 people took part in the "Holiday of Labour and Spring" march in Moscow, by coincidence similar to the numbers said by the opposition to have shown up at anti-Putin demonstrations over the last months. The authorities appear keen to revive worker celebrations and make May Day a centrepiece of the year as Putin seeks to hold onto popular support as he heads back to the Kremlin in defiance of the anti-government protests. Marchers unfurled huge banners proclaiming the names of their factories and unions as bands played rousing music that could have been taken from the score of a Soviet film. "The Union of Machine Builders! Hurray!" declaimed the announcer as another workers group filed past the town hall on Moscow's Tverskaya Avenue. In an event that struck a chord with those nostalgic for the mass parades projecting Russian power in Soviet years, the crowds packed the avenue from the Kremlin to its end as far as the eye could see. Wearing a suit without a tie under the bright spring skies, Putin led the march next to a white overcoat-clad Medvedev and surrounded by supportive banners like "Workers for Medvedev and Putin!". It was the first time for years that Russia's rulers had joined the May Day rally, a key day in the calendar in the Communist Soviet Union. The last such appearance is believed to have been by Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. In a highly unusual joint public appearance on the streets of Moscow, Putin and Medvedev mingled with some of the marchers. "How are you doing?" asked Medvedev. "Great!" chorused the workers. "Let's do this every year, let's make it a tradition!" one participant suggested to Russia's top two, while others asked about burning issues like how they stayed in such good form and if they read horoscopes. In another move to gladden Soviet nostalgia fans, the pair then popped in with their entourage to the Zhiguli bar in central Moscow, a venue renowned back in Soviet times as a place for cheap beer and less-than-sober chatter. Sat on benches around a table laden with Russian delicacies like dried salted fish, they clanked mugs of beer and tucked into a meal, television pictures showed. A march organised by the Communist Party -- still the largest official opposition to ruling party United Russia -- paled in comparison and attracted 3,500 people, police said. Putin is due to be inaugurated as president in a May 7 ceremony after his March 4 election victory which the opposition claims was de-legitimised by fraud. He is returning to the Kremlin job he held from 2000-2008 after a four year stint as prime minister while the post of head of state was occupied by Medvedev, who was widely ridiculed as a seat-warmer. Putin appears to be counting on the working-class as the bedrock of his support as he heads into his six year term with Russia's burgeoning white collar middle class increasingly critical of his rule. The anti-Putin opposition decided against holding a rally in Moscow on May 1 and instead are saving their forces for a so-called "march of millions" on May 6 which they hope will attract over 100,000 people to challenge the strongman.

Workers demand pay hikes at Asia's May Day marches

May Day moved beyond its roots as an international workers' holiday to a day of international protest Tuesday, with rallies throughout Asia demanding wage increases and marches planned across Europe over government-imposed austerity measures. Europeans will take to the streets to protest against the measures that are being blamed for a big increase in the number of unemployed, particularly in Spain where one in four people is out of work. In the United States, demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience are planned, including what could be the country's most visible Occupy rallies since the anti-Wall Street encampments came down in the fall.In Asia, thousands of May Day protesters in the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan demanded hikes in pay that they say has not kept up with rising consumer prices, while also calling for lower school fees and expressing a variety of other gripes. In Moscow, around 100,000 people - including President Dmitry Medvedev and president-elect Vladimir Putin - took part in the main march through the city center. Television images showed the two leaders happily chatting with participants on the clear-and-cool spring day. Many banners and placards criticized the opposition movement that has become more prominent in Moscow over the past half-year. One read "spring has come, the swamp has dried up," referring to Bolotnaya (Swampy) Square, the site of some of the largest opposition demonstrations of recent months. In Asia, the push for wage increases was a common theme. "It is always the case that low-income groups across Asia feel a disproportionately larger impact of rising prices," said Wai Ho Leong, a Singapore-based economist with Barclays Capital. "Coupled with rising inflation expectations, the case is building to do more for lower income (workers). Minimum wages are one way." In the Philippine capital, Manila, about 8,000 members of a huge labor alliance, many clad in red shirts and waving red streamers, marched under a brutal sun for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to the heavily barricaded Mendiola bridge near the Malacanang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot police, Manila police chief Alex Gutierrez said. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III rejected their calls for a $3 daily pay hike, which he warned could worsen inflation, spark layoffs and turn away foreign investors. Aside from pay hikes, protest leader Josua Mata from the Alliance of Progressive Labor urged Aquino to back proposed legislation against the widespread practices by businesses of contracting out certain operations to other companies to save on costs and preventing workers from organizing trade unions. In Taiwan, several thousand anti-government protesters marched through downtown Taipei, demanding higher wages, lower school tuition and better conditions for foreign workers. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, some 500 people rallied, calling for a higher minimum wage than the one announced Monday by Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib's plan for the country's first-ever minimum wage calls for minimum monthly pay of 900 ringgit ($297) for private-sector workers in peninsula Malaysia and 800 ringgit ($264) in two poor eastern states. The move is expected to benefit 3.2 million low-income workers, who account for about a third of the country's workforce. The protesters marched from a market to the headquarters of Maybank, the nation's largest bank, calling for a minimum monthly wage of 1,500 ringgit ($496) a month. In Hong Kong, more than 1,000 joined a protest march to demand that the city's minimum wage, which was introduced exactly a year ago, be raised to 33 Hong Kong dollars ($4.25) per hour from HK$28 ($3.60), according to local broadcaster RTHK. They also want the government of the southern Chinese financial hub to implement a 44-hour work week. In nearby Macau, about 500 people marched for workers' rights and full democracy in the legislature, the broadcaster said.

Europe Workers Denounce Austerity on May Day

Banging drums and waving flags, tens of thousands of workers marked May Day in European cities Tuesday with a mix of anger and gloom over austerity measures imposed by leaders trying to contain the eurozone’s intractable debt crisis.
Taking the baton from Asia, where unions demanded wage increases as they transformed the day from one celebrating workers rights to one of international protest, workers turned out in droves in Greece, France and Spain, the latest focus of a debt nightmare that has already forced three eurozone countries to seek financial bailouts. Under a gray, threatening Madrid sky that reflected the national mood, 25-year Adriana Jaime confided she turned out because she speaks three foreign languages and has a masters degree as a translator, but works for what she derided as peanuts and sees her future as grim at best. “I am here because there is no future for the young people of this country,” she said as marchers walked up the city’s main north-south boulevard, protesting health care and education spending cuts and other austerity measures taken by the new conservative government. Many carried black and white placards, with the word NO and a pair of red scissors pictured inside the O. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is trying desperately to cut a bloated deficit, restore investor confidence in Spain’s public finances, lower the 24.4 jobless rate, and fend off fears it will join Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing a bailout. Ana Lopez, a 44-year-old civil servant, said May Day is sacred for her but this year in particular, arguing the government is doing nothing to help workers and that the economic crisis is benefiting banks. “Money does not just disappear. It does not fly away. It just changes hands, and now it is with the banks,” Lopez said. “And the politicians are puppets of the banks.” In France, tens of thousands of workers, leftists and union leaders were marking May Day with marches and rallies, in an optimistic mood ahead of presidential elections Sunday that a Socialist is expected to win for the first time since 1988. Anger has emerged during the campaign at austerity measures pushed by European Union leaders and conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy. Many voters fear Sarkozy will erode France’s welfare and worker protections, and see him as too friendly with the rich. Challenger and poll favorite Francois Hollande has promised high taxes on the rich. In debt-crippled Greece, more than 2,000 people marched through central Athens in subdued May Day protests centered on the country’s harsh austerity. Minor scuffles broke out in Athens when young men targeted political party stands, destroying two and partially burning another. There were no injuries. In the United States, demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience were planned, including what could be the country’s most high-profile Occupy rallies since the anti-Wall Street encampments came down in the fall. Around 100,000 people in Moscow — including President Dmitry Medvedev and President-elect Vladimir Putin — took part in the main May Day march through the city center — though not to protest the government. Television images showed the two leaders happily chatting with participants on the clear-and-cool spring day. Many banners and placards criticized the Russian opposition movement that has become more prominent in Moscow over the past half-year. One read “spring has come, the swamp has dried up,” referring to Bolotnaya (Swampy) Square, the site of some of the largest opposition demonstrations in recent months. Earlier, thousands of workers protested in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and other Asian nations, with demands for wage hikes amid soaring oil prices a common theme. They said their take-home pay could not keep up with rising consumer prices, while also calling for lower school fees and expressing a variety of other complaints. In the Philippine capital, Manila, more than 8,000 members of a huge labor alliance, many clad in red shirts and waving red streamers, marched under a brutal sun for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to a heavily barricaded bridge near the Malacanang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot police, Manila police chief Alex Gutierrez said. Another group of left-wing workers later burned a huge effigy of President Benigno Aquino III, depicting him as a lackey of the United States and big business. A few hundred workers marched to the U.S. Embassy, but were stopped by riot police about a block away. The protesters burned a mock U.S. flag and went away. Aquino rejected their calls for a $3 daily pay hike, which he warned could worsen inflation, spark layoffs and turn away foreign investors. Aside from pay hikes, protest leader Josua Mata from the Alliance of Progressive Labor urged Aquino to back proposed legislation against the widespread practices by businesses of contracting out some operations to other companies to save on costs and prevent workers from organizing trade unions. In Indonesia, thousands of protesters demanding higher wages paraded through traffic-clogged streets in the capital, Jakarta, where 16,000 police and soldiers were deployed at locations including the presidential palace and airports. There were also protests in Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Read more: http://business.time.com/2012/05/01/europe-workers-denounce-austerity-on-may-day/#ixzz1td7w1jYC

Bahraini demonstrators demand reinstatement of fired workers

Thousands of Bahraini protesters have held demonstrations across the country to demand the reinstatement of the workers fired by the Manama regime.
The demonstrations were held in the capital, Manama, and several other towns and villages including the northern village of Muqsha, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) west of the capital, on Tuesday, May 1. May 1 is known as Labor Day in Bahrain and is considered a public holiday. The day is also marked as a national holiday in more than 80 other countries. The Manama regime has dismissed thousands of workers for taking part in anti-government demonstrations since the beginning of the popular uprising in Bahrain in February 2011. Over the past months, fired Bahraini workers have several times held demonstrations outside the ministry of labor in Manama to demand their jobs back. Meanwhile, the protesters on Tuesday also condemned the regime’s ongoing violent crackdown on peaceful protests. Bahraini activists say nine people have been killed by regime forces across the country since March 17, 2012. Anti-regime demonstrators hold King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa responsible for the death of the protesters during the popular uprising in the country.

Another Olympics Sans Saudi Women?

While athletes around the world enter their final stages of training for the 30th Olympic Games in London this July, Saudi Arabia stands alone as the only country that has banned females from participating. Qatar and Brunei, who previously banned women from the international event for cultural and religious reasons, will send female athletes for the first time. But Saudi Arabia has never nominated a woman to participate in the Olympic Games, a ban that stems from strict government policy denying women and girls’ right to practice sports, with conservative religious clerics fearing that it could lead them on a "path of immorality". A Human Rights Watch report released in February, called on Saudi Arabia to protect women's equal right to sports and urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to live up to its charter, which prohibits discrimination, or face a ban similar to that imposed on Afghanistan in 1999 partly for its exclusion of female athletes. Christoph Wilcke, author of ‘Steps Of The Devil’ and senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, said it was time for the IOC to act on its membership rules. "Saudi Arabia is violating the rules but the question is whether a ban will help or make things worse," Wilcke, who is based in Munich, told IPS. "The jury is out on that. I think two months before the start of the games would be the ideal time for the IOC to enforce their rules. Saudi Arabia clearly wants to participate by sending a male-only team. But their violations of the rules are coming at no price at all." Prince Nawwaf bin Faisal, Saudi Olympic Committee president, announced last November that only a men's team would participate at Games. He did not rule out the possibility of women competing but said it would only be by invitation from outside bodies. He added that woman would have to be in the appropriate dress according to Islamic precepts, be in the presence of a male guardian and perform sport so that no part of her was visible, thereby not violating Islamic sharia law. Religious and cultural rights Women have the opportunity to play sports in all Muslim and Arab countries with support from their governments and national sporting authorities – except in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi National Olympic Committee and the country's 29 national sports federations offer no women's sections or competitions for aspiring female athletes. Wilcke said the women who propagate the right to practice sport had the better argument in terms of religion. "There's no religious ban on women playing sport at all; what the opponents argue is a traditional, male dominated, patriarchal view, that women should remain at home and not go out." The Saudi government only offers physical education classes at state schools for boys, and men's gyms receive licences confining women's facilities to health clubs that are usually attached to hospitals. Of the 153 government-regulated sports clubs, none has a women's team. Anthony Billingsley, international studies and Middle East lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told IPS that even if Saudi Arabia lifted their ban to allow women to compete, it would take years to produce an international-level female athlete. "If you want to be a runner in Saudi Arabia, you have to do it indoors in a place that's associated with a hospital or something," according to Billingsley, who has spent many years living and working in the Middle East. "There's no real opportunity for women to get out and really exercise and compete against others, just running or riding by yourself isn't going to help. Time isn't the problem, the problem is that they don't have the opportunity to prepare, to learn or refine their skills." An ABC Radio journalist and lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne said Saudi Arabia's ban on female participation in sport reflected the strict interpretation of Islam practiced with a theological perspective that men and women should not mix. "I guess that's the perspective of the quite conservative and very traditional form of Islam that Saudi operates on," Nasya Bahfen told IPS. "To them, having women on the field, running around, being looked at by men is tantamount to being blasphemous and completely un-Islamic. Whereas in other countries like Iran,they let women play but don’t allow them to watch (football games) or (appear) on a football field. Iran on the sporting field is not that bad compared with Saudi in terms of segregation." Are sports a priority? Discrimination against women and girls in sport is one of many violations against women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Women are banned from driving and under the state system of male guardianship, Saudi women of all ages need a male guardian's consent to receive certain health care, to work, to study or to marry. "Saudi Arabia is on its slow crawl towards modernity where they will look at women's rights (first in terms of) driving and other basic (priorities) and then move on to professional sport," Bahfen said. "Education is one field where Saudi women have some measure of equality. But (even) then they get pushed into quite traditional jobs. There's obviously a pressing need for female doctors, female nurses and female teachers, but there's very little encouragement for women to pursue non-traditional employment." Billingsley added that changing women’s status would require a huge generational and educational step. Wilcke said it would come down to a change in government policy for women to have basic rights and a degree of political power. "We know that you can't dismantle a system of discrimination within three months," Wilcke said, referring to the slim possibility of change before the Olympic Games in July. "But we want to see good faith and immediate efforts on this issue and we have suggested announcing a date for when physical education is introduced for girls in state schools and then laying out a timeline to open up a women’s section in government-regulated sports clubs (and) national sporting federations." "These are fairly simple steps that (lay) the infrastructural groundwork for women to start practicing sports before we get Olympic-quality athletes," he concluded.

Afghan leaders should raise their game

Just after news broke that U.S. special forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the top EU diplomat in neighbouring Afghanistan received a flood of emails from jubilant Afghans.
The death of the al Qaeda leader a year ago raised hopes in Kabul, Brussels, Washington and elsewhere that a devastating blow had been dealt to Islamist militancy in one of the most unstable regions in the world. On the eve of the first anniversary of Bin Laden's killing, Vygaudas Usackas, the European Union's ambassador to Kabul, reflected on how that optimism had faded. The Afghan Taliban, whom Washington accused of sheltering bin Laden before U.S. troops helped Afghan forces remove the group from power, have suspended reconciliation talks with the United States. And discussions with the Afghan government are limited. "Immediately I got dozens, if not hundreds, of emails from different ordinary Afghans in a very celebratory mood, expressing their satisfaction that it may provide a game-changer in terms of the future reconciliation," Usackas told Reuters in an interview.
"Unfortunately, as we all know, the peace process is not as easy as one may have expected a year ago after bin Laden's death. That will require long-term commitment from both sides." Two years into his posting, lack of commitment in Afghanistan seems to be the most troubling issue for Usackas. Western nations have poured billions of dollars into aid and reconstruction yet, he says, President Hamid Karzai's administration has not kept up its end of the bargain -- to improve governance and transparency. While the European Union has no intention of abandoning Afghanistan after most foreign troops withdraw in 2014, some countries will have to justify further heavy spending. Taxpayers squeezed by hard economic times may ask tougher questions if there are no tangible signs of improvement, said Usackas, a former Lithuanian diplomat. SHARING THE BLAME "President Karzai personally, and the political establishment of Afghanistan, are fully aware that the future development aid for the country will certainly be influenced by greater and genuine steps to improve governance, dealing with corruption and moving towards elections which will be credible for Afghan people," he said. The international community must shoulder a large part of the blame for failing to ensure proper accountability and oversight of aid spending, Usackas acknowledged. The end result is economic and political stability are elusive despite the presence of 130,000 NATO-led foreign troops and over $57 billion (35 billion pounds) already spent in aid. Karzai's unpopular government remains fragile, struggling to deliver basic services to most of the 30 million population outside major cities -- support that is vital to preventing Afghans from joining militant groups. And with Karzai considering bringing 2014 presidential elections forward by a year to avoid overloading the country with security challenges as most foreign combat troops exit, the world should not expect a perfect election process, Usackas said. "There will still be shortfalls," he said. "But it's important that they are being organised in a way that people would perceive them in Afghanistan as credible." Karzai is barred by Afghanistan's constitution from seeking a third five-year term, although Kabul is rife with rumour that he could seek to extend his term through political manoeuvring, or look to install an ally and rule by proxy. Usackas said that while it was up to Afghans to decide on the timing of the vote, any hint of political manipulation could demolish already shaky voter confidence in the government. "I think it's very important that 2014 produces a peaceful transfer of power in a way which is organised in more inclusive, transparent and credible free and fair elections," said Usackas in the garden of his Kabul residence. With NATO leaders gathering in Chicago in late May for a meeting on future backing for the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces, expected to cost around $4.1 billion a year to sustain, Usackas said the gravest error the world could make would be to turn its back on Kabul after 2014. "I'm afraid this country may turn not only to internal war, but also a source of regional conflict," he said. Afghanistan's stability may ultimately hinge on policy decisions in Pakistan, which critics accuse of backing insurgent groups fighting NATO and Afghan forces. Islamabad denies the allegations. Usackas said Pakistan seemed genuinely interested in helping bring peace to Afghanistan, and he said there were signs other regional powers would work for stability. But the same militant groups that bin Laden inspired are still dug in along Pakistan's porous border with Afghanistan, and pose a major security threat to both countries. Afghanistan's government doesn't seem to grasp the magnitude of major challenges just two years ahead of the pullout, said Usackas, admitting it keeps him awake at night sometimes. "The Afghans have to be in the driving seat...," he said. "Probably we made them complacent."

Amateur astronomers take stargazing to Kabul

A campaign is being launched to take astronomy to schools, orphanages and refugee camps throughout Afghanistan. Amateur astronomers, government officials and science communicators are behind the project, which will dole out star-gazing kits first around Kabul. The Reach for the Stars project will establish the country's first astronomy curriculum for young children. Drawing on the rich heritage of astronomy under Islam, the campaign hopes to expand to other countries too. "During the so called 'dark ages' in Europe, Islamic civilisation championed both astronomy and physics, shaping our modern science," said Christopher Phillips, who is leading the project. "In more recent times this has been suppressed; it was taught that the skies were the realm of Allah, and astronomical study and investigation were un-Islamic and forbidden. "Now we want to help Afghan children regain ownership of their astronomical heritage and take advantage of its educational opportunities." Kit form The joint initiative of the international organisation Astronomers Without Borders and the Afghanistan Astronomy Association, with support from Afghanistan's Ministry of Education, will send astronomy kits to schools, orphanages and refugee camps around Kabul.The kits will include The Little Book of Stars, a specially written introductory text for young Afghan children. It will cover astronomical topics from A-Z accompanied by cartoon illustrations, in English and Pashto, the language spoken by Afghanistan's largest ethnic group. As many schools lack even the most basic classroom materials, the kits will also include pencils, pens and paper. Solar viewing glasses, star charts and simple astronomy learning exercises will teach children the movements of the Sun and planets. "The kits are designed to familiarise children with the Universe on a basic level," said Mr Phillips. "They're a guide to our own stellar backyard." The book and the kits will be designed to avoid cultural controversies - for example, avoiding picturing boys and girls playing together. Once established around Kabul, the programme will expand to cover the rest of Afghanistan. The eventual aim is to reach other parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Rs30m drilling machinery rusts in Peshawar

Heavy drilling machinery worth millions of rupees has got rusted as it has been lying useless at the Peshawar Circle office of public health engineering department for more than a decade, according to sources. They said that the machinery costing Rs30 million was donated by foreign donors to the tubewell division, a former wing of public health engineering established in 1977, to sink tubewells in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “It includes 10 drilling machines installed on trucks, six air compressors and other tools being used in drilling,” sources said, adding there were more than 100 employees in the division including engineers, support staff and drivers. Official said that the division was established when government was drilling tubewells in rocky areas as private contractors at that time had no capacity to drill the hard soil in such areas. “In 1977, it was state of the art technology,” they added. The division was enabled to drill 1,000 feet deep well in rocky and hard areas with the help of this machinery where private contractors could sink only 100 to 200 feet deep well. “The tubewell division also set up tubewells in the camps established for Afghan refugees,” they said. With the passing of time, private contractors also got such drilling machinery and government lost interest in tube-well division as priority was given to contractors. Finally, officials said, tubewell division was abolished in 2001. They said that the machinery was shifted to Peshawar Circle office of public health engineering about 11 years ago. “No one has been deputed for looking after of the costly machinery and it has been lying in the open air,” they added. During a visit to the office, it was noticed that the machinery got rusted while tyres of the trucks were punctured and the vehicles were parked in knee-deep grass. When asked as to why the machinery was not sold after abolishment of tubewell division, the officials said that some of the high-ups of the department believed that the machinery couldn’t be sold as it was not owned by the provincial government and they had no right to sell donated items. “Our duty is to inform the high-ups about the machinery and its cost,” they said, adding it was the duty of high-ups to take decision regarding selling of the machinery. Prior to the abolishment of the tube-well division, the machines were in perfect condition, however, after lying useless for 11 years these got rusted and can be hardly used. The officials said that government should form a committee for immediate auction of the rusted machinery. Had the machinery been auctioned in 2001, it could have earn much more money for the government exchequer than the existing Rs30 millions, they said. Sikandar Khan Afridi, the superintendent engineer of public health engineering, when contacted, said that Peshawar Circle of the department had sent a proposal for the auction of the machinery about 11 years ago. However, the proposal was turned down by the high-ups of the department on the ground that the machinery was gifted by UNHCR and it couldn’t be auctioned. Mr Afridi said that one of the officials was preparing a list of the machinery and its worth to be sent to the provincial government to decide about it. “Now it is up to the government to auction or hand over it to other department like irrigation or agriculture departments,” he added.